2020 Tesla Model Y Long Range First Drive
Meet Jim and Dorothy Average. They’re the Average household. He’s 5-foot-9. She’s 5-foot-4. They have 1.9 kids (daughter Emma is of the opinion that younger brother, Liam, is the 0.9), and they live in Lebanon, Kansas, the geographic center of the country. They spent the national average of $38,000 for a nicely featured version of their mainstream compact SUV.
Although there might be shares of Tesla stock in their 401(k), they themselves have never seriously considered one of their fancy, big electric SUVs—especially one that starts at $86,000, can hit 60 mph in 2.4 seconds, or has rising, electrically powered double-hinge doors. Nor have they shopped a smaller electric sedan with a tight back seat and something called Track mode that is really neat while driving on a figure-eight course. These cars might be the toasts of the coasts and terrors of the test tracks, but you won’t find them in the Average driveway.
But at night, while sleeping their average seven hours, Jim dreams about Tesla’s flagship Model S sedan while Dorothy drives a Model X and Emma heads off to college next year in a Model 3. Because these battery-powered cars are indeed dream machines. Then their alarm clocks go off, and its back to reality. But today, perhaps we will experience a new reality.
That’s because Tesla has finally developed the electric car—or rather electric SUV—for the Average driveway: the Model Y.
What’s that? You already want to know how much the Model Y costs?
This really matters, doesn’t it? Which is why I’ve brought you the cheaper of its first two launch trims, called the Long Range. The pricier one is the faster Performance model, which Christian Seabaugh is right now explaining to a young couple in Santa Monica who have a Tibetan mastiff and work at Paramount and Upworthy.
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This Tesla Model Y’s base price is $54,190. Or, if you’re willing to factor in Tesla’s six-year estimate of energy savings—electricity is a lot cheaper than gas, and electric cars have about three times the energy efficiency—then the damage to your wallet shrinks to $49,890. And even less after any applicable state incentives (another $2,000 off in California’s case, shaving it down to $47,890. Sorry, Kansas offers none). Best-case scenario, it’s 12 grand more than your crossover.
We understand if there’s a bit of sticker shock. When the average cost of Emma and Liam’s college educations is going to be $122,000 each, how can you justify a 50 grand crossover? Well, over a six-year payment plan, that’s $166 more a month than that average $38,000 SUV. Not really breaking the bank to get a piece of the coolest new American-made tech on the block. (Don’t forget, these are also higher-zoot launch editions of this vehicle; more affordable ones always come later.)
So as they say in boardrooms these days, let’s unpack this.
To me, the Model Y’s appearance takes the concept of sibling resemblance to a new confusability, with virtually every bevel and crease of the Model 3’s bodywork projected straight onto the Y. The exterior’s only repurposed parts, it turns out, are the headlights, taillights, rear detail lights, door handles, and the bezels for the Autopilot cameras.
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Adorned with this decorative inheritance, the Model Y casts a modestly bigger, 2.2-inch longer, and 2.8-inch broader shadow on your driveway. But for the Z-axis, the design team typed in a pretty big rescaling: 112.5 percent. That doesn’t just raise the roof by 7.1 inches. It also elevates the Model Y past the typical crossover threshold. Its bulkiness is like meeting the 3’s twin that’s spent the winter at Arnold Schwarzenegger’s fitness zentrum in the Austrian Alps. Here, have anutha proteeen zmoooothie!
Do you see it as a crossover? Its 63.9-inch peak certainly telegraphs the look (the Subaru Forester is 68.1 inches tall, the Alfa Romeo Stelvio 66.0). But the ski-slope profile beyond the 63.9-inch apex winks “SUV coupe” like those from German luxury brands—while also demonstrating sly engineering by partially refunding the aerodynamic price of an enlarged frontal area by pinching the airflow down by the tail a little bit. Its versatile yet sporty persona is cued by black plastic wheelwell eyebrows and the flat-black door handles and window trim.
Of course, the Model Y SUV’s key differentiator from the Model 3 sedan is that rear hatch, and its inclusion drastically rearranges the roof structure—scooting the second crossmember very far aft, past the rear passengers’ heads, to become the hatch’s hinge beam. Capping everything is a slick, one-piece panoramic sweep of glass that’s both cool-looking (and solar-insulating) and a clever trick to eke out some additional headroom (slightly offsetting the slab of underfloor batteries). Unlike the Model 3, the Y’s hatch opening dips down into the bumper protrusion for a very convenient 27-inch loading level; opened, the hatch lip rises to 72.5 inches before you bump your head.
