2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E vs. Tesla Model Y

Elon Musk’s approach to running a company is anything but conventional, but whatever you might think of him or his strategies, there’s little doubt of his indelible impact across multiple industries, including aerospace, personal technology, and, yes, automotive. His vision is a central reason Tesla has come to dominate today’s EV market despite—or perhaps because of—its relative lack of history or legacy. Yet in just 18 years, the electric car manufacturer has gone from producing small-volume baubles like the original Roadster to pumping out hundreds of thousands of mainstream crossovers and sedans like the Model Y and Model 3. Of course, Tesla’s vehicles are only part of the story. The history books are likely to give Musk and his firm just as much credit for sending nearly every other company scrambling to build proper EVs and for the hype created around Tesla and green vehicles.

And Tesla is certainly a large reason the Ford Mustang Mach-E exists. Originally conceived as a front-drive, Fusion-based electric crossover under former CEO Mark Fields, the Mach-E was reshaped when Fields’ replacement, Jim Hackett, underscored its importance by telling executives the “heart of the company’s on trial here.” Jim Farley, who succeeded Hackett as CEO but was then Ford’s president of global markets, steered the project in the direction of the Mustang brand, which clicked with designers and engineers. The vehicle adopted rear drive and targeted 300 miles of driving range, and although the final product isn’t a carbon copy of Tesla’s Model Y, you can tell which vehicle was in Ford’s sights.

Our Model Y and Mach-E test vehicles are closely aligned in terms of performance, range, and size. Our Model Y Dual Motor Long Range is a 2020 model sourced from our friend Richard Hak at Precision One Design; its novel, disparate front and rear motors make 384 horsepower and 375 lb-ft of torque combined, and it is EPA-rated for 316 miles of range (that rises to 326 for 2021). Power is transmitted through a single gear ratio at each end, providing all-wheel drive. Its base price is just shy of $52,000, but with the $10,000 Autopilot option, paint, and interior options, the Tesla’s final sticker rings in at $63,190.

The 2021 Mustang Mach-E 4x shares the same basic setup as the Tesla—front and rear electric motors, two single-speed automatics, and all-wheel drive. Powertrain output stands at 346 horsepower and 428 lb-ft, and the EPA states it can travel 270 miles on a single charge. This model starts at $55,800, with a few additional bits and pieces elevating our Mach-E to $56,450. Those interested in the Mach-E will be pleased to know it is still eligible for federal tax incentives; Tesla has cumulatively sold too many electric vehicles for its offerings to qualify under existing federal regulations (though legislation introduced in February could change that).

In the end, will the Blue Oval’s electric SUV have the goods to take it to Tesla? Or is the Model Y still king of the heap? To find out, we gathered examples of each, drove them back to back, examined the charging experiences, and poked and prodded their interiors.

2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E vs. Tesla Model Y: The Drive

Although the pair knock noggins in the same segment, they approach their missions differently on the road. The Mach-E’s ride, for example, is more polished and plusher than the Tesla’s. “On smooth streets, the Model Y is a dream, with an excellent ride and amazing performance,” head of editorial Ed Loh said. “On bad pavement, however, its crashing grates, tossing head and belly.” The Ford’s dampers deliver a settled and controlled ride in all situations, quickly dissipating vibrations over even heavily broken pavement. It’s clear which was developed in Michigan, a state well known for its awful tarmac.

The Californian of the duo, the Model Y, shone on our drive route covering the twisty roads overlooking Southern California’s Palos Verdes Peninsula, but so did the Ford. Both keep body roll nicely in check, thanks in part to the underfloor placement of their heavy battery packs. Still, the Mach-E is just a tiny bit more controlled; credit its slightly lower overall height. But the flipside is that the Model Y offers more ground clearance (6.6 inches versus 5.8) and a higher, more commanding driving position.

While the Ford looks low and lean and both of these EVs are certainly powerful and sporty, the Model Y is the one that feels quicker in use—and actually is quicker at the test track. The Tesla’s power delivery is more linear and easier to modulate compared to the somewhat overeager Mach-E’s; we sprinted the Model Y to 60 mph in 4.1 seconds, 0.7 second quicker than the Mach-E. That illustrates how easily the lighter Tesla’s 19 percent weight-to-power advantage overcomes the torquier Mach-E’s slimmer 3 percent weight-to-torque edge.

