by Karl Furlong
The Tesla Model Y, the brand's newest core model, remains crucial for the EV automaker, bringing a more affordable electric SUV within reach of a wider audience. Not only is it Tesla's second SUV after the Model X, but as it is based on the Model 3's platform, the Model Y comes in at a much lower price point. At $50,490 for the Long Range, that's over $30,000 cheaper than the base Model X. Like other Teslas, the Model Y mixes blinding acceleration with a practical range - the Performance variant will hit 60 mph in 3.5 seconds and yet is claimed to manage 303 miles between charges. For similar performance in a gas-powered compact luxury crossover, you'll have to shell out over $10,000 more for a BMW X3 M or a Mercedes-AMG GLC 63. The Model Y doesn't feel as well-built as these premium rivals, though, and it also has to do battle with the new Ford Mustang Mach-E. Our Tesla Model Y review will reveal whether the crossover is still competitive with this diverse group of rivals.
Unlike the majority of other automakers, Tesla makes constant changes to its range throughout the year so a Model Y you buy early in 2021 may not be the same as one you can buy at the end of this year. At the time of writing this review, we know that Tesla introduced a rear-wheel-drive Standard Range model at a lower price and then promptly removed this model from its website. However, Elon Musk stated that interested customers who visit showrooms or call in to purchase can still buy one of these models. A single-motor Long Range model is reportedly on the cards but this variant hasn't been officially introduced yet.
Besides this shuffling around of trims and powertrains, the Model Y can now also be ordered with a third seating row to increase seating capacity to seven.
See trim levels and configurations:
At a glance, it's not easy to tell the new Model Y apart from the Model X, especially in pictures. In the metal, the latter's bigger size is more apparent. In front, the most noticeable difference is that the Model Y does away with the Model X's slim grille, instead featuring a smoothed over front fascia that is closely aligned with the Model 3 sedan. From the back, the two are even harder to tell apart, with the Model Y doing without the Model X's rear chrome strip and large spoiler. The Model Y Long Range has 19-inch alloy wheels and available 20-inch Induction wheels, while the Performance model has 21-inch Uberturbine wheels. Both trims have LED fog lamps, power-folding side mirrors, and a tinted glass roof.
Marginally narrower but over ten inches shorter in length than the Model X, the Model Y measures 187 inches in length, 75.6 inches in width excluding the mirrors (83.8 inches including the mirrors), and 63.9 inches in height. The wheelbase is 113.8 inches long and ground clearance works out to 6.6 inches. So, while its dimensions are more manageable than the Model X, it's not exactly a small vehicle. In terms of curb weight, both trims tip the scales at 4,416 pounds, over 1,000 lbs less than the portly Model X. With all available options, the weight increases to 4,475 lbs.
Tesla's usual limited color palette applies to the Model Y, too, with a choice of just five colors. Only Pearl White is standard, with an extra $1,000 required for Solid Black, Midnight Silver Metallic, and Deep Blue Metallic. Red multi-coat is a $2,000 option and rounds out the selection of shades.
Blisteringly quick acceleration is the order of the day in any Tesla, and even though the Model Y is more accessible than the Model X due to its lower price, much the same applies here. The dual electric motors are paired to a single-speed fixed-gear transmission and, although Tesla doesn't provide power outputs for the electrified powertrain, all you need to do is plant your right foot once to know that it doesn't matter. For what it's worth, the Performance model produces 480 horsepower, the same output as the Model 3 Performance. Both models absolutely fly off the mark, aided by all-wheel-drive, with the Long Range going from 0-60 in 4.8 seconds and the Performance doing the same in just 3.5 seconds. The latter can also reach a top speed of 135 mph or 155 mph with the Performance Upgrade pack.
A rear-wheel-drive Standard Range model was available to order via the Tesla website at the start of the year but now has limited availability. Rival luxury SUVs with gas-fed power include the Mercedes-AMG GLC 63, which takes 3.8 seconds to hit 60 - it's much more expensive than the Model Y, though. Lower-priced versions of the Ford Mustang Mach-E are slower than the Model Y although the Ford can be had in a high-performance derivative that will match the Model Y Performance to 60 mph. With the optional tow hitch, the Model Y has a maximum towing capacity of 3,500 lbs.
