What Car? says...
You can think of the Tesla Model Y as a Tesla Model 3 that’s been pumped full of growth hormone to give it a higher driving position and more room inside.
You see, while the '3' is a fantastic car, Tesla is all too aware that its entry-level saloon doesn’t suit everyone. Its small boot opening isn’t great for families, for example, and it's not an SUV, which is an instant turn-off for many buyers.
That's where the Model Y comes in. It sits below the Tesla Model X in the brand's electric SUV line-up, and does without that car’s ‘falcon’ doors. As it stands, all versions sold in the UK have five seats, although a seven-seater option will be offered in the future. You can choose between RWD, Long Range and Performance versions, depending on how important acceleration and range is to you.
The Model Y's closest rivals are other electric SUVs, including the Audi Q4 e-tron, BMW iX1, Ford Mustang Mach-E, Genesis GV60 and Kia EV6 – although its price also creeps into VW ID Buzz territory. It can officially go farther between charges than all those alternatives, and you can charge it up more quickly at one of the many Tesla Superchargers dotted around the UK.
Over the next few pages of this review, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about the Tesla Model Y, including how practical it is and how many miles you can really expect from a full battery charge. We’ll also run you through some of its impressive safety and self-driving tech.
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Performance & drive
What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is
Engine, 0-60mph and gearbox
The Model Y isn’t quite as rapid as an equivalent Tesla Model 3 (blame the extra weight for that). Mind you, at our private test track we timed a Long Range version rocketing from 0-60mph in 4.8 seconds, and the range-topping Performance model has a supercar-rivalling official 0-60mph time of 3.5 seconds. That’s much quicker than any Audi Q4 e-tron and a close match for the GT version of the Kia EV6.
Even the entry-level RWD (rear-wheel drive) Model Y managed 0-60mph in 6.9sec in our tests, which is plenty fast enough for most buyers. The RWD has a much shorter official range than the Long Range (283 miles against 331 miles). The Performance version officially manages 319 miles.
In our real-world range tests the Long Range managed 272 miles in winter and an impressive 304 miles on a warm July day.
Suspension and ride comfort
Ride comfort isn’t a Model Y strength. It has bigger wheels than the equivalent Model 3, with 19in rims fitted to the RWD and Long Range versions as standard, and 20in wheels available as an option.
Neither wheel size is particularly forgiving over ridges and potholes, and you're jostled around in your seat on roads that, to the eye, appear quite smooth. The Performance version, with 21in alloys and sports suspension, isn't much more fractious.
It should come as no surprise that the taller and heavier Model Y isn’t as good to drive as the Model 3, but it’s a shame Tesla hasn’t spent more time tuning the car accordingly – especially given how rapid it is.
The incredibly quick steering that works well on the Model 3 has been carried over, but with the slightly more lethargic responses of an SUV, it makes the Model Y feel a bit nervous.
When you get past that and into a corner, you’ll find plenty of grip and not too much body lean, but the EV6, GV60 and Skoda Enyaq feel better balanced, inspire more confidence and are more enjoyable on twisty roads.
Noise and vibration
The Model Y is fairly noisy on the move. The interior is a bit of an echo chamber, actually, because the entire roof is glass, which doesn’t absorb sound very well.
You hear a fair amount of road noise and boom from the suspension when you're driving. If you’re looking for an electric SUV that’s a hushed cruiser, particularly on a motorway, the Q4 e-tron, GV60 and Enyaq are better options.
The brakes are really good, though – far smoother and more progressive than in most electric cars, so it’s very easy to judge how much pressure you need to apply.
The interior layout, fit and finish
Driving position and dashboard
From the driver’s seat, everything is near-enough identical to how it is in the Tesla Model 3 – except for one thing: the seats are mounted on stilts so you sit noticeably higher up, almost looking down on the dashboard. In other similarly priced electric SUVs – including the Audi Q4 e-tron and Kia EV6 – you feel more cocooned by a taller dashboard and higher window line.
We wish the ‘vegan leather’ seats had a bit more support around the sides and shoulders to hold you in position through corners, but they’re comfy enough when you’re going in a straight line.
The driver’s seat lines up neatly with the pedals and steering wheel, although the wheel itself is a faff to adjust for reach and height. You have to use the infotainment touchscreen to tell the car that’s what you want to do, then play around with some small controls on the wheel.
Visibility, parking sensors and cameras
The Model Y's windscreen pillars are fairly wide, and are angled in such a way that they can hamper your view out at junctions and roundabouts. How badly will depend on how tall you are and your driving position.
The same goes for the rearview mirror – it's mounted too low on the windscreen, so it can block some of your view when turning left.
All versions come with front and rear parking sensors, plus there are multiple cameras around the car to help with manoeuvring. LED headlights are standard and illuminate the road well at night.
Sat nav and infotainment
The Model Y has the same 15in touchscreen infotainment system as the Model 3. The operating system is fairly intuitive, and while some of the smaller icons can be distracting to hit accurately while you’re driving, the system is responsive once you’ve made your selection.
There are loads of useful features (sat-nav and web browsing, for example), welcome additions (such as Netflix and Spotify) and some purely fun applications (driving games controlled using the steering wheel and the ability to make whoopee cushion noises). You also get two easily accessible wireless phone-charging mats located below the infotainment screen and USB-C ports for rapid device charging in the large, covered centre console storage bin.
