I drove a Tesla Model 3… and it was pretty cool

Yesterday was my first experience of note behind the wheel of a Tesla. I’d only driven a Model S for maybe 30 minutes, and that was a few years ago. Yesterday though, I took a brand-new Model 3 to lunch… 90 miles away.

My video production partner at my current main contracting gig, Josh Ostrander, and I were ordered to take a Tesla Model 3 and a Hyundai Kona Electric to lunch. The goal was to find a destination that would put us at a round trip distance of 200 miles. Making the spot in Big Bear adds a healthy climb on the way in. In fact, we went from sea level to north of 8,000 feet. And both vehicles returned with plenty of range remaining (44 for the Tesla and 62 for the Kona).

Here and now though, I’d like to focus on the Model 3.

The dual-motor machine is an entertaining ride. And this is for a variety of reasons. First off, it still feels like a bit of a novelty. Granted, it’s one that’s been around for a bit now, and packs top-tier EV tech under its skin. Tesla is killing it in the range game, and the rest of the automakers are playing catch up. Plant your foot, and this compact sedan pulls hard. Even better was the fact that it seemed to relish the more twisty bits of the journey.

California has some great roads. If you can catch 18 or 38 on day with no to light traffic, you’re in for a treat. Such was the case the day before, and I was able to push the Model 3 a bit. The steering was nicely weighted, and you can choose between three different settings for the heft of the wheel. I kept it the middle, as the full weight of Sport didn’t feel all that necessary. There was never a squeak from the tires. The car remains planted through corners. And all of that battery weight is down low where you want it to be.

Add in some regen braking to setup for corners, and you’ve got a sweet trail-braking machine eager to rip up a canyon road. I was smiling. I was enjoying myself. And I was doing so in a machine running as quietly as could be.

On the inside, the interior is nothing special. The very large screen looks great, and works well. But at times I felt it was rather distracting. I even proved my own point when I went to use the browser… while driving. I didn’t know how to operate Autopilot, so I looked it up. I got my answer quickly, and realized I just did something stupid.

But I could then activate Autopilot to give that a test. All of the knocks against it, which you’ve likely seen covered, are true. People who aren’t paying attention while using this are morons. They’re going to hurt themselves or others. This is a high-tech Level 2 driving feature, and it basically amounts to fancy cruise control. It’s cool to see a display on the screen showing you what the car sees around you, and it picks up on the other vehicles very quickly. But you still need your eyes up, and your hands ready to take over at any moment.

This further proves my personal feelings that Level 2 is almost a waste of time. The industry needs to jump past Level 3 and figure out a way to give us Level 4 before it really makes sense for public consumption. And that is quite a ways away. We will not get there until we realize how poor our infrastructure is, and that we need to fix our roads, signs, and pretty much everything else our vehicles travel on.

Overall, the experience was pretty great. This is a fantastic daily driver for someone that leaves in an area of the country with plenty of charging options. And if you buy one of these, you should definitely put a Level 2 charger in your garage as well. Your options aren’t limited to Tesla models, of course, and the Hyundai Kona Electric we drove during this mega lunch run performed great as well. In fact, it was actually more efficient on the freeway, and finished both driving segments with more remaining range. The Model 3 was absolutely more fun to drive though.

But the fact that we’re having an electric-car conversation that gives you many choices means we’re moving in a good direction on this front.

18 Comments

    1. It looks better in real life. It also got some of the things enthusiasts have been preaching for the better part of a decade: Big greenhouse, non-excessive wheel size, simple interior. Too simple, maybe, or not simple enough, but it is a step in the right direction, imho. The charging capacity and battery overall are nothing short of impressive though.

      1. There’s quite a few on the road around here. From the front it has the look of a fiberglass people -mover vehicle that one might find at Disney
        World. From the back: KIA-ish. I might agree that it’s a good car, but I still think it’s been beat with an ugly stick

        1. Tesla fell into the legacy carmaker trap of trying to create a “family” of cars that share visual similarities…which was, imho, unncessary with something so explicitly fresh and different. That’s worse on the X, which looks like a ballooned S with silly features (Falcon doors…why?). But, to each their own, I think it’s awesome Tesla exists and seems to succeed – apparently, neither exterior design nor interior quality seem to be something that stops them in their tracks. Yet.

