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Tesla’s smaller SUV, and potentially its biggest seller, finally arrives in the UK

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Tesla isn’t like other car companies. In the 10 years since the Tesla Model S was launched, it has developed a fully fledged model line-up and sold millions of cars, embarrassing established manufacturers’ sluggish EV roll-outs in the process. Whatever it is, it’s definitely not a start-up any more.

And yet, it does things you couldn’t imagine from, say, Mercedes-Benz. For instance, taking deposits on the upcoming lorry, pick-up truck and roadster despite these models being nowhere near production-ready. Tesla has released its Full Self-Driving system in public beta in America, despite it being quite a long way from being self-driving, as the emerging videos quite clearly show.

Despite having similar sloping rooflines, one of the big improvements of the Model Y over the Model 3 is that it’s a hatchback rather than a saloon

Another case in point is the Model Y. The compact SUV segment is very important, not just across the Atlantic but over here too. But even though there were plans all along to bring the Model Y to Europe, it has taken two years since the US launch for the first examples to be delivered here.

Part of that is Tesla doing its own thing, and part of it is a result of the difficulties it has encountered setting up a new factory in Germany. In fairness, a global pandemic didn’t help, but it also looks like Tesla underestimated the amount of red tape and bureaucracy establishing a greenfield car plant in Germany would entail.

Tesla got there in the end, and the Berlin plant is now up and running, but not before the first European-spec Model Ys were delivered from the Shanghai factory. To be able to put arguably its most important new model on sale just a little bit quicker Tesla decided to import cars from China. UK Model Ys will continue to be come from there for a while longer as the site is already geared up to make right-hand drive cars for Japan and Australia.

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Wherever the cars come from, we can finally take a closer look at what is likely to become Tesla’s biggest seller. Is the Model Y worth the wait?

The Tesla Model Y line-up at a glance

The Model Y launched in the UK with two dual-motor versions only: the Long Range and the Performance. In 2023, a cheaper rear-wheel drive model was added to the range.

There are no trim levels. The Model Y just comes with lots of equipment as standard.

EnginesPower
Tesla Model Y RWD347bhp
Long Range*434bhp
Performance483bhp

*version tested

Tesla Model Y FAQs

What are the main rivals to the Tesla Model Y?

The Tesla Model Y has entered into an increasingly crowded corner of the market - the mid-size EV SUV class. In terms of size and practicality, the Model Y goes toe-to-toe with machines such as the Ford Mustang Mach-E, the Audi Q4 E-tron and even Skoda Enyaq iV. Yet when it comes to performance, pricing and driving dynamics it’s closer to entry-level versions of the Jaguar i-Pace. None of its rivals, however, have access to Tesla’s excellent Supercharger network.

How much power does the Tesla Model Y have?

The short answer is, quite a lot. There's a choice of two power outputs with the Tesla Model Y, and even the entry-level Long Range AWD packs a hefty 434bhp from its twin motor set-up, which is good for a claimed 0-60mph time of 5.0 seconds. Move up to the Performance and this benchmark figure tumbles to a supercar-humbling 3.7 seconds thanks to its muscular 483bhp output.

What choices of gearbox are there for a Tesla Model Y?

Like most electric cars, the Tesla Model Y is only available with a single speed transmission. Thanks to the instant torque and high-revving nature of an electric motor there’s no need for multiple ratios, as in an ICE car. However, the gearing used for the front and rear motors is slightly different, with one having a shorter ratio for acceleration and the other slightly longer for more efficient high speed cruising.

Where is the Tesla Model Y built?

The Tesla Model Y is built in four factories around the world. Currently, the main facilities for production are in the US, with the brand’s original plant in California and newer Gigafactory in Texas. These have been joined by Gigafactories in China (Giga Shanghai) and the recently opened site in Germany (Giga Berlin). Each factory is currently geared up to build 250,000 Model Ys a year, but this number can be increased.

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How many generations of the Tesla Model Y have there been?

Officially debuting in 2019, this the first generation of the Tesla Model Y. Given it’s a relatively new release, there’s no word yet on the second generation version of the SUV. However, unlike many traditional rivals, Tesla prefers to constantly upgrade its cars during their life cycles, rather than launch specific model year updates.

What Car? New car buyer marketplace - Tesla Model Y

DESIGN & STYLING

2 Tesla Model Y 2022 road test review side pan

Anyone vaguely familiar with the Tesla Model 3 saloon won’t be surprised at any of the Model Y’s technical make-up or design. Like it or loathe it, Tesla’s design language is consistent and thus makes any of its cars clearly recognisable as a Tesla. It’s extremely clean, with no fake grilles or spoilers, and the fish-like shape and flush door handles are very aerodynamic (even if Tesla’s drag coefficient of 0.23 sounds optimistic) but it’s not exactly elegant.

