Reflecting On 25 Months With A Tesla Model Y
Our long-term test is over. Here's how the Tesla faired.
All good things must end. That is a sad truth in life, but the silver lining of that cloud is that the not-so-good stuff also tends to terminate eventually. Into which bucket am I placing the 25 months I spent living with the blue Tesla Model Y Long Range you see here? Well, I'm kind of pouring my thoughts out in between, if I'm honest. As I write this I find myself vacillating between begrudging respect and terminal relief.
This car began its life as part of the Roadshow family, then stayed on with my family. If you read my initial review and coverage of this car, you know that I was impressed with many things upon taking it home. But, more significant were the things about it that horrified me. That the car couldn't go five miles on cruise control without a phantom braking incident was simply unacceptable. As the months wore on, the Model Y's awful ride quality grated on my nerves more and more.
In the years since, many of my initial concerns have markedly improved. Yes, the phantom braking improved, new features made the car easier to live with, and we even got the long-awaited "Full Self Driving" that I never thought I'd see before this lease expired.
However, the fact that FSD is still terrible makes me feel like maybe I wasn't actually wrong.
Despite all that, the Model Y has earned begrudging respect from me over these years. This, then, will be one of those reviews where I meander back and forth from positive to negative. So, join me, if you would, and we'll see if we can't come to a reasonable conclusion.
The Foundational Stuff
My split decision on this car begins with its driving dynamic. The Model Y can be remarkably fun to drive at times, but it's also frustratingly unrewarding at others and punishingly harsh throughout.
We'll start with the good: the power. The Model Y is legitimately quick. Rated at 4.8 seconds to 60 but feeling more sprightly than that, it launches forward harder than those 19-inch tires can manage. And, after just 15,000 miles, those tires are already showing wear — despite using a dedicated set of snow tires through the winter.
The steering, likewise, is very quick. Dead, with basically zero feedback, but quick. That speed and the small steering wheel make the Model Y feel nimble and engaging. For an EV that delivers remarkable efficiency, it offers big grins, too.
Until you get the slightest hint of wheelspin or slip, at which point the Tesla's safety nannies kill the power and ruin the fun. More on that in a moment.
“Even minor imperfections in asphalt result in painful feedback in the cabin thanks to suspension with all the refinement of a kick in the ass.”
So, the Model Y can sometimes be sweet, but it's also a literal headache. Even minor imperfections in asphalt result in painful feedback in the cabin thanks to suspension with all the refinement of a kick in the ass. This car crashes over every little bump, despite us going for the smaller, 19-inch wheels specifically to improve ride quality. Heaven help you if you pay extra for the 20-inchers.
That's a real shame because, on a smooth road, the dual-pane acoustic glass and other attributes of the Model Y make it calm and quiet. But, when every little bump rings through the cabin with percussive effect, you'll be counting the miles to the next Supercharger.
The best part of driving in the winter was putting on a set of studded Nokian Hakkapeliitta 10 EV tires. Yes, they deliver great grip and aren't nearly as loud as the other studded tires I've run for years, but more importantly, their soft sidewalls actually made a noticeable improvement to the Model Y's ride quality. The improvement was so apparent that we tended to run them farther into the spring than seasonality demanded.
On the factory all-season tires, the Model Y was frankly a little scary in the snow. Those low-rolling-resistance tires are hard, not suited to proper winter performance. I've seen so, so many Model Y owners in forums and on Reddit telling people that they don't need snow tires, so let me make this clear:
If you live somewhere where it snows regularly, and if you want to be able to get home without white knuckles on a stormy day, you should buy a dedicated set of snow tires.
That said, the Model Y's stability control system does a respectable job of managing available grip. It’s just that those stock tires don’t offer much of the stuff. With the Nokians, however, the Model Y was a proper monster in the snow. Even when we were struggling to find a plow guy for our driveway and had to ford our way out a few times, the Model Y had no problem.