          1. True… they emulated BMW with the “same sausage, different lengths” philosophy. I still think the original Model S (the one with the fake grille) is the most attractive of the three. The X is by far the worst offender, and the doors are a ridiculous engineering gimmick to remedy a problem that’s already been solved.

          2. What’s even worse is they all look like generic video game cars from a GTA type game where they don’t want to pay for licensed models. 😀

  1. I’ve chatted with a friend of mine about the Model 3 during our kids’ last couple of soccer games. On a whim, he test-drove one, and he’s been encouraging me and a couple of others to try it, just for the experience. He was hugely impressed (especially with the acceleration), but I’m not sure at this point if he’s trying to talk his wife into buying one, or talk himself out of it. Regardless, he obviously can’t get it out of his head, and he’s not what I would describe as a “car guy”.

    The Model 3 doesn’t appeal to me for several reasons:

    1) The exterior design is completely banal, except for the nose, which is so lacking in features that it’s borderline ugly.
    2) I dislike overwrought interiors, but the 3’s is far too stark for my liking. It’s like a sensory deprivation chamber.
    3) The giant touchscreen. Apart from smart phones (which have them out of necessity), I hate touchscreen controls on anything, be it a car or a soda fountain. I like gauges with needles, and tactile buttons and dials. I don’t want to have to watch my finger touch a screen so that I know I’ve connected with the right spot. With physical controls, you can let muscle memory and sense of touch do the work while your eyes stay on the road.
    4) Elon Musk. I simply don’t like him, and I don’t want to endorse or advertise for his company.
    5) Unlike the personality noted in (4), I don’t want to appear to be a douchebag. Like it or not EV fans, Teslas have replaced Porsches as the “douchebag” car to drive.
    6) On a completely trivial note, I like noise with my acceleration.

    1. As the smallest point, there is a noise, it’s just a subdued electrical motor whine as opposed to something throatier and more dramatic. Plus, you could probably hack it to pipe in the Jetsons hovercar noise?

      1. If in the future EVs are the only legal driving option, I’ll hack mine to sound like a 289 V8 with dual Magnaflows.

  2. I have to say that there’s zero doubt that the Tesla Model 3 is a fine and practical for many people. Still, unless the name ‘Tesla’ rings a special bell for you, there is an awful lot of competition in the $40-$50 K range. Since I don’t drive enough miles in a year to make an electric car an economic decision, I tend towards to decide on my cars using factors that are probably trivial to an objective person. I don’t care for the nose styling on the 3. It reminds me of a Renault Caravelle (a car that no one else will remember), and it’s not a good look to my eyes. Since Discus insists I am not logged in, I can’t post a picture.

    I find the interior pretty sterile; it’s a nod toward Danish Modern I suppose but it’s more Economy Airliner to my eyes.
    The power is appealing, as is quiet running although I think it an over-rated virtue. A car its price range should be quiet. The range is a non-issue for me; I’ll rent for serious highway work. It also seems like a fun car to drive, which is a huge plus. Quality seems fine; sure there may be some minor assembly glitches but if there were any serious problems we would have been beaten around the head and shoulders about it by press. I am a bit concerned by the wreck-repair wait horror stories – I don’t think those are going to get any better as there just aren’t enough authorized shops even if the supply chain problem improves. I also have an irrational worry that one day the bubble will burst and Tesla’s won’t be cool any more. I can’t really pin down a specific reason.

    I have to agree with Jeff about the self-driving features – someday, sure, but not yet. In any case, I don’t have enough use for them to make them a factor. The rest of the gimcracks and gimmicks I already have on my current car., and at some point a giant screen is just a giant screen. Wait! What? I can play video games on that screen? Well, that changes…..nothing.

    So the bottom line, is that while it’s a fine car, I don’t see myself buying one.

