- I drove a Tesla for the first time and came away impressed with the much-hyped brand.
- The Model Y’s sleek interior, speedy acceleration, and innovative tech features set it apart.
- But its oversized touchscreen and lack of physical buttons isn’t for everyone.
Tesla created and dominates the burgeoning market for electric vehicles. But can the company’s popular cars withstand a barrage of competitors from titans like Ford, General Motors, and Volkswagen?
That’s the big question I sought to answer when I got behind the wheel of a new Tesla Model Y SUV earlier this month. After testing more than a dozen battery-powered rides in the last year — but never one made by Elon Musk — I wondered whether Teslas can live up to the hype or not. Put differently: Are the company’s fanatical supporters right, or are its cars nothing special?
I borrowed a friend’s Tesla to find out for myself. (The company doesn’t offer press loans, so journalists have to get creative.)
First, the basics
The Model Y is Tesla’s small SUV and its most popular product. It has a starting price of $65,990 and two motors that provide all-wheel drive. A Performance version that sacrifices some range for added quickness is available for $4,000 extra, but the base model is plenty sporty.
Tesla doesn’t have dealerships and instead sells its cars online, direct-to-consumer. Buyers can take delivery at a Tesla location or have their vehicle shipped to their home.
What stands out: Cutting-edge technology, sporty driving, and effortless charging
Slide into a Tesla and you’ll find a refreshingly uncluttered interior free of conventional buttons, vents, and gauges. The cabin’s sleek design and understated wood trim more evoke an Apple store than an automobile.
This minimalist look is made possible by a large touchscreen that controls practically all important vehicle functions aside from stopping, going, and turning. This command center contains the door locks, A/C settings, speedometer, and navigation system. It’s also stuffed with outside-the-box features like games, a digital whoopee cushion, and Netflix, which can help owners pass the time while charging.
The display is super responsive to taps and swipes and features crisp graphics. Plus, Tesla regularly adds new capabilities through software updates, making the Model Y’s cockpit a tech nerd’s paradise.
There’s plenty of room to stretch out in both the front and rear seats thanks to a totally flat floor and tall glass roof. And the Model Y provides tons of cargo space, including a generous trunk up front and an under-floor storage area in back, both of which you won’t find in every EV.
Despite not being the Performance model, the Model Y I sampled accelerated stunningly quickly, darting forward with every nudge of the accelerator pedal in the same way that other high-powered EVs do. And it handled more like a sports car than a lumbering SUV, offering quick, precise steering that let me point exactly where I wanted to go.
Tesla’s advanced Autopilot feature confidently kept the SUV centered in its lane and followed the flow of traffic. While the system isn’t autonomous, it could be helpful on long highway stints.
Charging up after a long day depleting the Y’s 330-mile range is easy as cake. After loading a credit card into the Tesla app, one simply pulls into one of the country’s 1,500 Supercharger locations and plugs in.
Using Tesla’s exclusive fast-charging stations is remarkably seamless compared with the often clunky process of filling up a non-Tesla at a public plug.
What falls short: Overcomplicated controls and a bumpy ride
As much as the Model Y is a tech-lover’s dream, it could prove more of a nightmare for the less technologically adept.
Basic functions like opening the glove box, changing the wiper speed, and directing the air vents require using the touchscreen, which is not just inconvenient but also distracting to do while driving. I couldn’t help but consider how someone like my mom, who needs help using DVR and shudders at the thought of navigating some new app, might be overwhelmed by a fully digitized driving experience.
Plus, the Model Y lacks Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
While the Y’s stiff suspension aids agility, it doesn’t insulate passengers well from bumpy roads. I also noticed lots of wind and road noise above 60 mph.
Our impressions: An excellent choice, but not the only option
As it turns out, the Tesla fans have a point. The Model Y has a lot going for it in that it’s packed with dazzling tech, drives better than most SUVs, grants access to Tesla’s convenient charging network, and generally feels different from other cars.
But it’s not without flaws. In addition to what I’ve noted, widely reported issues like inconsistent build quality and difficulty with repairs are important considerations, but I didn’t experience either firsthand.
The Model Y is a great choice for many buyers, but Tesla isn’t the only game in town anymore. The EV-curious have more attractive options than ever before as players like Audi, Rivian, and BMW pile into the EV space. And the competition is getting stiffer by the day.