Tesla Model Y SUV review
"The Tesla Model Y takes what makes the Model 3 great and adds SUV practicality"
- Fast and efficient
- Spacious interior
- Hatchback boot
- Delayed for the UK
- Patchy build quality
- Limited model lineup
The Tesla Model Y has all the ingredients to be a hit when it eventually arrives on UK shores. The Tesla Model 3 has already struck a chord with buyers, appearing in the list of top-selling cars during 2021 and scoring well in our Driver Power owners satisfaction survey. Adding SUV style and space is only likely to make the recipe more desirable.
There's certainly enough hype around the brand but Tesla does risk missing the boat. Instead of arriving as a trailblazer, the Model Y will find itself competing against the Volkswagen ID.4, Skoda Enyaq iV, Ford Mustang Mach-E, Audi Q4 e-tron, Mercedes EQA and Ioniq 5. In other words, just about every mainstream manufacturer has realised it needs to sell an electric SUV and many of them are already available.
Part of the reason for the delay is Tesla CEO Elon Musk's desire for European examples of the Model Y to be built at a new Tesla Gigafactory in Germany, the completion of which has faced significant hold ups. The Y began arriving with the first American customers in March 2020.
When the Model Y does arrive here, there's likely to be a Long Range and Performance model, sticking closely to the Model 3 on which the car is based. Both versions offer impressive acceleration and four-wheel drive but it's the Performance that's likely to be faster than any rival, with 0-60mph taking around 3.5 seconds.
The Long Range will be capable of around 314 miles between charges, thanks to its smaller wheels and slightly reduced performance, while the Performance will have a range of around 298 miles. These are impressive numbers but according to official figures, they're no longer class-leading, with the Mustang Mach-E capable of up to 379 miles in its most efficient specification.
Inside, the Model Y has the same minimalist interior and technology as the Model 3, focused around a high-res 15-inch touchscreen in the middle of the dashboard. Air vents have been replaced by a narrow slot and leather by vegan-friendly materials. It works well once you get used to its controls but quality isn't on the same level as the top European manufacturers.
A taller roof means there's more space and headroom inside the Model Y than the Model 3, while its hatchback boot is much more useful for loading luggage or sports equipment. However, the Enyaq's boxy shape makes it even more accommodating.
We'll need to spend time behind the wheel of a Tesla Model Y in the UK to deliver our final verdict but we suspect fans of the brand and families alike will love the Model Y even more than the 3. Tesla should be worried, however, that the market for electric SUVs is getting significantly more crowded as the wait for the Model Y continues.
MPG, running costs & CO2
When the Model Y arrives, it's likely to be in Long Range and Performance versions, both of which have the same size battery. Thanks to smaller, 19 or 20-inch alloy wheels and less power from its electric motors, the Long Range is expected to have a range of around 314 miles. Step up to the Performance version, and 22-inch alloy wheels and more power reduce range to just under 300 miles.
The Skoda Enyaq iV has a shorter 256-mile range with its 62kWh battery but just beats the Model Y with between 327-333 miles if the largest 82kWh battery is fitted. Meanwhile, the Volvo XC40 Recharge can manage up to 259 miles between charges, which is some way behind the Ford Mustang Mach-E - that car’s capable of up to 379 miles.
Both the Long Range and Performance models take just under 12 hours to charge from empty to 100% using a 7.4kW wallbox, while a rapid charge at 250kW can take the battery from 10 to 80% in just 19 minutes. Another draw is the Tesla Supercharger network of public chargers, which won our 2020 Best chargepoint providers survey, coming top in every category.
As with all EVs, the Model Y is exempt from VED (road tax) but the biggest savings will be for business users, thanks to very low Benefit-in-Kind liability. This can save company-car drivers hundreds or even thousands per month compared with petrol and diesel models.
Engines, drive & performance
While Tesla hasn't revealed the exact power of the Model Y destined for the UK market as yet, the Performance version is expected to get the same 455bhp as the Tesla Model 3 Performance. Nobody is ever likely to describe it as lacking in speed, with a 0-60mph time in the region of 3.5 seconds and a top speed of 150mph. There's instant acceleration when you press the throttle, followed by sustained acceleration that a Mercedes-AMG C63 or BMW M3 would struggle to match.
The Long Range version isn't quite as unhinged, with around 345bhp getting it from 0-60mph in just under five seconds and on to a top speed of 135mph; step out of the Model Y Performance and it almost feels slow. The car feels taller than the low-slung Model 3 but there's still almost no body lean in corners, thanks to the low centre of gravity of the battery pack beneath your feet. There's some feel of the wheels and road through the steering too, keeping the driver in touch with what the Model Y is doing.
Regenerative braking as you release the accelerator can be adjusted and in its maximum setting, it slows the Model Y noticeably, negating the need to use the brake pedal in most circumstances. It takes a bit of getting used to when first making the switch from a petrol or diesel model but quickly makes sense and can become rather addictive as energy is put back into the battery to improve range.
Interior & comfort
The Model Y's interior is virtually identical to the Model 3, although you will notice the extra headroom. The raised seating position also makes getting in and out easier, and the extra space helps the Model Y feel airier inside, especially for those in the back seats, who also get to enjoy a larger panoramic roof.
The dashboard is the epitome of minimalism, with just a large central touchscreen; if you look through the steering wheel there are no dials or screens . Everything from the media system to the climate control and wipers are controlled either by the screen, controls on the steering wheel or column stalks. The 15-inch display is impressive, with Tesla's own software that works well and is frequently updated. It also has some pretty unique features, including the ability to show streaming entertainment like Netflix while parked up or play console-style computer games.
It's not perfect, however, and material quality is still off the pace of rivals like the Audi Q4 e-tron, Mercedes EQC and Jaguar I-Pace. It's also likely that trim options will be limited for the Model Y when it arrives in the UK, with far fewer ways to add features or personalise the interior than those offered by manufacturers like Audi.
Practicality & boot space
We've mentioned that the Model Y's taller roof means passengers have more headroom than in the Model 3, which makes it possible for adults to sit comfortably in the back seats. The electric 'skateboard' under the car helps here because there's less intrusion into the interior, resulting in a flat floor and a longer interior than that of a traditional SUV of a similar size.
Along with its SUV looks and raised seating position, most buyers will choose a Model Y for its improved practicality. Along with its frunk (storage space under the bonnet), a hatchback tailgate is likely to appeal to UK buyers more than the Model 3's saloon version, creating a much bigger opening to load in bulky items. Its three-part rear bench also folds down electronically. Tesla has also hinted that a third row will be available to make the Model Y a seven-seater but this hasn't been confirmed yet, and it also doesn't look like there'll be much space, so they're likely to be limited to children.
Reliability & safety
While the Model Y hasn't appeared in our Driver Power reliability survey yet, the Model 3 came 18th out of the top 75 models. However, strong scores in other areas offset a poor performance for exterior and interior build quality. It scored very highly for running costs and gained a category win for its powertrain, while practicality also impressed - an area in which the Model Y should do even better.
It's a similar story for safety, where the Model 3 has been crash-tested but it's unlikely the Model Y will be scrutinised by Euro NCAP just yet. The Model 3 scored an impressive 96% for adult occupant protection, along with a very high 94% rating in the Safety Assist category.
The Model Y also gets the same Autopilot semi-autonomous driver aids, so it's covered in numerous sensors and cameras that can help the driver avoid collisions and take over some driving tasks on well-marked roads.