While the competition is still scrambling to respond to the Californian automaker’s success, Tesla pushes ahead with a fourth electric vehicle that is undoubtedly set to become the brand's bread and butter. We’re talking about the Model Y, which is already selling like hot cakes despite starting price of nearly $70,000.
Directly derived from the Model 3 sedan, the Model Y is the utility counterpart. It is a naturally more spacious vehicle as evidenced by the 1,919 litres of cargo space, to which the practical front trunk contributes. This metric makes it a more spacious SUV than the upcoming Mustang Mach-E, whose preliminary figures indicate a volume of around 1,700 litres. This latest addition to the Tesla family gains six centimetres in length over the Model 3, making it a little longer than a BMW X3 or Mercedes-Benz GLC.
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At the moment, Tesla only offers two versions: the Long Range model, which is the variant we drove, and the Performance version, which is faster in terms of acceleration but shaves 40 kilometres off the Long Range model’s autonomy. Unlike the Model 3, the Model Y comes standard with Dual Motor technology, giving it all-wheel drive right off the bat. Nonetheless, the manufacturer could still expand the Model Y’s range considering the strong demand for this type of vehicle in the current market.
Bonfire, raging fire…
Even if we all have our own tastes and preferences, it’s hard not to reckon the Model Y’s fluid lines and familiar design cues. Available with a limited choice of five colours, you'll have to shell out $1,300 for black, gray and blue. If you fancy red, it will cost you $2,600. But the white is offered free of charge.
Only the Performance version can wear 21-inch alloy wheels which, you guessed it, are more or less suited to Quebec’s notoriously bad roads. This version comes standard with a small carbon fibre rear spoiler which, while aesthetically pleasing, does nothing to improve the Model Y's already impressive aerodynamic coefficient of just 0.23. This makes it the most aerodynamic SUV on the market today.
While the presentation is great, the exterior finish is nothing to boast about. To sum it up: poor assembly that is inconsistent from model to model, and requires many post-delivery adjustments from the service department. In our case, the driver's side rear door as well as the tailgate looked like they were assembled during an overtime shift, by tired employees who were due for a good night's sleep. Sorry.
On board, the simplistic character of the layout is generally bland. In fact, it is almost sad. The optional white upholstery can bring along a bit of contrast, but this feature involves more attention and care in terms of maintenance than with traditional black.
Among the decorative elements found in the cabin, you will find door sill plates bearing the Model Y emblem, some contrast stitching and, of course, the gigantic 15-inch digital tablet in the centre of the dashboard. The latter also acts as an instrument cluster and computer, incorporating the infotainment system as well as HVAC and locking controls. Only the windows, indicators and windshield wipers are graced with traditional switches, which are probably on their way out.
Ergonomically, the Model Y requires some type adaptation, especially if you’re stepping out of a more mainstream vehicle like a Honda CR-V. The tablet’s response and ease of use are quite convincing. One must remember that the vehicle is constantly connected to the Internet, which translates to direct access to a host of functions such as HD radio and satellite navigation, which is one of the few systems as - if not more - efficient than Google Maps, displaying Tesla charging station locations in real time. Also, note that the Model Y comes with multiple graphics showing you the status of your energy use, remaining range and charging solutions. This is a facet that will help you familiarize yourself with the world of eco-motorists, but that will also make you a better eco-driver (yes, you will develop a new eco-vocabulary!)
While Model Y may be equipped with optional third row seating, think of it an ideal vehicle for a family of four or five. In this case, you get excellent clearance in the rear, allowing you to install a booster seat with ease. The larger trunk also hides a practical base tray. Add in the front trunk and a huge centre console filled with storage compartments, and you get a vehicle packed with amenities. In fact, the Model Y can also be equipped with a towing package that enables it to tow up to 1,600 kg, which is another significant advantage over the Model 3.
On the road, seating comfort and driving position are both noteworthy. Of course, a heads-up display with basic data would have been appreciated, as would the ventilated seats, but both are not offered. On the other hand, the fully glassed headliner creates a unique atmosphere on board, especially if you are seated in the second row. And it is hard not to appreciate the excellent sound system and its streaming capabilities.
Not Afraid of the Cold
Good news, the Model Y is the first vehicle in the family to benefit from a battery thermoregulation system that constantly adapts itself according to the outside temperature, minimizing range impact during the winter but also in very hot summer weather. The boasted 509-kilometre range therefore becomes even more realistic, even if you plan on driving without optimizing efficiency. Of course, the range will probably drop to around 375 or 400 kilometres during the cold months, but this is still a higher range compared to other electric vehicles on the market.
Although we did not completely drain the battery during our experiment, our half-city half-highway drive already suggested a result of at least 475-480 kilometres of total range. And that included some harsh acceleration passes, just to test what Model Y has under its belt… or under its floor!
Since Tesla states that the Model Y can go from zero to 100 km/h in 5.0 seconds, we had to validate it. Our result? 4.82 seconds. It goes to show that the automaker is also conservative when it comes to performance numbers. Does this mean that a Performance version could do the same exercise in 3.5 seconds considering Tesla stipulates it can do it in 3.7 seconds? This metric is similar to that of a Lamborghini Urus.
Increased performance inevitably drags up the cost. A factor to consider with the Performance version, which will run you an additional $14,000 just for 21-inch rims and sharper acceleration… Now, since the normal version is already very fast, the advantage of opting for the range-topper is questionable.
On the road, the Model Y provides a unique experience. The silent cabin, the power and regenerative deceleration are all part of it, but there’s this weird feeling of driving a shell fitted with a unique technology, ultimately releasing no emotion except that of a vague impression of suddenly finding yourself in the future. The steering is precise and the handling is remarkable, but everything is done with such ease that the feeling of being one with the vehicle is completely absent. Imagine what it is like when you activate the AutoPilot system, a semi-autonomous driving tech that is more efficient than any other manufacturer's.
The disappointments at the wheel of the Model Y? Problematic rear visibility, the lack of a rear wiper as well as a few creaks of the body, which once again testify to the quality of the overall assembly that needs to be improved. That said, like the rest of the family, the Model Y is different from what the industry offers. It’s a product that is already ahead of its future rivals and which will be so successful that it will undoubtedly exceed the sales of the Model 3 in North America.
To conclude, let it be stated that the company's arrogance in terms of after-sales service remains a major irritant. For some critical issues, like the well-known Model 3 paint chipping for example, you might just be left on your own. In fact, the manufacturer foolishly chose to solve the issue of this "elusive" sill paint by offering owners a flimsy set of mudguards as protection. It's as ridiculous as putting a Band-Aid on a fractured arm! So if you're used to the unparalleled service provided by your Lexus dealership, be warned, the Tesla customer experience could quickly turn into a nightmare.