Tesla's new Model Y isn't all that exciting — and that's by design

Tesla Model Y
Tesla Model Y (Image credit: Tesla)

Tesla has a mission: "to accelerate the world's transition to sustainable energy." One of the places they can have the biggest impact in accomplishing that goal is to put more electric vehicles on the road. It started with the OG Roadster, and then the Model S sedan and Model X crossover — but those were all expensive, luxury vehicles. With the Model 3 sedan, Tesla made possibly its biggest step towards sustainable transportation by putting an affordable and desirable electric vehicle (EV) into the mass market.

There's just one problem: Tesla's biggest market is the United States, and in the US the top six spots in vehicle sales are occupied by trucks and SUVs. The top-selling Ford F-150 pickup truck sold nearly three times as many vehicles as the best-selling sedan (the Toyota Camry). So while the Tesla Model 3 is already the best-selling electric vehicle and best-selling premium car, it wasn't about to make a dent in sales of the Toyota RAV4 or Honda CR-V.

The Tesla Model Y is basically a taller Model 3 with seating for seven.

Enter the Tesla Model Y. Completing the second phase of Tesla's S3XY automotive roll-out, the Model Y is in many respects a taller Model 3. It's built on the same chassis and EV drivetrain and offers basically all the same features. It offers a taller ride height for customers that prefer a higher seating position on the road, a hatchback design, and an optional third row for seating up to seven.

The rest of the car should be very familiar to anybody acquainted with the Model 3. It shares much of the same design language — at first glance, it's hard to tell if you're looking at a 3 or a Y. The two share a whopping 75% of their components, though obviously, most frame and body panels are different. The interior is nearly identical, with a strikingly spartan dashboard layout: steering wheel, 15-inch center display, and a single continuous slot through which air flows over an open-pore wood or white plastic trim piece. Like the Model 3, you have the option of black interior or white.

As this is an all-electric vehicle, the battery and how far you'll get with it is incredibly important. The Model Y will come in four configurations of battery and motor, from the base rear-wheel drive "Standard Range" with a 230-mile range to the 300-mile "Long Range", plus options for All Wheel Drive and a Performance package that'll go from zero to 60mph in 3.5 seconds. As this is largely a bigger Model 3, pricing is quite similar, albeit a bit higher, starting at $39,000 and ranging all the way up to $74,500 for a fully-equipped Performance trim.

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Tesla Model YStandard RangeLong RangeDual Motor AWDPerformance
Range230 miles300 miles280 miles280 miles
Top Speed120mph130mph135mph150mph
0-60 mph time5.9 sec5.5 sec4.8 sec3.5 sec
Starting Price$39,000$47,000$51,000$60,000
DeliveriesSpring 2021Fall 2020Fall 2020Fall 2020

While Tesla is accepting $2,500 reservation payments today (fully refundable), the first deliveries of the Model Y won't begin for well over a year — the autumn of 2020 is projected availability. And the least expensive Standard Range version will be several months behind that in the spring of 2021. Same for the 7-seat interior. That's a long ways off, and if the Model 3 roll-out process is anything to go by, that early payment may not guarantee you early delivery at all, especially if you're holding out for one of the delayed-release features.

Like every new Tesla, the Model Y does at least come equipped with a full suite of sensors and cameras that Tesla says will eventually be capable of autonomous driving. Tesla CEO Elon Musk has made plenty of lofty promises about the potential of these cameras, ultrasonic sensors, radar, and specialized computer, but there's still much to be delivered on that front. Tesla has been selling a "Full Self-Driving Capability" upgrade for more than two years without delivering any capability in that package; just a few weeks ago the company moved the line between the lane-keeping Autopilot (itself a fantastic feature) and Full Self-Driving Capability to push some features that had previously been part of the less package into the upgraded price tier. That did adjust the pricing, but still today Tesla is selling a $5,000 package that is mostly hope and dreams.

Tesla Model Y

Tesla Model Y (Image credit: Tesla)

Perhaps the most important part of the Model Y is that it isn't all that exciting. It doesn't have the affordability with range thunder that the Model 3 had when it was unveiled back in 2016. It isn't as strikingly beautiful or audacious as the 2020 Roadster. It doesn't even have the fancy falcon wing rear doors of its big brother Model X. In truth, a decade into Tesla's EV push, the Model Y is kind of boring, and that's exactly what it needs to be.

The average car buyer isn't looking for something that gets the blood pumping at every stoplight, or that turns heads when they drive past. They want something practical and reliable that's going to get them from A to B with minimal fuss and all their stuff. That's what the Model 3 and Model Y aim to be: EVs for the masses.

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Derek Kessler

Derek Kessler is Special Projects Manager for Mobile Nations. He's been writing about tech since 2009, has far more phones than is considered humane, still carries a torch for Palm, and got a Tesla because it was the biggest gadget he could find. You can follow him on Twitter at @derekakessler.