► Tesla Model Y Long Range driven in UK
► 315-mile range, £55k on sale from March 2022
► Latest news of 4680 battery and Berlin factory
UK order books are now open for Tesla’s long-awaited Model Y, priced from £54,990 for the Long Range electric SUV. That’s the version we’re driving for the first time on British roads, though it’s a Dutch test car with the steering wheel on the left.
First right-hand-drive deliveries of Long Range models started in March 2022, with £64,990 Performance versions following in the summer. So how does Tesla’s high-roofed, high-riding version of the Model 3 feel on UK roads? Read on to find out more.
Best electric SUVs
We’ve waited years for this car, let’s get driving…
Tesla CEO Elon Musk unveiled the Model Y back in March 2019. For anyone who’s forgotten the details in the intervening months, the Model Y shares its chassis, battery and electric motors with the Model 3 saloon (though Tesla plans a ‘4680’ battery and chassis upgrade – more on that later).
The Y measures about 50mm longer than the 3 and the roof sits some 200mm higher: its 4.75m length is similar to a BMW X3’s. There are five seats in a spacious cabin, behind which sits a vast 854-litre boot. In America you can spec two occasional seats in a third row, but they’re not available to order in the UK yet.
Get rolling and you’re immediately struck by three things: the Model Y sounds blissfully quiet around town (as you’d expect from an EV), the suspension feels pretty firm, and the sensors compile a reassuringly faithful picture of your surroundings relayed on the large but solitary touchscreen.
Okay, let’s pick up the pace on some country roads
In Car magazine group tests the Model 3 remains undefeated, and much of its dynamic talent is present and correct in the Y. The steering is great: no slop, reassuringly weighty and quick to respond as you swing off-centre. Don’t expect a lot of feel though.
And, rolling on Michelin Pilot Sport EV tyres and with a low centre of gravity and 2003kg of mass pinning it down, the Model Y sticks like dried Weetabix to a bowl. Tip it into a fast corner and there’s little roll and a lot of confidence in its grip levels. It doesn’t dance delicately through bends, more subverts them to its will.
On the straights, the Model Y has a wondrous ability to warp from here to there – its ‘standard’ acceleration (there’s also a chill mode) is far from standard and actually a cut above the mainstream EV pack. The benchmark burst from standstill to 62mph disappears in 5secs flat. Thank the electric motors on both the front and rear axles, producing a combined 469bhp and 424lb ft of torque.
Coming to a halt is nicely judged too. Select from three regenerative braking modes – Creep, Roll or Hold – with the latter providing strong but natural feeling deceleration. And if you do need to jump on the friction brakes, they respond strongly.
Sounds promising. Are there any downsides?
Ride quality can be brittle on the 20inch Induction rims with low profile 255/40 section rubber. The Y can crash through potholes around town, get quite jiggly when bumps come thick and fast, and transmit the feel of coarse motorway ripples. No surprise there are occasional rattles coming from the rear. It feels like there’s a little more tyre and wind noise on the motorway than in the quietest rolling EVs.
And the driving experience is a lot sportier than the driving position. People attracted by the crossover’s raised ride height (about 17cm off the ground) may not mind, but I felt like a budgie on a perch, having to lean forward to discover where the Y’s stubby nose ends.
You access the Model Y by placing a credit card-style ‘key’ on the B-pillar – it’s a bit fiddly to find the right spot – but it’s largely moot: most users will set up their smartphones to unlock the doors via near-field communication.
Inside the Model Y’s cockpit
Tesla’s less-is-more approach is familiar now, with no driver’s instruments and complete reliance on the central touchscreen for the speedo and functions such as the wipers or triggering side mirror adjustment. The screen is a visual delight, with a beautiful, clear map, large digital keypad that pops up to enter nav destinations and majestic pinch-and-zoom capability.
But it’s not unimpeachable. Voice control is surprisingly clueless, and I miss Apple CarPlay’s simple way of curating all your key smartphone apps on one page.
