The New ‘Coolness’ of Driving
Why the Tesla Model Y Can Inspire a Petrolhead
I love driving, and since 1970 I have had personal experiences with many different car brands and models. The term “old school petrolhead” fits me quite well, because traditional sports cars fascinate me, and I love to drive sports cars on roads and tracks or to drift in closed-off driving areas. Nevertheless, I am enthusiastic and convinced about electric vehicles (EVs), because one is the thrill of dedicated “horse and rider” interaction, the other is relaxed, comfortable, and sustainable mobility from A to B. This is the realization that has matured in me during several practical tests, and what became a conviction at a recent extensive test drive of the new Tesla Model Y. Here, I would like to explain why.
The EV Has Arrived
For many who have experienced a fully electric car for a while themselves, driving a conventional internal combustion vehicle (ICE) feels almost cumbersome, because an EV is much easier and more relaxed to drive. In short, you get in, select “D” for Drive or “R” for Reverse at the steering wheel, and then push the accelerator pedal. No starter, no clutch, no gearshift in the center console, no handbrake, the EV simply takes off smoothly and quietly. There is no engine noise, no smell, no smoke, no exhaust fumes, just a gentle whirring and the reassuring rolling sound of the wheels on the road.
Registration figures for EVs are rising year on year in Germany despite the relatively higher purchase price. According to the Federal Motor Transport Authority (KBA), battery electric vehicles (BEVs) achieved a 13.6 percent share of new registrations in the first seven months of 2022, an increase of 27.1 percent.
EVs That I Have Tested
Since March 2015, I have reported four times on Oberland.de about my experiences with EVs. First, the BMW i3, which was introduced in 2013 and caused quite a stir with its bold body design and futuristic-looking interior. That’s because the i3 was radically different for a BMW and at the same time technologically innovative with a body structure made of carbon and ecologically sustainable materials in the interior. It still drove like a BMW, i.e., agile, sporty, and sure-footed. But registration figures in Germany remained below 3,000 units in each of the first four years. Was the i3 too early, too radical, too expensive, or was it the initially relatively low range of a battery charge of 200 to 270 kilometers (source: ADAC) compared to a combustion engine? Most of the approximately 250,000 BMW i3s produced were sold outside of Germany, and it wasn’t until 2019-2021, before production ceased in June 2022, that the i3 gained much popularity in Germany. 2021 became its most successful sales year to date, with more than 12,000 new registrations in Germany. In the meantime, it has almost achieved cult status.
But it was to be a U.S. developer of all-electric vehicles, completely unknown until around 2010, that would successfully blaze the trail as the pioneer of electric mobility, with its EVs designed from the ground up: Tesla.
Tesla is now the world’s leading manufacturer of EVs, followed by Chinese manufacturer BYD. Initially hardly noticed or taken seriously, Tesla has passed conventional carmakers during the CO2 crisis and following “Dieselgate” with its sophisticated ecosystem of innovative vehicles and software, Supercharger charging infrastructure, wall boxes, power walls, and solar roofs. As of July 2022, Tesla has produced and sold nearly 2 million EVs worldwide.
The great race by traditional car manufacturers to catch up has long been in full swing, and there is now a wide range of both fully electric cars (BEVs) and plug-in hybrid cars (PHEVs). But for the most part, these still closely resemble conventional internal combustion vehicles with an electric motor instead of a gasoline or diesel engine under the hood. Or the few EVs that have been developed from scratch mostly still lack Tesla’s drive efficiency, software quality, and, not least, a comprehensive ecosystem for operating and maintaining the vehicles. Here, Tesla remains clearly ahead.
You can compare Tesla’s market and product development with that of Apple since the launch of the iPhone in 2007. The innovation of an existing product – the look, the hardware, the software, the operating concept, the ecosystem, the entire user experience – is completely different. For many, this takes some getting used to at first, and some stick with the Blackberry, Siemens, or Nokia phone. But the manufacturers that follow the example of the successful innovator, such as Samsung, Xiaomi, and Vivo, catch up and become equally successful on the market with their comparable devices at some point.
