Take an in-depth tour to see why comparing a Tesla to most cars today is like comparing a smartphone to a flip phone.
After completing a cross-country road trip in my two-year old Tesla Model 3, I fell in love with it all over again and knew I had to write a post about it.
In my opinion, Tesla hasn’t just revolutionized the electrical vehicle (EV) industry, it has reinvented the car, as I will show you in this (highly biased) post.
Whether you’re in the market for a Tesla, are an existing owner or are simply curious about EVs, I hope you’ll get some value from this post.
You’ll see why comparing a Tesla to most cars today is like comparing a smartphone to a flip phone — it’s really that big of a difference.
If you don’t know much about how EVs work, I highly recommend watching this popular 10-minute YouTube video titled How does an Electric Car work? — it’s a bit technical but overall worth a one-time watch to understand why EVs are the future. It’s no surprise the EV market is expected to reach over $800 billion by 2027!
In this post, we’ll take a tour of the following aspects of a Tesla Model 3:
Here we go.
Before describing the car itself, I want to begin with one of the most convenient aspects of owning a Tesla: the Tesla mobile app. This serves as your primary car key and provides many remote control features.
The mobile app automatically unlocks and locks the Tesla 3 doors using bluetooth — this short-distance, keyless access is extremely convenient because it’s hands-free (e.g. phone in pocket) and eliminates having to carry a physical car key.
Tesla does provide key FOBs but in the two years of owning my car, I’ve only used them for valet parking or as a backup in my wallet, in case my phone dies.
The Tesla mobile app complements the interior touchscreen by giving you many controls outside the car.
The long list of remote control features include lock/unlock doors/trunks, turning on the climate, control charging, valet mode, honk/flash to locate the car, set speed limit…and more.
Tesla Mobile App
You can even use the Summon feature to slowly drive the car in reverse or forward — think remote control toy cars — this can come in handy for water puddles or tight garages.
Other neat features include the ability to send an address to your car from maps apps such as Apple and Google Maps (via the share option). You can even locate where your car is parked using the app.
These types of pragmatic, modern day tech features is what sets Tesla apart from all other car manufacturers.
The Tesla 3 is a sleek looking four door sedan, which drives like an expensive sports car.
The doors have unique flush handles that are aerodynamically designed to reduce drag. You’ll have to get used to giving one time instructions to first time users, such as “put the thumb on the fat part of the handle and open with the rest of your hand.“
Tesla 3 comes with two trunks, a conventional rear trunk and an innovative, front trunk (“frunk”).
I find the frunk extremely useful for small bags (e.g. groceries), since the incline keeps the bags from sliding around. I used to get strange looks when I opened the frunk but people seem to be getting used to it, thanks to a growing number of Teslas on the road.
The rear trunk also has lots of room with an additional compartment under the trunk’s floor. You can also fold the rear seats down for longer objects (e.g. skis); I was able to fit a hybrid bicycle in there once.
When people get inside a Tesla 3 for the first time, they are often taken aback by how bare the interior is.
Then…they slowly begin to get wowed by how many features are packed in the deceptively minimalistic interior.
The Tesla 3 can comfortably seat five people, with heating in all seats. It has more legroom than conventional, internal combustion engine (gasoline) cars, since there’s no transmission hump in EVs.
With the rear seats folded down, there’s enough space to fit a twin size airbed — I have read about people sleeping overnight in their Teslas, at campgrounds.
The Tesla 3 has your basics: seats, air vents, several cup holders, multiple storage compartments, USB and 12v chargers, door locks, and window controls (auto retract for all four windows).
Driver and Passenger Door and Window Controls
At the center of the front panel is a single, gorgeous 15-inch, extremely responsive, touchscreen to operate everything else (including the glovebox) — essentially your control center.
Getting used to having everything on a single screen takes only minutes to get comfortable with, since most of us use mobile devices these days, so it’s a familiar feel.
I’ve personally fallen in love with the single touchscreen concept, since it feels like using a tablet (e.g. iPad) and gives the car a more airy feel, without the clutter of knobs you find in most cars.
It’s baffling to me that other car manufacturers haven’t realized the simple fact that consumers love their smartphones, since most cars still have a fragmented instrumentation dashboard.
Apple CarPlay and Android Auto support helps but it still doesn’t provide an integrated, smartphone-like, user experience (Ux) — imagine if you had part knobs and part touchscreen to operate your smartphone!
