2020 Tesla Model Y front driving

Few car launches command more attention and buzz from enthusiasts, consumers, and the media than a new Tesla. The latest one from the California-based electric carmaker is the 2020 Model Y, a crossover companion to the Model 3 sedan, sharing key underpinnings, equipment, and features. The Y is slightly taller than the 3, and it features a hatchback design akin to the larger Model X SUV.

Like the Model 3 that was launched before it, the Model Y was designed to be a more affordable offering from Tesla, with the Standard Range model expected to start at $40,000 when it enters production early 2021, Tesla says. With its taller roof and hatchback body style, the Model Y should work much better for families than the Model 3, which has a cramped and uncomfortable rear seat, we noted in our testing.

The Model Y’s driving range and claimed performance numbers are impressive: The EPA estimates the range for the Model Y Long Range with all-wheel drive at 316 miles. Tesla claims the Y hits 60 mph in 4.8 seconds, with a top speed of 135 mph. The specs for the Performance trim live up to the name: Tesla says it will go from 0 to 60 mph in 3.5 seconds and have a top speed of 145 mph. When the lower-cost Standard arrives, it will have a 230-mile range, Tesla says.

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The first versions available are the Long Range and Performance trims, similar to the approach the car company took with the Model 3 rollout. These Model Y trims start at $52,900 and $60,990, respectively. The entry-level Model Y trim, called Standard Range, is expected to start at $40,000.

We just took delivery of a Long Range AWD version for the CR auto test program. With options, the total price came to $61,190.

Below we offer the five most important things we’ve learned about the Model Y in our short time with the car. (We have since posted our First Drive impressions.)

It's More Like a Hatchback Than an SUV

Based the Model 3, the Model Y replaces that car’s trunk with a hatchback design not unlike that of the larger Model S, but its styling is nothing like a traditional boxy SUV’s. The result is that it looks and feels more like a taller Model 3 hatchback than an SUV, but we think that’s a good thing. The bubble-like shape and taller roof give the Model Y more headroom and cargo room, and a much more comfortable rear seat. The improved rear seat space is the single biggest improvement over the Model 3.

There’s lots of headroom for rear-seat passengers, along with plentiful foot space underneath the front seats. The seatbacks have recline adjustment, too. In addition to the extra room, the comfort of the rear seat has been improved, with better leg support than in the Model 3, which has nearly none.

The seatback is quite flat, though, and doesn’t conform to your body. The middle rear seat is hard, like most, but there’s space cut out for the passenger’s toes just behind the center console. The hatchback body style and folding rear seats also make the Model Y more useful than the Model 3 when it comes to carrying larger cargo.

2020 Tesla Model Y cargo area

It Drives Like a Sports Car

If you care more about thrilling performance than a cushy and quiet cabin, you’ll love the Model Y. It’s great fun to punch the accelerator pedal and feel the instant forward rush that comes with the car’s prodigious electric power, and the all-wheel-drive system puts the power down perfectly to all four wheels, with nary a hint of tire spin. The quick steering and minimal body roll from the taut suspension helps the Model Y tackle corners with ease; its reactions are more like those of a sports car than a luxury SUV.

But the ride is fairly stiff and choppy. Occupants get noticeably jostled around on rougher roads inside the Model Y. A fair amount of road and wind noise take away from the otherwise quiet interior, and the cabin is spartan, without many of the plush and fancy materials that luxury buyers are used to.

Gassy Turn Signals and Other Tech

The Model Y is packed with technology. Some, such as standard advanced driver assistance system features—forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking, and pedestrian detection—are great.

Other features have nothing to do with driving. For instance, you can play video games or watch movies and TV shows on Netflix while parked. And, because no doubt many consumers were decrying the lack of this in most cars, you can program the Model Y to chime in with a variety of flatulence sounds when you activate the turn signals. Or sleigh bells. Your choice.

2020 Tesla Model Y infotainment system

Infotainment and Controls Are Still Distracting

As with the Model 3, the huge center-dash-mounted touch screen controls almost everything inside the cabin. It makes sense for many of the infotainment functions, but common (and what should be simple) tasks—such as adjusting the side mirrors, steering wheel, wiper speed, and direction of the air vents—all have to be done from the screen. This requires a head turn toward the screen, and too long (and too frequent) instances when the driver’s eyes are temporarily off the road.

Other oddities include the awkward-to-open, two-step flush exterior door handles; and the digital speedometer readout is within the center dashboard screen, rather than directly in front of the driver, forcing them to look away from the road to check speed.

Beta Technology

The Model Y has Tesla’s latest Autopilot system, along with a new bit of tech called Traffic Light and Stop Sign Control. This last feature, used in conjunction with cruise control and Autosteer, can automatically bring the Model Y to a standstill at stop signs and traffic lights. If activated, it will slow and come to a stop regardless of whether the traffic light is red, yellow, or green, so the driver needs to pay attention and hit the accelerator pedal slightly so that the vehicle will continue through when the light is green. When it brings the vehicle to a full stop on its own, it won’t start moving again until the driver hits the accelerator pedal or the steering-wheel stalk.

Keep in mind that Autosteer, Traffic Light and Stop Sign Control, Navigate on Autopilot, and the Summon parking feature are all listed as “Beta” on the Model Y’s center screen. They’re labeled as such for a reason: The early adopter might enjoy the intrigue of all these high-tech features, but drivers should not rely on any of them to necessarily add safety or to make driving easier.

2020 Tesla Model Y interior