Tesla Roadster, 1st Generation
The original Tesla Roadster was marketed from 2008 to 2012 and was based on the British Lotus Elise roadster. It delighted sports car enthusiasts with its performance, handling, and range of up to 400 kilometers, and it was not least the unusually quick acceleration of the small sports car that surprised car fans and drew attention to the manufacturer Tesla. Around 2,500 of the Roadster were sold worldwide, costing around 100,000 US dollars during its production period. Anyone who wants to buy one of these rare Tesla cars today must put at least 200,000 euros on the table.
Tesla’s first mass-produced model, introduced in Germany in mid-2012, was the Model S, a large sedan in the order of magnitude of an Audi A8, BMW 7’er series, or Mercedes S-Class. During my Oberland.de test in 2015 with a Model S P85D, I was able to convince myself that it was possible to cover long distances comfortably and easily with this EV: I drove it from Munich to Copenhagen in one day, and back then I found enough charging options along the way at Tesla Superchargers. My conclusion after 3,800 kilometers with the Model S was: “Driving a Tesla Model S is like flying, only better. This electric car certainly passes for a luxurious touring sedan, because four adults can travel in it more than comfortably, and thanks to the two trunks – front and rear – and the large tailgate, it also offers significantly more space for luggage than a corresponding car with a bulky combustion engine and complex transmission.”
In 2016, the Tesla Model X appeared with its eye-catching rear “Falcon Wing Doors” as they are called. It is a premium all-wheel drive “crossover”, or as I called it at the time: “Spacious Grand Turismo”. That’s because the Model X has the space of a minivan and the comfort of a Grand Turismo touring sedan as it’s based on the same platform as the Model S but built higher. I was able to take a Model X P100D on a long-distance practical test in 2017, covering a good 2,500 kilometers. I subsequently concluded that “long-distance driving with the Model X offers a new quality of travel. You get used to a relaxed, fluid, anticipatory driving style because, with single-pedal driving and the associated use of the regenerative braking effect, you rarely accelerate hard and almost never hit the brakes. The result: less stress.”
In spring 2019, the long-awaited Tesla Model 3 mid-size sedan was delivered for the first time in Germany. It is a four-door, five-seat sedan the size of an Audi A4, BMW 3 Series, or Mercedes C-Class that has been in production since 2017; but due to high demand worldwide (June 2018 more than 400,000 pre-orders), the first vehicles did not officially arrive in Europe until two years later. Meanwhile, more than 1 million Model 3 were built, and it became the best-selling EV in Europe in 2021. I drove the Model 3 in the Long Range version for a week in the summer of 2020 and concluded that the Model 3 is a fascinating and forward-looking premium electric car that guarantees a lot of driving pleasure. It is comfortable, fast, agile, and suitable for everyday use for all trips in local traffic, as well as for long distances and vacation trips.
Origin and Profile
Recently, I had the opportunity to drive one of the first Tesla Model Y Performance “Made in Germany” for ten days. It is the first Tesla model from the new Gigafactory Berlin-Brandenburg, where the Model Y Performance will be produced for German customers from the end of the first quarter of 2022. Model Ys delivered earlier in Germany are almost all built at the Gigafactory Shanghai, where a state-of-the-art production process is also used. The expectations for Tesla built in the car country Germany are even higher because the Gigafactory Berlin is Tesla’s fifth and so far most advanced and efficient plant ever.
A car body is traditionally assembled from many stamped metal parts by folding them and then gluing or welding them together. With a new, gigantic die-casting machine, Tesla has significantly reduced the number of metal parts that need to be assembled for a Model Y body at its Gigafactory Berlin. Currently, the rear underbody is made from a single casting; in the future, this will also be done with the front underbody. This simplified production technique enables even greater rigidity and production quality of the body.
Tesla describes the Model Y as a “mid-size SUV designed for maximum versatility and safety,” while sometimes it is referred to as a “crossover,” because the definitions are not clear. The car has a highly rigid, self-supporting body and ground clearance like a sporty passenger car – so it is not designed for off-road excursions. It’s based fundamentally on the Model 3 midsize sedan, with which the chassis, wheelbase, and powertrain are virtually identical, as are the seats, dashboard, touch display, and steering wheel. Still, the Model Y is noticeably larger: just under 6 centimeters longer, a good 7 centimeters wider, and, most importantly, 18 centimeters taller than the Model 3. So, it’s a roomy touring sedan with a pleasantly high seating position, plenty of legroom and headroom for rear-seat passengers, and plenty of space for luggage in the rear trunk with its large, automatic opening and closing tailgate. The panoramic glass roof also contributes to the feeling of spaciousness.
