I’m not a traditional car guy. I don’t fix up old cars, change my own oil, or know all the stats for the newest Dodge Hellcat. But I am an electric vehicle (EV) guy. And in Nov 2018 I finally bought the car that I’d wanted for years but bailed on: a Tesla Model 3. After driving it for nine months, it’s time to tell the Internets about this amazing vehicle.
Simply put, this is the best car I’ve ever owned or even driven, and I love it.
Ordering a Tesla
Tesla offers car buying for the Amazon era. I went to Tesla.com, logged into my account, chose my options, and gave them a credit card number for a deposit. That’s all it takes to order one. No annoying salespeople. No even more annoying finance and insurance person. No haggling over the price or interest rate. You just order it like you’re ordering a new iPhone. When my car was ready, Tesla notified me, and I wired them the money and signed some papers at home. Then I picked it up at the service center in Dallas by Love Field. It was a touch more complicated than this, but it was easy enough that I never want to buy a car from a traditional car dealer again. This is how car buying should work – EASY.
Yes, they do offer financing and take trade-ins like a normal dealership if needed.
My Model 3 is named Ygritte (ee-grit) after the feisty redheaded wildling woman who convinces Jon Snow to forsake his vows in Game of Thrones. You can actually name your car through the touchscreen, so I did.
She is a 2018 long-range dual motor Model 3 with red paint, dark gray interior, 18″ wheels with aero covers, premium interior, and no autopilot (more on that later). The two electric motors (front and rear) produce around 350hp combined, producing a 0-60 time of 4.4 seconds. The Performance version can hit 3.2 seconds, but The Boss nixed that idea – something about having teenage drivers in the house soon.
Anyway, instead of a traditional transmission with gears, the electric motors produce smooth acceleration at any speed with no shifting. You step on the accelerator, and the motors spin faster. Electric vehicles drive very smoothly in general, but the 75 kWh battery and dual motors give this one a lot more power than my Nissan LEAF. Although I seldom take full advantage of the power, I love knowing it’s there in case I get into a tight spot. The handling is confident and sporty with a low center of gravity, and the dual motors provide all wheel drive for additional confidence. She is a BLAST to drive.
The interior tends to shock people who aren’t familiar with it. Tesla ditched the traditional instrument panel in favor of a radically minimalist design that features a giant tablet mounted in the center of the dashboard. The tablet shows your speed in the upper left, still comfortably within sight, along with the battery life and a situation display that shows nearby vehicles and people. The rest of the screen shows a high-res navigation display (map or satellite) and/or your audio choices, which include HD radio, Bluetooth streaming from your phone, or (my favorite) Slacker commercial-free streaming audio via the car’s LTE connection. Slacker seems to be free for at least the first year and offers dozens and dozens of channels. I thought SiriusXM offered a huge variety of stations until I experienced Slacker. I can switch among 2000s hip-hop, Renaissance choral music, 90s hard rock, movie scores, and a Kacey Musgraves station with a few taps on the screen. The audio system is the best sounding car audio I’ve ever heard, with 14 speakers, 1 subwoofer, amazing clarity, and perfect balance.
The rest of the interior maintains the minimalist vibe while remaining quite comfortable, with nice touches like LED lighting for the rear seats that allow the boys to read in the dark, an all-glass roof, soft synthetic leather that feels real, and USB outlets for the front and back seats to charge electronics.
Range and Charging
Like with the LEAF, I nearly always charge at home with my JuiceBox Pro charging station, preferably during the day so I can use the solar panels to provide much of the power. Unlike the LEAF, I have about 300 miles of range instead of 75-90, enabling us to use the Tesla on road trips to Houston and San Antonio with no problem. Some days I don’t even bother charging after work because I don’t need to; the car still has plenty of range left. The range is probably the most significant improvement over the LEAF, which is a great car except for its battery.
The EPA rates the long-range Model 3 at the equivalent of 126 mpg. Lifetime, I’m averaging about 260 wH/mile or 3.8 miles/kWh. As I explained in more detail in my first post about our Nissan LEAF, the cost of electricity for an EV is roughly 25-40% of the cost of gas to travel the same distance. EVs use more electricity in winter due to heater use and reduced battery efficiency.
Road trips in the Model 3 are very possible because of Tesla’s nationwide network of Superchargers, extremely high-speed charging stations sprinkled along major highways and metropolitan areas. Whereas at home I can add around 37 miles of range per hour of charge, a Supercharger can charge at 250-400 miles per hour depending on the conditions. On our recent road trip to Galveston, we started off full and drove from Grand Prairie to Huntsville, reducing our range below 50%. There we plugged into the Supercharger and ate lunch at a great Mexican restaurant nearby. By the time we’d finished lunch, the car was full again. Road trips do take more planning in an EV versus a gas-powered vehicle, but they are possible in a Tesla. As EV adoption increases over the next few years, we should see more and more charging stations. Tesla’s website includes a map of their Superchargers. I’m still waiting for them to add one in Wichita Falls, where some of my family lives.
