My test drive of the Tesla Model 3

model3If you have read any of my previous posts, you know that I am a strong proponent of renewable energy. More than 10 years ago, I wanted to own a car that did not use gasoline, but technology was not ready for a mainstream electric vehicle back then.

Tesla turned that around several years ago by announcing that they would ultimately produce a mass-market electric vehicle. That vehicle, the Model 3, is a reality today. I watched, live, online, on March 31, 2016, when Elon Musk introduced the Model 3 and Tesla began taking reservations for the new car. After pondering for a day whether I should pay $1,000 to reserve a Model 3, I placed my reservation on April 2, 2016. That began my long wait for an electric car.

Although Tesla started production of the Model 3 in July 2017, to date, the only people who have taken delivery of the Model 3 are people who currently own a Tesla or who are employed by Tesla. I am waiting, along with several hundreds of thousands of want-to-be first-time Tesla owners, looking forward to the opportunity to order and take delivery of a Model 3. Tesla has had some issues getting their battery pack assembly line working. All indications now suggest that, by the end of March, the assembly lines will be up and running at good speed.

For each person, who has reserved a Model 3, the online Tesla account shows a delivery date estimation. When the estimation first appeared on my account toward the end of last year, my delivery estimate was February-April 2018. Around December 2017, my delivery window slipped by a month to March-May 2018. A little over a week ago, the delivery window slipped again, but by 3 months this time, to June-August 2018. The latest 3-month delay caused me a lot of frustration. Since Tesla basically delayed all current non-owners by 3 months, at least I was not alone.

The most difficult part of the waiting for delivery of this car has been the anticipation of what it’s like to experience and drive the car. There are a large number of videos on the Internet from people, who have taken delivery of the Model 3 or who have gained access to a Model 3. Watching something on video is fine to a point, but it does not replace hands-on experience. The reviews so far are mostly positive. Most of the negative comments I’ve seen are non-issues for me. What I needed was a personal, hands-on experience, so I could be sure that the amount of money I will be spending for this car is worth the wait.

Last year, when it was clear that Model 3 was going to be a reality, I started saving the monthly amount I expected would equal my Model 3 monthly loan payment. I have saved a sizable down payment. With the most recent delivery delay, I calculated that I would have over $2,000 more than I had planned for my down payment. I decided to make use of some of this extra cash.

Several current Model 3 owners have chosen to offer their cars for rent on a service known as Turo. I decided that, if I had to wait until about July for my car, I would try to find a Model 3 that I could rent and conduct a test drive. After a bit of searching on Turo, I found one Model 3 that was offered for rent in Santa Barbara, CA. It was the closest location to where I live.

Renting a Model 3 is not an inexpensive proposition. You cannot rent a Model 3 for less than about $250 per day. Turo rents by the day, not by the hour. A 2-day rental will result in less than 48 hours with the car. The Model 3 I chose to rent was $295 per day and I could not justify paying more than $600 for a test drive, so I got the Model 3 for about 30 hours total. My pick-up time was 9:00 am on a Saturday and I scheduled to return the car by 3:00 pm the next day.

I met with the car’s owner at the Santa Barbara Airport. The airport was the only place in Santa Barbara where I was comfortable with parking overnight. The Model 3’s owner charged me $10 each way in order to deliver the car to the airport. It was a convenient exchange point and worth the $20 to the owner and the $21 for parking.

Seeing the Model 3 drive up to our meeting was a surreal experience. I had only once before seen a Model 3 in the flesh, which was during my stay in Anacortes, WA last Christmas. I happened to see a white Model 3 drive past me on Commercial Ave. It is such a distinctive car that you can’t miss it when you see it. My rental Model 3 was the second one I had seen in person, and it was the same color I want for my car, Midnight Silver Metallic.

My first couple of impressions getting into the driver’s seat were, I couldn’t believe I was actually sitting in a Model 3 and the central display screen didn’t seem as big as it looks in videos. The owner gave me a quick run-down of the car’s systems. This really wasn’t necessary because I was already familiar with what he was describing. We agreed on my return time and I was on my way.