The screen’s standout feature is the way sensors build a graphical picture of your surroundings. Nearby vehicles, pedestrian warnings, traffic lights and roadside rubbish bins are faithfully recreated. Elon Musk takes inspiration from the film Spaceballs for his Model S Plaid edition, but he’s clearly a fan of Coneheads too if the Y’s obsession with orange traffic cones is anything to go by.
Tesla’s interior fit and finish is definitely improving, and the standard glass roof gives a beautiful airy feel. There’s lots of rear space, aided by the flat floor, and the rear seats recline and fold independently to boost versatility. The charging cable can be stowed in a 117-litre front boot.
Model Y’s range and 4680 battery developments
The Long Range officially manages 315 miles, and it lives up to that billing from a full charge on a mild autumnal day. A robust range above 300 miles still feels pretty exceptional and will make charging anxiety a less frequent concern for many owners.
And Tesla has announced that its midsize cars will get a 16 per cent range boost, as it rolls out developments including 4680 cylindrical batteries. Named after their dimensions (46mm in diameter and 80mm long), these cells are bigger in size than their predecessors, yet the cell’s densely packed internals means electrons have less far to travel to generate current.
The extended range also comes from a stepchange in the vehicle platform: the rear underbody will become one single aluminium casting, which Tesla claims is the world’s biggest. This will incorporate the 4680 battery as a structural member, and eliminating extraneous metal is said to reduce body mass by a tenth – also boosting range.
However the timeline for roll-out across Tesla’s growing factory network is unclear. The soon-to-be-finished Berlin gigafactory is lined up for the giant casting machine and the switch to 4680 models, once battery development is complete. Tesla hopes to introduce the new models in 2022, but precisely when is not yet known.
In the meantime, UK right-hand drive models will come from the Shanghai factory, suggesting the 2170 battery models will be arriving here for a while yet.
Model Y standard spec and Autopilot features
The Model Y is well equipped, with standard kit including the glass roof, ‘premium’ sound system with 14 speakers, powered front seats and four heated perches, plus a raft of safety features including blind spot monitoring, lane departure back-up and automated forward braking.
And all Model Ys get Tesla’s Autopilot system as standard – Level 2 driving assistance with traffic-aware motorway cruising and braking, and automatic steering to keep you in lane. The Model Y is yet to be Euro NCAP tested, but the related Model 3 is rated as having excellent assistance, though with reservations that drivers might get too reliant on it – don’t forget it’s a back-up system not absolute autonomy.
Simply pull the gear selector three times to engage Autopilot, and wait for screen markings to go blue to show the system is active. Enhanced Autopilot – which enables lane changes with a flick of the indicator stalk, autoparking and summoning the vehicle with your smartphone – costs an additional £3400.
Full Self-Driving Capability – which essentially future-proofs the Model Y to increase autonomous urban capabilities via OTA software updates – costs £6800. Think twice before shelling out for something that’s fiendishly complicated to develop, requires regulatory approval and has no concrete introductory date.
UK punters wanting a large, premium electric crossover have gone from a choice of Jaguar iPace to a plethora of models: five – including the Kia EV6 and Hyundai Ioniq 5 – have been shortlisted for Europe’s Car of the Year award.
The Model Y missed out, probably on account of its comparatively high price point. But if the price doesn’t faze you, consider it – but remember there’s a bigger-range 4680 model in the pipeline. That said, the Long Range goes far enough, it’s the charging infrastructure that needs to develop to keep up with mainstream EVs’ burgeoning distances and volumes.
The Y qualifies for pay-as-you-go access to Tesla’s 800+ superchargers in the UK, with up to 250kW of charging power. Tesla claims the Model Y can swallow 150miles of charge in 15 mins on the punchiest superchargers. And that 315-mile range, and its competitive energy efficiency in use, make it one of the most durable EVs.
It’s dynamic to drive and addictively fast, and for £65k – the price of an iPace or Mercedes EQC – you can upgrade to the Performance model, whose range dips to 298 miles and 0-62mph sprint drops to a silly 3.5seconds. But the Long Range is plenty quick enough, to be honest, and enjoyable to drive. It’s a Model 3 with extra space and practicality – and it’s the electric crossover benchmark.
Photography by Alex Tapley