The 15-inch touchscreen provides you access to many features, almost too many to cover in detail in this post, so I’ll list them instead:
- Door lock/unlock
- Settings (glovebox, lights, locks, display, driving, Full Self-Driving (FSD)/Autopilot, navigation, safety, service, software, etc.)
- Climate control
- Wiper control
- Backup camera
- Navigation: Everything you can expect from a mapping app, with comprehensive supercharger network support built in. The satellite view is amazingly responsive!
- Battery level, settings and consumption
- USB connectivity/charging and 12V charging
- Objects nearby (cars, trucks, motorcycles, signs, people, traffic lights, lane markings)
- Dashcam – record video footage on a USB drive using Tesla’s external cameras (see video at the end of this post)
- Custom driver profiles
- Manual/automatic garage opener via HomeLink
- Sentry alarm system
- Tire pressure
- Incoming phone calls
- Seat belt warnings
Then…there’s a whole section on the screen dedicated to apps, including:
- Web browser
- Calendar (integrated with your phone with auto navigation)
- Entertainment (with full-screen support) including Netflix, YouTube, Hulu, Caraoke with a “C”, Atari arcade games, drawing tool, fullscreen campfire, and more.
With so many entertainment options, you will have to find reasons to get bored on supercharger stops.
The Tesla air vents provide ample control via the touchscreen, with some very cool graphics to change the airflow direction, by “pinching” the air animation.
The steering wheel comes with scrolling wheels that serve multiple purposes, for example controlling the music volume/track, cruise speed, side mirrors, steering column tilt, and soft/hard rebooting the car. It also has a built in sensor to detect whether your hands are on the steering wheel during FSD (see below).
Of course, you get all of the above….under a wondrous, panoramic, tinted glass roof that inspires you to daydream in the daytime and stargaze at night.
The Model 3 is extremely quiet, fun to drive, nimble on turns, and accelerates fast enough to make people’s heartthrob and say “wow!”
Imagine having the acceleration of an expensive sports car with the feel of a golf cart — that’s what driving a Tesla feels like.
As of September 2020, here were the 0 to 60 MPH speeds for the three Tesla 3 models (with the ability to go faster via a paid upgrade):
- Standard Plus: 5.3s 0-60 MPH, Top speed 140 MPH
- Long Range AWD (my car): 4.4s 0-60 MPH, Top speed 145 MPH
- Performance: 3.2s 0-60 MPH, Top speed 162 MPH
To begin driving a Tesla 3, you turn it on by putting your foot on the brake pedal and turn it off by putting the car in park — there’s no “cranking” the car on or shifting the gear in park and pressing a STOP button — it’s essentially like turning your smartphone on and off.
Sometimes at a complete stop in my garage or parking spot, I’ll forget to put my car in park before opening the door — but no worries, the car automatically puts it in park for you.
Tesla also automatically engages the emergency brakes, when you park your car. It’s these little conveniences that Tesla has thought of, which make the Tesla so much fun to own.
While parking/reversing (e.g. in a tight garage), it helps to see a readout of exact measurement, and audio/visual warnings, for objects close by.
When you first use the accelerator pedal on a Tesla 3, it feels like you’re pressing against pure air since it’s so quiet but the highly responsive, induction motor makes it a lot of fun to go from 0 to 60 MPH (4.4s in my car)!
I absolutely love how quiet my Tesla drives. EVs in general are very quiet under 30 MPH, in fact so quiet that many countries will soon require sound emitters in EVs, for pedestrian and bicyclist safety.
Though the Tesla 3 is a sedan, the large battery in the center gives it the weight and low center of gravity, making it more nimble than many sports cars I’ve owned before.
Single Pedal Driving
One of the coolest features of the Tesla is “single pedal driving” using a technology called Regenerative Braking (Regen for short; see Wikipedia for details).
When you let go of the accelerator, Regen enables your car to slow down rapidly while also charging your battery. My brake usage has reduced by 80% compared to conventional cars. For example, you can have the car slow down quickly for turns or gradually come to a complete halt at stop signs, without having to use the brakes.
Tesla provides an automatic brake HOLD function that enables your car to stay at a complete stop, without you having to keep your foot on the brake (e.g. at a red light). This HOLD feature also automatically engages, when the car slows down to 0 MPH.
The HOLD function complements regenerative braking, since you can let go of the accelerator while approaching a red light and have the car come to a complete stop, without having to use the brake pedal (i.e. single pedal driving).