The Model Y is very much like a bigger Model 3 – Tesla actually claims 75% of components are shared. It is only 50mm longer, at 4751mm, but a considerable 181mm taller. Of that, 27mm goes into increasing the ground clearance to 167mm, so the body height is stretched by more than 150mm, which benefits not just head room but also the rear passengers’ seating position. Potentially the most significant improvement over the Model 3 is that the Model Y is a hatchback, which means it is not at a practicality disadvantage compared with the Volkswagen MEB cars, and the Kia EV6 and Hyundai Ioniq 5.

What look like side repeaters for the indicators actually house the cameras for the driving assistance. They must be in the path of muck flung from the wheel arch, because the car kept saying the side cameras were blocked

The mechanical make-up is also the same as the Model 3. That means there is a sizeable skateboard battery in the floor. Tesla is notoriously coy about battery capacity (ironic, given that it used to be the basis for its model naming structure) and power output, but the pack is estimated to have a 75kWh usable capacity.

In 434bhp Long Range dual-motor form, the Model Y is good for 331 miles on the WLTP cycle. For the 483bhp Performance model, range drops to a still-impressive 319 miles. When the Model Y was revealed, it was announced that there would be cheaper Standard Range and single-motor Long Range models, but those have since been cancelled.

The Model Y’s body is mostly steel but with a lot of aluminium too, including a huge single-piece casting for the rear understructure. And it appears to be effective: 1979kg doesn’t sound particularly light, but it actually is a decent result for an EV of this size.

INTERIOR

11 Tesla Model Y 2022 road test review cabin

Executive cars, whether hailing from Germany, the UK or Japan, have generally wooed buyers with their sumptuous interiors full of neat details and features. If that is what you have come to expect from your car, you will be instantly turned off by the Model Y.

Its interior, like in every other Tesla, is minimalism driven to its logical conclusion. There is almost nothing in there that doesn’t need to be there, and that includes buttons. The only piece of style over minimalism is the strip of natural-looking wood on the dashboard.

Layered wood-plastic-rubber design is as whimsical as it gets in the austere cabin of the Tesla. Build and perceived quality are fine, mind you.

Teslas have gained a reputation for flaky build quality, but from the evidence of our test car at least, that is undeserved. Everything inside the Model Y gave a sturdy impression and all surfaces felt pleasing to the touch. Apart from the touchscreen, they resisted fingerprints well.

It’s all fully vegan. That thought might give some people flashbacks to nasty vinyl seats, but in reality you couldn’t tell that the seats aren’t made of real leather. As standard it is black imitation leather, or for a rather steep £1100 you can have white seats.

As well as imitation leather, you better like touchscreens, because in a Tesla interior there isn’t a whole lot else to touch. The reduction in physical controls isn’t quite as pronounced as in the latest Tesla Model S, which forgoes even the indicator stalk and drive selector, but apart from those, all you get in the Model Y is seat controls, a button for the hazards, window switches and two multifunction controls on the surprisingly round steering wheel.

Given how few controls there are, it works fairly well, mainly because the screen reacts very quickly and there aren’t many deep submenus. Some controls are also cleverly dual-purpose. For example, there is no wiper stalk, just a button on the indicator stalk. Press it lightly for the mist function, or harder for a wash-wipe. Either way, it also pops up a menu on the screen to adjust speeds.

Even so, there are compromises. Adjusting the steering column or mirrors by first going into a menu and then using the steering wheel buttons is absurd. The ‘buttons’ for the climate control are too small, and although there are rear seat heaters, rear passengers can’t activate them because it is done only through the screen. Forget trendy minimalism, this is pure cost-cutting.

Where the interior excels is in the sheer amount of space it offers, much more than any of its rivals. Rear leg and head room are generous, but the bench is set higher in relation to the floor than in a Kia EV6, which creates a more comfortable seating position.

Tesla fudges its boot volume numbers a bit by quoting up to the roof, rather than the parcel shelf (because there isn’t one), but by our own measurements it is still larger in every direction than either the EV6 or the Skoda Enyaq, and there is a large area under the floor. To embarrass other cars further, there is also an impressive 117-litre ‘frunk’ that can be opened electronically.

Tesla Model 3 infotainment and sat-nav

Tesla is by no means the only manufacturer to eliminate buttons in favour of a massive touchscreen, but it could be argued that it was the first to do so semi-convincingly.

That is still the case to some extent, because at 15in the screen is huge, allowing large on-screen buttons. It responds instantly and most menus are clear and only one or two levels deep. There are also abundant USB ports and two wireless chargers.