  3. Tesla has a massive advantage over everyone else in that they build their cars from the ground up to be electric. they do some fantastic engineering on top of that, and they operate in a way more “scrappy” fashion than other manufacturers, which is also a huge advantage. but as long as MBZ is adapting chassis with low floors and big empty spaces up front, they won’t be able to match the performance and safety benchmarks Tesla set years ago.

    that scrappiness shows its advantage over the Taycan. read David Tracy’s quick impressions of the Taycan (lol phone keeps correcting that to Cayman). it costs, like, 50% more than a P100D, but it isn’t 50% better than that seven year old car. sure, we’ll hear the peanut gallery chime in about panel gaps and drivetrain replacements, but I know several Model S owners and none of them have $50,000 worth of complaints about em.

    I’m not a fanboy, which is a phrase you hear a lot in Tesla article comments, but the rest of the industry has a lot of catching up to do.

    1. I don’t buy it, for “scrappy”, I’d read amateur. There have been plenty of ground up startup car makers before Tesla and plenty have failed (just look at the UK specialist sports car industry), so they’ve done well to get this far, but the construction of Teslas actually seems quite conventional to me in many respects and they seem to be still learning the basics of constructing a “body in white”. BMWs i3 was a much more forward looking (and relelevant even if like the original Audi A2 and Chrysler Airflow, the public weren’t quite ready for it). Their electronics is quite advanced, but the chassis/body hardly seems bleeding edge.

      Never mind others catching up, I think there’s potential that other manufacturers will overtake them and they themselves will find the tables turned in now being the “legacy” auto maker. Their design ethos seems to be “more is more”, more battery and more range, but I reckon the next wave of EVs, especially if someone can crack solid state will ditch range for charge time and become, cheaper, better to drive and far more efficient as a result.

      It’s hard to fully explain in a paragraph or two, but I think Teslas, especially when you consider their heartland of west coast tech centres, are built around an entire approach to transport that’s unsustainable, the emphasis on range, the self driving (seemingly built on the idea that you WILL be spending a lot of time in gridlock rather than asking if the vehicle should be there in the first place), all seem to be built around just continuing todays knuckleheaded patterns of living/working/commuting than how things probably need to change radically in the next decade or so, but that’s a criticism I’d level at a lot of other EVs too.

  4. I have to say that there’s zero doubt that the Tesla Model 3 is a fine and practical choice for many people. Still, unless the name ‘Tesla’ rings a special bell for you, there is an awful lot of competition in the $40-$50 K range. Since I don’t drive enough miles in a year to make an electric car an economic decision, I tend towards to decide on my cars using factors that are probably trivial to an objective person. I don’t care for the nose styling on the 3. It reminds me of a Renault Caravelle (a car that no one else will remember), and it’s not a good look to my eyes. Since Discus insists I am not logged in, I can’t post a picture.

    I find the interior pretty sterile; it’s a nod toward Danish Modern I suppose but it’s more Economy Airliner to my eyes.
    The power is appealing, as is quiet running although I think it an over-rated virtue. A car its price range should be quiet. The range is a non-issue for me; I’ll rent for serious highway work. It also seems like a fun car to drive, which is a huge plus. Quality seems fine; sure there may be some minor assembly glitches but if there were any serious problems we would have been beaten around the head and shoulders about it by press. I am a bit concerned by the wreck-repair wait horror stories – I don’t think those are going to get any better as there just aren’t enough authorized shops even if the supply chain problem improves. I also have an irrational worry that one day the bubble will burst and Tesla’s won’t be cool any more. I can’t really pin down a specific reason.

    I have to agree with Jeff about the self-driving features – someday, sure, but not yet. In any case, I don’t have enough use for them to make them a factor. The rest of the gimcracks and gimmicks I already have on my current car., and at some point a giant screen is just a giant screen. Wait! What? I can play video games on that screen? Well, that changes…..nothing.

    So the bottom line, is that while it’s a fine car, I don’t see myself buying one.

  5. I find the styling complaints interesting. To me, aside from the goofy duck face, I find their styling to be the most appealing thing of a Tesla. In a world of cars with lots of extra bumps, bulges, vents, ridges and fins, the simple, clean, flowing lines of a Tesla are a welcome relief.

    Musk’s arrogance is enough to put me off of buying one, what with the reinventing manufacturing nonsense, the ongoing autopilot saga and, most recently, publicly beta testing a driverless car in the most chaotic of driving environments – parking lots. I know of no self respecting engineer who would think that a public, uncontrolled beta test of something like this is a responsible idea.

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