If you’ve seen the 2004 movie “I, Robot” starring Will Smith (as Detective Del Spooner), there’s a scene after he crashes a car, when his lieutenant yells this at him: “What is the matter with you? Traffic Ops tells me you’re driving your car manually.”
There are five levels to autonomous vehicles:
- Driver Assistance
- Partial Automation
- Conditional Automation
- High Automation
- Full Automation
Tesla currently has Level 2 in its cars but has already demonstrated Level 3, in this popular two-minute YouTube video by Tesla.
However, even just Level 2 FSD is one of the coolest features in the car, since it significantly reduces the driver fatigue.
FSD is a suite of features including Traffic-Aware Cruise Control, Autosteer, Navigate on Autopilot, Auto Lane Change, and others (e.g. Autopark, Traffic and Stop Sign Control).
FSD literally saves you so much driving that, at times, you feel like you’re babysitting the car, by just leaving one hand on the steering wheel with your feet lounging.
I tell friends driving with FSD feels like playing a video game in a comfortable lounge chair, where you have to pay enough attention to not die but you’re enjoying every minute of it.
I use FSD anywhere and everywhere there are visible lane markings, from 25 MPH street to 80 MPH highway, speed zones.
This technology keeps getting better with every software update — I’ve literally seen how it handles so much better over the past year, around things like construction areas.
You can engage just Autopilot (Traffic-Aware Cruise Control) by pressing the cruise control lever fully down once. To engage the full FSD, you press the lever down twice — this activates Traffic-Aware Cruise Control, Autosteer, Navigate on Autopilot, and Auto Lane Change.
Let’s take a closer look at how FSD works.
According to Tesla’s website, “Eight surround cameras provide 360 degrees of visibility around the car at up to 250 meters of range. Twelve updated ultrasonic sensors complement this vision, allowing for detection of both hard and soft objects at nearly twice the distance of the prior system. A forward-facing radar with enhanced processing provides additional data about the world on a redundant wavelength that is able to see through heavy rain, fog, dust and even the car ahead.”
The Auto Lane Change feature is amazing and I absolutely love using it each time! You change lanes by simply giving the turn signal and let your car do the rest; i.e. the car will automatically change lanes, when it’s safe.
While doing my cross-country road trip, I came up with two supplemental terms to Auto Lane Change:
- Delayed Auto Lane Change: When you know you can’t change lanes due to traffic, you can go ahead and “queue” your lane change request and the Model 3 will change lanes, when safe.
- Accelerated Auto Lane Change: When you don’t want to wait, so you speed up to create a safe distance between the cars, which triggers Tesla to change lanes.
FSD requires you to have your hands on the steering wheel every 20-30 seconds — I rest my left or right hand on the bottom part of the steering wheel to avoid getting the warnings but I’ve heard of people using their legs, water bottles and other crazy ways to fool Tesla’s FSD into thinking your hands are on the wheel.
I’m a bit embarrassed to be boastful about this but I’ve come to rely so much on FSD that depending on surrounding traffic, I’ll work on my mobile device momentarily (e.g. editing documents, instant messages, quick web browsing). I feel irresponsible and guilty but part of me thinks, this is how we’ll gradually move to FSD…a couple of seconds at a time.
While I absolutely LOVE FSD and use it for 80% of my driving (highway, local), I can’t see a door-to-door FSD till 2022 or later, due to factors including Tesla’s technology, roads (e.g. lane marketings) and legislation.
Tesla’s FSD technology is already phenomenal and getting better rapidly but it has quirks that still gives me (and my family) a scare every now and then — enough for me to pay attention to the road.
You can learn more about Tesla’s FSD technology here: tesla.com/autopilotAI.
One of the things people worry about with fully electric cars is running out of charge — after two years of ownership and a cross-country road trip, I can assure you, this has rarely been a problem for me.
Many of my friends can’t believe I still charge on 110v, after 2 years of owning my car! I realize it’s extremely inefficient but we were considering moving and I just haven’t felt the need for it since I work from home.
110v (Level 1) charges at a pathetic 5 MPH but you can get 50+ miles overnight. 240v (Level 2) chargers charge between 10-50 MPH and direct current faster chargers (Level 3) such as the Tesla’s superchargers, can charge from a couple hundred to 1,000 MPH (using the new V3 Supercharging).
According to Tesla’s website, as of October 2020, there were 1971 supercharger stations (17467 supercharger outlets) worldwide, with many more coming soon.
