Model Y Is The SUV That Isn’t An SUV (Or Is It?)

Model Y Is The SUV That Isn’t An SUV

As Tesla continues to grow as a company and a brand, their cars have become a larger, more recognizable part of the culture. While still somewhat fringe, electric cars are slowly turning into a more common occurrence as more people make the switch from gas to electric. As that happens, however, it can be hard for newcomers to know where to start and what translates across the switch.

The Model Y car has had some issues in discourse as a result of being labeled by the company as an SUV capable of off-roading. When taking a critical look at its specs compared to that of other SUVs, this description falls flat and has various holes in its narrative.

Diving into where the Model Y fits on the wide spectrum of cars takes various concerns and values into account. A first glance at the car may make it seem like an electric and modern SUV, making Tesla true to its word. However, a deeper understanding of what the Model Y is capable of reveals where it truly stands among other vehicles. Read on for more information on the Model Y and its status as an SUV.

Pro Tip: Ordering a Tesla? Get 1000 Free Supercharger Miles by using a Tesla referral link from another Tesla owner.

What To Know About The Model Y

Before you concern yourself with how to properly classify it, you should take a look at the Model Y for its information and selling points. This car comes with the basics of the following:

  • 12 ultrasonic sensors to assist in parking and driving
  • 15” touchscreen display
  • A cargo volume of 68 cubic feet
  • A weight of 4,416 lbs
  • Bluetooth connection and premium sound system
  • Cameras that offer 360* of coverage
  • Compatibility with Tesla mobile app
  • Dual motor all-wheel drive for improved handling and traction
  • Glass roof for headroom and UV protection
  • Pay-per-use supercharging

These features are available in every and any Model Y Tesla you find, but there are some differences that should be noted. There are two options for the Model Y: Performance and Long Range AWD.

 AccelerationRange (EPA est.)SeatingWheelsTop Speed
Performance3.6 seconds 0-60 mph303 milesUp to 521”155 mph
Long Range AWD4.8 seconds 0-60 mph326 milesUp to 719” or 20”135 mph

As you can tell, the Performance variety offers faster speeds and acceleration in exchange for the added space and range that the Long Range AWD offers. For either option, Tesla boasts cutting-edge digital technology combined with the practical capabilities of off-road driving and size. In line with the company’s ideal of being the future of driving, the Model Y offers an electric alternative to cars of a similar caliber.

Advertised as a midsize sports utility vehicle, the Model Y is meant to be ideal for families, offering storage and seats to suit multiple people and activities. Complete with the digital modernity of Tesla’s technological approach and the reliability of standards, this car is designed to be an easy bridge to cross for families entering the world of electric cars.

The Model Y Compared To Other Models

As far as Tesla cars in general go, the Model Y represents a more affordable choice that still has decent specs, especially for cargo and seating. The following table provides information on each Tesla model.

 Model YModel XModel SModel 3
Range (est.)326 miles360 miles405 miles353 miles
Seating Capacity7 seats7 seats5 seats5 seats
Cargo capacity68 cubic feet88 cubic feet28 cubic feet15 cubic feet
Acceleration (0-60 mph)4.8 sec3.8 sec3.1 sec4.2 sec
Top Speed135 mph155 mph155 mph145 mph

(Note: information shown represents the “Long Range” option for each of the Tesla models displayed.)

While outclassed by some of its contemporaries in speed, acceleration, and range, the Model Y makes up for it in price, seats, and cargo. This makes it the better choice for families that need help with practical, everyday tasks. Although it may seem to rise to the occasion, the question is raised of whether or not it necessarily fits the label as a true SUV.

Is The Model Y An SUV?

A sports utility vehicle is a special type of car built for versatility and meeting the needs of busy lives. Whether the driver is the head of a family or working on a construction project, they should be able to depend on their SUV for support. From storage to maneuverability, SUVs are built to meet high demands and rise to difficult situations.

Prepared for a rich variety of occasions, the typical SUV should come with the following:

  • And off-road driving
  • Four-wheel drive
  • High ground clearance
  • Large storage space
  • Sufficient height for headroom
  • Up to 7 seats

For those unfamiliar with SUVs and who need a reference, take the specs of the 2021 Lincoln Navigator, for example:

  • 7 total seats
  • 9.6 inches of ground clearance
  • And 120.2 cubic feet of total cargo storage
  • Four-wheel drive

While not every SUV will follow these specs to perfection, it’s good to keep in mind the significance of these factors and how SUVs are designed. By prioritizing mobility and space, there’s less of a focus on speed and acceleration. Whether you’re a fan of SUVs, looking at Tesla cars, or vice versa, keeping these patterns of specs in mind will be helpful.

