► Tesla Model Y review on UK roads
► Prices from £44,990 for new RWD
► Every version of crossover EV tested
The Tesla Model Y has become one of Britain’s most popular electric cars and the range is now expanding with a slightly cheaper, two-wheel drive model priced from £44,990. You can read more about the expanded Model Y range here.
Supplementing that is the bigger-batteried Model Y Long Range, priced from £52,990, and the Lamborghini-baiting Performance model, priced from £59,990.
First right-hand-drive deliveries of the Tesla Model Y started in March 2022 and our Tesla Model Y review tests every which combination, helping you pick the best model for your requirements.
So how does Tesla’s high-roofed, high-riding version of the Model 3 feel on UK roads? Read on to find out more and decide for yourself whether you should pick this or an Audi Q4.
We’ve waited years for the Tesla Model Y… is it worth the wait?
Tesla CEO Elon Musk unveiled the Model Y all the way back in March 2019 and Brits were denied the choice for three years. 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.
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.
Comparison test: Tesla Model Y vs its rivals
Okay, let’s pick up the pace on some country roads
In CAR magazine group tests, the Model 3 remains undefeated and you might think that the Model Y continues that theme. Sadly not – the steering is devoid of much feel (nothing new there) and it’s also way too sharp in the middling mode. It makes it tricky to balance a smooth line through a corner as you have to constantly adjust the input. Meanwhile, in Sport mode, there’s too much false weight so it feels like steering through Marmite.
Rolling on Michelin Pilot Sport EV tyres and with a low centre of gravity and 2003kg of mass pinning it down (1909kg in the base rear-wheel drive model), 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.
The latest 2023 rear-wheel drive model loses hardly any of that tenacity. Torque is restricted from low revs so that things don’t get out of control and only the most over-committed will get the front tyres to elicit any sort of protest. In 99 per cent of everyday driving, it’s hard to tell the difference between the two layouts.
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.
Rear-wheel drive is knocked back slightly, to 6.6secs, but that’s still at the sharp end of the class. The Skoda Enyaq vRS is only 0.3secs quicker. Power in the RWD model is 347bhp.
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 generally 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.
Our rear-wheel drive test car came on 19s, which cushion things a bit more but are still not the last word in comfort.
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 335 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.
The Performance edition can muster 315 miles while the RWD is the most meagre of the bunch at 283 miles on the 19-inch wheels (267 miles on the 20s). Still, with Tesla’s class-leading charging infrastructure, the Model Y remains an easy EV with which to live.
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 Berlin gigafactory was lined up for the giant casting machine and the switch to 4680 models, once battery development is complete, but it now looks like it’ll be handled by the US factories.
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 has got a five-star Euro NCAP rating and scored 98 per cent on the safety assist systems.
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, including the Kia EV6 and Hyundai Ioniq 5 and BMW iX3.
Previously, the Model Y sat at the top end of that grouping. But thanks to Tesla’s price cut across its range in early 2023 and the release of the cheaper rear-wheel drive model, the Y is ultra-competitive even against what were previously considered budget brands.
The Y qualifies for pay-as-you-go access to Tesla’s 800+ superchargers in the UK, with up to 250kW of charging power (179kW in the RWD). Tesla claims the Model Y can swallow 150miles of charge in 15 mins on the punchiest superchargers. The 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 with prices ranging from £45k to £60k, the Y makes a compelling case for itself. It’s a Model 3 with extra space and practicality it remains up there with the best in class.
Specs are for the Long Range version
Photography by Alex Tapley