It’s just 20 years since the formation of Tesla. Now the world’s largest EV manufacturer, it has single-handedly shifted the focus of the entire automotive industry to electric vehicles. When it was launched in 2012, Elon Musk’s first mainstream model, the Tesla Model S, shook up the legacy car brands.
It didn’t just look good, but it drove well and its software (which included advanced driver assist features with the ability to be autonomous in the future) could be updated over the air.
Tesla’s battery technology was also ahead of its time, meaning that it had a longer range and could recharge faster than any other EVs. What’s more, it could access Tesla’s Supercharger network of efficient rapid chargers.
The Model S was joined by the Model X in 2015, followed by the more affordable Model 3 saloon (2017) and the Model Y (2020). The Model 3 topped the sales charts until the Model Y came along.
SUV sales have been soaring for years and now account for nearly half of global new car registrations, so market conditions were perfect for the Model Y.
In fact, by the first quarter of 2023, the Model Y wasn’t just the world’s bestselling EV, it was the bestselling car in the world – a first for an all-electric vehicle.
I’m a little late to the party, but I finally got to spend some quality time with a Tesla Model Y recently. First impressions count, and the Model Y may now be a familiar sight on our roads, but it still looks cutting edge.
A raised crossover version of the Model 3, its distinctive design polarises opinion. Just like the Model 3, I’m not a huge fan of the front styling, which I can only describe as dumpy.
The rest of the Model Y’s body is attractive and aerodynamically clean, but it’s the car’s interior that sets it apart from its rivals.
Not only is there a huge amount of head and legroom, but it also has a hatchback which opens up a huge luggage capacity – and then there’s the technology.
Yes, just like the Model 3, it’s minimalist up front with just a large 15-inch touchscreen and a steering wheel with a couple of buttons and two column stalks.
The central screen is a deal-breaker for some because just about all the car’s functionality is accessed via a prod or swipe. I could live with it, but I’d prefer a few buttons too, plus a driver’s display with essential info.
It’s very slick and intuitive, but having to go in there to just open the glovebox and adjust the wing mirrors is maybe taking it a step too far. Plus, it can take your attention away from the road ahead.
That said, the Google sat nav mapping is brilliant, there are some quirky options hidden inside the various menus, and the sound system is one of the best on the market.
The driving position is a tad high for my liking, but then that’s the case with most SUVs, but visibility is good and it’s loaded with tech to help you with manoeuvring.
Tesla build quality is often criticised, but my Model Y test car was well put together. My only criticism is that the quality of the materials used was nothing special and wasn’t close to some premium rivals.
Two observations: there’s no rear wiper, but there is a perfectly-placed left footrest – a detail so regularly forgotten, but essential on flat-floored EVs.
Priced from £44,990 to £59,990, you can choose between Rear-Wheel Drive (260bhp), AWD Long Range (434bhp) and AWD Performance (483bhp) versions, with the range varying from 267 miles in the entry-level RWD to 351 miles in the AWD Long Range.
The base model has a 57.5kWh battery, while the two AWD versions get a larger 75kW pack.
There’s a performance difference too. The AWD Performance is the fastest with a 0-60mph of just 3.5 seconds, followed by the AWD Long Range (4.8sec) and the RWD (6.6sec). Frankly, our AWD Long Range Dual Motor test car was more than fast enough.
Like the Model 3, the default mode of entry is with a key card (which has to be tapped on the driver’s pillar to open the door and then placed in an exact position on the centre console between the front seats before it’s recognised), but you can also set your phone as a key.
Once the car is unlocked, you can press the streamlined door handle to open the car (it doesn’t pop out like the Model S and X).
Then it’s just a case of selecting Drive via the column stalk and you’re away.
On the road, the first thing you notice is that the electric powertrain is whisper-quiet and smooth. However, the ride is firm and on rougher surfaces it crashes over ridges and the smallest of potholes.
On the plus side, there was an impressive massive amount of grip from the big 21-inch tyres on our car, and though it manages to stay flat in corners during more spirited driving, it’s easily unsettled and clearly happier cruising along.
Thankfully the brakes are up to the job of slowing down this two-tonne crossover, though the regenerative braking was a tad fierce for my liking – whatever the setting. Finally, the steering is numb and the cabin could be better insulated from road and wind noise.
The good news is that our Dual Motor Model Y delivered excellent range. Maybe not up to the claimed figure, but close to 300 miles is certainly achievable if you can resist the need for speed.
The entry-level RWD car has a maximum charging speed of 170kW and takes around 25 minutes to charge from 10-80%, while its AWD siblings charge up to 250kW and take 27 minutes to replenish their larger batteries.
But let’s finish on a couple of positives, especially for family buyers. Not only did the Model Y achieve a maximum of five stars in Euro NCAP crash testing, but that interior space is something else.
There’s a generous 854 litres of cargo space behind the 40:20:40 split rear seats, expanding to a van-like 2,041 litres with the seats flipped down. Additionally, 117 litres is available in the front boot (the ‘frunk’), which is ideal for storing charging cables.
So, ultimately, the Tesla Model Y is a mixed bag. It may not ooze character as a package, but it makes up for it when it comes to straight-line performance, technology, practicality and value for money. Anyway, judging by its huge sales success, the Model Y’s pluses far outweigh its minuses.
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