For now, the Model Y range is available only with all-wheel-drive and dual electric motors. The front motor is an AC induction, liquid-cooled unit, while at the back, there is an AC permanent magnet synchronous motor. Digital control of torque spread to the front/rear wheels improves handling and traction. In both cases, a single-speed fixed-gear transmission is utilized.
The Model Y Long Range produces 449 hp, with the Performance offering a brawnier 480 horses, endowing it with performance to challenge some truly exotic SUVs. Unlike in a gas-fed vehicle, the Model Y's power is instantly accessible, with quick getaways from traffic lights and even safer merging on highways. When you're in a hurry, or even if you just want to stun your passengers into silence, the wave of power is as addictive here as it is in the more powerful Teslas. Of course, the eeriness of going so fast with zero mechanical noise makes one feel that although those flying cars haven't yet arrived, this does feel like the game has moved on in a big way.
While the driving experience tends to be dominated by the Model Y's shattering ability to gather speed, it's talented in other aspects as well. With a single-speed gearbox, there's no need to wait around while the transmission decides what gear is needed - just put your foot down and go. The steering system is also a highlight, striking a good balance between easy maneuverability at low speeds and sufficient weighting when cornering at higher velocities. It's still quite a heavy SUV, though, and while you can sense that, it's not enough to stop the Model Y from proving enjoyable to pilot. The ride quality is smooth and compliant, making for a relaxed cruiser, but the optional bigger wheels do make bumps more of a common disturbance than the standard 19-inch items. And, although road and wind noise are generally well-suppressed, the absence of any engine noise means that some external sounds are heard more here than they would be over the din of a regular engine.
According to the EPA, the Model Y Performance has an MPGe rating of 115/106/111 city/highway/combined. Tesla claims that this trim has a range of 303 miles. The Long Range has a claimed range of 326 miles and a rating of 131/117/125 MPGe. The Standard Range RWD model - which was only available to order from Tesla's website early in 2021 - has figures of 140/119/129 MPGe.
The battery charge time is good. Charging is best done using one of Tesla's Superchargers (there are currently 20,000 Superchargers globally), where a 15-minute charge can provide a range of 162 miles. Tesla's new V3 Superchargers provide a superior charging rate of 250 kW, an improvement over the V2 Superchargers' 150-kW maximum charging rate. While the mobile connector is standard, Tesla recommends installing the wall connector at home.
Using a regular 120-volt home plug, expect the Model Y to take close to two days for a full charge from zero to 100 percent, although charging from empty is a rare occurrence, so this is the worst-case scenario. Using a 240-volt outlet, a full charge will take under 10 hours, so this is a great option for getting a depleted battery back to a full charge overnight.
In the cabin, the 2021 Tesla Model Y once again adheres closely to the brand's formula, which means a minimalist design, a giant 15-inch central touchscreen through which nearly all the vehicle's functions can be controlled, and an airy feel made possible by the expansive glass roof. Although it looks good at first glance, interior quality raises a few question marks; once again, Tesla hasn't quite managed to match German luxury SUVs in this area. Both trims get features like 12-way power-adjustable front seats, along with seat heating both front and rear. Tesla's usual raft of Autopilot driver aids applies, such as emergency braking, blind-spot monitoring, and collision warning. Available features include auto park and auto lane change.
As standard, the Model Y seats five passengers in two rows. A seven-seater option is available, adding a third row with two seats. However, the Model Y is over ten inches shorter than the Model X, and the latter already has a cramped third row, so this option box is best left unticked on the Model Y. There is better news in the first two rows, with plenty of headroom and legroom for average-sized adults, and even six-footers will be able to get quite comfortable at the back. The glass roof also enhances the perception of space. Although the dashboard is similar to the Model 3, the driving position is a bit higher here. It doesn't necessarily mean that the view out is perfect, though, because the small rear window restricts the view out of the back, and the broad A-pillars can be an issue when making turns. Ingress and egress pose no issues.
Tesla restricts the cabin environment to just two choices: all black with light wood trim, or black and white with a white inlay running across the dashboard. The latter option will add $1,000 to the price. Although both are clean and modern, rival SUVs offer much more interior customization. The synthetic leather upholstery is of good quality, but overall, the cabin materials lack the richness expected of a luxury SUV and feels rather stark. Without resorting to Mercedes levels of glitz, it wouldn't hurt if Tesla added a bit more pizzazz to its interiors.
