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The Tesla Model Y SUV sits at a Supercharger station.Matt Bubbers/The Globe and Mail

It’s surprisingly easy to drive off in someone else’s new Tesla Model Y thanks to Turo, a car-sharing app that’s like Airbnb for privately owned vehicles.

The Tesla Model Y is still a rare sight in Canada, having only begun to arrive north of the border this summer. Depending on your perspective, the newest Tesla is either a more affordable Model X SUV or a taller Model 3 sedan. In both cases, it spells trouble for the Audi e-tron and Jaguar I-Pace.

Before driving off in the rented Model Y, the Turo app instructs you to take photos detailing the car’s condition. People stare suspiciously as I photograph the Tesla in a parking lot. (I’m not stealing it, I swear.) The app then unlocks the car, where inside the cabin is a credit-card-like key waiting for me. It’s a completely smooth and contactless process. The Model Y blinks to life, the big screens switch on, and we’re off.

The Model Y's credit-card-shaped key awaits the renter inside for a contactless pickup process.Matt Bubbers/The Globe and Mail

Soon after, Elan Shi, the Model Y’s owner and my Turo host, sends a message through the app to make sure everything is all good, which it is. The Model Y is one of 10 cars he currently rents out through Turo.

“It’s a side hustle,” Shi explains. “But, honestly, as it stands, my side hustle is making more money than my full-time job.” Among the other vehicles in his fleet are a 2013 Porsche Boxster and a 2011 Nissan Cube.

Before the pandemic, most of his customers were people visiting Toronto. “This year, it is a lot more people who donʼt own cars that just need a car,” he says. The vehicles are thoroughly cleaned between rentals.

“For the Model Y and the Porsche, it’s usually the fun crowd [booking them] for weddings, for birthdays, and for extended test drives,” he says. With the Tesla, people have also booked it for a week just to see what living with an electric car is like. If you want a half-hour test drive, Tesla will let you do that for free, but if you want to see what it’s like on a road trip or to live with, Turo lets you do that.

So, what’s the Model Y like?

More than other vehicles, a Tesla feels like a piece of technology. The way a new iPhone feels the same but different from one before it, that’s how the Model Y compares with previous Teslas. They’re all so similar. Maybe that’s why the Y seems to have made less of a splash than the popular (and less expensive) Model 3 sedan.

Like other Teslas, the Model Y feels like a piece of technology as much as a vehicle.Matt Bubbers/The Globe and Mail

Compared with the $52,990 Model 3, the $69,990 Model Y is longer and taller, includes all-wheel drive as standard and offers more space for people and cargo. For 2021, both vehicles reportedly now come with a heat pump, which should improve driving range in cold climates.

A seven-seat Model Y will be available in 2021, according to Tesla’s website, but that third row will be tight. The Model Y doesn’t have the fancy falcon-wing doors of the $112,990 Model X, which, while cool, were a frequent source of grief for early adopters.

Like any good high-tech gadget, the Model Y is smart. Ask it to “navigate to the Sovereign on Davenport,” for example, and it will quickly plot a route to this Toronto coffee shop without asking whether you meant Severn or saviour or send you to Davenport University in Michigan. It just works.

So does the one-pedal driving. Gradually ease off the accelerator and the Model Y will come to a swift, smooth stop, at which point the brake pedal engages automatically. Touch the throttle, and off you go again. Simple.

The massive touch screen controller is versatile but distracting, and it isn't always obvious how to use it.Matt Bubbers/The Globe and Mail

The enormous touch screen that controls almost all of the car’s functions is, unfortunately, not so simple. It’s full of tabs and hidden menus, so it’s not always obvious where to find basic information such as the odometer reading or how to activate the surround-view cameras. It’s also distracting, even by the (poor) standards of other touch-screen infotainment systems. Thankfully, the voice control is sophisticated enough to grasp what you mean, most of the time. Blurting out “show me the cameras” prompted the car to display the feed from the surround-view cameras.

“I like sports cars and stuff like that; I wasn’t a huge tech guy,” Elan Shi says. “I’ve driven mainstream EVs and hybrids like [Nissan] Leafs and [Toyota] Priuses, and they’re always super boring to drive, but the Tesla is completely different,” he explains.

The Model Y whips around corners like a chipmunk, turning so quickly and with such grip (and a bit of body roll) that you end up sliding around in the seat, wishing for more supportive side bolsters to hold you in place. The electric Porsche Taycan would be more fun on a twisty road, but then it costs more than $100,000.

The rented Model Y's interior was still pristine after about 5,000 kilometres of driving.Matt Bubbers/The Globe and Mail

The Tesla beats other European rivals like the I-Pace and e-tron on price and rated driving range. The Model Y comes in two versions – Long Range and Performance. The latter is the one we’re driving, and it’s rated at 488 kilometres on a charge. This Turo rental period, however, wasn’t long enough to test that figure.

A reputation for poor quality still hangs over the Tesla brand, but so far Shi has been happy with his Model Y. It arrived in June, and as of September, it had more than 5,000 kilometres on it. Not all of those were Turo rentals; when Shi first drove the Model Y, he was pleasantly surprised by its driving dynamics. And even after all those kilometres, the interior still looks pristine.

“The Model Y had a few quality issues, fit and finish issues, and thatʼs pretty common for Teslas in general, I think,” he says. There were some body-panel-alignment issues, but after he pointed them out, Tesla fixed them in a matter of weeks. (Although some of the panels still donʼt align perfectly.)

Returning the Model Y was as easy as picking it up. The bill for the one-day rental came to a hefty $343, including a $19 optional fee for a prepaid recharge. (Prices for cars on the app range from $22 a day for an old Chevrolet to $2,500 a day for a DeLorean dressed up like the one in the Back to the Future films.)

The test drive on Turo was long enough to confirm that if you like Teslas, you’ll like this one too. If you’re making the jump to an electric vehicle, the Model Y would be a good place to start, offering a solid combination of cargo space, range and value, although at $70,000, it’s certainly not cheap, and you should expect some build-quality issues. The top-of-the-line Performance model costs $83,990, but there’s little reason to cough up the extra cash unless you really must get from zero to 100 kilometres an hour that little bit quicker or you want to rent it out on Turo.

This is Shi’s first Tesla, but it has made him a convert. “I started believing that EVs can replace [gas-powered] cars in the future, especially for car guys,” he says. The Model Y’s performance won him over. “Now Iʼm definitely an EV guy, and I have a [Tesla] Cybertruck on order,” he says. “I think EVs are the future, as long as they get the infrastructure right.”

Matt Bubbers/The Globe and Mail

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