It's unsurprising to see the Tesla Model Y topping its segment through the early part of 2023 as this tech powerhouse comes at a surprisingly smart price.

While seemingly every car company’s latest model nowadays is a new electric vehicle, the newest model from Tesla, arguably the greatest pioneer of EVs, is one that it’s somewhat surprising wasn’t introduced sooner. That car, of course, is the 2023 Model Y – a mid-sized SUV that slots into one of the most popular and fastest-growing segments in the Australian car market.

Two versions are on offer for the Australian market, both produced at Gigafactory Shanghai. The version on test here is the cheaper RWD base model which starts at $69,300 before on-road costs, although my tester had a few extras added to bring it up to $75,900 including the order and delivery fees. Positioned above that is the $94,900 Performance model which first Australian deliveries of are poised to begin imminently at the time of writing in March 2023.

Much like how the larger Model X and Model S share a platform, the Model Y and Model 3 also ride on shared architecture, although the Model 3 sedan range offered in Australia is broader than that of the Model Y. It’s also worth noting that pricing for the latter two (the updated Model X and Model S aren’t due here until later in the year) has fluctuated quite a lot since it first went on sale in 2022, but after rising by a few thousand dollars shortly after launch that price dropped back down, but a recent incremental price rise saw $400 added to the base cost.

Certainly, the Model Y riding on a shared platform is clearly visible simply in terms of how it looks. For all intents and purposes, it’s a taller Model 3 with a tailgate, with the lighting, bumper, and rear three-quarter designs being largely identical between the two.

I must admit, I too’d and fro’d between liking the Model Y’s looks and finding them awkward, but after my three days of driving it, I did grow to like it more than I initially had after first seeing this design – the optional red multi-coat paint and 20-inch Induction alloys help – but it’s still far from being pretty. However, it’s unequivocally a Tesla in its design language, so love the lines or not, it’s in no way derivative of anything from any other brand out there which is certainly a good thing. I’m glad there are no fake grills or exhaust outlets, too, as I’m a believer in making EVs look like they are indeed EVs.

Similarly, the interior of the Tesla Model Y is carried over almost identically from the Model 3 – one such indicator of this being the same seats and seat rails sitting lifted up on blocks, rather than designing bespoke seats for this taller, higher-riding cabin. That’s no knock on the seats, though, as they’re pleasantly sized, bolstered, and supportive. It’s also worth noting that all five seats have three-stage heating including the middle rear seat, while there’s two-stage heating for the steering wheel. The wheel itself, I must admit, took a moment to get used to as it’s quite thick, and is narrower than it is tall, but its small overall diameter is something I liked.

The rest of the cabin is best described as minimalist, with a clean and uncluttered feel that makes it easy to spend time in. Part of this is down to the choice of materials, with light wood paneling running across the dashboard and door cards, while part of it is down to all vehicle controls being located on just one centrally-mounted 15-inch touchscreen.

When I say all vehicle controls, I mean it. Beyond the power window switches and door-popping buttons, everything a button would normally control is operated through this screen. Take, for instance, adjusting the air flow from the air vents. Normally, this would be done with a small plastic (or perhaps metal) adjuster inside the air vent. Here, however, there’s just one long vent running across the entire dashboard and the airflow is controlled with the touchscreen, allowing you to split its directions and perfectly angle the height it blows out at.

Adjusting things like the height of the steering wheel and side mirrors is also done using toggles on the screen and the two unlabelled scroll wheels on the steering wheel which ordinarily control the volume and music you’re listening to through the Model Y’s particularly impressive 13-speaker audio system – a standard feature on this base Model Y, but optional on the equivalent Model 3. Of course, there’s a traditional indicator stalk on the steering column, as well as a matching one on the other side which doubles as a shifter and the toggle to set the Autopilot system.

On the right-hand side of the massive touchscreen, you’ll find the location of the speedometer along with information such as the speed limit, cruise control speed, and gear position. Below it, there’s an unbelievable augmented reality display which uses the vast array of cameras all over the Model Y to build a virtual model of the world around you, clearly identifying cars, trucks, and utes, as well as speed limit signs, wheelie bins on the kerbside, and orange traffic cones. It might sound like having the speedometer off to the side like this would be awkward, but I honestly didn’t find it particularly hard to get used to.