The Tesla Model Y offers plenty of cargo space between the large trunk at the back and the smaller front frunk. Total enclosed cargo space works out to a generous 68 cubic feet, a lot more than you'd get in a car with a regular trunk. The rear trunk is large and well-shaped, and there is underfloor storage that is a lot more accommodating than expected. The 40/20/40-split-folding rear seat can expand available cargo room, but these seats are surprisingly heavy, so a big tug is needed to raise them again. The frunk is big enough for a carry-on case and some smaller items.
In-cabin storage is also excellent, with an especially deep center console and another covered spacious compartment ahead of that. Two cupholders are fitted in front, and another two cupholders are housed in the rear fold-down armrest.
As standard, the Tesla Model Y comes equipped with 12-way power-adjustable front seats, heated front and rear seats, dual-zone automatic climate control, a power-adjustable steering column, power-folding and heated side mirrors, and LED fog lamps. Further convenience items include push-button ignition, a garage door opener, cruise control, and a 12-volt power outlet. A power trunk lid release makes for easier access to the cargo area, while a wireless charging pad is standard and situated beneath a covered compartment in front. Being a Tesla, there is a thorough array of driver aids, including collision warning, emergency braking, blind-spot monitoring, a rearview camera, and eight airbags. Parking sensors are also equipped front and rear, which are especially useful since the Model Y isn't the easiest to see out of. Tesla's Full Self-Driving Capability is an option at $10,000, adding features like auto park and auto lane change, along with traffic light and stop sign control.
All infotainment duties - and pretty much all other functions, even adjusting the side mirrors - are handled by the large 15-inch touchscreen mounted to the right of the steering wheel. The screen itself is responsive and crystal clear, but the lack of physical controls means that you can't make any adjustments based on feel alone, which can frustrate. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto aren't available, another limitation of the system. What you do get is Bluetooth, four USB-C ports, and docking for two smartphones with wireless charging. A Wi-Fi hotspot is part of the package as well, as is navigation. Audio is channeled via a 14-speaker sound system with a subwoofer.
Last year's Tesla Model Y suffered two recalls according to the NHTSA. One was for faulty trailer brake lights and another applied to loose control arm bolts that could affect the steering system. At the time of writing, 2021 models were free of recalls. The Model Y is covered by a basic four-year/50,000-mile warranty and the battery/drive unit comes with a warranty that runs for eight years or a mileage of 120,000 miles. The latter warranty gives you an idea of optimal battery life, although Tesla batteries have been designed to last well beyond this point.
The Tesla Model Y put in a fantastic performance in the NHTSA's crashworthiness test, earning the maximum five-star safety rating for every crash test it was put through. For now, crash-safety reviews haven't yet been published by the IIHS for this model.
Like other Teslas, the Model Y's low center of gravity and the large crumple zones contribute to its strong safety cell. Of course, there is a long list of passive and active safety features, too, including eight airbags - side curtain and knee airbags are included as well. The Model Y also has tire pressure monitoring, a hill holder function, and stability control. Tesla's familiar Autopilot suite comprises blind-spot monitoring, collision warning, automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning, lane-keeping assist, and adaptive cruise control. Customers can also upgrade to Tesla's so-called Full Self-Driving Capability upgrade, although the name is misleading as this system doesn't offer fully autonomous driving. It does, however, introduce advanced features like auto lane change, autopark, summon, and navigate on Autopilot, a system that can guide the Model Y from on-ramps to off-ramps. Traffic sign/traffic light recognition has been added in recent times and autosteer on city streets will be available later in 2021. This upgrade can also be purchased post-delivery, with the features added via over-the-air updates.
While the Tesla Model Y crossover doesn't offer much that's new that we haven't seen in older Teslas, it crucially introduces a more affordable SUV to slot in below the Model X. It is a bit of a pity that the company seems to have given up on the most affordable Standard Range model, though, removing this variant from its website not long after it launched. Although Audi's e-tron and BMW's iX3 are strong competition, the Tesla is cheaper and, therefore, more accessible for most. The Ford Mustang Mach-E is a much tougher competitor in terms of price and has proven popular so far. Regardless of which Model Y you go for, it's extremely quick, has a practical driving range, a spacious cabin, and plenty of features. Interior quality leaves something to be desired and we'd skip the seven-seater option with its cramped third row, but these aspects are unlikely to prevent the Model Y from storming up the sales charts.
