Drag Race: Tesla Model Y Performance vs. Ford Mustang Shelby GT500

Drag Race: Tesla Model Y Performance vs. Ford Mustang Shelby GT500

Detroit muscle does battle with a silent assassin

  • With great power comes the need for great traction.
  • Does winning matter if it's boring?
  • Speak softly and carry a big stick, but not so big that you can't pick it up.

In theory, a 2020 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500 should be quicker than a 2020 Tesla Model Y Performance. We've tested both at our test track, and there, in lab conditions, with all the time in the world to perfect launch technique, the GT500 scooted to the quarter-mile in 11.3 seconds at 129.9 mph. That's half a second quicker than the Model Y did.

But here's the thing with theories: You still need to test them. We figured the best way to do that was with a heads-up drag race on a street-like surface. This would better show what happens in the real world. Unlike testing under ideal conditions in the laboratory, there's no free practice, consideration for weather, or redos when your pride is on the line.

2020 Tesla Model Y.

2020 Tesla Model Y.

Spoiler Alert: The GT500 Loses the Race

The challenge with getting the Mustang GT500 off the line is due, in part, to one of its greatest attributes: The 760 horsepower generated from the supercharged 5.2-liter V8 and routed to its rear wheels. Think of it like this: That's 380 hp per tire, or more than most sporty cars make these days in total. On a street surface, traction isn't just a challenge, it's elves-and-wizards high fantasy. Sure, the GT500's quick-shifting dual-clutch transmission helps alleviate some of the challenge to the driver, but it lays all the effort on the overwhelmed launch control system.

If the GT500's launch control is Pompeii, the 760 hp is Mount Vesuvius circa AD 79. It and the traction control simply can't weather the awesome power, and the tires struggle to grip the surface until somewhere in third gear. The GT500 driver can, through the menu, adjust the target launch engine speed to somewhere between 1,300 and 1,400 rpm. But it might be better if it bottomed out at 500 rpm. Maybe 0 rpm.

Compounding the difficulty is a maddening delay from the time you release your foot from the brake pedal and the time the Mustang actually starts moving forward. In a countdown from three, the Shelby GT500 driver has to leave on the one count to start moving by "go."

The Model Y doesn't have launch control. It doesn't really need it either. With four driven wheels and an amount of horsepower that can only be described as "satisfactory," the driver needs only to push the accelerator to the floor and watch the Mustang driver struggle in futility. Only briefly, though, as the GT500 quickly disappears in the mirror.

2020 Ford Shelby GT500.

2020 Ford Shelby GT500.

The GT500 Wins Our Hearts

Does winning matter if it's boring? Both drivers pondered that question after switching cars. The Model Y's performance is so good but so easy. After you've pressed the go pedal, there's little to do but play with the electronic whoopee cushion. The fart sounds are funny, yes, but satisfying?

The GT500's thunderous display of its overendowed engine is what sticks with you days after the race, as does the hopelessness of getting those tires to hook on anything but a prepared dragstrip surface. Hey, landing an F/A-18 Hornet at your municipal airport would be dumb too, but endlessly cool.

Would an all-wheel-drive GT500 be better? It'd sure be quicker in a straight line, but we now have performance electric vehicles for that kind of thing. The big thrill with the GT500 is keeping it composed at speed. Or attempting to, at least.

2020 Tesla Model Y.

2020 Tesla Model Y.

Edmunds Says

With a prepared surface and time to practice and figure out a desperately overworked launch control system, the GT500 would beat the Tesla Model Y in a drag race. But it's a different story in the harsh realities of the world.

2020 Ford Shelby GT500.

2020 Ford Shelby GT500.


Edmunds news

See all car news