Last Updated on January 18, 2023.
There’s only a nine-month lapse in time between this 2020 Model Y with five-passenger capacity and this 2021 Model Y with a third row, but there are several details and features that differentiate them and we dove in to explore them all. From exterior design to interior components and cargo, we offer the ultimate Model Y-to-Model Y comparison. Before you buy your next Model Y, this comparison review and video can hopefully help you decide whether that third row or other upgrades are worth the $3,000 price point difference.
What’s Different About the Exterior?
One of the differences that first caught our attention was a significant improvement with the panel gaps. The 2020 Model Y had some problems with gaps between side and front panels. But it looks like Tesla ironed out those wrinkles, and you can tell the misalignments are a thing of the past. Even the alignment between the panels and headlights is seamless.
Another problem we faced with the 2020 Model Y was with the quality of the exterior paint. We had to have a few panels completely repainted after delivery. At first glance, the 2021 Model Y offers a much-improved finish from the factory.
Not that cabin noise has ever really been a problem, but Tesla has made improvements there too with a laminated, dual pane glass on the front windows and we found that this helps contribute to reduced wind and road noise in the 2021 Model Y. It’s yet another example of Tesla’s continuous improvements.
Interior Changes for the 2021 Model Y
Climbing inside, the biggest difference is the revised center console. The easily-scratched, gloss black plastic is now gone in exchange for a matte grey finish, the flip covers have been replaced with a sliding cover, and the phone dock is now wireless only with no cover. Overall, it does look more premium, but the covered phone dock and ability to fast-charge phones with USB-C will be sorely missed.
There’s been some shifting with the USB ports, as well. The 2020 Model Y housed a single USB-A and USB-C port within the center console, whereas now, the 2021 models move the USB-A port to the glovebox for safekeeping of the TeslaCam flash drive. You might miss the console tray from the 2020 and now missing from the 2021, but you’ll still have plenty of functionality and they’re available separately.
There’s a minor change to the steering wheel controls with the revised rollers. What felt like rubber and plastic in the 2020 Model Y feels more like high-quality metal in the 2021. There are subtle changes to the window and door lock control finishes too that just feel more substantial, again remarking the little things that make a big difference.
A more noticeable feature is that the steering wheel is now heated. It’s a smart move too, considering that it takes much less energy from the battery to heat the steering wheel and seats rather than the entire car.
So What About the Seating Capacity & Cargo Variances?
The 2020 Model Y seats five, but Tesla started shipping the new, optional third-row in 2021. Comparing the two models, you’ll notice a lot of similarities, including the flat trunk lid and the flatness of the cargo area when the seats are folded, but that’s about where the similarities end.
You might assume that with a third row of seats that the 2021 Model Y offers less cargo capacity and it does affect it some, but it’s less than you might expect. The cargo area can still fold flat thanks to a trick with the reversible cargo cover and is only a few inches higher than the 5-seat version overall. Folding down the third row allows for an almost similar capacity as with the five-seater. And when the second row gets folded down, it looks nearly the same as the 5 seat version.
We like how the second row slides all the way back, too, offering additional legroom for middle-row passengers. Don’t need that third row? That’s ok! You can either fold it down and use the excess cargo area or scoot that second row back for a more spacious passenger experience.
How Does It Feel in the Third Row?
Access to the third row is pretty easy, with the push of a button and easy seat sliding, but it’s a bit cramped for an adult back there. Sitting in the third row is pretty cozy, and like ours, your hair will likely be touching the rear glass. We might feel a little uneasy being a third-row passenger at highway speeds, too. It’s probably not a very comfortable ride over long trips. But shorter destination scenarios, for shuttling kids, and for quick needs to haul seven passengers it is a pretty convenient feature to have. And we noticed there are two more USB ports for third-row passengers, clocking the 27 watts of the others in the vehicle. That’s six total in the 2021 Model Y.
Overall, we are pretty impressed with the upgrades Tesla made. The 2021 Tesla Model Y offers touched up areas that needed addressing, and Tesla took it another step further by adding the convenience of a functional third row. Hopefully, this side-by-side comparison helps you decide which Model Y belongs in your driveway.
Whichever option you choose, if you’re like us, the idea of potentially damaging the front bumper with a license plate mount is no fun, so check out our Model Y SnapPlate instead!