These qualities are more than just selling terms, as they allow their drivers the chance to accomplish and take on more than they normally would. As we continue, these will be used to reference the standards of an SUV. The only concern on our hands now is whether or not Tesla can meet these demands.

The Model Y’s Seats And Storage

As far as the space inside the car is concerned, the Model Y mostly checks the boxes. The Long Range option meets the standard of seven seats, while the Performance option only has five seats. The five-person capacity may be fine for trips involving just the family; however, multiple guests and pick-ups/drop-offs at a time may be impossible for some.

Cargo space is another matter, however. SUVs with the best cargo space boast capacities well over 100 cubic feet, greatly outmatching that of the Model Y, as well as the Model X, for that matter. While seemingly excessive, SUVs are meant to contain any equipment or gear for a wide variety of:

  • Celebrations
  • Sports
  • Trips
  • Other activities

However, since the Model Y is considered to be a midsize SUV, standards need to be lowered. The most spacious midsize SUVs provide about at least 80 cubic feet, which is still somewhat higher than what the Model Y offers (although the Model X offers more than this). If this area judges the Model Y, then it is at best a sub-par midsize SUV. Those expecting top-of-the-line quality should be cautious when considering a Model Y.

Functional External and Internal Verticality of the Model Y

The ground clearance of any type of car is crucial to its accessibility, as it determines the potential to ride high above the ground. This makes it valuable, especially in areas with poorly paved roads and the possibility for off-roading. A decent distance between your car and the ground will ensure its protection and maneuverability.

Unfortunately, this is an area in which the Model Y does not fit as an SUV. Good ground clearances for SUVs will sit around 9-12 inches off the ground. This provides sufficient space to engage in off-roading. The Model Y’s ground clearance is 6.6 inches, making it well under what dependable SUVs offer. This raises serious questions about its ability to deliver on its claims about off-roading.

However, the Model Y does, in fact, offer positively decent headroom. Higher headroom lengths for both compact and standard SUVs usually fall between 40-43 inches. The Model Y can be included here with headroom of 41 inches, making it fit in with conventional SUVs. While perhaps not the most crucial element of the driving experience, taller SUV drivers can be assured that Tesla can meet their needs.

Driving Capabilities

As Tesla seeks to broaden their consumer base, the potential for driving in extreme conditions has been an issue that requires convincing. Particularly when it comes to off-roading, potential buyers are turned off by any apparent deficiencies. These concerns also separate the Model Y from what can be considered a true SUV.

One discrepancy is the difference between four-wheel drive and all-wheel drive. Those interested in off-roading have come to a consensus that 4WD is the superior system, while those concerned about general safety and traction pick AWD.

Tesla cars, including the Model Y, are AWD, making them less attractive to be used for off-roading. While not impossible, Tesla cars are far from optimal for such purposes, despite claims from the company.

This trouble can be seen publicly when a video of a Model Y going through water was described as going “off-road.” The website Jalopnik has documented reactions to the video that argued that the car is not capable of actual off-roading, and the video was insufficient evidence otherwise. Despite attempts to convince the public of the Model Y’s capabilities with the “Off-Road Assist” feature, most remain unmoved.

It’s fair to say that the Model Y is an underwhelming car when it comes to off-road performance based on:

  • Public reactions
  • The AWD, instead of offering 4WD
  • Very low ground clearance

While it may work fine on the road, it’s more than disappointing for those that believe the labeling of the car as an “SUV.” It’s important for those considering a purchase to be mindful of this.

Verdict On the Model Y As An SUV

Based on the above criteria, it’s clear to see that the Model Y can barely be considered an SUV, let alone a high-performance SUV. This isn’t to say that it’s worthless to families familiar with compact or midsize SUVs, however.

The number of seats and cargo capacity are decent and enough for many people, as long as they stay on roads with good pavement. While this isn’t to say that the Model Y is worthless, a potential buyer should be aware of the reality of the car’s capabilities.

