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Tesla Model Y 2021 Impressions

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We now own 1.5 electric vehicles. The 0.5 being my 2016 Chevrolet Volt which is a plug-in hybrid and the 1 being the 2021 Tesla Model Y. I didn’t plan to pick up an electric vehicle so soon, but favorable factors and circumstances lined up so we replaced an aging Hyundai Tucson with the Tesla Model Y.

I meant to write these impressions after a few weeks of ownership, but time just slipped away and now I find myself with a more complete and well rounded take on the Tesla Model Y

All Electric Vehicles Are Viable in Canada

With its EPA estimated 525 KM of range, commuting around town is not a problem. In fact, that hasn’t been a problem for quite some time now; I can go shopping and commute to work and avoid the gas half of my Volt most of the time already. The next big hurdle for the EV to overcome was the road trip. I wasn’t comfortable with the state of electric vehicle charging infrastructure in 2015, but we’ve come a long way since then. Tesla’s SuperCharger is the most expansive charging network in Canada which means I can easily make my way across Canada if I wanted to. (I’m never going to do it, but the option is there. On top of Tesla’s own network, other charging networks like Electrify Canada are coming online along with the myriad of others in cities all across the nation. 

Level 2 charging is fine

We ended up having to upgrade the charger from the Evocharge 30 amp charger that I used with my Chevy Volt to a Chargepoint Home Flex that can shove in up to 50 amp worth of power into the car. (Well apparently it’s actually 40 amp because equipment don’t draw up to the rated limit) It’s fine. It works fine, the included adapter and the $113 extra that we bought to keep in the car works fine. 

Adapter? Yes. We bought an extra J1772 to Tesla adapter to keep in the car as a backup, because I need this North American standard connector for my Chevy Volt and I bought the Apple of electric vehicles which developed their own standard charging connector. 

The Tesla connector has its benefits including the ability to automatically recognize my car any SuperCharging station and charge my account without having to futz around with apps or payment methods. I’m sure it’s super convenient for the times when I go on the road, but it’s a bit of a nuisance that I need an adapter to charge my two electric vehicles.

What about Canadian winters?

The Volt leverages its gas engine to maintain ideal battery conditions, but even with that, the battery range does take a hit. We obviously haven’t tested it yet at the time of posting, but Tesla Model Y’s battery range will be reduced by the cold temperatures. How much depends if we preconditioned the car or not. The Model Y has a heat pump which is supposed to help with heating efficiency and while we weren’t able to test it for ourselves, others have vouched for its efficiency gains

Features Available When Ready

Our Model Y also came with a heated steering wheel which was not included with the car’s initial deliveries in 2020. There were also a number of minor changes like the matte center console. This kind of seemingly random and unannounced releases gives a whole sub-industry of blogs and YouTube channels the fodder to create speculation and scouting content for when features arrive. People are putting up content for new deliveries showing off everything from pending system software updates to a matte center console. Since Tesla doesn’t update their website or announce upcoming changes until their entire production pipeline can guarantee these features, people are posting Vehicle Identification Number ranges in an effort to help signal to others when it’s “safe” to place orders. 

We wanted the heated steering wheel, so we purposely waited a month or so before putting in our order for the Model Y. The feature wasn’t included on the Tesla site at the time of ordering, but it appeared by the time we received our car. 

Tesla doesn’t officially do model years, but they effectively exist and it would just be a easier for everyone if they just came out and made it official and just announce what they plan to include ahead of time. 

No Hassle Shopping

We purchased our Tesla online. We submitted our license, auto information, and organized the financials without setting foot at the Tesla center. There were no upsells or haggling nonsense to deal with. The price was transparent and it was easily the most pleasant car purchasing experience. The only signing we had to do was the post-delivery confirmation of condition on delivery day. The dealership system is outdated and needs to evolve.

Delivery Day

Tesla has a reputation for build quality issues and its probably deserved — especially for their earlier models and earlier production runs. You could argue that they rushed cars out in order to meet financial targets or due to inexperience with manufacturing, but we didn’t see any of those issues and vast majority of people won’t encounter the issues early adopters of the Model Y saw. The folks at our delivery meeting gave us plenty of time to pore over the car to check for defects and issues. We came away satisfied with zero issues to report. A couple of months later that’s still the case.

While it is possible to drive off the lot without fine tuning the car to your specific needs (we did that for the test drive that we did AFTER we ordered one), taking the time to familiarize and set the car up to your preferences goes a long way. 

Goodbye coasting!

I think one of the more controversial decisions they made was to remove the ability to coast. Tesla cars will always aggressively apply regenerative braking as soon as the drive lets go of the accelerator. This combined with the automatic brake and “Hold” setting allows for one pedal driving, but it’s not how the vast majority of cars operate. My Volt doesn’t do that by default; it applies a light regen when I release the pedal and it feels like the car is gradually slowing down like in a Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) car. I can then gradually apply additional brakes if required. While Tesla’s aggressive regen may save on brakes, it does require a bit more effort to come to a gentle stop. 