People like to ask what it costs to charge, which is hard to answer because you hardly ever charge from nearly empty to full. If you did for some reason, and your electricity costs 10 cents per kWh, filling the 75 kWh battery at home would cost about $7.50, maybe $8.00 when you factor in the power lost to the charging station itself. If you charge in public at a Supercharger or a slower Level 2 charger, the cost might be higher or lower. Collin Street Bakery outside Waco, TX, offers free Supercharging plus a free cup of coffee or tea while you charge. Other Superchargers might charge me $7-9 to add 200-250 miles. Some businesses, including Southwest, offer free Level 2 charging for their employees so they can charge at lower speed while at work.
Tesla’s self-driving features have created much confusion for a variety of reasons. First of all, Teslas are not yet capable of fully driving themselves yet. Full Self Driving (in Tesla parlance) hasn’t been released, and the regulators have not approved it. But that capability is coming. They keep refining the software and adding capabilities to the self-driving and other features, and they push those updates to the car via wifi.
What Teslas do offer, if you’re willing to pay extra, is a wealth of advanced driver-assistance technology that will help enable full self-driving in the future. I did not buy those features. However, they did give me a one-month trial. Autopilot is actually a decent name IF you use it in the aviation sense – a computer that automates mundane tasks while you (the driver/pilot) stay alert and monitor it, ready to take over at any moment.
Here are a few thoughts:
- Autosteer – It really does keep you centered in your lane, which reduces the stress and fatigue of driving, particularly on long trips. It will also change lanes for you if the lane is clear and you command a lane change. HOWEVER, it still has some bugs to work out. Once it took a corner too tightly for me and scraped my right front wheel, which I really did not appreciate. It also got confused by highway onramps and temporarily veered to the center of the combined lane instead of hugging the lane marker on the left. Note: this feature is now included on all new Model 3s.
- Traffic Aware Cruise Control (TACC) and Autobrake – TACC worked really well. It lets you set a desired speed but temporarily adjusts as needed if the car in front of you slows down. Once it moves, the car returns to your preferred speed. If the car in front of you stops, your car stops as well. Very cool and less stressful than traditional driving once you get used to it. I never got a chance to experience the emergency braking. Note: These features are now included on all new Model 3s.
- Autopark – Couldn’t get it to work, but in theory it will parallel park or back into a space for you.
- Navigate on Autopilot – When you enter a destination into the nav system and engage autopilot, the car uses Autosteer and TACC plus automatic lane change to drive for you from highway onramp to highway offramp. Handling of stop signs and stoplights is coming later this year, moving Tesla one step closer to full autonomy.
I might pay for some or all of the autopilot features in the future. They intrigue me but aren’t currently worth the money to me, especially while Tesla is still working out the bugs and improving the software. Someday I’d love to read a book or nap while my car drives me to work.
Downsides of Tesla
No company is perfect. Tesla, as you might have heard, has a history of overpromising, particularly with regard to timelines. Model 3 production didn’t ramp up quite as soon as Musk predicted, but they eventually reached their goal of rolling out thousands per week. I wish them luck as they continue to expand production of these amazing vehicles.
A bigger problem for them right now is their insufficient service centers and parts. They simply haven’t ramped up their service capabilities as quickly as their production, leading to long waits for repairs. Call it growing pains. For instance, back in January I made an appointment with them to investigate a minor squeaking sound in the rear of the car. I dropped it off on a Wednesday, I think. They gave me a rental car and told me they were so backed up that they might not even get to look at it until Monday or Tuesday of the next week. So 1) they took nearly a week to fix a simple problem, and 2) they wasted a lot of money buying me a rental for several days instead of simply having me bring in my car when they were ready to work on it. I’ve read numerous reports of slow service and long waits for parts, especially when a vehicle gets wrecked and needs a new body panel. On the bright side, every Tesla employee I’ve ever dealt with has been extremely nice and polite.
I don’t want to say Tesla is the future of the automobile, as the Fords and Volkswagens and Hondas of the world have something to say on that matter. But Tesla is changing the industry. Other automakers investing billions in EV development, including Volkswagen, Kia/Hyundai, Porsche, and Toyota. Every Tesla owner I know loves their car. Tesla has announced a smaller and cheaper electric SUV called the Model Y scheduled for production in 2020, an electric pickup that will be named soon, and an electric semi. Good things are happening, and I’m grateful to be involved.