If you're a regular reader of this site, you know that we love drag races. And honestly, who doesn't? So when we got the opportunity to test three modern muscle cars side by side – the BMW M8 Competition, the Ford Mustang Shelby GT500, and the Polestar 1 – we knew we had to line these three up against each other in a straight line.
So we headed south from our starting point in New York City all the way to North Carolina, hitting some twisty roads in Pennsylvania and West Virginia along the way. Our stopping point was the North Carolina Center for Automotive Research, a closed track where we could line these three cars up on the front straight to see which one is quickest.
You're probably thinking to yourself: There's no way these three wildly different cars really compete, right? Well, they're actually more evenly matched than you might think – at least on paper. The Shelby is technically the most powerful, churning out 760 horsepower and 625 pound-feet from its supercharged 5.2-liter V8. And in perfect conditions, Ford says this car will sprint to 60 miles per hour in just 3.3 seconds.
The BMW M8 Competition's twin-turbocharged 4.4-liter V8 pumps out 617 hp and 553 lb-ft by comparison. But with a highly advanced launch control system and all-wheel drive, BMW says that this car will hit 60 in just 3.0 seconds flat. That makes it the quickest car of the three.
But don't count out the Polestar 1. The coupe's hybridized, supercharged, and turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder produces 619 hp and a whopping 737 lb-ft – that's more torque than both the Mustang and the BMW. Since this Polestar is heavier than the other two (it tips the scales are more than 5,000 pounds), it takes closer to 4.0 seconds for this car to hit 60.
If you want to look at the numbers, here’s how the three compare on paper:
|2020 BMW M8 Competition||2020 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500||2020 Polestar 1|
|ENGINE||Twin-Turbo 4.4-Liter V8||Supercharged 5.2-Liter V8||Twincharged 2.0-Liter I4 Hybrid|
|OUTPUT||617 HP / 553 LB-FT||760 HP / 625 LB-FT||619 HP / 737 LB-FT|
|TRANSMISSION||8-Speed Automatic||7-Speed Dual-Clutch||8-Speed Automatic|
|DRIVE TYPE||All-Wheel Drive||Rear-Wheel Drive||All-Wheel Drive|
|0-60 MPH||3.0 Seconds||3.3 Seconds||4.2 Seconds|
|MAXIMUM SPEED||189 MPH||180 MPH||155 MPH|
|WEIGHT||4,251 Pounds||4,171 Pounds||5,170 Pounds|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$175,745||$81,980||$155,000|
Round One: Fight
Since it’s the quickest to 60, the BMW M8 gets the first-round bye. The front straight of this track is pretty narrow, so we're only able to run two cars at a time. That leaves the 760-hp Shelby and the hybrid Polestar 1 in the first race. We line the duo up at the starting point, just about a quarter-mile from the start-finish line, and behind the wheel of the Polestar is Senior Editor Brett T. Evans. Yours truly is in the driver's seat of the Shelby.
Even though the Mustang has more than 100 horses on the Polestar, the svelte Swede has an additional 100 pound-feet. And in a quarter-mile race like this, off-the-line twist is what matters most. But the Shelby has a nifty trick up its sleeve designed to get it to 60 as quickly as possible: Drag Strip mode with a customizable launch control system. Dig into the digital cluster and you'll find the launch control function, there you can change how many rpms the car applies at launch. We keep it at about 3,000 rpm as not to spin the tires too dramatically – and it works, sort of.
Even without any sort of dedicated launch control system, the Polestar 1 rockets off the line immediately, getting out ahead of the Shelby. Launch control does little to keep the meaty Michelin Pilot Cup Sport 2 tires on the Mustang from spinning, and it takes me nearly all the way to third gear before there's actual traction. But once it finds its footing, this pony car comes alive.
The 760 supercharged horses from the Shelby make up lost ground quickly. While the Polestar's torque gives it a solid head start, its tiny 2.0-liter is no match for the might of the Mustang's V8 further down the strip. The Shelby takes the first race by a modest full-car length, but not without solid mettle from the Polestar.
Round Two: Fight
So with the first round settled, we line the Shelby up against the BMW M8 Competition. What the M8 does better than both the Shelby and the Polestar is launch. With a highly complex launch control system – it might be the closest thing you'll find to a supercomputer on wheels – the BMW can rocket to 60 in 3.0 seconds flat in perfect conditions.
With both of our traction control systems ready and Associate Editor Clint Simone driving the Bimmer, we get the green light and take off. If you thought the Polestar was quick off the line, the M8 is a metaphorical rocket ship. It jumps out to a huge, early lead on the Shelby as I, yet again, try to get the tires on the Mustang to grip. But even with easily the Shelby's best launch of the day, the Bimmer goes up big on the GT500 and takes a commanding victory.
But as we've learned already, launching the Mustang perfectly is difficult. So to really get an accurate feel for how fast the Shelby is – and so as not to have every Ford fanboy mad at me – we lined the BMW and Mustang up for one final race: A rolling start from 20 miles per hour.
Without having to wrestle with the tires at launch, the Mustang and the BMW are neck-and-neck from the jump. Still though, the BMW has a slight lead over the Shelby as we make our way down the straight, rapidly exceeding triple-digit speeds, and toward the finish line. But just as I think this is another loss for the Mustang, the GT500 proves that it's the more powerful of the two by inching past the BMW for a photo-finish win.
The BMW M8 Competition was clearly the quickest car of the trio off the line. But what’s also obvious is that the Shelby GT500 is the most powerful of the three – and to its detriment. Even with a dedicated drag strip mode and an advanced launch control system, the pony car just spins its tires off the line. Only in a rolling race does the Mustang show how quick it can be.
Whatever the case, the BMW M8 Competition, Shelby GT500, and Polestar 1 are three fantastic drag-racing cars. Each of these vehicles brings something unique to the table – the Polestar with instant torque, the BMW with advanced launch control, and the Mustang with brute force – and as we learned, each one is supremely fast in a straight line.