If you’re looking for an electric car and can handle these limitations, then you’re surely in good shape. This still leaves us with the question of what to call this supposed SUV that’s not really an SUV.

The Model Y: Tesla’s Station Wagon?

Considering what we just covered, it seems clear that the Model Y should be labeled as another type of car. After going over the Model Y’s limitations and capabilities, it seems more appropriate to label it as a station wagon. While the advertised placement into SUV territory seems confusing, station wagons are more in line with what the Model Y offers.

Station wagons, like SUVs, are known for their ability to hold enough people and cargo for a typical family. Station wagons can generally seat somewhere between five and seven people, which fits both the Performance and Long Range versions of the Model Y. Wagons can also range in cargo capacity from 50 to 80 cubic feet, putting the Model Y’s 68 cubic feet solidly in the middle.

While SUVs are dependable for off-roading, station wagons are not known for performing such feats so effortlessly. This is reflected in the ground clearance for stations wagons, which is usually between 6-8 inches, whereas an SUV would tower over the Model Y in this instance. The AWD of the Model Y is also more likely to be shared with wagons than SUVs, keeping them in line with their driving designs.

It should also be noted that data can be interpreted in many ways and that everyone may have their own idea of what defines an SUV or station wagon. Having said that, it seems reasonable to conclude that Tesla does not offer a clear SUV in the form of the Model Y. Instead, critics may find comfort in seeing it as a modern and electric station wagon. Perhaps the table below comparing the Model Y to a popular SUV and station wagon will make design priorities clear.

 Seating CapacityStorage SpaceAcceleration (0-60 mph)Top SpeedGround ClearanceDrive
Mercedes-Benz E-Class Wagon768.8 cubic feet7.4 seconds147 miles3.74 inchesAWD
Model Y (Long Range)768 cubic feet4.8 seconds135 miles6.6 inchesAWD
Jeep Grand Cherokee SUV568.3 cubic feet7 seconds128 mph10.9 inches4WD


Why Call It Either?

At this point, it may seem that labeling the Model Y is mere semantics. Going over ground clearances, acceleration times, and the number of seats just to put it in a group may seem like a waste of time. After all, not all SUVs are alike, and neither is every station wagon. Each one deviates from another in some way. So, you might be wondering, “what’s the point of doing so?”

From Tesla’s point of view, perhaps calling the Model Y an SUV is a strategy to attract a larger group of clientele. SUVs are popular and reliable for families, which could lead to a generations-long succession of product purchases. Unfortunately for Tesla, those that care deeply will notice the holes in the advertisement.

On the other hand, calling their vehicle a “station wagon” may not give off the marketing appeal they are looking for. Wagons are going out of style, and Tesla is looking to thrive in the market, not die off. Tesla presents itself as a wave of the future for automobiles, and jumping into a dying breed tarnishes such an image rather than strengthens it.

As for the consumers and enthusiasts, labeling cars can help with awareness and familiarity. Becoming comfortable with one SUV will help you jump into driving another. This would help those in that group looking to get an electric car feel easier about doing so.

The same is true for owners of station wagons, sedans, minivans, or any other type of car. In the case of the Model Y, caution is advised, as a deeper look is required to understand what you’re getting into.


Buying a car can be stressful for many reasons. On top of prices, insurance, safety, and style, you have to choose what you’re comfortable with. This can be tricky when the advertisement is tricky and unclear.

The Model Y from Tesla, for example, is an SUV that doesn’t really jive with the characteristics of a standard SUV. While it has some familiar elements of an SUV, it’s probably closer to a station wagon based on Tesla’s approaches to design and function.

However, this should not discourage you from buying a Model Y or consider any type of Tesla car. Even if you’re let down by it not being a true SUV, you could surely learn to adapt to these differences and enjoy it regardless of its label. In the larger picture of the automotive industry, Tesla cars are still fairly new to the game and should be given a chance if you like what you see. If not, then hold out for the time being and wait and see what they come up with next.

Pro Tip: Ordering a Tesla? Get 1000 Free Supercharger Miles by using a Tesla referral link from another Tesla owner.


The articles here on are created by Greg, a Tesla vehicle and Tesla solar expert with nearly half a decade of hands-on experience. The information on this site is fact-checked and tested in-person to ensure the best possible level of accuracy.

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