Though that stability is good, it’s not fun. It simply does not react well to being driven aggressively in low-grip situations. As an avid ice racer, I like to get a little sideways when the conditions are bad and nobody's around. The Model Y will not allow that. Even on a frozen lake I could barely get the rear to kick out a wee little bit before the car cut all power.
It's a shame, but know that if you want to engage in any antics like that, you'll need to spring $4,000 for the Performance model and give up 27 miles of range to boot.
"Full Self Driving"
I still can't bring myself to write "Full Self Driving" without quotes because I really can't think of a more blatant example of automotive hucksterism. "Autopilot" was bad enough. "Full Self Driving?" It's a blatant lie.
We'll start with the good. The phantom braking that plagued this car when it was new has been mostly fixed. The car you see here is one of the early Model Ys shipped without a radar sensor in the nose. It was one of the first to rely exclusively on the imaging sensors in the windshield to detect oncoming traffic.
When I took this car home from the dealership, on non-divided highways, the car would routinely and regularly stomp on the brakes to avoid oncoming cars that were safely in the opposite lane. Sometimes this happened so aggressively the ABS kicked in.
While this mostly happened on secondary roads, it also happened on the highway. Frankly, it was terrifying. I mentioned at the time this could cause a rear-ending, and indeed there have been reports of this happening and a lawsuit to boot.
By the end of our lease, the phantom braking had become far less frequent. When it did happen, it was less abrupt. I hope that means Tesla has legitimately found a fix and didn’t just neuter the car’s ability to detect legitimate oncoming collisions.
Thankfully, I never had a chance to test that out.
While FSD has also evolved and improved, it's still a disaster. I took the car for a final drive just before turning it in, and it did terribly. The car didn't care when I intentionally took my eyes off the road for too long, but it asked that I constantly shake the steering wheel despite my hands never leaving the thing.
FSD did a good job of managing speed and staying straight on the highway, but it routinely lingered in the left lane, holding up traffic behind, and later passed a semi-truck in the right lane. It also took an exit without using the turn signal, then swerved wildly between exit lanes before slowing down to 20 mph below the speed limit to get around a gentle curve. Perhaps worst of all, in the many times I had to take over to override, I had to really grip and twist the steering wheel. FSD simply does not want to yield control, which results in the whole car lurching.
“At best, driving with FSD on is like riding shotgun with a pimply 15-year-old with a freshly minted learner's permit in their pocket.”
At best, driving with FSD on is like riding shotgun with a pimply 15-year-old with a freshly minted learner's permit in their pocket. The idea of paying $12,000 for that privilege is absolutely insane. Super Cruise, BlueCruise, BMW's Driver Assistance Professional, and indeed Mercedes-Benz's Drive Pilot, are all wildly more reliable, more capable, and frankly more comfortable to use. They're also all significantly cheaper.
How Did That White Vinyl Stand Up to Dogs?
Compared to the high-end, vegan materials that companies like Volvo, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz are putting in their EVs, the white vinyl inside of the Model Y looks and feels like a questionable choice for a 1970s-themed boudoir. For a car that carries luxury pricing, there's simply nothing luxurious about it.
However, I have to give it respect. It held up. By the end of our lease, the driver's seat in particular was showing clear signs of blue staining. Like many white interiors before, denim was a challenge. I was left wondering whether we were about to be dinged with a penalty upon returning the car, but a few minutes with some Dr. Bronner's soap (Heal Earth!) cleaned it right up.
We did use a hammock-style seat cover for the rear seats to protect them from the worst of what our dogs' paws had to offer. But, those sears still saw plenty of grit and grime and came out looking none the worse for wear.
The interior overall fared remarkably well.
Range and Efficiency
We put 15,410 miles on the Tesla over 25 months, less than we'd hoped, but, considering the pandemic shut down basically everything for a good portion of our ownership period, that's not so bad. In that time, the car consumed 4,272 kWh for a total efficiency of 277 Wh/mi. Or, that's 3.6 mi/kWh, which is more or less exactly the EPA's estimate, despite doing a fair bit of clod weather running on snow tires.
