Half of Tesla’s current lineup of four electric vehicles are SUVs, though they more resemble the tall hatchback coupe versions of European luxury brands’ SUVs than utilities with a more traditional, boxier shape. But as with other brands, buyers are gravitating more and more to the SUV products.
Tesla has had the all-electric SUV space pretty much to itself since the Model X rolled out in 2015, nominally as a 2016 model, though Tesla does not march strictly to the model-year drummer — one of many areas where Tesla chooses to operate differently from a typical automaker. Now, however, electric SUVs from luxury rivals such as Audi, Jaguar and Porsche are on the road, and others are in the pipeline. For now, however, Tesla’s “cool” factor, long range, efficiency and near cultlike following still dominate the EV marketplace.
One of the marks of Tesla’s unusual operating style is continual change in vehicle operation and features through over-the-air software updates rather than bunching them in a model-year change. Ongoing change also applies to product configurations and pricing, so any descriptions here are as of this writing and might (read: will) change at any time. For the Model 3 car and Model Y SUV, for example, Tesla dropped some prices in February but has increased them since.
Also, a cheaper rear-wheel-drive Model Y Standard Range appeared in early 2021 only to disappear from Tesla’s online order site shortly after. In a tweet, Tesla chief executive Elon Musk explained that the entry model wasn’t up to Tesla’s “standard of excellence” for range (EPA-rated at 244 miles) but would still be available “off menu” by phone or at Tesla’s company-owned stores. But that, too, did not last long and as of this writing, both Tesla’s site and my local store say it’s not available to order.
One more note on pricing for EV shoppers: Any federal tax credit for buying a Tesla ran out at the end of 2019. Tesla total sales exceeded the 200,000 cap to qualify for the $7,500 federal EV tax credit. GM is in the same boat, while a raft of new rivals will qualify for the credit. There are various plans to change the law on this, but nothing is certain.
A signature feature of all Teslas, including its two SUVs, is the Autopilot system, which despite the name is a suite of driver assistance features that still require the driver to be in charge. The system now uses eight external cameras, a radar and 12 ultrasonic sensors. All Teslas have the basic Autopilot system, primarily adaptive cruise control and lane-centering steering, along with a package of safety tech including automatic emergency braking.
A $10,000 option is Autopilot with Full Self-Driving Capability. It’s a work in progress that still requires the driver to be hands on and in charge. The promise is that the capabilities will be expanded and upgraded continuously with the eventual goal of autonomy. Features include more advanced cruise control, automatic steering, automatic lane changes, automatic parking and the capability to summon the car in a parking lot to come to you autonomously, and the capability to work with the navigation system to actively guide the car “on most highways” to your destination.
Price: $52,190 to $62,190 | 22m to 26m
Number of seats: Five or seven
Cargo room: Up to 68.0 cubic feet maximum, depending on the configuration
EPA-estimated combined mpg and range: 111-125 mpg-equivalent; 303-326 miles of range for currently available models
Towing capacity: 3,500 pounds with tow package
Fits three car seats across: To be tested
Length: 187.0 inches
Tesla’s newest model and less expensive of its two SUVs is the Model Y, based on the Model 3 sedan. It was a pandemic baby, with deliveries beginning in March 2020. Like Cars.com reviewer Joe Bruzek’s description of its Model X big brother, the Y is similarly a very capable and high-tech electric car that’s a slightly eccentric SUV. Also like the X, the Y’s profile is more a tall hatchback than traditional SUV. But the Model Y quickly became a star for Tesla sales.
Currently available Model Y configurations are the Long Range and the Performance, both including two electric motors and standard all-wheel drive. Both are quick: Tesla estimates the 0-60-mph time for the Long Range at 4.8 seconds, while the Performance is estimated at 3.5 seconds. In addition to being faster, the Performance upgrade adds 21-inch wheels, a lowered suspension and higher-performance brakes. EPA-rated ranges on a full charge are 326 miles and 303 miles, respectively, and fast-charging capability is included. It’s speediest at Tesla’s expanding network of proprietary Superchargers (up to 162 miles of range in 15 minutes, according to Tesla).