I started being a little self-conscious. This was a Model 3 I was driving. I wondered if anyone was noticing the rare sight. I left the parking lot, drove to Highway 101, and headed north toward home.

The Model 3 felt very solid. There were no rattles, no squeaks. After having driven a Model S and now a Model 3, there was no question in my mind that a Model S, for me, would be second-best. The Model 3 has more interior space than my Prius, but not as much as the Model S. The space is just right for me. The owner had the steering set to Sport. The 2 other options are Standard and Comfort. I had imagined that Standard would be my preferred setting and I was correct. Comfort is too loose and Sport is too tight. The Model 3 is every inch a Tesla. I pushed down the accelerator and I was pushed back in my seat. There is more than enough power, just like the Model S, and the power is instantaneous. I can’t imagine anyone wanting a car that is faster.

California roads can be rough, and Highway 101 between Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo is no exception. I have seen a number of video reviews where reviewers have talked down about the ride of the Model 3 as being too firm. The ride is exactly what I would expect from a sedan that is as sporty as the Model 3. If the ride was too soft, you would loose the feel of the roadway that I want in a sport sedan.

The faux leather seats look just like leather to me, and they are very comfortable. The six-way adjustable seat allowed me to pick a seated position that was just right. The steering wheel is the right size and I like that it is fatter than the steering wheel in my Prius. I had seen comments about poor visibility out the back of the Model 3. I disagree. The visibility out the back is not a picture window, but I had no trouble seeing what I needed to see. The visibility is superior to what I see out the back of my Prius. If I feel I can’t see well, I can always turn on the rear-view camera, which can be activated at will.

I have been amazed by the number of people, who have made negative comments about the single center display in the Model 3. Actually, if I see another video where someone says that they feel like they’re being distracted by having to look to the center screen, I think I will scream!  Why are people, who don’t like the idea of only a single center display, still buying this car?  Among all the other unique qualities of the Model 3, the single touch-screen in the middle of the dash has me the most excited. When I drove the Model S, I didn’t like the huge portrait touch-screen. In my opinion, it’s too much. This highlights how product reviews are very much a subjective endeavor. I’m sure there are plenty of people who would disagree with me about the Model S.

I had absolutely no difficulty getting accustomed to the speedometer on the left side of the center display. For those people, who claim that Model 3 is lacking a heads-up display or a binnacle, I say not so. I had no trouble seeing the information on any part of the screen while driving. I’ve heard comments that the navigation directions are too far away as they are displayed on the right side of the map. I thoroughly enjoyed the large map display and I had no problem seeing the right side of the screen. Perhaps the people, who didn’t like this part of the navigation system, need eyesight correction. Again, a lot of this is personal preference and I like what Tesla has done in the Model 3.

The Model 3 premium package includes a glass roof panel, which is tinted. Some people are concerned that having the sun shine through the roof glass would be too hot. It was bright and sunny during both days that I drove the Model 3. I could see the sun through the roof, but I didn’t feel any heat. The tint is very effective at blocking the heat.

The Model 3 began production with what people have called Alcantara for the headliner.  Alcantara is a type of suede material.  Apparently, since this material has been used a lot in the Model S and X, some Tesla fans believe that this material should be a premium material in all of the Tesla cars.  The Model 3 I rented had the Alcantara headliner.  The Model 3’s being produced now have a different type of fabric for the headliner.  I am glad that my Model 3 will not have the Alcantara headliner.  To me, suede doesn’t look right as a headliner in the Model 3.

