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The Tesla Model Y Is Not An Off-Road Vehicle No Matter How Badly You May Want It To Be

Truck YeahThe trucks are good!

The Tesla Model Y is taller and has more ground clearance than the Model 3 on which it based, it has an “Off-Road Assist” feature, and Tesla even says on its website that the car is “capable in rain, snow, mud and off-road.” But the Model Y is pretty obviously not an off-road beast—something that’s worth pointing out after a Twitter user posted a video of his Y doing some of the tamest “off-roading” many have ever seen.

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The inspiration for this article was this recent video from Twitter user Mike McGinnis showing his Model Y driving through a shallow creek:

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“Took our @Tesla #ModelY off road today!” he exclaims in his post, in which he tagged—of course—Elon Musk. I will note that I appreciate anyone’s enthusiasm for their vehicle and I can respect anyone who decides to venture off the pavement. With that said, a number of Twitter users commented on the video noting how damn near any car ever made could probably have driven through that puddle without any issues. So, just for kicks, here are a couple of highlights from the video’s comment section:

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Tesla Owners Silicon Valley retweeted McGinnis’s video, adding the absurd comment: “Model Y in its natural habitat. You are going to see so many more of these photos.” Then the tweet tags—you guessed it, Elon Musk—saying he “made the Y with the vision of off-roading.”

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The caption is just too much, and I strongly suggest you read the comments, because they are a riot. Here’s car journalist Matt Farah typing down some lolz:

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Here’s a reference to the well-known issue of Tesla Model 3 bumper covers ripping off when driven through rain:

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And here’s a classic Princess Bride nod:

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The Model Y, it’s worth noting, has a meager 6.6 inches of ground clearance, which is less than that of the not-particularly-off-road-capable Dodge Journey with which it shares a 113.8-inch wheelbase.

Image: Tesla owner’s manual
Image: Tesla owner’s manual
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Sure, the Model Y’s got short-ish overhangs at 34.4 in the front and 38.8 in the rear (compared with the Journey’s 38.9 up front, 39.7 in the rear), but the reality is that there’s just no ground clearance, there’s not much sidewall to those tires, and what’s more, there’s pretty much no articulation. Just look at this video, posted by YouTuber i1Tesla, of the Model Y going “off-road”:

Those wheels lift off the ground when the Y gets anywhere close to an uneven surface and we all know that a tire that’s not touching the ground can do nothing to help propel a car forward.

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To be fair, YouTuber i1Tesla and even Twitter user McGinnis both poke fun at themselves in their posts, recognizing that the “off-roading” they did in their Ys was hardly the Rubicon Trail. The i1Tesla video’s caption reads: “Not really difficult off road. We where having fun testing out the new “Off Road Mode” in the Model Y. It did very will. Can’t wait to get back out in the trails.” And McGinnis responded to those pointing out how unimpressive his off-roading was by saying: “I know, just couldn’t resist taking an electric car through a stream of water lol.”

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That said, based on some of the comments, it’s clear that there are some Tesla stans out there who do think the Model Y is good in the rough stuff, but let’s be real: it just isn’t built for it. I’ve never driven a Model Y, but unlike with handling or acceleration or ride comfort, with off-road capability, there’s a lot you can learn by just looking at a car. That’s because, in the off-road world, geometry is king.

For a vehicle to be great over a variety of surfaces, it has to have lots of ground clearance in the right places; large approach, departure, and breakover angles; and small overall dimensions. These are things you can assess pretty well visually, and looking at the Y, which admittedly isn’t an overly large vehicle, it just doesn’t have the basic dimensions to be good off-road.

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To be sure, there are some things you can’t tell by just looking at a vehicle from above. Things like underbody protection, wheel torque, overall robustness of components, visibility—the list goes on. And I know for sure there are tests one could conduct that would stack the odds in the Y’s favor and make it seem significantly more capable than even off-road legends like the Jeep Wrangler TJ.

For example, one such test could be a super deep water crossing, which could drown the Jeep’s engine—a problem not shared by electric cars, since they don’t hydrolock on water. Another test would involve driving over terrain that would lift two tires off the ground—one on each axle. The base model Jeep TJ, with its open differentials, could proceed no further, while the Model Y, with its “Off-Road Assist” traction control setup, would send power to the wheels with grip, and drive right along.

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Still, though it could be better in certain scenarios than some true off-roaders, the Model Y ain’t an off-roader, despite its “Off-Road Assist” feature and despite Tesla saying it can go off-road. I think 99 percent of people out there already knew this, but for the 1 percent out there—most likely Tesla fanboys who tweet to Elon Musk every four minutes—just know that it is okay. I’m sure the Y is still a good car on the road, which is where most folks drive, anyway.

To put you into a better mood, here are some pictures of some real hard-core off-roading that Jalopnik has done over the years:

Image: Jason Torchinsky
Image: Jason Torchinsky
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Illustration for article titled The Tesla Model Y Is Not An Off-Road Vehicle No Matter How Badly You May Want It To Be
Illustration for article titled The Tesla Model Y Is Not An Off-Road Vehicle No Matter How Badly You May Want It To Be

Sr. Technical Editor, Jalopnik. Always interested in hearing from auto engineers—email me. Cars: Willys CJ-2A ('48), Jeep J10 ('85), Jeep Cherokee ('79, '91, '92, '00), Jeep Grand Cherokee 5spd ('94).

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DISCUSSION

Laugh at the Y all you want, but EVs will eventually put ICE to shame in the dirt. Torque from 0 RPM plus quad motors sending torque to only the wheels that need it will make for beastly off-roaders some day.

The Y is just a model 3 with a tall roof, but future EVs will be purpose built.