Notes from the Road, A Personal Automotive History – Issue 30: Full EV, No ICE

Having dipped a toe in the EV waters with the Model S, and then the Taycan, it was inevitable to start to wonder, could an all EV stable be far away? Well, the answer turned out to be a resounding “no”. It’s hard to explain to gear heads, and being a fellow gear head, as has been well documented in these pages, I would have been skeptical myself, but there is something about EVs that “get to you”. It might the instant torque, something which isn’t replicated in even the absolute quickest ICE cars because physics, or the ability to leave home every morning with a “full tank” just by plugging it in, or maybe just the vague “futuristic” aspect of them. Digging deeper, one could argue that ICE cars have grown increasingly more “digital” every year for past 40 years or so, in an effort to fight those pesky physics, and the whole formula has just finally run out of steam. Despite what modern “enthusiasts” argue, the only similarity between a 2023 BMW M3, and the original E36 M3, is that they both make noises and burn gas. Any other suppose “enthusiast” quality is willful self-delusion. Regardless of the reason though, it isn’t really a surprise that 8 out of 10 EV buyers plan to buy an EV again, and among the 2 that don’t, the main reason stated is “range anxiety” and “availability of charging” (both fixable).

For a time though, having a full EV stable seemed just a bridge too far, and the Mini Cooper, with it’s quirky looks and personality to spare, was safe. At lease end, though, things changed. The Model S was gone, replaced by the Taycan, but all of those unique Tesla qualities were, being honest, sorely missed. The Mini filled the role of daily driver, kid hauler, grocery getter, and “CUV”. A people mover that you could still have a bit of fun with, yet not worry about too much. As it turns out, Tesla was smart enough to recognize how critical this category was, and into the void released what quickly became their bestselling car, the Model Y.

As 2022 rolled around, the choice became clear; if you want the advantages of a Tesla, and you want a reasonably compact CUV type thing, you want a Model Y. Timing the purchase of a Tesla, on the other hand, is a bit of an art. This is something that diehard fans deny, and naysayers point to as a reason to avoid the brand entirely. The fact is they’re both wrong. Part of what you’re buying into here is the technology, and technology is an important part of the car. The fact that Tesla evolves quickly, and doesn’t “hold off” introducing important changes until a “model refresh” period is actually a good thing. If folks could emotionally let go of the legacy model a bit, I think they’d come to realize this as well. Legacy cars were hardly frozen in time, and the “new version” of the car you bought 3 years ago is always going to be superior in a number of important ways. With Tesla these improvements are more continuous. So does that mean you just ignore it all and buy one whenever you’re ready, like the diehards claim? Well, that’s complicated, but the general answer is “no”. Had I bought a Model Y early in 2022 I’d have gotten a lead acid 12V battery, single paned glass all around, and the Intel Atom based “Media Control Unit” (MCU). This is certainly not a bad car, but the 2022 I ended up buying at the end of Q1 had a lithium ion 12V battery (more durable, more efficient, and lighter), dual pane glass in the front and, most importantly, the long-awaited AMD Ryzen based “MCU”, which is massively faster than the old Intel unit (plus heated windshield wipers). Considering the MCU, in a Tesla, is the only thing you interact with, for every vehicle function, it really matters. The new system is so much more capable than the old, there have already been updates that only apply to the Ryzen unit. Now on the flip side, had I waited until 2023 to make the purchase, I’d have lost ultrasonic sensors (and, by extension, any form of park assist until just now, when they’ve released a very rough system based purely on cameras). So the “buy when ready” advice isn’t great in my opinion. Buying a Tesla really does require some research, informed timing, and maybe a bit of luck (no one saw the USS delete coming).

With all of that said, how is the Model Y we ended up with? Well I am happy to report that it is significantly better built than the 2020 Model S I had, which is odd, and a bit counter intuitive, but also part of the “newer tends to be better” aspect of Tesla. Luckily the newest Model S and X models have caught up on build quality, and provide a bit more premium materials and design inside the cabin (although not as superior to the newest 3 and Y models as you might expect).

Driving experience wise the Model Y is fantastic. We bought the Long Range, and then applied the acceleration boost. This ends up giving you straight line performance in between a regular Long Range, and a Model Y Performance, but with the standard suspension and 19 or 20″ wheels (vs 21 on the Performance). Given ride quality was a concern, especially given the Model Y’s lack of air suspension, this seemed like a good balance and that turned out to be true. Many consider the Model Y “too firm”, but even on 20’s, having come from a long history of very sport cars, I think the suspension is actually quite good. I don’t find it jarring on rough roads at all, and it gives a surprising amount of tossability to what is ultimately a heavy and fairly large vehicle.

Storage space and comfort are both excellent, with the rear flat floor making it a true five seater, and all five of those seats providing above average support, with attractive looks. We’ve done eight hour drives with four of them occupied, and no one experienced any discomfort or fatigue, including the driver (quite the contrary). Observed range on those drives was in the neighborhood of roughly 290 miles, so as usual not quite the 318 mile range Tesla promises, although I’m sure those numbers are achievable keeping to 55MPH in optimal conditions. For reference we drive at whatever the flow of traffic is demanding, which is typical 75MPH or so. Efficiency is very good, even at those speeds, and the Tesla charging network makes route planning pretty effortless. Anyone who likes to use a bathroom, eat, or stretch their legs at some point during a 500mi+ journey should have no real issues “road tripping” a Model Y.

Technology wise the cabin is minimalist, and built around the 15 inch center display. I do miss the instrument cluster screen of the Model S, but you do get used to the single display fairly quickly. The Ryzen unit is incredible, and very noticeably quicker than the old Intel Atom (which we had on the Model S). Tesla continues to improve and push features, and this 2022 Model Y has been a beneficiary of all of them, including using the matrix LED headlights to do the silly “lightshow”, enabling the interior camera in the “Live Sentry” view so you can check inside the car from the app, and enabling Apple Music (among boatloads of other changes). This abundance of updates doesn’t last forever, as mentioned above, time, technology, and Tesla march on, so this is an “enjoy it while it lasts” thing.

In terms of ADAS, we did choose to equip this Model Y with FSD, even though this had been a bit of a stinging loss on the Model S, and we’re glad we did. We were granted access to the beta as soon as it went to wider release, and are currently testing the latest iteration of version 11. I can say that while it still has some rough edges, it is just in a different universe than what other manufacturers are doing. On recent trips the car took us from our garage, to our destination, from the streets to the highway, through highway transitions, back to the streets, and then parked all with only 1 or 2 interventions (making it accelerate through hesitancy) or disengagements (taking over because you don’t like the way it is negotiating something). This is, of course, not perfect, but it is damn impressive and you can’t get anything even close to it from anyone else. I enjoy driving, and for this reason I love the Taycan, but the ability to not have to drive is almost like magic. It will be interesting to see what the next two years or so bring to this technology on existing “version 3” hardware, but it’s already pretty damn good.

So what is the summary of the Model Y? It’s one of the absolute best EVs you can get, but more importantly, it’s a legitimately fun car to drive, while still being comfortable for five. It’s genuinely practical, with excellent space in the trunk, in the frunk, and in the cabin, but it’s not gigantic (ahem, looking at you Model X). It’s no surprise that Tesla has shifted a shed load of these and we’re happy to have joined that club!


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