Is the 2021 Tesla Model Y Worth $12,000 Over the Tesla Model 3?

If the Tesla Model Y looks kind of like a bloated Model 3, you’re not alone. Tesla’s newest and smallest all-electric crossover is set to be a sales success. Despite competing in the highly-popular SUV/crossover market, it is still quite expensive. The Model Y‘s $49,990 starting price carries a $12,000 premium over the similarly equipped Model 3.

Why is the Tesla Model Y so appealing?

Let’s be real; part of the Tesla Model Y’s appeal comes down to the fact that it’s a futuristic-looking EV with wacky features. While other carmakers focus on efficiency above everything else to sell EVs, Tesla boasts 0-60 mph times and top speed figures.

The Tesla Model Y is the brand's first small electric crossover.
Tesla Model Y | FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images

Speaking of figures, the Tesla Model Y Performance reaches 60 mph in just 3.5 seconds while the standard Long Range trim takes 4.8 seconds. The standard Model Y has a top speed of 135 mph while the Performance tops out at 155 mph. In terms of range, the Long Range Model offers 326 miles of electric range while the Performance runs out of juice at 303 miles.

Inside the Model Y lives a central 15-inch touchscreen that controls all of the vehicles settings, media, and even takes over traditional gauges’ role. Although the Model Y comes standard with a five-seat configuration, a seven-seat option will be available in 2021.

According to Tesla, the Model Y offers Autopilot for an additional $8,000. However, it is worth noting that the Model Y cannot drive itself despite what the marketing will lead you to believe. Autopilot is a driver assist system that can do tasks such as Auto Lane Change, Autopark, and assisted steering on the highway, but it’s not a fully autonomous vehicle.

As mentioned in the intro, the Model Y is far from being cheap. Despite Tesla’s best efforts to show you a $45,690 price after potential savings, the actual starting price is a hair under $50,000. The faster Performance trim will cost you an additional $10,000 over the standard Model Y.

The 2021 Model 3 closes the gap between the two

While the Tesla Model Y is certainly impressive on its own, the smaller and cheaper Model 3 offers greater performance for less money. While the 2020 Model 3 had some significant downsides compared to its SUV sibling, new updates for 2021 place the two closely alongside one another.

Tesla Model 3 driving on the highway
Tesla Model 3 | Tesla

Like the Model Y, the Model 3 comes in both Long Range and Performance trims. Unlike its SUV sibling, the Model 3 offers a base Standard Range Plus trim for $37,990. This lowest trim is what separates the Model 3 and Y by over $12,000. It is important to note that the main reason for the price difference is that the Model 3 features a single electric motor and rear-wheel drive. In contrast, the Model Y features a dual-motor configuration and all-wheel drive.

The base trim level offers 263 miles of electric range, a 0-60 mph time of 5.3 seconds, and a top speed of 140 mph. For most people, this base trim level is all the EV they’ll ever need, giving a cheaper but still great way into a Tesla.

The Tesla Model 3 is an all-electric small sedan.
Tesla Model 3 | Sjoerd van der Wal/Getty Images

To have a proper apples to apples comparison, we have to look at the Model 3 Long Range, the sedan equivalent to the base Model Y. The Long Range has a base price of $46,990, or $3,000 less than a Tesla Model Y. The smaller and lighter Model 3 also has greater range with an additional 27 miles over the Model Y for a total of 353 miles of electric range. The Model 3’s top speed is also 10 mph over that of the Model Y.

The Performance trim for $54,990 also sees significant benefits over its SUV sibling. The Model 3 Performance reaches 60 mph in 3.1 seconds, or about as fast as an Audi R8 V10. The electric range figure also improves to 315 miles. Flat out, the Performance tops out at 162 mph.

Which Tesla should I buy?

As it turns out, answering this question is actually quite simple. The 2021 Model 3 and its improved stats place it right alongside the Tesla Model Y. Surprisingly, the better performing EV is also the cheapest one.

The Tesla Model 3 is an all-electric small sedan.
Tesla Model 3 | Sjoerd van der Wal/Getty Images

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Since the Tesla Model Y does not offer a single motor base trim like the Model 3, it will always carry a significant premium. The Model Y’s SUV form-factor is also a drawback to both range and performance. So if you must have an SUV, then pay the premium for the Model Y. In all other cases, the Model Y isn’t worth the extra cash over the excellent Model 3.