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2021 Tesla Model Y Long-Term Update: Putting It on Ice

Continuing our winter coverage of the Tesla Model Y, we do yet another range test and then test the abilities of our EV SUV on a frozen lake.

Tesla Model Y on ice
Don't try this at home, kids. We tested the ice very thoroughly.
Mike Cutler/CNET

To really test the innate handling characteristics of a car, you need to push it to the limit. That means doing one of two things: increasing speed or reducing grip. Either is a recipe for a good time, but in my book it's the second option that really delivers the grins. And after waiting months for the right conditions, I was ecstatic when I finally had a golden opportunity to get our long-term Model Y sideways.

I don't mean sliding around in a frozen parking lot. Oh no, I mean on ice -- in this case, a frozen lake. I've been ice racing in and around the Upstate New York area for nearly 15 years, and it's thanks to the Adirondack Motor Enthusiast Club that I had this chance to ease our EV SUV onto a frozen lake the day after a race. 

This wouldn't be my first time getting a Tesla loose in the slippery stuff. Back in 2019, I made a trip up to Alaska to visit Tesla's then-secret winter testing facility to slip and slide every then-current Tesla model around on specially groomed low-grip circumstances. But back then, the Model Y was only a rumor, and so now its time has come.

How did it fare on the frozen stuff? Well, it depends on what you're looking for. Up in Alaska, Tesla engineers with laptops and proprietary cables were kind enough to disable all the active stability systems with a keystroke. That meant I could get as sideways as I wanted. Here in New York, I had no such resources at my disposal, and since we didn't cough up the extra $5,000 for the Performance spec, I figured the Model Y wouldn't exactly be a drift demon on the ice.

Tesla Model Y on ice
Mike Cutler/CNET

And indeed it wasn't. The car seemed to allow just a few degrees of drift before it immediately reined in the power and started automatically applying the brakes on individual wheels to keep the rear from sliding out. That meant time on the ice wasn't particularly fun, but the car always felt planted and easily controlled. The Model Y made the most of its limited grip and behaved in such a way that a complete novice could have easily driven on that lake.

That's largely thanks to the active safety systems, as well as traction and stability control, but the tires also play a massive part. Again, we're running a set of studded Nokian Hakkapeliitta 10EV tires the company sent us to evaluate. I gave more detailed impressions of them in our last long-term update, but long story short: They're much quieter than other Hakka tires, and their soft sidewalls actually improved the Model Y's ride quality. 

Since that last update I also did another range test, this one even farther and much, much colder. In the last update, I drove 164 miles in temperatures hovering just above freezing and saw a roughly 20% reduction in range with the Nokian tires on. 

Nokian Hakka studded snow tires

Comparing Nokian's studded Hakka 10 snow tires (right) to the 10 EV model (left).

Mike Cutler/CNET

This time, I drove 330 miles up to Mt. Tremblant in Quebec and back, taking our Model Y north of the border and Supercharging in Plattsburgh, New York along the way -- watching a few episodes of Wandavision on the in-dash player while supping on electrons and Burger King. Temperatures started around freezing and dropped well below as I got to the north, down to around 15 degrees Fahrenheit (or minus 10 degrees Celsius). It was also windy on both legs of the journey, and running up around the Adirondacks and past Montreal saw me going up and over a lot of terrain, too.

The average consumption over the round trip, mostly taken at highway speed with cabin heating at comfortable levels, was 347 watt-hours per mile. The Model Y is rated for 270 Wh/mi when EPA-tested at "room temperature" (roughly 70 degrees F) and 318 miles of range at that. Do the math based on the reduced range we saw with snow tires and cold, and you come out to roughly 230 miles of range -- about a 30% reduction. 

Other than the range anxiety caused by the extra cold and elevation changes, the Model Y caused some other stresses. Yes, I'm seeing as much phantom braking as ever, and the more time I drive in the winter the more I realize that Tesla's auto-wipers are equally terrible. When the windshield gets a bit of road grime or ice on it the wipers go into hyperdrive, flapping around at maximum speed for no reason. Despite that, they're reluctant to kick on during light, misty slush or snow. 

Tesla Model Y mid-skid on ice

Competent on ice? Yes. Fun? Well... not so much.

Mike Cutler/CNET

I've certainly experienced other cars with poor automatic wiper functioning, but all of those vehicles have easy, intuitive controls to override the automatic functioning -- you know, a wiper stalk. On the Tesla, you're stuck reaching down to the touchscreen. When driving through a blizzard at night surrounded by traffic, I'd really rather keep my eyes on the road. 

We're up to 5,500 miles on the Model Y and, now that things are thawing, we're about to swap the all-seasons back on and see how our range improves.