The driver needs to gently lift off the accelerator to achieve a smoother stop. I found nailing that transition before the brake automatically grabs hold on the “Hold” setting a bit tricksy to nail so I switched to “Creep” mode which continues to apply a bit acceleration after you lift off brake or gas like an ICE car. I found it easier to finely apply brakes then it was to finely negotiate the accelerator.

My fiancee stayed with the default “Hold” driving mode and has gotten better at slowing the car down to a gentle stop, but there are still herky-jerky moments. I recently tried to switch back to the default, but I’m still not a fan of it. It might be tempting to switch to the “Roll” mode which basically allows the car to “roll” when the brake or accelerators aren’t pressed, but it just means that you’ll have to gently press the accelerator forward all the time when you make fine movements like in Hold mode and that’s not for me. 

An Interface That Wasn’t Made For Driving

Can you drive the Tesla Model Y and operate its many functions while keeping your eyes on the road? 

Short answer: Yes.

Long answer: Yes, but it either takes practice or you becoming familiar with voice commands.

Tesla replacing physical buttons for the touchscreen was made to cut costs and I find it difficult to consider any other reason as valid. It’s not safer. An elegant single unit physical control has existed for years. This wouldn’t have taken more space at all, but Tesla decided not to implement it and the only fathomable reason for this decision is that they wanted to keep costs low. They may try to reason that it’s a stylistic minimalism approach, but nobody who’s actually serious about the safety of their products would make the wiper speed selection a touchscreen target. You could use voice or become proficient at touching the screen with a quick glance, but those two options require learning curves. On the plus side, you can use this as a reason to rebuff requests to borrow your car.

The volume and media controls are easily accessible via the wheel, but the climate controls are all on the touchscreen. I’ve gotten used to the touchscreen, but I’m still quite critical of its design and the interface’s behavior. I would be more lenient towards the screen if it looked like it was made driving first. The size of the touch targets and how screens and panes don’t get out of the way when you actually want to drive the car is very peculiar. When I shift the car into reverse, I expect the cameras to turn on and supersede everything else on the screen, but it doesn’t. I’ll have to close the media or navigation screens first. If I’m playing Fallout Shelter while waiting for some one and I suddenly have to move, I cannot shift the car into Drive without closing the app first. Why didn’t they just forcibly close the app when I shift to Drive?

Smooth-ish Ride

The absence of a speedometer directly in front of me was a non issue. The eye is naturally drawn to lit objects and I naturally glanced over to find the speed. Keeping an eye the speedometer is a good idea, because this car just sails and you can’t just rely on engine or wind noise to tell you how fast you’re currently going. There’s a built-in audible chime that’s there to alert you if you exceed the speed limit, but that quickly gets annoying. 

We feel very stable and in control when driving at all kinds of speeds, but we feel the bumps on the road. It’s not wildly out of control or anything of the sort, but it doesn’t absorb bumps as nicely as I would have hoped. Perhaps it’s all exacerbated by the fact that we’re surrounded by construction and road maintenance though. 

Decent entertainer

At first glance, the Tesla Model Y is very good at entertaining people. The Caroake, the built-in YouTube, Spotify, Twitch, Cuphead, Fallout Shelter, big screen, great sound system, and dumb gags are all there to ensure people can distract themselves without the need for a phone. I can even connect a controller to play Cuphead! (I haven’t tried it yet though)

Many of the entertaining features built into the car work as advertised when you have Premium Connectivity and other paid services such as Spotify Premium. If I gave myself to the Spotify and Tesla Premium Connectivity life, I would have very few complaints. However, I don’t live that life; I own an iPhone and I would gladly give up all those entertainment options for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration. 

I can easily receive and reply to WhatsApp and text messages with Siri. I can resume my podcasts and use regular Spotify from my iPhone. I can ask Siri for other useless info as well. For me, Tesla’s setup is a step above the 2011 Hyundai Tucson that its replacing and doesn’t integrate anywhere as neatly as my iPhone and my 2016 Chevy Volt.

Much like its interface as a whole, I find the Tesla to be an excellent entertainer while stationary courtesy to its built-in games and video streaming apps. While driving,  the lack of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto makes it less than ideal. It also doesn’t have an AM receiver which is not the end of the world, but it’s very much one of those things you would like when the world is actually ending. 

Storage space for days

This Model Y has a surprising amount of storage space. I’m not referring to the Frunk which is neat, but a little inconvenient to get at compared to the trunk. The trunk itself is spacious, but there’s even more beside the wheel wells and underneath the bed of the back. The center console itself is just storage space for all sorts of things. I think I prefer the clear floor of the d, but this arrangement filled with storage and space for two wireless phone chargers is no slouch either.

Thus far? It’s a flawed gem of a car

The service and test drive co-ordinator introduced introduced Tesla like this: 

“Welcome to Tesla. We’re not a car company. We’re an energy company that happens to make cars.”

That explains quite a bit about the Model Y and what I perceive as unusual quirks that don’t align with my expectations from a car made for driving. It takes a bit of time to acclimatize myself to the way Tesla does things, but the car does end up being very good overall. The complaints about lack of Apple CarPlay or silly UI behaviour fades into the background when the instant torque response kicks in and I’m driving around without a drop of gasoline or engine rumble to speak of. 

Next, I just need to take it on a road trip and have my first SuperCharging experience.

More to come.

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