On the larger left-hand side of the central screen, the standard view is your sat nav display which is intuitively powered by Google Maps, while you can swipe up to use an array of other vehicle functions. When you’re parked up, such as while charging, this even includes video games, sketchpads, gimmicks such as a whoopee cushion you can attach to a particular seat, and even a virtual fireplace in ‘Romance Mode’. This screen should also be commended for the slickness of its operation with every control on it feeling smooth and incredibly responsive. The last Tesla I drove was a Model S P90D back in 2017, and recalling how slow the system in that could be at times, it’s clear to see how far Tesla has come since then.

It’s also worth mentioning that rather than a traditional key (although there is an emergency credit card-sized keycard) your smartphone is the primary way of controlling the Model Y. This includes locking and unlocking, utilising its ‘Sentry Mode’ surround-view dashcams for recording or remotely viewing any accidents or tampering while parked (do be aware, though, that using Sentry Mode absolutely chews through your battery, so remember to turn it off if you aren’t street-parked), and remotely preconditioning the cabin by setting the climate control and even the seat and steering wheel heaters.

In terms of technology, then, it’s easy from my perspective to call Tesla the current industry-leader in terms of technology, as I challenge you to show me a system as slick, flexible, feature-packed, and remotely connected as the one in the Model Y.

As far as the rest of the cabin is concerned, build quality is fairly good with a pleasant array of materials and a solid feel to most items, although I could hear some rattles from the rear seat on bumpier roads.

The Model Y’s skateboard architecture allows for a flat floor that makes this cabin feel incredibly roomy with plenty of space for front and rear occupants to stretch out. Do consider as well that if you’re regularly carrying passengers in the back, the Model Y’s raised seat rails actually allow for a good amount of foot room for rear occupants; the Model 3’s low-riding front seats mean there’s little toe room for those sat in the back.

Along with the thoughtful inclusion of not one but two wireless phone chargers on the centre console, there’s also a deep storage cubby ahead of the cupholders, along with another sizeable cubby under the centre armrest. The door pockets are also well-sized for fitting larger bottles and purses in.

The Model Y’s humungous boot must also be praised for its 854 litres of space which makes it easily a class-leader. Do consider, though, that that capacity is measured all the way to the roofline, and there’s no cargo area cover to reduce road noise or keep belongings truly hidden. Some of that space comes in a large storage compartment under the boot floor as well. There’s also an additional 117 litres of space under the Model Y’s bonnet in its ‘frunk’.

READ MORE: Genesis’ Electrified GV70 is sickeningly fast, but also sickeningly expensive

Under the skin, the Model Y RWD actually sports a bit more power than its Model 3 equivalent, with a single electric motor sending 220kW and 420Nm to the rear wheels, versus 190kW and 375Nm in the base Tesla Model 3. However, thanks to the extra 157kg the Model Y carries around, it gets from 0-100km/h in 6.9 seconds compared with 6.1 for the Model 3 RWD. Both use the same 60kWh CATL lithium-iron phosphate battery which in the Model Y delivers 455km of range on the WLTP test cycle.

Certainly, while not the rocket you’d be forgiven for expecting it to be, the base Model Y offers seriously solid performance for an electric SUV at this price point and it’ll certainly be more than punchy enough for most drivers. Although torque feels to be a bit limited off the line, it quickly swells into a potent mid-range which gives it quite an organic and drivable feel. One-pedal driving is also particularly smooth and intuitive in the Model Y, which once you get the hang of it makes the whole Model Y driving experience quite pleasant in traffic.

I also love that Tesla has kept its base models rear-wheel drive, although despite that, you shouldn’t expect the Model Y to want to get sideways at all. Unlike the positively tail-happy Genesis GV60 and Kia EV6 GT-Line, two of its key rivals, the Model Y is hamstrung by a truly intrusive traction control system that allows for zero wheel slippage whatsoever on tighter, twistier roads. For safety, that’s a good thing; for the enjoyment of drivers who know what they’re doing behind the wheel, it isn’t.

The Model Y’s handling in general is fairly impressive, though, with it feeling most at home on roads with longer sweeping bends that are well cambered. Thanks to its low centre of gravity it feels planted and poised on the road, and although it undoubtedly feels every bit as heavy as its 1909kg kerb weight, its super quick steering (barely two turns lock-to-lock) helps it feel responsive despite that heft.