What is initially striking about a Tesla compared to EVs from traditional car manufacturers is the consistency in concept with which the car has been thought out and designed.
The body has round and smooth shapes without unnecessary openings, folds, or ornaments, and even the underbody is completely smooth and closed. As a result, the car achieves a very low drag coefficient (CW value) of 0.23. Under the front hood, you find a regular and neat 80-liter storage space instead of an engine bay full of cables, hoses, belts, fluid containers, and the like.
Like the Model 3, the Model Y doesn’t require a key; instead, you pair it once and for all with the Tesla app on your smartphone, then unlock or lock it automatically when you approach or move away from the car. The app offers numerous other functions for remote control, such as setting the air conditioning, retrieving the charging status, determining the location, summoning, or parking the vehicle, and much more.
All the controls inside the car can be accessed via a 15-inch touchscreen centered on the dashboard in landscape format, and everything is arranged intuitively and clearly. This eliminates almost all of the mechanical switches and knobs that you find in other cars spread across the dashboard and center console in varying arrangements, shapes, and sizes. In addition, the Tesla voice control works excellently.
As with all Tesla, the Model Y’s features and functions will be enhanced and improved over time, free of charge, through frequent over-the-air software updates.
The guiding principle for the car’s design seems to have been a statement by Leonardo da Vinci: “Simplicity is the ultimate perfection.”
How Does the Model Y Drive?
The Model Y I drove was the top-of-the-line “Performance” version with all-wheel drive, 21-inch wheels with very wide sports tires, and an output of 534 hp. On paper, this promises a sporty driving experience, and indeed: Despite a vehicle height of 162.4 centimeters, the Model Y’s center of gravity is very low due to the batteries in the floor. In addition, the suspension is tuned sportily stiff, and the steering is quite direct. This results in very good road-holding and a high level of active driving safety. The downside is a slightly limited comfort on bumpy roads and cobblestones, which is acceptable, though, for a car with such a dynamic driving set-up.
The General German Automobile Club (ADAC) had the following verdict when testing the Model Y:
“In terms of driving safety, it leaves nothing to be desired and drives stably through the obstacle course. The electric car is also convincing in terms of driving dynamics. The achievable speeds are high before it pushes over the front axle in a well-controlled manner at the limits. Even under load changes, the Tesla remains largely true to its cornering line.
The sensitive ESP control in combination with the lightning-fast power distribution ensures very safe cornering behavior, even and especially when the accelerator pedal is used extensively. Traction is impeccable due to the two driven axles and the very sensitive traction control despite the strong powertrain performance.“
The Model Y’s brakes are generously dimensioned and manage a short braking distance of under 35 meters from 100 kilometers per hour. That is a very good value.
In the “Vehicle” menu of the touchscreen, various response characteristics of the car can be set under the “Pedals & Steering” item. For example, acceleration can be set in two stages, “Casual” and “Sport”. Here, the “Casual” setting proved to be very easy for me to moderate on the accelerator pedal and by no means lagging or imprecise, but more in line with “cool”. Because powerful and vigorous acceleration is also available in this setting without delay. The “Sport” setting, on the other hand, requires gentle handling of the accelerator pedal because it spontaneously sets the enormous power of the 534 hp free and enables acceleration from zero to 100 kilometers per hour in just 3.7 seconds.
The steering feel can be adjusted in three stages depending on road conditions, speed, and personal preference: from “Comfort” (smooth) to “Normal” and “Sport” (firm, very precise). However, the steering feel is direct in all three settings, so you always have a good sense of control.
In addition, you can set the car’s behavior when stopping to a standstill, for example at a traffic light, intersection, or exit, in three different modes: “Roll” (like disengaged without braking), “Creep” (like a conventional automatic transmission in “D”) or “Hold” (like activated handbrake). I chose the “Hold” setting because it brakes the car every time it stops on any slope; the brake immediately releases imperceptibly when moving on.
