REVIEW: Tesla Model Y, Australia is about to fall in love with the ultimate family EV

The Tesla Model Y is the most important electric vehicle to arrive in Australia in 2022. On the streets from August, I recently had the opportunity to live with the Tesla Model Y for a week, providing a great opportunity to understand the car at a deeper level and experience a dual-EV garage.

Tesla’s Model 3 is the highest-selling EV in the country and that’s almost certainly going to be overtaken by the Model Y, with the all-electric mid-size SUV likely to appeal to tens of thousands of Australian families.

Other than Utes, SUVs regularly account for the largest vehicle segment in new vehicle sales. Driven by the utility, Aussies have fallen in love with SUVs that meet the space and storage demands of families.

From the school run in the morning, commutes to the office, weekends away and longer holidays, the Model Y is a seriously compelling option and being an EV can offer more storage and dramatically lower running costs than an ICE equivalent.

During my time with the Model Y, it was my daily driver. I clocked up more than 1,300km and after genuinely experiencing what owning the Model Y is like, here’s what I learned.

Design

The design of the Model Y shares a lot in common with Model 3, however, there are some important differences. The most obvious is the height difference, with the car stretched vertically to achieve an increase in interior space, it also features a deeper frunk and trunk for even more storage.

From different angles, the Model Y can look very different, sometimes like a sleek, aerodynamic jelly bean, while other times looking a little awkward at the front and rear. Overall, I personally think the car looks good, but this is incredibly subjective.

The design of the Model Y is the handiwork of Franz von Holzhausen, Tesla’s head of design for the past 14 years. This car is certainly aimed at appealing to the largest possible audience, with no aggressive or controversial elements in its design and as a result, it’s all fairly passive in nature.

In design, there’s also efficiency, with a low drag coefficient, just 0.23 Cd, which helps the car achieve some of the best range on the market. The front bar of the Model 3 was controversial and the Model Y will be too, but there is a reason it’s shaped the way it is and that’s not just to collect bugs.

As much as the design of the car you buy is important, once you’re in the driver’s seat, you really forget about the exterior and focus on the features available to you.

Something very different between Model 3 and Model Y is the segmentation of the glass roof. In Model 3, the 2nd cross member is directly behind the front seats, which does block the view of the rear passengers. In the Model Y, Tesla rethought this and positioned it behind the rear seats, offering an enormous glass roof, providing spectacular views of the world above.

Height

As a result of Tesla increasing the height of the vehicle, occupants get a far more spacious interior. You may sit the same distance away from the person next to you, but when you sit in the Model Y, the overall feeling of space is really impressive.

The real test was stepping back into my Model 3 after being in the Model Y and while I have never once felt the Model 3 was small in the 3 years of owning it, the Model y provided a new perspective on this.

Ultimately both of these cars are mid-sized, one is a sedan and one is an SUV. Perhaps the most appropriate comparison is the one from an existing mid-sized SUV. My wife’s Honda CRV offered a great chance to compare the two.

Our CRV even has a sunroof, but simply can’t compare to the openness you feel when inside the Model Y, aided by that massive glass roof that provides almost an inch of extra headspace. Being around 6’2′, I definitely really appreciated this difference.

Ground clearance

SUV’s by nature offer higher ground clearance than a sedan and this translates to increased confidence when you enter or exit driveways and for the occasional time, you take this off the tarmac. This certainly isn’t a car that you’ll want to take to extreme 4×4 tracks down the bush, but it will enable you to reach places that are otherwise unavailable to sedan owners.

In terms of hard numbers, the Model Y features a ground clearance of 167mm (6.6″) which is up from the 140mm (5.5″) on the Model 3.

Living in regional Victoria, there are a number of great locations to go visit on the weekend. Since getting into drones, one of my favourite experiences is to travel to waterfalls to film them from above. The roads to these waterfalls are often unsealed roads and the Model Y would be the perfect vehicle to venture to those locations.

Entry and exit to the vehicle

If you regularly get in and out of your car, multiple times per day, then the ease at which you enter and exit the vehicle can really matter. This becomes even more critical if you have limited mobility or are elderly.

SUV like the Model Y features a taller suspension setup, a taller body and seats placed on raised mounts which all combine to create a car that’s easier to enter and exit from the vehicle. The Model Y is substantially easier to get into and out of than the lower Model 3.

While I appreciated the higher vehicle, it was as I watched my parents climb in and out of the Model Y that I really understood just how important this is and as great as the Model 3 has been, people like my parents would never consider it, for this issue alone. They may never buy a Tesla, but this is a car that many families will buy as it ticks critical must-have checkboxes for them.

Higher seating position

The higher seating position offered by the Model Y, allows a better view of the road and environment ahead of you, but also allows your body to be positioned more comfortably in the vehicle. As you sit in the Model Y, your thighs are at a 90-degree angle to your lower legs, similar to how you are seated in an office chair.

When I sit in my Model 3, my legs are straighter, and the rear of the seat is angled back more to be comfortable. While I’ve never felt uncomfortable in the great Model 3 seats, after driving the Model Y, it was very clear just how dramatic the change in seating position really is.

I was actually shocked by just how massive the range of adjustability is in regards to the seating position. Tesla has clearly designed the seats to accommodate the preference of many drivers. What I was impressed by was the height adjustment available on the front seats. Already mounted fairly high, you can really dramatically increase the seated position using the electronic controls on the side of the seat.

Despite being tall and despite having a large range of height adjustments available, I still couldn’t make my head hit the roof, showing just how much vertical space there really is in the Model Y.

