Good handling and space for four, but seven is tight
As the new Tesla Model Y approaches, about 100 people pull out their smartphones and start recording. The same Deep Blue Metallic model that was shown on stage by Tesla CEO Elon Musk stops in front of the assembled Tesla super fans and journalists who clamor impatiently to get in.
I’m in front of the line and ready to step inside. “Come on, it’s your turn,” says one of the people coordinating the rides. The doors swing open like a regular SUV, not the wild cantilevers of the Model X.
Despite its compact crossover look, the Tesla Model Y’s second row is ample. First thing I check is headroom—I have about an inch and a half between the top of my head and the all-glass roof. Legroom is decent; there’s enough space for my 6-foot frame. But as another two people come into the second row, shoulder room gets tight.
Tesla claims the Model Y can seat seven. But when I look behind the second row into the hatch, I see no room for passengers. “It may be too dark to tell, but there are two other seats folded down behind you,” says Tesla’s Model Y driver. It’s clear the third row is for children only. “There’s no way I can fit myself in there,” I say out loud. A third row would be tight and only for small people as there is not much headroom; during the presentation, a rendering showed the third row with no headrests.
In front is a clean, centrally mounted, horizontally oriented 15-inch floating touchscreen, similar to the one found in the Model 3. In fact, the Model Y’s interior appears to be lifted straight out of the Model 3 sedan. This makes sense, as the 3 and Y are supposed to be the most affordable Teslas yet, and one tried and true way to gain cost efficiency is through parts sharing. The rest of the interior is clean and tidy; the center console has a couple of cupholders and an armrest that’s also a storage compartment. Wood and leather trim give it all a premium feel, but we’re curious how the entry-level Model Y will present.
As we pull out of the alley, the driver stomps on the accelerator and my back is pushed against the seatback. We’re in the dual-motor, all-wheel-drive Model Y, and like all Teslas and many EVs, the response feels instantaneous. The compact crossover quickly reaches a speed of 53 mph (85 km/h) before we start slowing down on the closed road.
On stage, Musk claimed a 0–60 mph time of 3.5 seconds; we’ll have to strap in our Vbox test gear in the near future to verify that. After he turns the Tesla around, the driver does a bad interpretation of a slalom, and even though the turns he made weren’t especially precise, the Model Y acquits itself well. Floor-mounted battery packs provide for a lower center of gravity and impart familiar and still impressive maneuverability. For an SUV, it sticks to the ground, and there’s hardly any head toss inside the cabin.
Musk bragged that his crossover rides like a sports car with the functionality of an SUV. That’s a hard statement to validate after spending just two minutes riding in the Model Y, but its quick acceleration and ground-hugging handling makes us want to take this crossover on a canyon road.
As we return to the alley, I look around the cabin and have the same impression our own Kim Reynolds had when he rode in a Model 3 for the first time: It feels like a fishbowl inside. With the huge panoramic moonroof and large side windows, the Tesla Model Y has a sense of freedom. The seats feel like they’re positioned a little bit higher, reminding me of the ride height of the Jaguar I-Pace—not too high, but not too close to the ground.
As rides go, this one was all too brief. But fear not, MotorTrend won’t be sitting in the passenger seat for long. Soon enough we’ll be behind the wheel of the Model Y and confirming its acceleration, handling, braking, and range, as we have with its Model S, X, and 3 siblings. Stay tuned.