Consumption and Range
My practical test of a total of almost 1,800 kilometers included a trip from a Supercharger 50 kilometers south of Munich to Berlin Potsdamer Platz (round trip 1,300 km), a trip from there via country roads to the Gigafactory in Berlin-Brandenburg (round trip 100 km), and various city and interurban trips of 30 to 80 kilometers each. This resulted in total consumption of 17.8 kWh per 100 kilometers. With an effectively usable battery capacity of a good 70 kWh, this results in a range of about 400 kilometers.
On the Autobahn trip to Berlin, I managed with one recharge at the Supercharger Münchberg on the A9 and still had a remaining capacity of 12 percent when I arrived in Berlin. On this trip, I generally drove at the speed limit and up to 130 kilometers per hour, occasionally somewhat faster up to 160 kilometers per hour. The outside temperature that day was over 30 degrees Celsius, and the air conditioning was set to 20 to 22 degrees Celsius for the entire trip.
On the way back, I drove the 170 kilometers from the previous Supercharger on the A9 at speeds of up to 200 kilometers per hour (average speed of about 115 kilometers per hour) and consumed 23.1 kWh per 100 kilometers, which would have given me a range of about 300 kilometers.
Charging the Battery
Anyone who buys an EV ideally has the option of installing their own so-called wall box at home in their parking space or in the garage. That way, the car can simply be charged overnight at 11 kW up to the set charging limit, and you can then take off every morning with a fully charged vehicle. What’s more, the price of electricity at home is usually much lower than at public charging points, of which there were 52,203 in Germany at the beginning of 2022, according to the Federal Network Agency, of which 44,486 were normal charging points (charging power typically 22 kW) and 7,717 were fast chargers (charging power typically 50 to 240 kW).
With a total of around 1,900 fast-charging spots at 144 locations (as of October 2022), Germany has the largest Tesla Supercharger charging network in Europe, followed by France (1500+) and Norway (1400+). Fast charging sites typically have eight to 20 charging columns, each with a peak power of 150 kW (Supercharger Generation V2) or 250 kW (V3). The latter can charge the Model Y in 15 minutes with a range of 241 kilometers. In our practical test, we typically needed 25 to 35 minutes to reach the charging limit of 85 percent.
By the way (spoiler alert!): To shorten the perceived waiting time while charging, all Tesla models offer extensive entertainment on the 15-inch display. There are fun and entertaining programs like Boom Box, light shows, karaoke, Spotify, paint program, Netflix, Mars surface, Emissions sounds(!), and much more – you won’t get bored at the charging station.
If one is dependent on a car for private or business purposes and cannot get by with occasional car sharing or rental cars, then there are now many widely known reasons to acquire an EV. But there are also many individual and subjective reasons why one would want to stay with a conventional gasoline or diesel powered vehicle. These can be economic or practical reasons, but also simply out of conviction.
I have long since concluded from my own experience that EVs will dominate our roads – urban, rural, and highway – in a few years. Not because we are being forced to do so, but because we want it ourselves. Because an EV will be a more pleasant and simpler vehicle for the vast majority of our individual transport.
The selection of EVs is already very large today, and new brands and models are being introduced by the month. Which EV you choose will be as individual as it is today with an internal combustion vehicle. But one thing is certain from my experience:
In a Tesla (S-3-X-Y), you’ll always experience the new ‘coolness’ of driving.
Update 21. October 2022:
Tesla Model Y from the Gigafactory Berlin-Brandenburg are now offered in two new special colors. While production is ramping up steadily and has now surpassed 2,000 units per week, the first newly developed paint colors from the world’s most advanced paint shop are now available: Midnight Cherry Red, a highly saturated metallic color with dramatic depth that changes with the light, and Quicksilver, a dynamic color with a liquid metallic effect.
In Giga Berlin’s highly automated spray cabin, up to 13 layers of paint are applied in the painting process. Highly pigmented metallic paint materials produce a special gloss effect here that emphasizes the contours of the vehicle and makes the color “come alive” with the viewing angle.
The two new colors are available to order for both Model Y Performance and Model Y Long Range, and deliveries are expected to start in the second quarter of 2023.