Of course, you can always use 3rd party chargers or use the charging cable and adapter that comes with the Tesla. According to Statistica, there were over 24,000 charging stations (with over 78,000 outlets) in the US, as of September 2020.
Tesla cars have the honor of receiving some of the highest safety ratings possible, thanks to their driver/passenger protection (e.g. airbags, rollover, alerts).
For example, here’s a graphic from Tesla’s website, showing all 5-star ratings for a Tesla Model 3, from National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA):
From close by objects in your garage to objects on the highway, Tesla 3 has you covered with alerts.
While driving, Tesla constantly detects surrounding objects and displays them on the touchscreen (e.g. car, trucks, motorcycles, people, stop lights, lane markings). Any endangering aspects will show up in red (e.g. lane changes, passing cars).
Tesla also comes equipped with a Sentry mode that can be activated to continuously monitor your vehicle when unattended. It uses the car’s external cameras to detect potential threats (e.g. breaking in) and record a 10 minute video around any detections.
EVs in general require much less maintenance than internal combustion automobiles. Tesla maintenance comes mostly in the form of software.
Tesla updates the software in the car automatically, every month or so. If you’re new to a Tesla, it takes a little getting used to receiving software updates, similar to your smartphone or computer. Till this day, I find it fascinating that Tesla cars are just as much software (or more), as they are hardware.
Tesla is also known to roll out some significant improvements via software updates — something you would expect to take your car in for (e.g. an acceleration boost from 4.4 to 3.9 seconds).
Much of any hardware maintenance can be done via Tesla’s mobile service, where someone comes out to wherever you want. For example, I just had my two-year service done for $192.05, in my driveway (see Tesla’s Car Maintenance page for details) with the following note in the electronic invoice:
“Checked Brake Fluid Brake Fluid at 80% life. Replaced Pair of Wiper Blades. Replaced Cabin Filter. Maintenance Performed Tire Rotation on Passengers side only, Drivers side tires are good where they are right now. Recommend new pass front tire soon.”
All other major services can be handled at one of Tesla’s Service Centers, by scheduling via the mobile app.
In my area, they tend to be booked 2 to 4 weeks out but the service otherwise is courteous and efficient, handled using a combination of SMS texts, in person and email communications and generous Uber/Lyft credits to get around.
One thing I’ve found to be a pain is when you have a flat tire — the 18″ tires used on a Tesla 3 can be expensive and hard to find, since they have acoustic foam inside them. This was the #1 concern on my mind, while traveling on my cross-country road trip.
Unsurprisingly, Tesla has a huge fan base including online social networks, offline clubs, third party apps, and much more. The following are some popular clubs and third-party apps that I’ve come across and/or use regularly.
- Reddit: r/Teslamotors, r/TeslaModel3, r/TeslaLounge, r/TeslaCam
- Forums: Official Tesla Forums, Tesla Owners Online, Tesla Motors Club, SpeakEV Tesla Model 3
- News: Teslarati.com, Electrek, CleanTechnica
Before my cross-country road trip, I decided to hook up my Tesla account to three northworthy third-party apps that many online EV/Tesla enthusiasts seemed to be recommending:
- Teslafi: Logs data for all your drives with amazing detail (e.g. graphs, battery consumption, maps, charging stops).
- A Better Route Planner (ABRP): Popular app used for more precise planning based on your EVs model.
- Stats: Provides several bells & whistles for Apple mobile devices (iPhone/iPad/Watch); e.g. schedule climate/charging, open doors/trunks via Siri, monitor battery health, and more.
It was a bit nerve-wracking to give my username and password to these apps (except Teslamate) but once you have an authentication key from one of them, you can use that for the others.
Advanced users with coding skills can use the unofficial Tesla JSON API to obtain an authentication key or use Teslamate, a self-hosted data logger with dashboards for driving, charging, efficiency, drain, stats, and much more.
Once you’re setup with these apps, the amazing data they provide makes the whole process worthwhile, as you can see from some of the screenshots below.
There are plenty of aftermarket products for Tesla available on various websites, including Amazon. I’ve only purchased two aftermarket products: a Qi wireless phone charger (several on Amazon) and a spare tire kit by Modern Spare (on Amazon).
As of October 2020, here were the list prices for the three versions of a Tesla Model 3, in the US:
- Standard Range Plus: $31,690, range 263 miles
- Long Range: $40,690, 353 miles
- Performance: $48,690, 315 miles
FSD costs an extra $10,000.
