We drove a lot of cars in 2021, we’re reposting a few of our favorites here.
For the vast majority of American commuters, there isn’t a better daily back-and-forth commuter car than the Tesla Model Y Dual Motor Long Range. The Model Y achieves things that no other car can, which makes it exceptional in a field of largely unexceptional competitors.
(Full Disclosure: Tesla does not have a public relations department and will not speak to the media, let alone lend any of us shrimp-munchers a new car to test. When a friend of mine with a Model Y asked if I wanted to swap cars for a month so I could get a taste of the best from Fremont, California, I jumped at the opportunity. I returned the car to its rightful owner in the same condition it was loaned to me. He calls it Moby, because it’s a big white whale.)
For the month of December and a bit of January, my wife and I treated this Tesla as if it were our own. We went for road trips, took it to the grocery store, commuted to the office and ran our errands in it. Over that month, we added around 1,500 miles to the car’s odometer and enjoyed the heck out of it the whole time. The weather in northern Nevada was clear but cold, as is usually the case in a high desert winter.
It’s pretty easy to figure out where the Model Y sits if you know the Tesla lineup. It’s more or less a Model 3 on stilts with a hatch instead of a trunk. It’s called a crossover.
The example I tested was the Model Y Dual Motor Long Range, which comes with an intensely long name, 326 miles of rated range, a more efficient heat pump thermal management system and a sub-five-second 0-60 time. This is the least expensive way to get an all-wheel drive Model Y, as there is no “standard range” available with two motors. Tesla’s model offerings are as clear as mud, as it were.
The non-Performance Dual Motor model is said to hit 60 mph from a standstill in 4.8 seconds, but Motor Trend has tested the damn thing and returned a 4.1-second run. That glossy rag claims you can keep your foot in the pedal and run a 12-second quarter mile with this big 4,400-lb beast.
Tesla doesn’t make any horsepower or torque claims, but it’s certainly more than sufficient for any normal human. In fact, driving around in Normal mode was far too jumpy for my wife and I around town, so we did most of our driving in Chill mode to tone down the throttle response.
The Model Y is the first crossover that I have driven which I did not hate with a burning passion simply for existing. With the battery slung way down low and the motors within the wheelbase, the added height of the Y’s suspension lift didn’t bother me or cause the car to wallow or sway through the corners. Though to be fair it has only 1.5 inches on the Model 3 as far as ride height. I wouldn’t call it a performance driving machine, and with minimal steering feel it won’t be my pick for carving canyons, but it’s surefooted at the very least.
This car has plenty of range. The owner requested that we not charge it beyond 80 percent, to preserve the battery life, and we obliged. Still, for the majority of our time with the car we saw 200 miles or more of indicated range in the morning when we woke up. A few overnight charges on our 110v standard plug and a handful of Supercharger stops gave us all the juice we needed to get through a month where we racked up more miles than usual.
A long drive in the Model Y is just as relaxing, or perhaps even more so, than an S Class or A8. Effortless acceleration, quiet, tight driving and comfortable seats all helped me achieve a state of calm. Even encounters with heavy traffic were handled in a hushed and relaxing manner. It’s unparalleled, really.
The Model Y’s user experience is truly unique. Unlike other, less-integrated electric cars (ahem, like my Nissan Leaf), you don’t have to mess with PlugShare or A Better Route Planner to figure out how to avoid running out of electrons. Say what you will about the CEO, but Tesla the company has some pretty neat features figured out.
The enormous 15-inch center stack screen holds nearly every control in the car, as is common among all Tesla models. The layout is simple and stuff is easy to find with a poke of your digits, intuitive in much the same way those first iPhones were. Even if you don’t know where everything is, you’re pretty likely to find it within a few seconds. In general I hate touchscreens, and that doesn’t change here, but as touchscreens go, it’s a pretty decent system.
Ergonomically, I found the Model Y to be alright. The seats are comfortable, the steering wheel is in the right place (and it’s a fucking wheel, crucially) and the arm rests are in the right place.
A pair of inductive phone charging pads for driver and passenger in the center console, with a simple cover over both, made me smile. It’s such a simple little thing, but having a place to put your phone to charge, and a cover to put over it so you aren’t constantly reaching for it while driving (you know who you are) is nice.
