From £44,9908
Entry-level electric crossover sets out to prove that less is more

There are two reasons to sit up and take note of the new, purely rear-driven version of Tesla’s junior crossover, the Model Y.

For one thing – and this is especially true as you climb the rungs of luxury and price – entry-level models are often the most likeable and convincing in the range. Simple as that. You see it all the time with Porsche, where more power, opulence and expense tend to become a distraction from those essential things the car does well.

In the case of the Model Y RWD, the other element is the cost. Tesla’s pricing has been all over the place lately. Perhaps that is unsurprising when you have factories on different sides of the world, and your models use not just different battery packs but also different cell chemistries, and there are also new rivals hitting the market everywhere you turn.

The Kia EV6, Volvo C40, Polestar 2, Hyundai Ioniq 5, BMW iX1, Genesis GV60, Toyota bZ4X and Audi Q4 E-tron are all gunning for this US-designed but, for UK RWD versions, Shanghai-built Tesla. It means that while a price of around £52,000 was given when the Y RWD was announced last August, it’s now £44,990. Good value.

Tesla model y rwd 2023 02 panning

For your money, you get 64 fewer miles of WLTP range than the Tesla Model Y Long Range and a 0-62mph time around twice as long as that of the Model Y Performance. (Both of these loftier derivatives are AWD.) But 283 miles on a full charge and 6.6sec to 62mph hardly leave the Model Y RWD feeling like a poor relation, and on the road, it’s the nicest and most interesting of the trio, feeling light on its feet and taking Tesla’s trademark drivability and ease of use to a slightly higher level than you get with the heavier, more powerful cars.

Particularly well judged is the throttle mapping. Without four-wheel drive to provide natural stability, torque is held back at first and only when traction is assured do you get all 310lb ft. That sounds a bit nannying but in reality it means that this Tesla is one of the few EVs to have some genuine shape to its performance, which is refreshing. Likewise the steering. Going without an electric motor on the front axle hardly gives the Model Y levels of tactility you got with Tesla’s Lotus-derived Roadster (remember those?), but the wheel is small, the weighting of the motion natural and the response mischievously quick but not tiring. A slowish, heavy-ish crossover the basic Y may be, but it has more dynamic character than several of the earlier-mentioned rivals put together.

However, the slightly prickly low-speed ride that’s been a hallmark of every Tesla can also be found here. This is not a deal-breaker – in three days with the car, on everything from potholed city streets to open motorways, not once was I left longing for the plushness of an Ioniq 5 – but it’s something to note. 

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Tesla model y rwd 2023 04 driving

As is the spartan cabin, which in the white upholstery of our test car exhibits plenty of techno-chic but will border on George Orwell levels of bleakness for those who prefer tactile switchgear and a feeling of cosiness. Perceived quality seemed higher than usual Tesla fare, though, and the black leather cabin (the only other option) comes with wood trim instead of our car’s super-smooth white plastic.

At just under £45k, the most direct rival for this Y is the wallowier but plusher and more spacious entrylevel Ioniq 5. Incidentally, both cars have lower ultra-rapid charging potential than their bigger-batteried AWD range-mates (170kW for the RWD, 250kW for the Long Range and Performance) but are also – surprise, surprise – a bit more charming. The Tesla especially. With that new pricing, it’s a truly convincing EV all-rounder.

Tesla model y rwd 2023 19 action

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Richard Lane

Richard Lane
Title: Deputy road test editor

Richard joined Autocar in 2017 and like all road testers is typically found either behind a keyboard or steering wheel.

As deputy road test editor he delivers in-depth road tests and performance benchmarking, plus feature-length comparison stories between rival cars. He can also be found presenting on Autocar's YouTube channel.

Mostly interested in how cars feel on the road – the sensations and emotions they can evoke – Richard drives around 150 newly launched makes and models every year. His job is then to put the reader firmly in the driver's seat. 

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Bimfan 2 May 2023

I think this review pretty much sums up the Model Y. For me it has all the practicality most families need, along with the best and most practical EV driving experience available at the moment.

I do wish people would stop coming out with the same old criticisms of Tesla, e.g UGLY (beauty is in the eye of the beholder etc). There are some very nice lines on the car as well as some bland areas and i think most people dislike the featureless 'face'. POOR BUILD QUALITY. From my own esperience, the Chinese built cars are as good as any other brand I have owned from Audi, Jaguar, BMW Mercedes etc although some of the material qaulity isn't. BARE CABIN It's actually pretty cool in a Scandinavian type of way and significantly less distracting than having numerous different displays in various locations round the car. It could do with a HUD for key info, but you soon get used to glancing at the screen when you need to, and when you consider all the options provided at no extra cost, it is tremendously well equipped in luxury car terms. The voice control actually works in this car too, unlike Mercedes, and can be used for all sorts of adjustments and controls, so you don't actually need additional buttons. 

In the end i opted for the Model 3 RWD over the Y because it feels less on tiptoes, than the higher riding Y and i don't need the extra accomodation. It's a tad quicker and has a bit more range doing around 4.5 miles per Kw/hr as well. I don't regret changing the BMW for it at all, though I am not excited by it either and not rushing out to look at or clean it every five minutes. It is an appliance rather than transport to stir the emotions, but it is a very good EV with lots of useful features and space you don't get in other cars.  

Ian1803 2 May 2023

From the pictures, it's a neat, inoffensive design and it's nice to see some proper wheels at last  on a Tesla, not the ghastly grey cheapo 'hubcap look-alike' rubbish they have had for some while. As for the interior, the need for some physical buttons is obvious as messing about with a touch screen whilst on the move is inherently risky. Surely a simple 'heads up' display and some physical climate /entertainment/phone controls would obviously be a sensible and safer move? Also, the all white interior on a white car is really rather stripped down 'bleached' overkill to me. After all, there's minimalism and then there's absence of character! Otherwise, the RWD Y looks very practical and still has oodles of performance compared to similar sized ICE and EV competitors. Would I buy one as a personal purchase? No, as I wouldn't buy any electric care at the moment for a variety of reasons. In fact, I have a hunch that some time soon there could be a perfect storm brewing of over-pricing, poor range against ICEs, charging network problems, rising electricity and escalting insurance costs, all of which will slow the EV market as a whole. It may even bring it to a shuddering halt for a while. A sea change in battery technology and design uniformity (far less weight, far greater density of energy storage, common pack size and shape, far easier repair and far less problematic raw materials) will be needed to see any serious growth in EV use across the board.

mrking 2 May 2023

Agree with ftm594, I like a lot about Tesla's but they just look sooooo ugly I just couldn't. Every time I looked at it, my heart would say "why why why".