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And once it’s opened, revealed before you is the Model Y’s raison d’être: room. With the rear seat back up, there’s TKTKTK cubic feet of it (compared to the Model 3’s mere 15 cubes), as well as two underfloor bins (nice, because there’s no security curtain) and a couple of deep buckets aft of the rear-wheel housings. Collapse the three-section middle-row seat back (a small third-row is a $3,000 option), and the fold-flat cargo floor unlocks a beach-cruiser/Samsung-swallowing 68.o cubic feet. Up front, the frunk is deeper than that of the Model 3, as well.
With the front seat positioned for the average male, hopping in the back seat means the typical occupant has 7.8 inches of kneeroom and 3.8 inches of head clerance. Notice that the second-row seat back even reclines a little. With the front seats elevated on their risers, there’s now enough shoe space to slide your Hush Puppies under them. If the Model 3’s second row is a raised-knee noggin-bonker, the Model Y’s is a first-class expanse. Hop in, everybody—there’s room for five.
Now slide behind the steering wheel. Mr. Average’s 5-foot-9 setup will provide 5 inches of head clearance, and his hip-point location means a 53-inch-high eye level offers a comparatively lofty vantage point, similar to the Mazda CX-5’s. Looking down provides the dashboard expanse familiar to that of the Model 3—a simple splash of spare Swedish-minimalist furniture with its primary function as the base for the big touchscreen just to the right of the steering wheel.
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For now all Model Ys are Dual Motors—with range or performance purposes, depending on software. These lower-power, longer-range models offer a still-hefty 384 hp, and along with the batteries, they’re shared with the Model 3.
Although the Model Y Long Range weighs in at 4,367 pounds—305 heavier than the equivalent Model 3—I nonetheless bootleg recorded a 0-60 rip in 4.6 seconds. That’s quicker than Tesla’s 4.8-second claim for this crossover, and I wasn’t even trying. You want to go for a test drive. There’s no ignition switch; just place a key card behind the cupholders or activate the app on your phone, and off you go, lightning quick.
The car reacts to the accelerator pedal application like you’re squeezing the trigger of a slot car. Even though we’ve become familiar with this sort of playful antic from Teslas, to feel it in a “long range” SUV provides a feeling of wonder.
That accelerative force is matched by its Corvette-quick, two-turn lock-to-lock steering that feels as though you are being sucked into corners (with the caveat that this particular car is wearing the optional 20-inch, $2,000 “Induction” wheels, not the base car’s 19-inchers).
Ever driven a K1 electric race kart? It’s kind of like that, except your eye level is 4.5 feet off the ground, you can bring four friends, and you’re able to pull a 3,500-pound boat and trailer with the optional $1,000 tow hitch.
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Meanwhile, the previous Creep and Roll driving modes have become a trio with the addition of Hold, which (finally) allows one-foot driving. And—if you judge it right—you can limousine-stop so smoothly you’ll amaze your friends. Although most folks wouldn’t dream of taking a Tesla off-road, the Model Y’s off-road assist function lets the wheels spin more on loose surfaces, somewhat equalizes their spin rates, and softens the motors’ torque reaction to pedal motion.
Just cruising around, we found the Model Y to have a pretty firm ride, like something from BMW’s M division. That might be a bit too busy and jolty for some folks. Interior noise is at best so-so (even given the lack of a gasoline engine to drown out the outside world).
Our tester came with basic Autopilot standard, and it’s easily the most intelligent adaptive cruise control and lane centering technology on the road. It responds quickly to stopped cars pulling away ahead, and it even becomes cautious when it senses a car in the next lane acting in an unpredictable manner or when the relative lane speeds become too great.
Given that Tesla has the temerity to call this edition “Long Range,” what exactly is said range? It’s a claimed 316 miles compared to the Model 3 Long Range AWD’s 322. Remarkably close, given the extra weight and aero penalty.
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How is that possible? One reason is Tesla jettisoning its inefficient resistive cabin heater and switching to a very efficient heat pump. It not only maintains the battery’s temperature but also does the same for the cabin, and it quick-warms the occupants via heat generated by the pump’s intentionally oversized motor, which has a coolant circuit designed purely so it can furiously spin and get hot. The design of the system’s normally messy, rat’s-nest valving has been condensed into a one-moving-part “Octovalve” (which so impressed Elon Musk that he keeps one on his desk).
Another tech marvel is the huge two-piece aluminum casting that replaces and simplifies the rear of the chassis and spans the rear wheels. Its high-speed manufacturing producibility was enabled by SpaceX metallurgists. Several months ago, Musk described the Model Y as being 75 percent composed of Model 3 parts. Having seen these Model Y-exclusive parts in person, we think Musk might need to recalculate that figure.
Last year, I described the Model 3 as the Automobile 2.0. It turns out that it was just a dress rehearsal for the Model Y.
So although you, the Average family, may still be in Kansas, it’s Oz that is coming to you.
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