- I drove a Tesla for the first time and came away impressed with the high-profile brand.
- The Model Y’s sleek interior, quick acceleration and innovative tech features set it apart.
- But its oversized touchscreen and lack of physical buttons aren’t for everyone.
Tesla created and dominates the booming electric vehicle market. But can the startup’s popular cars withstand a barrage of rivals from titans like Ford, General Motors and Volkswagen?
That’s the big question I set out 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 last year — but never a single one made by Elon Musk — I wondered if Teslas could live up to the hype or not. In other words: are the company’s bigoted 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 reporters need 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 engines that offer all-wheel drive. A Performance version that sacrifices some range for speed is available for $4,000 more, but the base model is very sporty.
Tesla has no dealerships and instead sells its cars online, direct to the consumer. Buyers can pick up at a Tesla branch or have their vehicle shipped to their doorstep.
What stands out: cutting-edge technology, sporty driving and effortless charging
Slip into a Tesla and you’ll find a refreshingly clean interior, free of conventional buttons, vents and gauges. The sleek design and understated woodwork of the cabin are more reminiscent of an Apple store than a car.
This minimalist look is made possible by a large touchscreen that controls virtually all important vehicle functions except stop, go and turn. This command center contains the door locks, climate settings, speedometer and navigation system. It’s also jam-packed with quirky features like games, a digital whoopee pad, and Netflix, which can help owners pass the time while charging.
The screen is super responsive to taps and swipes and features crisp graphics. Plus, Tesla regularly adds new features through software updates, making the Model Y’s cockpit a techie’s paradise.
There’s plenty of room to stretch out both front and rear thanks to a completely flat floor and a high glass roof. And the Model Y offers tons of cargo space, including a generous trunk up front and underfloor storage in the rear, that you won’t find in all EVs.
Although not the Performance model, the sampled YI model accelerated with astonishing speed, rushing forward with each stroke of the accelerator pedal in the same way as other high-powered electric vehicles. . And it handled more like a sports car than a heavy 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 following the flow of traffic. Although the system is not self-contained, it could be useful on long motorway journeys.
Recharging after a long day exhausting the Y’s 330-mile range is easy as cake. After loading a credit card in the Tesla app, just go to one of the 1,500 Supercharger locations nationwide and plug in.
Using Tesla’s proprietary fast-charging stations is remarkably seamless compared to the often clunky process of filling up a non-Tesla at a public outlet.
What’s wrong: Overly complicated controls and a bumpy ride
Even though the Model Y is a tech-lover’s dream, it might prove more of a nightmare for the less tech-savvy.
Basic functions such as opening the glove compartment, changing the speed of the windscreen wipers and directing the air vents require the use of the touchscreen, which is not only inconvenient but also fun to do while driving. I couldn’t help but think about how someone like my mom, who needs help using the DVR and is shaking at the thought of navigating a new app, might be overwhelmed with a fully digitized driving experience.
Additionally, the Model Y lacks Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
While the Y’s stiff suspension promotes agility, it doesn’t isolate passengers well from bumpy roads. I also noticed a lot of wind and road noise above 60 mph.
Our impressions: A great choice, but not the only option
Turns out Tesla fans are right. The Model Y has a lot going for it in that it’s packed with dazzling tech, drives better than most SUVs, has 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 repairing are important considerations, but I haven’t experienced them firsthand.
The Model Y is a great choice for many buyers, but Tesla is no longer the only game in town. EV-curious have more attractive options than ever as the likes of Audi, Rivian and BMW crowd into the EV space. And the competition is intensifying day by day.