This amorphous hatchback is likely the most important car debut of 2020. Just as the Model 3 upended the segment for compact luxury sedans once ruled by the BMW 3-series, the Model Y is poised to rewrite the playbook for compact luxury crossovers, which are, like it or not, one of the chief breadwinners of the modern auto industry.
Although the Model Y shares most of its componentry with the Model 3, it enjoys some significant under-the-skin improvements, such as new processor chip that will underpin future autonomous functions and a more efficient aluminum rotor, rather than copper, for the front induction motor. The Model Y’s 75-kilowatt-hour battery pack consists of thousands of cylindrical cells that are cheaper and easier to package than the prismatic cells used by other EV makers. Last but not least, Tesla engineered a new HVAC system for the Model Y called the Octovalve that efficiently heats and cools the cabin without as much drain on battery range (remember: there’s no engine to heat the cabin or spin an AC compressor).
In Long Range trim, like our well-equipped, $63,190 test car, the Model Y’s estimated range is 316 miles, just slightly short of the Model 3’s 322 miles. The standard $50K model provides a 230-mile range. (The promised $40K model was dead on arrival, but Tesla makes vague statements about introducing it sometime in 2021.) Standard dual electric motors provide all-wheel-drive capability. Also baked into the price is Tesla’s Supercharger network, with nearly 1000 locations and 9000 chargers across North America, but charging isn’t free for the Y like it is for the bigger Model S sedan and Model X SUV. Some locations feature 250-kilowatt V3 chargers, which can deliver 158 miles worth of juice in only 15 minutes. It still can’t beat the convenience of just pulling into a gas station, but it’s years ahead of the charging network for any EV competitor.
The Model Y is not a pretty car. The Model 3’s pure lines, when bloated to crossover proportions, become a visual blob. “It’s like shooting a chrome egg,” noted photographer Cameron Neveu. This is where the striking new Polestar 2, from Volvo’s new EV sub-brand, beats Tesla. (It doesn’t, however, beat Tesla in range, with a maximum of only 250 miles.)
There’s no traditional key for the Model Y. You get a credit card-shaped electronic key, which you must press against the door pillar or place just so on the center console. Or, more conveniently, you just use your smartphone and the Tesla app. The door handles themselves are annoying, as they require you to release them on one end, then grasp the other end to actually open the door. Too clever by half.
Depending on your outlook, the Model Y’s cabin is either a sleek, modern space in complete congruence with the state-of-the-art technology of the electric