The smartphone as a key is perfectly acceptable to me, as I pretty much always have the damn iTelephone in my hand or pocket anyway. Having the car unlock as I approach, automatically connect to my driver profile and have everything ready for me when I sit down, continuing to play whatever music or podcast I was listening to previously, is pure joy. Enter your destination and the damn thing will tell you exactly how many miles of range you’ll have left when you get there, and how long you’ll have to stop at the Supercharger along the way.
The Tesla Model Y has been awarded a five-star NHTSA rating in all three categories: front crash, side crash, and rollover protection. It also has all of the safety technologies recommended by the agency, including forward collision warning, lane-departure warning, automatic emergency braking and dynamic brake support.
The Tesla’s regular non-Autopilot adaptive cruise system is incredibly good. So long as you are making all of the car’s steering inputs on the highway, it’s remarkably effective at controlling the stopping and going. Even on regular non-interstate drives, I found myself kicking on the adaptive cruise, which would not only come to a complete stop behind a line of cars, but read the red lights and stop signs and come to a complete stop without input. I don’t think that’s available without the FSD option, which unfortunately is too expensive to be worth it, if you ask me.
This particular car was equipped with that $10,000 Full Self Driving suite of features, which means it has the poorly named Autopilot driver assist system, which again is not in any way a “self-driving” feature. Simply put, I hated it.
I used it for several hundred miles of highway driving, both between Reno and San Francisco, and from Reno to the east, when we went on a long road trip in the desert. If you’re chugging along hogging the left lane, it seems to work pretty well, but if you run in the right lane (where you fucking should be unless you’re passing!) the car doesn’t know what to do with exit ramps, cheating to the right as the lane expands, occasionally pointing the car’s big nose at the guard rail. If you try to correct it, the system shuts off, forcing you to start the whole process over again. Twice, when the lane was poorly marked and suddenly shifted in rural Nevada, the car attempted to change lanes without warning. I really didn’t like that.
The Full Self Driving package had one really neat feature that I enjoyed. Even when you aren’t driving in the so-called Autopilot mode, the car will read the traffic lights and stop signs ahead of you to let you know what’s going on. If you are sitting first in line at a red light, the car will give you a little chime when the red light flips to green. Just in case you aren’t paying full attention with your foot on the brake, you’ll get called back to reality before the impatient dingus behind you has the audacity to honk the horn.
While I liked the car’s cellphone charger, I did find that I would occasionally walk away from the car with my phone still on the charger, which is bad, as it is the key for the vehicle. When that happened, technically the car would have been quite easy to steal. When you walk away from most cars with the key still in the car, it gives you a courtesy honk to let you know. I do wish this car had done that.
The Y (and the 3) desperately need a head-up display. You have to look to the center display to see things like speed and GPS display, but with a HUD the driver would spend less time looking away from the road ahead.
One particularly cold morning the Model Y locked us out. After a cold night my wife and I decided to go pick up a hot coffee and found we couldn’t get into the car. Not only had the door handles frozen into their respective receptacles, but once we managed to thaw one out and open the other door from the inside, the window’s auto-lowering feature was bricked, as the window was frozen in its track. We could have pre-warmed the car via the Tesla app, but it was a last-second idea, and we didn’t think of it. Not ideal, and only minorly annoying, but annoying all the same.
The Tesla Model Y costs a lot of money, no matter how you shake it. Starting just shy of $50,000, it’s more than the average new car sale in the U.S. right now, which is already absurdly high. It provides a lot of luxury for that price, but I’d still be worried about long-term viability because of the car’s low build quality.
Yeah, build quality is an issue. The Model Y in question here didn’t have panel gaps a young sparrow could fly through, or a bumper that flew off, or a roof panel that flew off. There were, however, small things like paint coverage in the door jambs that had me worried about build quality and long-term reliability. There are some pockets engineered into the car that look like they’ll capture salt and road grime quite easily.
Driving a Tesla Model Y is a passionless but comfortable experience. You aren’t sure you love the Y, and it certainly doesn’t love you back, but you’ll want to stay together for as long as possible. Much like, I imagine, many of our grandparents’ marriages. What’s good is good, and what’s bad can be glossed over because you’re already in this deep and you may as well love the one you’re with.
There is a reason Tesla has shot to the fore in the electric car game. It’s not the kind of car that you fall in love with, and I wasn’t exactly sad to see it go, but it was truly competent. For the average American driver, it’s everything they need and more. That’ll do, Moby. That’ll do.