New Tesla Model Y vs Audi Q4 e-tron vs Kia EV6
Tesla’s new electric SUV gets offto a great start by being based on the excellent Model 3 saloon – but is it good enough to beat its front-running rivals from Audi and Kia...
New Tesla Model Y Long Range
List price £54,990
Target price £54,990
The Model Y promises the long range and potent performance of the Model 3 saloon, but with extra practicality
Audi Q4 e-tron 50 quattro S line
List price £54,545
Target price £54,545
With a plush interior and top-notch refinement, the Q4 is a polished electric SUV. However, it has the shortest official range here
Kia EV6 GT-Line S AWD
List price £51,945
Target price £51,945
The rear-wheel-drive EV6 is our reigning Car of the Year and favourite electric SUV, with a broad range of talents, but is it as good in range-topping four-wheel-drive guise?
Many of today’s Silicon Valley entrepreneurs live by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s now-famous motto, “Move fast and break things”, and none more so than Tesla CEO Elon Musk. Be it the development of electric vehicles (EVs), autonomous driving systems or dedicated charging networks, Tesla has made its name by offering buyers bleeding-edge technology way before the competition – even if said products (such as Tesla’s recently recalled ‘Full Self-Driving’ software) sometimes have issues.
Which is why we’re a little surprised that it’s taken Tesla so long to release its first mid-sized electric SUV: the Tesla Model Y. Based on the same underpinnings as the Tesla Model 3 saloon, it’s designed to offer buyers more space and practicality than its sibling on account of its bigger body and hatchback boot, without losing the alluring performance and range. Although there isn’t an entry-level rear-wheel-drive version, as with the Model 3, you can choose between Long Range and Performance models, both of which have four-wheel drive.
But while basing the Model Y on an existing product (and a superb one at that) will have reduced development costs, its delayed entry into a booming sector does put it on the back foot somewhat – especially when you consider that there are already some polished products on offer, including our reigning Car of the Year, the Kia EV6. Not only does the EV6 have a spacious interior and an impressive range, but you can go for a range-topping GT-Line S model with four-wheel drive (as we’ve done here) and still spend less than you would on the cheapest Model Y.
Then there’s the Audi Q4 e-tron. It’s not only temptingly priced for a premium electric SUV but has also impressed us previously with its refinement, comfortable ride and classy interior, and it too is available with four-wheel drive. So, put simply, the young Californian upstart has its work cut out. Let’s see how fast it can move.
Performance, ride, handling, refinement
Tesla has built its reputation on making cars that are ludicrously quick, but the competition is catching up fast. From 0-60mph, the Model Y and EV6 are separated by just 0.1sec, with the more powerful Model Y just dipping under 5.0sec. The Q4 – the least powerful of our trio – looks relatively tardy in this company, with a 0-60mph time of 6.3sec, but in comparison with most petrol and diesel SUVs it feels genuinely rapid. For reference, Audi’s Q5 40 TDI takes 8.0sec to hit 60mph from a standstill.
With such strong performance on tap, it’s important that these cars give you confidence when you’re out on the open road, but that’s where the Model Y starts to come unstuck. Although it’s keen to turn in to corners at moderate speeds thanks to its ultra-quick steering, it also feels nervous and flighty, with even the smallest of steering inputs causing the tall body to react. Factor in rear suspension that is easily upset by mid-corner bumps and you’re left with a car that can feel rather wayward on a country road.
The Q4, like the Model Y, exhibits a reasonable amount of body lean through bends, but it grips more evenly front to rear, doesn’t get thrown offline by mid-corner bumps and benefits from light, accurate steering that allows you to place it exactly where you want it. Okay, it isn’t what you’d call engaging, but most buyers won’t be bothered by that.
The EV6 is the most agile, thanks to minimal body lean and a four-wheel drive system that sends enough power to the rear wheels to help the car rotate into corners. And while we’d prefer a better sense of connection with the front wheels, the steering is precise and well weighted at most speeds.
In order to achieve this level of agility, Kia has had to sacrifice ride quality a little – but don’t go thinking that the EV6 is bone-shakingly firm. While it occasionally thumps over potholes and expansion joints, body movements are always well controlled and the ride settles down nicely at higher speeds.
That's something that can’t be said for the fractious Model Y. Despite coming on smaller, 19in wheels (versus the 20s fitted to the others), it jostles and bounces you around in your seat along even relatively smooth roads.
The Q4, meanwhile, is easily the smoothest-riding and most relaxing. It’s the quietest, too, with the least tyre and suspension noise at motorway speeds. There’s a small amount of both in the EV6, but the Model Y is by far the noisiest at any speed. The interior is a bit of an echo chamber, actually, because there’s no parcel shelf and the roof is made of glass, which doesn’t absorb sound as well as a regular rooflining.
However, the Model Y saves some face by having the longest real-world range. On a simulated test route of motorways, country roads and town driving (at our test track so that traffic conditions wouldn’t influence the results), the Model Y covered an impressive 247 miles on a full charge, versus 203 miles for the EV6 and 201 miles for the Q4. None of our contenders came close to matching its official range, but it was chilly on the day of our test (3-7deg C) – and batteries don’t like cold weather.
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