Is the Tesla Model Y More Than Just a Lifted Model 3?

A lot has changed since the Model 3-based Tesla Model Y prototype was first seen testing IRL, and not just the battery shortages and coronavirus’ effects on the supply chain. The electric crossover/SUV market has gained some competitors. Fisker teased its Ocean crossover, and Rivian announced its R1S would be cheaper than originally forecasted. And now, Bollinger has begun offering its ‘skateboard’ chassis to commercial clients. With the cheapest Cybertruck delayed, Tesla needs the Model Y to succeed. YouTube team Throttle House set out to determine if that was the case.

Tesla Model Y specs

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Model Y on the way!

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Initially, it was believed that the Tesla Model Y would be available in 4 trims: 2 with one motor, and 2 with 2 motors. At the moment, though, Throttle House and Tesla are only reporting on 3. And one of them, the single-motor model, won’t be available until early 2021. As of this writing, the only Model Ys available are AWD models with 2 electric motors and a 135-mph top speed.

The Long Range model offers a claimed 316 miles of range, while the Performance has a 315-mile range. The Performance, though, has a quicker 0-60 time: 3.5 seconds vs. the Long Range’s 4.8 seconds. Tesla also offers the Performance with a free upgrade package, which features larger 21” wheels, lowered suspension, larger brakes, and a 145-mph top speed, though range drops to 280 miles. But Tesla claims that the Model Y can regain 158 miles in 15 minutes of charging at a Supercharger.

However, as Car and Driver has demonstrated, 0-60 times aren’t really real-world realistic, especially for most EVs. But the Tesla Model Y doesn’t need them—it has other impressive features.

Tesla Model Y heat pump

As Roadshow reports, the Model Y is the first Tesla to come with a heat pump.

Battery charge decreases drastically in cold weather, and the usual solution is to scavenge energy from them to power the EV’s heating system. This means, not only do you lose range from the cold, if you’re not plugged into a charger, you’re losing still more range to heat both the batteries and cabin. But the heat pump, which is part of the Model Y’s HVAC system, instead grabs heat from warm air in one space and redistributes it elsewhere. Think of it as A/C, only in reverse.

It’s not clear, as of this writing, where exactly the heat is coming from. However, based on the Tesla Model Y owner’s manual, the heat pump appears to be close to the front motor. Since the motor will generate heat anyway as it runs, this is a clever piece of design.

Other features

Although the Model Y is based on the Model 3, it does get some upgrades from the sedan. The first is USB-C-compatible outlets front and rear, and all can deliver power. Wireless charging is standard. And, like the earlier Model X, but unlike the Model 3, the Tesla Model Y has a power-operated hatchback-style tailgate. Also, the Model Y’s back seats can recline for increased comfort.

In addition, InsideEVs reports that the Model Y may have a hidden Trailer Mode. Officially, Tesla claims the Model Y, like the Model 3, is not tow-rated. However, an anonymous user posted screenshots that claim to show that the crossover will come with a 7-pin trailer connection, as well as a dedicated towing driving mode. As of this writing, Tesla has not commented on the screenshots. Interestingly, although the Model 3 and Model Y aren’t tow-rated in the US, the Model 3 is tow-rated in Europe.

Throttle House also reports that a Tesla spokesperson claims the Model Y would be able to serve as a ‘robo-taxi’ in the near future. Although the Model Y will offer several driver-assistance features for an additional price, given how Tesla struggled to make its Smart Summon feature work, that claim seems fairly unlikely.


2020 Tesla Model Y
2020 Tesla Model Y | Tesla

The Tesla Model Y Long Range stickers at $52,990; the Performance’s base price is $60,990. That’s only about $1000-$2000 off the initial price estimates reported several months ago. In addition, the Model Y still qualifies for $4300 in tax incentives.

Also, there is one more option that Tesla hasn’t yet made available. In early 2021, Tesla will begin offering an optional rear-facing 2-seat 3rd-row for the Model Y. It will cost approximately $3000, and also prevent 2nd-row seats from reclining. Throttle House also estimates the 3rd-row seats will really only be comfortable for children.

What’s it like to drive?

Throttle House tested the Performance trim of the Model Y, with the optional upgrade. And, overall, the duo was impressed with it.

It’s more spacious than the Model 3 but more practical and cheaper than the Model X. It also drives better than the Model X, especially with the optional suspension. Roughly 75% of the Model Y’s parts come from the Model 3. That includes much of its interior, but that’s not a bad thing. It has the Model 3’s comfortable seats, and responsive 15” center display, with all its Easter eggs.

2020 Tesla Model Y interior
2020 Tesla Model Y interior | Tesla

Unfortunately, this early Model Y still has some unfortunate panel gaps. But, overall, Throttle House’s complaints were fairly minor. The center-screen indicator lights are somewhat awkward, the gloss-black interior trim picks up fingerprints easily, and the steering wheel isn’t as sporty as it could be.

Ultimately, given that it’s based on the Model 3, Throttle House found the Tesla Model Y drove very much like a taller Model 3. But, as Road & Track points out, that’s not a bad thing. For one, the Tesla’s battery pack means it has a low center of gravity, so you don’t really notice the extra height. However, the added height, space, and practicality are actually secondary to what the Model Y means for Tesla.

Tesla Model X
Tesla Model X | Tesla

At times, especially with the furor surrounding the Cybertruck, Tesla can seem like it’s simply chasing hype. As Elon Musk himself has stated regarding the Model X, the automaker has overreached on its ambitions before. The Model Y, though, isn’t quite like that. It’s a logical extension of a pre-existing platform, something other ‘traditional’ automakers do.

In a way, the Tesla Model Y is essentially a lifted Model 3. But that’s exactly what it needed to be.

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