However, the buttons for the climate control are too small, and there is no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto functionality, so if you want to use Apple Podcasts or Music, you have to do so through Bluetooth. At least Spotify is built in.

The navigation is Google Maps, which is mostly a good thing, but it doesn’t always work right if there is no mobile signal and the voice guidance is a bit too chatty.

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

25 Tesla Model Y 2022 road test review charging port

Remember all those drag race videos of Teslas pulling away from various supercars? A Tesla may not be a driver’s car in the traditional sense, but they do trade on performance.

That’s probably why this Long Range base model has an electric motor on each axle for a combined 434bhp and powered to 60mph in 4.7sec. An extra £10,000 buys you a Performance version with 483bhp and a claimed 0-60mph time of 3.5sec, but you certainly wouldn’t feel short-changed with the regular one.

Charging a Tesla at a Supercharger, where you just arrive and plug in, makes you angry at how sluggish and inconsistent the roll-outs of other charging networks are

After all, that performance is temptingly easy to access. There is no need to select a special mode or warm up the battery like with early fast Teslas. Just mat the pedal and this family SUV will hurl itself at the horizon. Other than the sheer level of thrust, it’s all pretty undramatic, too. On a dry road, it just grips and goes. Unlike most electric cars, it carries merrily on to an electronically limited top speed of 135mph.

Tesla could easily call this the Performance and have a slower, rear-wheel-drive model underneath. If it is all a bit much for you, you can select Chill mode to soften off the accelerator response and limit power to help save battery, but it is possible to achieve the same thing simply by going easier on the right pedal. Rather than a Chill mode, we would have liked to see more options to vary the regenerative braking.

You get a choice of Creep, Roll and Hold, and all three modes provide the same high level of regen when you lift off the accelerator at speed. The difference is what happens at low speed. Creep mimics an automatic gearbox, Roll lets the car roll when not holding the brake and Hold ups the regen at low speed and enables true one-pedal driving. It’s very good at it, rivalling chauffeurs in how smooth it is when coming to a stop.

Which is fine if you enjoy driving like that, but some drivers prefer only a little retardation when lifting off, for stronger braking to be controlled using the brake pedal. Tesla doesn’t offer that option. And that typifies the prescriptive way in which the car wants to be driven and operated.

RIDE & HANDLING

27 Tesla Model Y 2022 road test review cornering front

Prescriptiveness characterises the Model Y’s handling as well. Great if that matches how you drive, but frustrating if it doesn’t. By any objective standard, it handles well. Stiff suspension and ultra-quick (two turns lock to lock) steering make this big, heavy car feel remarkably agile, because it has the grip to back up those responses, thanks to wide, Tesla-specific 255-section Hankook Ventus S1 tyres.

When you power out of corners hard, you can just about feel there’s some rear torque bias to the driveline, but the traction control is quite restrictive and won’t allow any real rotation. The stability systems in general are conservative but well tuned and won’t freak out when you lift off mid-corner, which isn’t always the case on heavy, tall SUVs. It’s easy to see how someone with little experience of performance cars could drive a Model Y and be bowled over by the prodigious performance, high level of grip and keen responses. However, it is all a little one- dimensional, and a Kia EV6, or even a Volvo C40 Recharge, feels more natural to drive. It’s competent rather than fun.

Model Y is grippy and responsive in corners like these, but its steering is stodgier than we would like and the ride far too firm even for a car with such vast reserves of power.

The one element that is simply poor is the steering. Its weight can be adjusted between Comfort, Standard and Sport, but even in Comfort it is heavy in a gloopy, unnatural way that is reminiscent of electric power steering systems of 10 years ago.

Particularly frustrating is that the Model Y takes 12.1m between kerbs to turn. Where there is no motor between the front wheels, most ground-up EVs allow massive steering angles with an excellent turning circle as a result. For comparison, a Skoda Enyaq needs only 9.3m and even the conventional four-wheel-drive plug-in hybrid Jaguar F-Pace P400e requires less than the Tesla, at 11.9m.

Tesla Model Y comfort and isolation

It is clear there are elements of car design that Tesla considers important, like performance and battery energy density, and others that it reckons won’t be enough of a deal-breaker for people and therefore not worth pouring money into. Ride comfort and refinement are clearly quite far down Tesla’s priority list.

The suspension is relatively well damped, but it just never settles down, not even on the motorway. Our car was on the smaller, 19in wheels, but you might as well go for the 20s if they take your fancy, because there is no pliant ride here to ruin.

Those big wheels seem to seek out every road surface imperfection and thump through them. You don’t just feel it. You can hear it too, because noise insulation is substandard.