The Y is roomier and more practical with its rear liftgate configuration than the similar Model 3 sedan’s trunk, and there’s comfortable seating for five and more cargo space. Theoretically, it also can seat seven with the $3,000 option of a small third row for two similarly small passengers.
The interior is minimalist and uncluttered, and also airy thanks to a tinted glass roof. Almost all vehicle controls and information are handled by the central 15-inch touchscreen, including driver data such as the speed — there is no separate display ahead of the driver. It also has connectivity capability, including embedded apps (though no Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration). Premium audio with 14 speakers and a subwoofer is standard, and Tesla describes the synthetic leather interior upholstery as “vegan.”
Price: $91,190 to $121,190 | 40m
Number of seats: Five, six or seven
Cargo room: Up to 91.0 cubic feet maximum, depending on the configuration
EPA-estimated combined mpg and range: 86-105 mpg-e; 300-371 miles , though Tesla estimates range of currently available models (yet unposted) at
Towing capacity: 5,000 pounds
Fits three car seats across: No
Length: 198.3 inches
The Model X, Tesla’s distinctive flagship SUV, currently comes in two versions. The Model X Long Range model has two electric motors (670 combined horsepower) and AWD. The pricier Plaid (the name is a “Spaceballs” movie reference) upgrade has three electric motors (a peak 1,020 hp combined) and AWD. Both qualify as performance models, however, with Tesla estimating 0-60 mph for the Long Range at 3.8 seconds, while the Plaid’s three motors of instant electric torque can propel it from 0-60 in what Tesla calls a “beyond ludicrous” 2.5 seconds (with the first foot of rollout subtracted).
Both also offer impressive range for 5,000-pound-plus EVs. Tesla offers range estimates for the latest versions that differ from what is officially posted for earlier versions by the EPA: 350 to 360 miles for the Long Range and 330 to 340 miles for the Plaid. High-speed charging capability is included, up to 175 miles of range in 15 minutes at Tesla Superchargers.
The Model X interior, freshened in January for 2021, says luxury through its gee-whiz technology more than through opulence. Materials are good, but the design is simple. It’s dominated by a 17-inch center touchscreen — now in a horizontal orientation with the redo — that handles most of the SUV’s media and controls, along with a 12.3-inch driver display and an 8-inch display for the second row. There also is 22-speaker audio and a gaming computer for the screens with wireless controller capability. Oddly, after all that, what the Model X does not have is the capability for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration. At the time of writing, new orders for the latest Model X aren’t expected to be delivered until early 2022.
The standard interior is roomy and comfortable for five in the first two rows; seats for seven ($3,500) adds a tight third row that would be best for kids; seating for six ($6,500) subs futuristic captain’s chairs in the second row. Total cargo space can be up to 91.0 cubic feet depending on configuration (including the front trunk), but space for large cargo inside is hampered in the captain’s-chair version because those seats don’t fold down.
Also notable inside is the panoramic windshield that extends up over the front occupants with protective tinting to cut the sunlight, though large pillars limit visibility to the corners. The 2021 interior changes also brought an aircraft-style rectangular steering “yoke” in place of a round wheel. The change also eliminated the “stalk” controls and shifter, replaced by touch buttons on the yoke. We haven’t tested this setup yet, so no judgement until we’ve tried.
Not changed are the Model X’s unique “Falcon Wing” rear doors that open up rather than swing out. They create a big opening when fully open, though access can be a chore when they can only open partially because of overhead obstacles. The front doors also are power-operated and can open automatically when you approach the car, then close when you get in and touch the brake. Both features are great to impress your friends, but we found that in daily use, their relatively slow operation can test your patience.
The price can add up fast; checking all the boxes can add more than $20,000 to the bottom line of either Model X.