- I drove Tesla‘s Model 3 sedan for a weekend in late September.
- I rented this example of the car from a private owner via the car-sharing app, Turo. I came away very impressed with the vehicle’s driving dynamics.
- And Tesla‘s Supercharger network made charging much easier than in other electric vehicles I’d tested.
- But I had a few issues with this Model 3, particularly with Autopilot.
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Tesla’s Model 3 sedan has been both a blessing and a curse for the electric-car maker, earning rave reviews and boosting sales while also putting pressure on gross margins and laying bare Tesla’s production issues.
I rented a long-range, all-wheel-drive Model 3 from the car-sharing app Turo for a weekend last month, and I came away very impressed with the car, but I had a few concerns, particularly with its Autopilot driver-assistance system.
Because I was renting a private owner’s Model 3, I was not aware of any preexisting issues the owner may or may not have had with their vehicle.
Here’s what it was like to drive this Model 3 for a weekend.
Are you a current or former Tesla employee? Do you have an opinion about what it’s like to work there? Contact this reporter at [email protected].
I picked up the long-range, all-wheel-drive Model 3 on a Saturday morning.
Design is one of Tesla’s strengths, and the Model 3 looks great.
The vehicle’s sleek proportions and contour lines make it look like a single, unified object, rather than two or three separate compartments fused together.
As is sometimes the case even with luxury sedans from Audi, BMW, or Mercedes-Benz.
Immediately, there were a few differences from any other car I’d driven.
Rather than using a key, the Model 3 is locked and unlocked with a card that’s roughly the size and weight of a credit card.
And the door handles are flush with the vehicle.
So you have to push into the handle before you can pull it.
While I’d briefly driven a Model 3 before, I was again struck by its interior, which eliminates most buttons and knobs in favour of a 15-inch touchscreen that controls most settings.
The touchscreen took a few minutes to get used to, but it felt natural within about an hour, and the settings were easy to navigate.
Some settings, like audio volume, side-mirror adjustment, and the maximum speed at which Autopilot can drive, are controlled through the two buttons on the steering wheel.
Visually, I prefer the clean look of the Model 3’s dashboard to those found in most cars, but being able to use buttons and knobs to control air-conditioning would have been helpful. I only changed air-conditioning settings when the car was stopped, because I didn’t feel like I could do so without taking my eyes off the road.
The navigation system was excellent. The search function was fast and robust, and the size of the screen made it easy to follow directions.
But at one point, while testing the vehicle’s built-in games, the screen froze.
Fortunately, I was parked, and the screen became usable again once I reset it by exiting and re-entering the car. But given that the screen is the only place where you can see the vehicle’s speed and battery life, the worry that it could freeze while I was driving gave me pause.
The backseat felt comfortable and relatively spacious.
And I liked the panoramic roof.
The Model 3’s driving dynamics were excellent.
The long-range, all-wheel-drive Model 3 is the second-“slowest” vehicle trim Tesla sells, but the acceleration was quicker than I’d experienced in any other vehicle.
Tesla says the trim I drove can accelerate from 0-60 mph in 4.4 seconds.
I found myself wanting to accelerate quickly on the highway whenever it was safe to do so legally.
The handling was also better than I’d experienced in any other vehicle.
The Model 3’s steering was exceptionally precise, so much so that I almost didn’t feel the sensation of centrifugal force (the feeling that I’m being pushed to the left if I’m turning right, for example) when turning.
The car’s regenerative braking, which slows its speed when you take your foot off the accelerator, was also well-tuned.
While I would have preferred a setting that would allow the vehicle to come to a full stop without having to apply the brake, the more aggressive of the two settings was forceful enough to minimise the amount I needed to use the brake pedal, but not so forceful that it made me uncomfortable.
Like the other electric vehicles I’ve driven, I appreciated how much quieter the motor was than a traditional gas engine.