Pricing for Tesla Model Y starts off with the Standard Range at an MSRP of $39,990. However, this model is no longer listed on Tesla's website although it is still available to order via showrooms or to customers who call in to order. The Long Range has an MSRP of $51,990, and the Performance version of the Tesla Model Y will cost $60,990. A destination charge of $1,200 also applies, as do tax, licensing, and registration costs, along with a non-refundable $100 order fee. Federal tax credits no longer apply to new Teslas, with the incentive having expired at the end of 2019. However, the Model Y will theoretically qualify for the California Clean Fuel Reward with a rebate of $1,500. With these and other incentives, the Tesla Model Y price can potentially be less in your region.
The new Tesla Model Y SUV range consists of the Standard Range, Long Range, and Performance. The Standard Range (removed from Tesla's website but still available to order) is the only one to be RWD and has a single motor. The latter two trims use dual motors and AWD. A single-speed, fixed-gear transmission is equipped.
The Standard Range may not be available at all for much longer but it comes with many of the luxuries offered on offer in other trims. However, it takes 5.3 seconds to hit 60 mph and has a range of below 250 miles.
Standard equipment on the Long Range includes 19-inch alloy wheels, LED fog lights, a glass roof, seating for five, synthetic leather upholstery, dual-zone climate control, a 15-inch central touchscreen, navigation, and 12-way power-adjustable front seats. A 14-speaker audio system is fitted, along with multiple USB ports and Bluetooth connectivity. On the safety front, the Model Y has eight airbags, adaptive cruise control, parking sensors, and collision warning.
The Performance variant offers most of the same features but more power, enabling it to accelerate to 60 mph in 3.5 seconds. It also has access to a Performance Upgrade with larger 21-inch wheels, performance brakes, and a lowered suspension.
Tesla offers minimal customization of its models and few accessories, and the Model Y is no different. There are no packages to increase the list of creature comforts, and the same goes for standalone optional extras. However, Tesla's Full Self-Driving Capability (although not technically full autonomous driving) offers the likes of autopark and auto lane change, and is a $10,000 option - this can also be purchased after customers take delivery. The only other significant options are 20-inch wheels on the Long Range ($2,000), a tow hitch ($1,000), and the no-cost Performance Upgrade on the Performance trim, adding a lowered suspension, 21-inch wheels, and increasing the top speed to 155 mph. Finally, seating for seven will cost you $3,000 on the Long Range.
This depends on how much you value ultimate performance and whether you're willing to pay for it. The Long Range offers all the performance anyone could need for over $10,000 less than the Performance. However, with similar range estimates, the Performance is even quicker but can travel nearly as far (unless you get the Performance Upgrade, which drops the range significantly). Our recommendation would still be the Long Range model with the Full Self-Driving Capability tech included, as this provides access to the best driver-assist features that Tesla has to offer.
If you wanted a Tesla SUV, the Model X was your only option until the arrival of the smaller Model Y. Although it is quite a bit older, the Model X hardly looks or feels as if it has aged. It sports a few unique design details and features like the Falcon Wing rear doors and a panoramic windshield. The Model X has a larger 17-inch touchscreen, although the Model Y's 15-inch screen is still massive. The Model X also receives the controversial new steering wheel. With more power, the Model X is much quicker, getting to 60 in as little as 2.5 seconds. The Long Range also offers a range of up to 360 miles, over 30 miles more than the Model Y. Both have spacious cabins, but the Model X is even airier inside and offers greater cargo capacity. However, the starting price difference of $39,500 (when both Long Range variants are compared) is significant. For much less money, the Model Y does most of what the Model X can do - it's our choice.
Based on the Model 3's platform, the Model Y has quite a lot in common with its sedan sibling. From the front, it's difficult to tell the two apart. The difference comes in the cabin, where the Model Y has more seating space and far more impressive total cargo capacity. But the Model 3 is lighter, so its equivalent Long Range and Performance trims have superior performance specs compared to the Model Y, while also managing a longer range on a full charge of 353 miles. The lower-slung Model 3 sedan is also a bit better to drive, and Tesla continues to offer a cheaper Standard Range variant that starts at below $40,000. The pricier trims are between $3,000 and $4,000 cheaper than the Model Y equivalents. If the sedan's space is adequate for your needs, it's the one to go for. But if you need more space, the Model Y makes a lot of sense.
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