The Mach-E offers three chassis modes: Unbridled (what most automakers call Sport), Engage (Normal), and Whisper (Comfort). The steering weights up to deliver an approximation of sportiness in the first two, but no matter which mode you choose, the helm is accurate, quick, and predictable. Power delivery also changes depending on the mode, with the more aggressive accelerator maps in Unbridled and Engage delivering more off-the-line punch. Whisper takes a more linear approach. One-pedal driving can be turned on or off in any mode; while some love its aggressive regenerative braking when active, others might find it altogether too eager.

Unlike the Mach-E, the Model Y allows drivers to individually mix and match settings for acceleration (Chill, Standard, and Sport), brake feel (Standard and Low), and steering (Comfort, Standard, and Sport). The Tesla’s Sport steering doesn’t feel as heavy as the Mach-E’s in Unbridled mode, but it does add noticeably more resistance in comparison to Comfort. The same is true across the board—none of the Model Y’s settings are transformative or particularly aggressive, but the customization allows individual drivers to find their personal sweet spot a little easier than in the Ford.

Speaking of sweet, Tesla’s Autopilot hands-free driving system continues to be among the very best semi-autonomous setups available today, even if its name remains misleading. (It’s not yet a full autopilot system by any stretch, as you must remain alert and ready to grab the steering wheel at any time.) With Autopilot engaged, the Model Y stays centered on its lane, slows down when appropriate, and recognizes construction areas and traffic lights. On the Mach-E, Ford’s Co-Pilot 360 safety suite did generally a good job, and we noted it was able to interpret lanes correctly even when the markings weren’t totally clear. Later this year Ford will offer Active Drive Assist, a $600 over the air upgrade that should offer similar functionality to the Tesla, such as hands free driving (limited to 100,000 miles of mapped divided highways).

But Autopilot is the standout winner here. “Active Drive Assist feels relatively low tech in the Mach-E, which is otherwise a technically compelling EV tour de force,” Loh said. During our drive, the Mustang once failed to apply the brakes when traffic was stopping ahead, and it lacks the advanced features of Tesla’s system, such as automatically switching lanes or handling freeway interchanges.

2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E vs. Tesla Model Y: Inside

Tesla started the tech-focused cabin trend, but most electric vehicles now follow that template, including the Mach-E. Although the Ford’s interior feels warmer than the Tesla’s, it borrows ideas such as hidden air vents and a large central screen while mixing in familiar Blue Oval parts like the rotary gear selector. It also adds a second screen to serve as an instrument cluster, which the Tesla lacks. “The cabin offers a clean, fresh-feeling execution for a Ford,” Loh said, adding that the handsome gray cloth on the dash and speakers brought a premium feel.

Hop from the Ford to the Tesla, and the Model Y stands out for the ample space it devotes to people and their stuff. “Cargo space is ridiculously impressive, with a deep (3.1-cubic-foot) hidden area under the floor,” Loh said. “The seats fold flat, too, and I feel like I could camp in the car.” Rear passengers also have more foot- and legroom in the Model Y—the Tesla’s front seats are situated on risers in part to provide more toe space to rear riders—and have access to two USB-C ports and their own air vents. The Mach-E also serves up two USB ports (in this case one Type-A and one Type-C) and air vents for rear passengers, but there’s limited foot room, especially for the middle passenger, and the rear middle seat has stiffer cushions and is less comfortable overall. The Mach-E’s frunk is also a tad smaller than the Model Y’s. So although the Mach-E measures objectively larger, the Model Y’s space ultimately seems more usable.

2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E vs. Tesla Model Y: Technology

Going beyond the driver assist technology, both of these EVs pile on convenience features, too, with the bulk of them—all of them, in Tesla’s case—controlled via a central screen. Tesla’s is a 15.0-inch horizontal display, while the Mach-E’s measures 15.5 inches and is portrait-oriented.