Overall, the infotainment system is better than the ones in the EV6 and Skoda Enyaq but the Genesis GV60 system is less distracting to operate when you’re driving. One notable omission is that Tesla doesn't include Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. However, you can sync your phone using Bluetooth to make phone calls or play music stored on it through the punchy sound system.
The quality of Tesla cars is something we’ve been a little critical of in the past, but things do seem to have improved. The Model Ys we’ve tested have all felt well screwed together inside and the exterior panel gaps were relatively consistent.
The materials inside are a little more appealing than those in the Ford Mustang Mach-E. Don’t expect to be blown away, though – the ‘vegan’ leather on the seats and steering wheel is soft but very obviously plastic. The rival GV60 is much plusher inside.
Passenger & boot space
How it copes with people and clutter
No one sitting in the front is unlikely to have any complaints about space in the Tesla Model Y, no matter how tall they are. There’s also loads of room for odds and ends, with a lidded cubby between the front seats and a good-sized storage area under the centre armrest.
The front seat area feels remarkably light and airy thanks to the combination of tall side windows and a standard full glass roof.
There's more rear leg and head room in the Model Y than in the Tesla Model 3 – although not by a dramatic amount. The biggest difference is that, because the seats are mounted higher in the car, the seating position is more comfortable and you don’t feel as though your knees are being forced up towards your chin.
A couple of six-footers will be more than comfortable enough on a long journey, and thanks to the flat floor, a third passenger sitting in the middle won’t feel too hard done by. That said, if you really must have limo levels of legroom, we’d recommend you take a look at the Kia EV6 or VW ID Buzz. Those cars have longer seat bases for better under-thigh support, too,
Seat folding and flexibility
The Model Y comes with 40/20/40 split-folding rear seats as standard, as does the BMW iX1 (the EV6, GV60 and Model 3 all have a less flexible 60/40 split). That gives you the option of slotting something long and thin, such as skis or a golf travel bag, between two rear passengers.
The seats are super-easy to fold – you just flick switches on the wall of the boot and they drop down of their own accord. And when the boot isn’t crammed full of luggage, you can recline the rear seatbacks slightly.
The Model Y has a huge boot – especially when you factor in the large well hidden under the floor. There’s also a smaller underfloor storage area directly behind the rear seats, which is a great place to stow the charging cables.
Utilising the additional front boot (‘frunk’) under the bonnet, we managed to squeeze an impressive 10 carry-on suitcases into the Model Y's load bays – more than in the Q4 e-tron and EV6 (seven). However, the immensely practical ID Buzz swallowed 16 cases.
The hatchback tailgate makes the Model Y a much more practical option than the Model 3. Fitting a big buggy inside is no problem at all, and all versions have an electric tailgate that can be opened and closed using the touchscreen, from the Tesla app on your phone or by pressing a button on the boot lid.
Buying & owning
Everyday costs, plus how reliable and safe it is
Costs, insurance groups, MPG and CO2
The Tesla Model Y undercuts the Kia EV6 as well as premium-badged electric SUVs including the BMW iX1, Genesis GV60 and Jaguar I-Pace. Resale values are predicted to be excellent and because it's fully electric the Model Y is seriously cheap to run for company car drivers who pay benefit-in-kind (BIK) tax.
The Tesla charging infrastructure is a big reason to choose a Model Y over rivals. The company’s Supercharger network is extensive, reliable and, in ideal conditions, allows you to charge the battery from 10-80% in less than half an hour thanks to impressive charging speeds. Alternatively, if you plug into a 7kW wallbox at home, a 0-100% charge in the entry-level RWD will take around 9hr 15min, or roughly 12 hours in the Long Range and Performance variants.
Equipment, options and extras
All versions of the Model Y come with plenty of luxuries, including climate control, adaptive cruise control, faux-leather seats (heated in the front and back), an electric tailgate and keyless entry via an app on your smartphone.
It’s a good thing it's well equipped as standard because there isn’t much on the options list. Apart from metallic paint, different alloy wheel designs and a tow bar package, the only options are extra autonomous driving functions.
The so-called Full Self Driving Capability doesn’t mean you can sit in the back and read What Car? while the car takes you to your destination. It simply allows the Model Y to make lane changes on its own (just press the indicator), steer itself into a parking space or be 'summoned' via a smartphone app at very low speeds. So, if someone parks too close to you in a car park for you to open the door, you can drive your Model Y out of the space using your mobile phone.
Tesla gives you a four-year/50,000 mile warranty, with the battery and drive unit covered separately for eight years or 120,000 miles (100,000 in the entry-level RWD version). The warranty covers the electrical bits against faults and guarantees a minimum 70% retention of battery capacity.
Safety and security
The Model Y has been awarded a superb five-star safety rating by Euro NCAP and comes as standard with automatic emergency braking (AEB) and blind-spot monitoring. A closer look at the scores reveals that the Model Y is slightly better for adult occupant crash protection than the GV60 and EV6, and about the same as the Audi Q4 e-tron.
As for security, as well as the usual kit, there’s something called Sentry mode. When enabled, it uses the car’s external cameras to start recording when the car is approached after it’s locked, saving the footage to a USB drive. If someone tries to break in, or if someone drives into your Model Y when it's parked up, the cameras should record the incident.
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It's offered as a seven-seater in some markets, including the US, and the option will be available in the UK at some point (Tesla hasn't said exactly when).
We have no information to suggest that the Model Y is being discontinued. It was launched in 2020 so it's likely to be in production for several more years.