The Michelin Pilot Sport EV rubber that comes fitted to these upgraded 20-inch wheels (19-inch wheels come with Hankook treads) also helps it feel more tractable. I’d advise you leave the steering in Comfort – Standard or Sport mode makes it feel too artificial and heavy, but Comfort mode feels right on the money.

What’s undoubtedly the Model Y’s biggest downside is its ride quality, which without question is far too firm – especially with the larger wheels fitted. Although I’m sure it’s part of what helps the Model Y remain so flat through the bends, it makes even smaller bumps clearly felt, while hits from larger bumps and potholes are unmistakably transmitted through the cabin. However, word on the street is that Shanghai-build Model Ys will receive a ‘comfort’ suspension tune later in the year, so hopefully it will indeed improve the Model Y’s one main weakness on the road.

What did leave me impressed, though, is the Model Y’s energy consumption. Over the course of my 273km of driving, I averaged 14.6kWh/100km which is identical to Tesla’s claims. Not only is that more efficient than any of its rivals I’ve tested, I wasn’t driving it with an economical mindset during my time with it either. Do keep in mind that at that rate of energy consumption, it does only allow for around 400km of real-world range.

When it comes to charging – normally not something you can tie to manufacturers – Tesla has taken matters into its own hands with its Supercharger network which is easily the largest global charging network. Although it was once upon a time free to charge at Superchargers, you do now have to pay with rates varying depending upon your charging speed (with four pricing tiers from 60kWh and under, 60-100kWh, 100-180kWh, and 180kWh and above) and payments managed through the Tesla app. Some free charging miles are offered to Tesla customers who earn them through the company’s Referral Program.

On the subject of running costs, it’s worth noting that Tesla doesn’t have a fixed service schedule for its vehicles, but does recommend replacing filters and fluids at certain intervals. For software-related fixes, that will typically be handled through over-the-air updates. However, do be aware that Tesla only covers its vehicles in Australia with a four-year/80,000km warranty which is below the industry standard, although the battery and drive unit is covered by an eight-year/160,000km warranty in the Model Y RWD (or eight years/192,000km in the Model Y Performance which is above average).

What’s unquestionable is the value for money you get with the Tesla Model Y. With its nearest rivals costing five-digit sums more, and considering just how much you get in the way of technology in this base RWD variant, there’s no denying why the Model Y is as popular as it is. After all, through the first two months of this year it’s topped the Medium SUV segment (over $60k) in Australia with nearly twice as many examples sold as the second-placed Audi Q5. Mind you, almost five times as many Model 3s have shifted in the same period, so it’s clear that the sedan is still what most Tesla buyers are preferring.

For me, it’s the technology that sets the Model Y apart most. By far and away, Tesla sets the new benchmark for automotive tech – perhaps not surprising for a company that operates more like a tech company than a traditional car company. Driving this is more like driving an iPhone – it’s slick, intuitive, and seemingly never runs out of party tricks it can do. Sure, its road manners could do with some improvement which it is due to get, but as a day-to-day car to live with its bountiful features makes it unrivalled in this space.

My only word of advice to potential buyers right now would be to test drive one and see if you can live with the current firm suspension. If not, hold off until later in the year; if yes, go for it. You’re not going to get a better electric SUV for the money – or, even, for a good few grand more.

2023 Tesla Model Y RWD List Price: $69,300 | As Tested: $75,900
  • 7.5/10
    Performance - 7.5/10
  • 6.5/10
    Ride & Handling - 6.5/10
  • 9.5/10
    Tech & Features - 9.5/10
  • 9/10
    Practicality - 9/10
  • 9/10
    Value for Money - 9/10

Pros: Industry-leading technology and smartphone connectivity, roomy cabin with humungous boot, seriously impressive value-for-money, broad charging network
Cons: Firm ride, awkward styling, some interior rattles, Sentry Mode absolutely chews through battery

In a nutshell: The 2023 Tesla Model Y RWD might not be the most well-mannered car on the road, but the technology it features is truly a cut above – in that regard, it’s not just class-leading but industry-leading. Those after a smoother ride will benefit from holding off until a ‘comfort’ suspension tune becomes available, but for those after one of the best daily-driver experiences you can have, it’s truly hard to look past.

Full Disclosure: The vehicle tested here was provided by Tesla Adelaide Airport in conjunction with Tesla Australia for three days with 75 percent charge upon collection and complimentary Supercharger access.

Patrick Jackson
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