In general, the Tesla's predicted range tended to be accurate, and we rarely, if ever, had any range anxiety in the car. Easy access to Supercharging certainly helped that, but idle fees often meant we couldn't quite enjoy charging stops as we'd have liked. It used to be nice to go wander off and get a bite to eat while charging.
We did have one persistent issue, though: significant range loss while parked. A few times we left the Model Y at the airport and came back to find that it had lost upwards of half its charge. We toggled off Sentry Mode and everything we could, but it kept on happening. Best to leave it plugged in if you can.
Reliability and Quality
Simply put, we never had a mechanical issue with the Model Y. It didn't have to go in for service once. And, while I've seen plenty of Teslas delivered to customers with gross panel misalignments and other similar issues, ours looked reasonably good coming out of the dealer.
That said, it wasn't perfect. Fog would cloud the taillights for days whenever the thing got wet, and we quickly learned to never put anything in the frunk we wanted to keep dry. I could be wrong, but it seems to me that having water ingress in a sealed portion of the car is probably bad.
Because of this, we never used the frunk. So, imagine my surprise when I opened it to make sure we hadn't left anything in there and found a handful of leaves. How did they get in there? From which tree did they fall and for how many miles did we carry them? I have no idea, but I hope they enjoyed the ride.
Given how... dynamic Tesla pricing can be, I thought it'd be interesting to do the math on how much this car would cost were I to purchase another.
The final price of the Model Y Long Range you see here, with its options for paint, interior, tow hitch, and FSD, was $67,490. Configuring the same Long Range with the same options (including the now-optional charging adapter) leaves us with a final price of $66,880, including the $1,390 delivery fee, which has oddly gone up $190 in these two years.
So, despite all those fluctuations in between, the cost today is more or less the same.
What isn't the same? The competition. The absolute cheapest Tesla Model Y is $50,490. The Mustang Mach-E starts at just under $43,000. The Hyundai Ioniq 5 or Kia EV6 are even cheaper, and all are at least as nice to drive, if not nicer. And, with options like Volvo's EX30 coming soon, plus actual luxury options like the Audi Q8 E-Tron and Mercedes-Benz EQE SUV available for not much more, the Model Y's value proposition is questionable.
In this field, the Model Y really only stands out for its range, and there's so much more than range to consider.
Things I'll Miss
The Supercharger Network (though not for long...?)
The (lack of a) dealership experience
Things I’ll Not Miss
That ride quality
The word "beta" applied to a safety system
Random loss of charge while parked
The monthly payment
Being in any way financially associated with Elon Musk
The Final Factor
There's one final aspect of Model Y experience that I cannot ignore: the evolution of Tesla's brand image. Over these two years, owning a Tesla has become a de facto political statement. Whether you agree or disagree with Elon Musk's personal politics doesn't matter. His too-close association with this brand has made being seen in a Tesla implicit compliance with, or at least ambivalence towards, his beliefs.
I've spoken with many Tesla owners who now feel uncomfortable being seen in their cars. They’re counting the months on their leases, canceling pre-orders, or selling their cars. This is, frankly, a massive shame.
The Tesla Model Y, for all its faults, has plenty of remarkable features and attributes that make it impossible to ignore. It is still a contender in the increasingly competitive electric crossover SUV segment, but for an growing number of people, Tesla's brand image makes it an untenable option.
If that's you, I don't blame you. If, on the other hand, you can put on your blinders and ignore, or indeed if you actually enjoy Musk's weapons-grade trolling, then you're getting one of the best combinations of range and performance in the segment. If, however, you're looking for something premium, something that actually deserves to be in the luxury segment, you can do better than a Model Y.
Never say never, but I can't imagine ever owning another Model Y without a significant revamp. FSD needs a reboot before I'd even consider it more than a liability and I just can't fathom spending nearly $70,000 on a car this punishing to drive.
So, then, what would I spend that much money on? We've recently added a new electric SUV to the family, one from another brand, and we couldn't be happier with our decision. I'll save that update for another day.