Reviews

Tesla Model Y review

The Model Y promises a more affordable take on the Model X's seven-seater formula, while retaining Tesla's usual thrills and technology

Tesla Model Y
Overall rating

4.0 out of 5

Pros

  • Fast and fun
  • Option of seven seats
  • Minimalist and high-tech cabin

Cons

  • Slightly awkward styling
  • UK starting price quite high
  • Interior quality could be better
ModelRangeWallbox charge timeRapid charge time
Long Range314 miles (est.)11hrs 45mins (0-100%, 7.4kW)19mins (10-80%, 250kW)
Performance298 miles (est.)11hrs 45mins (0-100%, 7.4kW)19mins (10-80%, 250kW)

Tesla is often associated with hype, but the Model Y could be its biggest-selling, most important car to date, tapping into the lucrative electric SUV market just as it really starts to boom. Three versions are planned, broadly similar to the variants of the Model 3. The pricier Performance and Long Range cars will arrive first, with twin electric motors and a range of around 300 miles.

Later, we'll get an entry-level Standard Range version with a single motor, giving reduced performance and range – but also a lower price. We don't have official UK prices yet, but while in its native US, you'll pay the dollar equivalent of around £40,000 for a Long Range or Performance Model Y, the price is likely to nudge £50,000 on this side of the pond.

The Tesla has an ace up its sleeve in this company, however; like its Model S and Model X stablemates, it's available with a third row of seats, to carry seven people in total. US customers are driving around in Model Ys already, but cars for European markets will be built at Tesla's under-construction 'Gigafactory' in Germany. The most recent update from Tesla was no more specific than 'mid 2021' for European Model Y sales to begin, and it will probably be more like 2022 by the time UK buyers can take delivery.

So what's in store for buyers when the cars turn up? We've had two chances to drive the Model Y so far: once in Germany and once in New York (above). In Germany, our test car was a Model Y Performance. Tesla isn't disclosing exact horsepower figures, but it's believed to make the same 455bhp as the Model 3 Performance. Like that car, it's not short on accelerative 'shove' either from a standstill or a rolling start, feeling like a Mercedes AMG or BMW 'M' model in the way it leaps forward when you step on the throttle. The 0-60mph time of the Performance is estimated at 3.5 seconds, while top speed is 150mph.

In New York, we sampled the Long Range version, which puts out an estimated 345bhp, dialling the 0-60mph time back to 4.8 seconds and top speed to 135mph. Coming from the Performance variant, this almost feels slow. In any case, Teslas have been criticised for being fast yet soulless, but things seem to have moved on with the Y – it's more involving than the Skoda Enyaq iV, for example. Be warned, though: excessive 'enthusiastic' driving really eats into range, with every burst of sharp acceleration in the Performance seemingly taking 15 to 20 miles out of the indicated figure, which on our test car began at 298 miles with a full battery.

Ride quality is reasonable – not sports-car harsh, but not cushioning soft, either – so you feel in touch with what the wheels are doing and there's good feel through the steering wheel. This was especially noticeable on poorly surfaced roads in and around New York. As it rides a little higher, the Y inevitably doesn't feel as planted as the Model 3, but is noticeably less unwieldy than the large and heavy Model X. Body lean in corners is almost nonexistent, even when making rapid changes of direction.

One area you'll definitely notice a difference if you're making the transition from a petrol or diesel car is when slowing down. Like other Teslas, the Y has a regenerative braking system, and unlike in some other electric cars, the effect is set to maximum by default; that means the car slows down considerably when you lift off the pedal, to the extent that you probably won't need to brush the brakes during most everyday driving.

The final aspect of the Model Y driving experience to mention is the 'Autopilot' semi-autonomous driving function – an optional extra that's likely to cost the best part of £7,000. We had the opportunity to try this for an extended period on New York roads (above), with interesting results. To activate it, you tap the right lever on the steering wheel twice, a signal sounds and a green symbol appears on the display. The car then follows the road precisely, even if it feels like it turns into curves a little too late, drives too far out to the edge of the lane in process. After a while, you become less edgy and more relaxed about the process – but once lane markings, which the car uses as a point of reference, disappear, a sudden alarm summons you to resume control without delay. So the system isn't without pitfalls – and certainly not quite a 'full autopilot' just yet.

Inside, the Model Y is almost a carbon copy of its Model 3 sibling, with the exception of noticeably more headroom thanks to its higher roof. Getting in and out is easier and the car feels brighter and airier than the Model 3 once you've got inside – particularly for rear-seat passengers, who are a bit short-changed in the 3. Another big improvement over the 3 is boot space. That car's small opening and limited luggage capacity hurt its practicality, but in the Y you get more space and the three-part rear seat folds down electronically.

The addition of those third-row seats is likely to impinge on capacity quite significantly, however, and they'll likely only be suitable for small children. Sitting in the driver's seat, some may be shocked at the sheer minimalism: there are no dials or readouts apart from the central touchscreen, which operates everything from the radio to the sat nav and wipers. It's impressive from a technical standpoint, but less impressive is the quality of materials used for the seats and trim, which doesn't match what you get in an Audi, Mercedes or BMW. That said, the car we drove in Germany was one of the very first off the line, and the example we drove in the US was wearing its 11,000 miles well, so things seem to have improved.

Overall, there are few surprises with the Model Y. It's fast, impressive to drive, cleanly designed and has the same 'want' factor as the rest of the company's products. But a relatively low price and better practicality than the Model 3 set it apart – and set it up to potentially record huge sales numbers when it finally arrives in Europe.

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