by Karl Furlong
Brand new Teslas don't come around every day, so this year's arrival of the Model Y compact electric crossover is big news. Not only is it Tesla's second SUV competitor 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. Starting at $52,990 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 315 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 there are also cheaper, capable EV crossovers like the Hyundai Kona EV. But we wouldn't be remotely surprised if the Model Y turns out to be Tesla's top-seller, taking over from the massively successful Model 3 sedan.
The Tesla Model Y is an all-new arrival for the 2020 model year. Initially, only Long Range and Performance versions will be available. Featuring Tesla's dual-motor all-wheel-drive layout, even the Long Range is still a high-performance SUV, managing 0-60 mph in 4.8 seconds and a 316-mile range, while the Performance version can do the benchmark sprint in 3.5 seconds. The Model Y gets high-tech features like a 15-inch center touchscreen, advanced driver-assist features, and amenities like 12-way power-adjustable front seats. A more affordable Standard Range model, a three-seater option (taking seating capacity up to seven), and a cheaper Long Range with rear-wheel-drive are expected to follow in due course.
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 items, while the Performance's 19-inch wheels can be upgraded to 21s as part of the Performance Upgrade Package. Both trims have LED fog lamps, power-folding side mirrors, and a tinted glass roof.
Marginally narrower but over ten inches shorter 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. In terms of curb weight, both trims tip the scales at 4,416 pounds, over 1,000 lbs less than the portly Model X.
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 reaching 60 mph in 4.8 seconds and the Performance doing the same in just 3.5 seconds. The latter can also reach a top speed of 145 mph or 155 mph with the Performance Upgrade pack. A rear-wheel-drive version of the Long Range is set to be launched later, but at the time of writing, it wasn't available to order yet. Rival luxury SUVs with gas-fed power include the Mercedes-AMG GLC 63, which takes 3.8 seconds to hit 60 - it's more expensive than the Model Y, though. Other electric SUVs like the Kia Niro and Hyundai Kona are less expensive and a lot slower to 60, but they also play in a smaller, less premium segment. All of which means that we'll have to wait for the Ford Mustang Mach-E for a true Model Y EV rival - at least in terms of price and performance.
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 gas-fed vehicles, 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 129/112/121 city/highway/combined. Tesla claims that this trim has a range of 315 miles, but that drops to 280 miles with the optional Performance Upgrade (adding the likes of bigger wheels and a lowered suspension). The Long Range has a claimed range of 316 miles.
Charging is best done using one of Tesla's Superchargers (there are currently 16,000 Superchargers globally), where a 15-minute charge can provide a range of 158 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 Model Y once again adheres closely to the Tesla 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. Next year, a seven-seater option will be made 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. Although both are clean and modern, rival SUVs offer much more interior customization. The center console is covered in a shiny Piano Black finish, and it's just about impossible to keep clean, especially since opening the various storage compartments requires you to repeatedly touch the black plastic with your hands. Once again, it would be appreciated if Tesla allowed buyers to select other choices. 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. 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 $7,000, adding features like auto park and auto lane change, with the likes of traffic sign recognition on the way soon.
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 ports, and docking for two smartphones. 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.
As an all-new model, it will be easier to assess the Model Y's dependability next year. So far, though, no recalls have been issued for the SUV. The Model Y is covered by a basic four-year/50,000-mile warranty and the battery/drive unit comes with an eight-year/120,000-mile warranty.
Although official safety ratings haven't yet been announced for the Model Y, other Teslas have performed exceptionally well. For instance, the Model 3 received the IIHS' Top Safety Pick+ award. We expect the Model Y to return excellent crash ratings when it is eventually tested.
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 and automatic driving on city streets are upcoming features. This upgrade can also be purchased post-delivery, with the features added via over-the-air updates.
While the Tesla Model Y 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. The even cheaper Standard Range model is set to follow next year and it's virtually a guarantee that the crossover will poach many sales from rivals. Although Audi's e-tron and BMW's forthcoming iX3 are strong competition, the Tesla is cheaper and, therefore, more accessible for most. The Ford Mustang Mach-E will prove a much tougher rival on price, but until that arrives, the Model Y is well-positioned to dominate. Regardless of which model 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 upcoming seven-seater option with its cramped third row, but these aspects are unlikely to prevent the Model Y from storming up the sales charts.
The Tesla Model Y starts off with the Long Range at an MSRP of $52,990, before progressing to the Performance variant with a price tag of $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 Vehicle Rebate Project, with a rebate of $2,000, although this only applies to vehicles with an MSRP of below $60,000, which rules out the Model Y Performance.
Although the Tesla Model Y range is expected to expand in the future, for now there are just two available trims: the Long Range and the Performance. Both feature Tesla's dual-motor, all-wheel-drive configuration with a single-speed, fixed-gear transmission, but their outputs differ, with the Model Y Performance offering up to 480 hp. Both trims will be available with a seven-seater configuration next year.
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 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 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 $7,000 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 - once it becomes available - will cost you $3,000.
The Long Range offers all the performance anyone could need for $8,000 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. With more power, the Model X is much quicker, getting to 60 in as little as 2.6 seconds. The Long Range Plus also offers a range of up to 351 miles, around 35 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 $32,000 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 are a bit quicker than the Model Y, while also managing a slightly longer range on a full charge of 322 miles. The lower-slung Model 3 sedan is also a bit better to drive, and it already offers a cheaper Standard Range variant at under $40,000. The pricier trims are exactly $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.
Check out some informative Tesla Model Y video reviews below.