Combined with the vehicle’s minimalist interior, its quiet motor and effective insulation of road and wind noise made for a serene driving experience.
Autopilot, which allows a vehicle to handle steering, acceleration, and braking in some circumstances, was useful in some ways but concerning in others.
Much of the Model 3’s appeal comes from the driving experience, so I often didn’t want to use Autopilot, but I understood how it could be useful during a long trip.
Autopilot has two primary parts: autosteer and adaptive cruise control. The former keeps a vehicle centered in its lane in areas where there are clear road markings. It worked well when I used it on this Model 3, I could feel my attention starting to drift from time to time when it was on. Even though my hands were on the wheel and my eyes were on the road, I felt somewhat disconnected from the driving experience when I wasn’t controlling the vehicle’s speed or direction.
Adaptive cruise control, which controls the car’s speed and keeps it at a set distance behind the vehicle in front of it, was more useful, but also gave me more problems.
It was very conservative when it sensed a car merging onto the highway, sometimes braking more abruptly than I would have liked. On one occasion, it felt like this Model 3’s aggressive braking could have led to an accident if an inattentive driver had been following too close behind me. Another time, this Model 3 appeared to get confused by a pickup truck in the lane to my left that was not merging into my lane, slowing down without having a clear reason to do so (there weren’t any vehicles in front of me close enough to prompt such a move).
Adaptive cruise-control was most effective when I was in slow-moving traffic heading into Manhattan. I had turned off autosteer, which kept me alert to the vehicles around me, but not having to constantly brake and accelerate the Model 3 myself removed much of the stress I would normally have felt in that situation.
I came to the same conclusion with Autopilot as I did when I tested Nissan’s ProPilot Assist system last year: Adaptive cruise-control is very useful in some situations, but when combined with autosteer, it makes it harder to pay attention to the road. That makes it difficult to be ready to quickly take control of the vehicle if autosteer can no longer read the lane lines, or if the vehicle doesn’t see an obstacle in front of it.
Finding and using a charging station was much easier with the Model 3 than when I tested the Chevrolet Bolt EV and Nissan Leaf.
Tesla’s Supercharger stations were easy to find using the Model 3’s navigation system.
I could immediately determine how many spots were open at a station before driving to it.
The station I chose was tucked into the corner of a strip mall parking lot, but the distinctive appearance of Tesla’s charging stalls made them easy to spot.
There have been times in the past when I’ve been unable to find charging stations because the stalls were not clearly visible.
One small disadvantage this time was the fact that I had to back into my spot because the Model 3’s charge port is near the trunk, and the charging station’s cables weren’t very long.
I used the touchscreen to open the charge port.
Tesla automatically charges the owner’s credit card for charging sessions. No need to pay at the station.
All I had to do was grab the cable …
… and plug in. The car started charging immediately.
Once it started charging, I could monitor its progress on the touchscreen.
I arrived at the Supercharger station with 32 miles of range left. A little over 40 minutes later, I had 273 miles.
The charging session cost a little under $US18, much less than I’d have paid for gas.
Still, the time it took to charge was a little slower than I’d have liked if I was on a road trip. If I didn’t want to stop for a meal, it would have added an extra 30 minutes to my trip.
Thankfully, the vehicle’s 310-mile range (the owner of the vehicle I tested limited charging to 90% of its range to protect the battery) meant I only had to charge once during the weekend.
Overall, I came away very impressed with the Model 3.
The rented Model 3 I had for the weekend wasn’t perfect, but I enjoyed driving it more than any other car I’d driven before.
- Read more:
- In 10 years, Tesla has gone from a one-car company to being compared with Porsche – here’s why that’s incredible
- Tesla violated labour laws when Elon Musk tweeted against unionization at the company’s factory, a judge ruled
- Tesla just released a big software update that allows its cars to drive themselves in parking lots
- Elon Musk said in a leaked email that Tesla has a chance to break its delivery record this quarter
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