Internal Design

It was interesting to compare the latest interior from Tesla with my Model 3 from 2019. The interior refresh, combined with the vehicles being products from Shanghai rather than Freemont has seen some important upgrades.

The buttons to open the doors now feature icons, rather than lines to let passengers know how to open the door, a big usability improvement.

The center console now features a dual-wireless charger the driver and passenger can drop even the largest smartphones on and have them charge while you drive. Taking something that was occurring in the 3rd party market and integrating it into the car by default is a great idea and the car experience is better as a result of making this change.

The glossy black finish was an issue for some, but not something that really bothered me. Sure, it was a fingerprint magnet, but easily resolved with a microfiber cloth. An option I do enjoy is the ability to close the top lid over the top of your phone which avoids the temptation to monitor notifications when driving, so I will miss this, but many phones do have driving detection and enter the phone into DND mode.

The new USB port in the glovebox to accommodate the storage for sentry mode enables you to lock the glove box and protect this drive, critical if a tyre shop, valet or even friend does something and wants to wipe the drive, they won’t be able to. Smart.

There are a couple of cosmetic things in the refreshed interior that really don’t move the needle for me in terms of design. The door pockets are now lined with carpet, I assume to reduce noise when you place bottles in there. Functionally the hard surface I have in the Model 3 made more sense to me, in the event you spill your drink.

Finally, the dash trim that extends to the front doors now, really just breaks up the black door, but doesn’t add any function to the vehicle, I could really take this or leave it. In a world where Tesla has a relentless focus on simplification and part reduction, it was strange to see them add complexity simply for the design.

Features

The list of features on any Tesla is impressive, but as many people will consider the Model Y as their first electric vehicle, I think it’s important we take a minute to touch on each one.

Space and storage

Easily one of the biggest reasons you’ll consider a Model Y over a Model 3 is the additional storage available. After exploring the space available in the front and trunk of the Model Y, I was really taken back by just how large the available space really is.

You can read a figure like 2,100 litres of cargo space on the website, but seeing it, is another thing entirely.

Last Christmas, my family packed our Model 3 full of suitcases, backpacks, swimming and beach gear and headed to Lakes Entrance. While it fit everything we needed it to, there were only 3 of us. If we were a family of 4 or more, or just had plans to buy things while on holiday, then the additional storage space offered by the Model Y, would be an absolute dream.

The trunk in the Model 3 is big, but with the extra height in the Model Y, it’s just far deeper and thanks to some updated internals like a heat pump, the Y also offers more than enough space for a couple of backpacks up front.

The rear trunk space is massive with the rear seats up, but for those rare times you need to purchase something like a large TV, you can pull the electronic releases in the rear to fold the seats down and unlock that full 2,100 litres of cargo space.

The carpeted finish is nice, but I expect many to grab rubberised mats to allow for you to care less and throw things in the boot. Underneath the rear floor is additional space, but again we see extra depth than what’s on offer by the Model 3. This is huge and while some may not like the idea of travelling without a spare tyre, this is what you get by way of compensation, lots more space.

It is important to remember that as a fully electric car, built and designed that way from the ground up, this additional storage is available thanks to the elimination of ICE components like an internal combustion engine compared to the smaller electric motor, as well as the peripheral componentry like a radiator, fuel pump, fuel tank, exhaust and so much more of legacy vehicle propulsion that simply isn’t necessary anymore.

As a very practical test, I need to transport my Next level racing F-GT racing simulator and while it folds, it’s still substantial in size. I was glad to find that something this large, easily fit in the boot of the Model Y, with plenty of space around it.

15″ touch screen

At the heart of your Tesla driving experience is the 15″ touchscreen, mounted to the center of the dash, this provides access to vehicle functions like climate control, entertainment options like Spotify, as well as vehicle configurations and personalisations.

For new Tesla owners this will take some time to get used to. In my experience, after a couple of days, you settle into feeling comfortable taking glances over to your speed or to access vehicle controls.

Sure, the screen can be a fingerprint magnet, but if you keep a microfiber cloth in the glovebox and give it an occasional wipe down, this is a complete non-issue.

What I love about Tesla’s UI is that it’s uniform, well thought out and despite a growing list of configurable options, is still easy to get to the right place in just a couple of taps.

Probably the biggest thing people have a hard time getting their heads around is the speed. Virtually every other car you’ve driven has had the speedo directly in front of you. In a Tesla Model 3/Y this is to the left of the driver. The real saviour here is Autopilot. I have it configured to jump to the current speed zone and enable it wherever I can, meaning I know the car will accelerate up to a max of the current speed limit, reducing your need to micro-monitor your current speed.

When you’re stopped, like at a charger, you’ll be entertained, with access to play games, watch YouTube or Netflix over the built-in 4G connection in the car. There are also entertainment options like Spotify, TuneIn, TIDAL and FM radio to listen to while you are driving, however, these both require the Premium Connectivity option detailed below.

Mobile app

Tesla’s mobile app becomes your digital key, detecting your proximity to the car over Bluetooth, you can simply walk up, open the door handle and get into the car. When you’re done, get out and walk away and the car locks. Since getting Model 3, I’ve stopped carrying keys and a wallet and with the Model Y, you can too.

Most of our lives are moving to the phone, including payments, loyalty cards etc. This means if you buy a Tesla, you have a chance to move beyond keys and wallets to an all-digital life. Obviously, people may have concerns about what happens if your phone goes flat, well the reality is you monitor it and don’t let that happen. It is also possible if your husband or wife has the Tesla app on their phone and you can find your way to an internet connection, send them a message and they can unlock the car remotely for you.