The audio system sounds great.  I have a classic rock radio station I listen to a lot on Tune In Radio.  Tesla has Tune In included in the audio system.  I found my station, selected it, and rocked out all the way home.  The sound system sounds premium and it will work very well for me.  I didn’t test a USB drive that holds my music collection, but all indications are that it will play just fine.  As a side note, the audio system does not seem to have an off setting.  Off is achieved by tapping on pause for what you are playing.  The problem with using pause on a live stream is that tapping play resumes where you left off.  If you pause for 30 minutes, your playback will be out of sync by 30 minutes.  My resolution for this was to select another radio station.  Once the alternate station started streaming, I selected my station again and I found I was back to live.  Unless you are a major audiophile, you will love the premium audio system.

Another first for me with this test drive was experiencing EAP (Enhanced Auto Pilot). I absolutely love the traffic-aware cruise control. Cruise control can be activated without the Autosteer function. The cruise control kept the car at a constant speed, it slowed when the car in front of me slowed, it even slows when entering a curve at a speed it considers to be too fast. From the time I got onto the freeway until I got off, I didn’t have to touch the accelerator or brake. I also tested the Autosteer. It did a good job of staying in the lane and I only had to intervene a couple of times. What I found, though, was that I felt like I had to pay more attention when Autosteer was active than I did when I was steering. I imagine this was due to my unfamiliarity with using Autosteer. I just don’t trust it enough to be able to relax. I’m sure it would be of great use when driving long distances on mostly straight roads.

It is interesting to me that so many people, at least on YouTube, will use Autosteer in situations that would make me quite uncomfortable. Autosteer is not supposed to be used on undivided roads, yet I’ve seen a number of people do just that. I’m not ready to relinquish my control of an automobile, carrying me, traveling at 70 MPH. Perhaps I will feel differently when Elon Musk perfects autonomous driving.

There was only one negative that I could muster from my experience with the Model 3. This is a negative that is inherent with any touch-screen display. While driving, with the motion of the car, it is sometimes difficult to direct a finger to a touch point on a touch-screen and be able to accurately hit the mark. I have the same problem with my cellphone while driving. I had the same problem when I drove the Model S. Since Elon Musk has eluded to the fact that Model 3 will ultimately have voice control for many commands, this will become a non-issue when voice commands become standard. In the meantime, it’s a minor annoyance that I am happy to endure.

When I arrived at my house, I backed the Model 3 into my garage and did my next test. Last October, I installed a Tesla wall connector in my garage, in preparation for my Model 3. I did the installation myself. With the exception of the successful self-test with the wall connector after installation, I had never charged a car with it. I switched the circuit breaker for the wall connector to on, grabbed the cable, put the charge plug near the Model 3 charge port, pushed the button on the plug and the charge port door opened. I plugged into the Model 3 charge port, heard a relay click on my wall connected, and the “T” light on the Model 3 charge port started flashing green. It worked! I watched the center display screen in the Model 3 and the power gradually edged up until it showed it was accepting 40 amps at 237 volts.

I imagine my next experience was similar to any EV newbie. I have solar electric panels on my house, and when I plugged in the Model 3, I was generating 2,400 watts of electricity from the sun. I checked the power meter on my circuit breaker panel and I got a shock. It said I was drawing 8,000 watts. I don’t have anything at the house that draws anywhere near 8,000 watts. My air conditioning system draws 3,500 watts and I thought that was a lot. When I sat down at my desk and did the calculations, I figured out that the car was actually drawing a little over 9.4 kW. The total time I charged at my house was about 6-1/2 hours in 2 sessions for a total of a little over 61 kWh. Even though that seemed like a long charging time, the total cost of electricity for the 2 charging sessions was only about $12.30. On my charging system, the Model 3 charges at 37 miles per hour. With my average driving habits, I will only need to charge every 2 or 3 days and the extra electricity cost will be minimal. So, my garage really is ready for my Model 3’s arrival.

As much as I hated to give back the Model 3 rental, I wasn’t as depressed as I thought I would be. I know I will be getting my Model 3, hopefully by mid-summer this year. One of the hardest parts of waiting had been that I had never driven or really seen a Model 3 up close. Now that I have been able to live with the car for over a day, it’s not so hard having to wait for my car. I have no doubt that waiting for my Model 3 is the right choice.

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