In fairness, with no engine humming in the background, other noises are more obvious, but the sound level meter doesn’t lie, and at 70mph the Model Y is louder than a Skoda Enyaq by 3dBA, an Audi Q4 E-tron by 4dBA and a Jaguar F-Pace by a massive 7dBA. With its 70dBA, it is just as noisy as a Skoda Fabia, a small, relatively cheap hatchback. The huge panoramic roof and lack of a parcel shelf may partially explain this lack of acoustic refinement, but they certainly don’t excuse it.

The seats are good if not exceptional. The commanding driving position is appropriate and there is enough adjustment to suit most body types and all testers found them comfortable on long journeys despite the slightly short seat base.

Tesla Model Y assisted driving notes

For a company that offers ‘Full Self-Driving’ and ‘Autopilot’, you would expect it to have adaptive cruise control with lane following licked.

Not quite. First things first, the adaptive cruise control itself works well. Adjusting the speed with a scroll wheel is very easy, it anticipates fairly well and it is confident and smooth in speeding up and slowing down.

However, the Autopilot lane following is unusable: it insists on being absolutely centred in the lane, and if you tweak it with the steering, it disengages. Make a lane change too quickly or too slowly and it disengages. Lane keeping assistance can be permanently turned off but generally works fine.

Our test car had the optional Enhanced Autopilot, which supposedly can make lane changes, take motorway exits and merge onto the motorway. Don’t bother – it’s hopeless. It has terrible lane discipline, it dithers, it slows down to a crawl on ramps and it has a phobia of traffic cones.

MPG & RUNNING COSTS

1 Tesla Model Y 2022 road test review tracking

If you have driven and charged other electric cars, Tesla’s Supercharger network is a revelation. You park up, plug in and charge at up to 250kW. You don’t need to swipe a card, the chargers work and there are lots of them. And you can use any other public charger, too. Having said that, it looks like the number of Teslas on the road is close to catching up with the number of Superchargers.

There’s no doubt that Tesla is still ahead of the pack when it comes to convenience because, in addition to access to Superchargers, the Model Y has a very competitive range. During our time with the car, including performance testing and motorway driving, we averaged 3.1mpkWh.

The Model Y is predicted to hold its value exceptionally well, even by premium electric car standards

Assuming a usable battery capacity of 75kWh, that gives a real-world range of 234 miles. Expect more in summer or with gentler usage. A single-motor Kia EV6 or Skoda Enyaq will do similar, and a Ford Mustang Mach-E Extended Range will go slightly further but with less performance.

Given that the range starts with the £54,990 dual-motor Long Range model, which is very well equipped as standard, there is no cheap Model Y. If you can live without the violent power and rich standard equipment, the Kia EV6 and Hyundai Ioniq 5 are much cheaper, while a lower-spec Audi Q4 E-tron or Volvo XC40 offers far better value. However, like for like, the Tesla is cheaper than anything else on the market.

Things are less rosy on PCP, where all direct rivals are significantly cheaper even if they have a higher list price, on account of its higher APR.

What Car? New car buyer marketplace - Tesla Model Y

VERDICT

29 Tesla Model Y 2022 road test review static

Like we said in the introduction, Tesla isn’t like other car companies. Most mainstream cars to undergo our road test will perform relatively consistently across the board and can be easily classified as mediocre, good or excellent.

The Tesla Model Y has one of the worst rides of anything that doesn’t pretend to be a track-focused sports car, and the level of acoustic refinement is not appropriate for a £54,990 car. Ordinarily, that would mean a four-star verdict would be out of the question. However, it counters that with way more interior space and practicality than any similarly sized EV and a strong if not exceptional range.

There’s not much to choose with a Tesla, and the options that are there are expensive. The Long Range is quick enough, and the Enhanced Autopilot doesn’t work as it should, so save that money and invest it in a more interesting exterior colour

But the clincher, like with any Tesla, is the access to the Supercharger network, which still does more to take the inconvenience out of charging than anything else.

The performance, range, roadholding and sheer amount of space on offer impress, too, but the button-free interior that is devoid of character and occasionally frustrating and the prescriptive way it wants to be driven make the Model Y a car to respect rather than love. An appliance, but a very effective one.

What Car? New car buyer marketplace - Tesla Model Y

Illya Verpraet

Illya Verpraet Road Tester Autocar
Title: Road Tester

As part of Autocar’s road test team, Illya drives everything from superminis to supercars, and writes reviews, comparison tests, as well as the odd feature and news story. 

Much of his time is spent wrangling the data logger and wielding the tape measure to gather the data for Autocar’s eight-page road tests, which are the most rigorous in the business thanks to independent performance, fuel consumption and noise figures.

Tesla Model Y First drives