In the Model Y, as with all Teslas, the screen serves as the command center of the car, being used not only for the usual navigation and audio functions but also for tasks like adjusting the power side mirrors and steering wheel or finding a Supercharger station near you. While having all of these functions in one screen could be distracting, Tesla’s clean, simple layout is easy to use and parse at a glance, and the software running the show is quick to respond. Here, perhaps more than anywhere else, is where Tesla’s Silicon Valley DNA shines through.

Ford’s dual-screen approach is more conventional and simpler to adjust to, its primary display has beautiful high-resolution graphics, and the screen’s real estate truly feels expansive. Wireless CarPlay and Android Auto are standard here, and unlike in the Tesla, there’s a volume knob. Despite these positives, the Model Y wins on usability.

Tesla’s interface is designed in such a way that you can split the screen between, say, the navigation map and another function without having to dig through menus; similarly, frequent tasks such as looking for Superchargers are almost always just one tap away. Ford’s system will locate chargers and tell you if they’re available, but this is buried behind several taps, and the infotainment software takes a little time to load results or respond to certain requests.

2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E vs. Tesla Model Y: Charging

How long an electric vehicle takes to charge is likely second only to overall range among EV shoppers’ considerations, but providing an answer depends on the type of charger, the rating of an EV’s onboard charger, and the vehicle’s layout and battery size.

Tesla’s extensive Supercharger network supplies power at up to 250 kW, with the Model Y’s onboard charger capable of accepting that full rate. During our time with Tesla’s crossover, we charged the battery from near empty to about 75 percent in 35 minutes using a 250-kW Supercharger—that’s about 230 miles of added range. And using the Supercharger was quick and easy: plug in, juice up, and go, as the station automatically charges your Tesla account.

The Mach-E has access to a broader grid of public chargers from various companies, but their charging speeds vary. The Mustang Mach-E can receive power at up to 150 kW, which means its fastest rate is slower than the Model Y’s. (Think of the kW rating of a charger as akin to the diameter of a pipe.) Using an Electrify America 150-kW DC fast-charging station, Ford says you can add about 50 miles of range in approximately 10 minutes. (That works out to 175 miles in the same 35-minute timeframe used above, starting with a similarly discharged battery.) We needed to use a 50-kW EVgo charger, however, so it took us about an hour and 45 minutes to go from 45 miles of range to 215, though to be fair, that includes time spent both using the FordPass app to connect to the charger—an extra, unnecessary step with the Tesla—and dealing with power-delivery interruptions by the charger and error messages generated by the app. The charger problems weren’t the Mach-E’s fault, but they were frustrating.

2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E vs. Tesla Model Y: Which One Is Better?

This showdown makes it clear the increasing population of folks considering an electric SUV have compelling entries to choose from, and that the challengers to Tesla’s throne are stronger than ever. “In the stuff that matters—range, performance, packaging, and price—the Model Y’s closest competitor comes not from a legacy premium manufacturer like Audi or Porsche, or from fellow EV-only company Lucid—it’s Ford,” Loh said. “The Mach-E does a very compelling imitation of the Model Y, and when you layer on the familiarity of the Blue Oval and the trust it breeds, it’s a compelling package for those unsure about Tesla’s build quality, reliability, or the antics of its chief executive.”

Ford’s first serious, stand-alone EV has indeed put up a hell of a fight, and as more such models hit the streets—and especially as legacy carmakers gain critical electric vehicle experience—Tesla might find itself playing catch-up. Just not on this day. Loh said it best: “When you move from the Mach-E to the Model Y, you feel like you’ve taken a step forward into the future. The impact of that step is smaller thanks to the amazing job Ford’s done, but there’s no similar sense of wonder when you go from Model Y to Mach-E.” The Ford Mustang Mach-E has much to recommend it, and the 480 hp/600 lb-ft GT model arriving soon may turn the tables, but the Tesla Model Y takes this head-to-head comparison test by a nose.

Second Place

Ford Mustang Mach-E

This rewarding and impressive first dedicated EV from Ford has all of the right ingredients. Now it’s time to refine the formula.

First Place

Tesla Model Y

The Model Y’s superior technology, range, charging setup, and interior space carry the day. For now.

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