If you’re considering buying any kind of EV, you can calculate the cost per mile by dividing its list price by its maximum range. For example, a Tesla Model 3 Long Range at a list price of $46,990 and range of 322 miles costs $145.93/mile, as shown in the below infographic from visualcapitalist.com.
One thing to keep in mind when comparing prices is that Tesla is years ahead of its competition with its innovative technology and supercharger network — something that’s hard to put an exact value on.
I’ve owned some nice cars in my lifetime but never have I owned a car that I loved driving so much every single day, as much as I have my Tesla Model 3.
Tesla is as close to perfect as a car gets but it can use some tweaks, so here’s a list of flaws and/or wishes:
- Alerts: The on screen blind spot warnings aren’t good enough; most people have come to expect something built into the side mirrors.
- Wipers: Tesla’s automatic wipers were horrible but since Tesla launched its ‘Deep Rain’ neural network, they have improved over the past year but still remain slightly flaky (e.g. turning on a couple of times when it’s not raining).
- Voice: Support for voice commands is weak and nowhere as robust as Apple Siri or Google Assistant, which can be frustrating since I often have to turn to my iPhone (e.g. calling a local restaurant).
- Lights: It would be nice to have shortcuts to turn the head/park lights on/off, instead of going into Settings.
- Map: Tesla’s map is absolutely amazing but it’s missing waypoints, so you end up having to use something like the ABRP app (discussed above). Also, It would be great to see icons for what’s nearby (e.g. restaurants, service stations), similar to supercharger icons.
- FSD: Traffic-Aware Cruise Control is overcautious, e.g. it’ll keep 3 to 6 cars worth of distance versus the 1 car, I have it set at. Also, given the choice between tracking using the left and right lanes, FSD chooses to hug the right side, which is extremely annoying on highways (e.g. merging from on-ramps). Approaching stopped traffic at a red light on a major road can be nerve-wracking since the car waits too long to begin gracefully slowing down, thereby requiring harsher/faster braking later. The merging on and off ramp with construction barrels, needs improvement.
- Battery: The remaining battery life isn’t 100% accurate to rely on entirely, since it doesn’t take into account leakage, winter weather, winds, etc. It can be nerve-wracking when you think you have 20%, just to find it’s dropped to 15% (and dropping).
- Apps: While it was great to be able to hook up third party apps, it would be nice if Tesla officially sanctioned them via some sort of an online marketplace and support for API keys. It would also be cool to add more 3rd party apps support; e.g. Waze, Amazon Prime, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto). Lastly, it takes too long to load the existing apps (e.g. Netflix, YouTube).
- Music: The music icon should be indicative of the map feature or the music and maps screens need to be separated. The music portion of the screen allows resizing but blocks the directions, in larger view. The music screen should provide more granular controls for track and display the time for songs (e.g. time left/played). There’s no way to pause/mute the radio on the screen (you have to use the wheel on the steering wheel). Lastly, the Spotify interface is flaky (e.g. long load times, checkmark is confusing).
- Tires: I realize many cars nowadays do not include spare tires but it would be nice if Tesla provided third party options on your website, similar to how Apple/Google have marketplaces with reviews, for third party products (e.g. Spare Tire Kit by Modern Spare). Of course, Tesla does offer roadside assistance service.
- Superchargers: It would be nice to have a tall, physical Tesla sign at supercharging stops, since it can be hard to find charging stations in places like shopping centers. A nice trick is to zoom in the destination using the satellite view of the map.
- Miscellaneous: Having to reboot occasionally and/or rare black screen. Inside door opening controls can be confusing for first timers, since they look like window controls.
As detailed as this review is, I haven’t covered many features, for example Navigate on Autopilot, Autopark, Lane Assist, chime on green traffic light, automatic high beam, driver profiles, and so much more.
Additionally, Tesla continuously delivers features, so it’s not feasible to list everything here but you can visit tesla.com/support for more info on software updates and other great resources.
In my opinion, Tesla is years ahead of anything comparable on the market currently, thanks to their technology, customer data, supercharger network, battery life, customer service, and more.
Tesla has reinvented the car and thought of so many conveniences (e.g. single pedal driving, auto unlock/lock doors, low maintenance), that it makes it a pleasure to drive and own this car, every single day. Even long distance driving feels more like an enjoyable journey rather than a chore.
If you’re considering buying a Tesla 3, do it. Imagine driving the car of the future, today!
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