This is part two of a two-part review of the Tesla Model 3. I am a Portuguese man living in Portugal and recently visited the United States and Canada for a couple of weeks. On the trip, I spent a week with the Model 3 and am offering my honest opinions on the car in this day-by-day narrative.
September 13, 2018
It was a cold, chilly morning, and the Model 3 was covered by the morning mist, making the glass ceiling show some psychedelic colors. And when the sun hit the car, some weird visual effect happened, creating what you see above. Weird, right? Spielberg, eat your heart out!
After a lazy morning, we finally left and headed for the closest Supercharger, in San Luis Obispo, where the address mentioned some “Madonna Inn.” (Wha!?!)
Curious to know if the singer had expanded her business into hotels, on the way there we speculated on how a Madonna Hotel would look — but after getting there, disappointment was the tone, as the Madonna in question was a local cowboy.
We got there with 152 miles (243 km) of range, and having learned the lesson on the previous day, we made a quick charge to some 80% and had a bite to eat at the local Denny’s a few feet/meters away.
After a stop at Pismo Beach, we went inland, passing the Santa Ynez and San Rafael Mountains, where the landscape became drier, as if it was announcing a desert somewhere.
Going down to Santa Barbara, we wished the Model 3 had a “strong regeneration” setting above the standard, like some other EVs have, allowing us to take better advantage of the steep downhills and send more juice to the batteries.
Anyway, when we got out of the car near the coast, we realized we were finally in Southern California. The wind was softer and warm, surfers abounded, and people were still in Summer mode. One could almost hear The Beach Boys play in the background of all this.
“Welcome to Southern California,” I thought. And then I found the self-service dog wash ((?!?)).
“Yep, we’re in California alright…”
September 14, 2018
After a quick charge at the Oxnard Supercharger, we set off to the final stage of the SoCal trip, passing by the beaches until we got to Santa Monica. We made a longer stop at Yerba Buena Beach for lunch in the famous Neptune’s Net Seafood restaurant.
At the Malibu sign, we were getting ready to take some pictures when a retired Italian tourist offered to take a picture of both of us. We accepted (result above). Afterwards, he asked us if the Model 3 was ours, and after our positive response, he said: “Ma che macchina!” Soon after, we were surrounded by other Italian retirees, taking pictures of the car, us and the car, and themselves in front of it, along with some Italish (Italian+English) small talk (“From Portugal? Ronaldo!”).
After some time spent in Malibu, where we imagined Pamela Anderson and David Hasselhoff running (to stand still) while doing the Baywatch service at the sound of the famous “I’m always here,” we went on our way to Santa Monica, where we found some beautiful houses by the sea that reminded us of the ones in the TV series “Private Practice.” Were they the same?
Having arrived at the lovely (but expensive — $9 for parking! F#@*!!!) Santa Monica, we took some time to enjoy the small waves and warm sea temperature, and when we got into the car again, we realized the floor was now covered in sand from all of that hopping in and out from the Californian beaches.
“Well, I’m glad we didn’t have the Model S as a loaner,” I thought. For some reason, the spartan interior look of the Model 3 does make it more appropriate as a road trip car, as one doesn’t feel the guilt from messing it up a bit. With a more luxurious proposition, that would be the case.
(That gave me an idea for the Model Y — a “Safari” edition, with higher ground clearance and a fully hose-washable interior.)
Lost … In Beverly Hills
Despite the wonderful feeling of having our feet on the water and feeling the fresh breeze, we had to go to Pasadena, so with a little bit of grief, we left Santa Monica through Beverly Hills. In Beverly Hills, for some reason (changing traffic conditions?), the navigation system showed us one route and then minutes later asked us to go back and take another route, and minutes later wanted us to take again the original route. At the third time, we decided to ignore the suggested route and just climb the hills of West Beverly, and with the help of Autopilot, it was time to appreciate the houses of the rich and famous, with the glass roof helping us to see the ones up in the hills.
Reaching Mulholland Drive, we appreciated the view of that winding road, going down to Ventura Freeway and then setting off to Pasadena.
September 15 & 16, 2018
The weekend was spent doing some touristy stuff, like seeing the Hollywood sign, the Walk of Fame (a real circus, I tell you — imagine Jimmy Kimmel Live + doomsday preachers + cosplay fanatics + tourists), Melrose Avenue, Beverly Hills, the Staples Center, big Cinema Studios, and Huntington Gardens, among other less touristy stuff (Caltech, Forest Lawn, LA Koreatown …). During that time, I showed the Model 3 to a sports car veteran who didn’t show much surprise in the car’s abilities but was amazed when I showed him the density and depth of the Tesla Supercharging network. He ended saying, “So, you can make a coast-to-coast trip with a Tesla — that’s impressive. I never thought it could be possible to do that with an EV.”
September 17, 2018
Monday came and it was time to return the Model 3 to its owners in Fremont, so we made the final and most demanding trip of all, driving the 356 miles (570 km) that separate Pasadena from Fremont in just a few hours, with only essential stops along the way.
And to make things more interesting, we didn’t bother to charge the car the previous day. So, Robin Hood, as we ended up nicknaming our Model 3, had just 49% battery charge on Monday morning.
One excuse that many company car drivers use to not go fully electric is that electric cars are still mainly urban vehicles, unable to match their need of driving hundreds of miles per day. With many meetings in different places and always running against the clock, how could an electric car handle it?
As such, we wanted to demonstrate that over 300 miles (480 km) can easily be done with a Tesla, without any major hassles for the company car driver and without much effort planning — hence the half-charge start.
We left Pasadena around 6am with some 150 miles (240 km) of range. After introducing the destination, the navigation route manager told us to go to I-5 and rest at two Supercharging stops along the way, each lasting around half an hour. That would result in Robin arriving at each Supercharger with around 15% charge.
And so we hit the freeway, avoiding rush hour traffic and heading north through I-5. The landscape at first was yellow dry mountains, then down to the farmlands of the San Joaquin Valley.
The first stop was in Buttonwillow, where we found the Supercharging station completely empty.
During the minutes we waited, we went to the local Starbucks for a hot beverage (the morning had started cold) and a bite to eat, while the available WiFi allowed us to check the latest emails and news.
With the Model 3 now able to do another 269 miles (430 km), we returned for the freeway, with a few more hours of boring high-speed driving — good thing, then, that Autopilot was there to help out, supporting part of the driving burden and controlling the maximum speed of the car. As Robin could go really fast, really quickly, and without any warning, that was useful. Because of this, we might have surpassed the speed limit
some of the time almost every time we had the Autopilot completely off.
And I say “completely off” because, while the speed/cruise control was essential to avoid getting a ticket from the law enforcement, I found the Autosteer function still a work in progress, so I turned it off for a large part of the trip, especially when it came time to pass up trucks with traffic coming from behind.
The second stop was in Gustine, where we arrived with 42 miles (67 km) of range. We noticed that the Supercharger had 12 stalls, with 4 of them seeming to have been included as an afterthought, possibly to respond to ever increasing charging demand. Still, the place was easy to spot and the design and number of stalls was light years ahead of the local non-Tesla fast charging station, which had only one plug available and a run-of-the-mill design.
Still, neither the Tesla Supercharger or white-labeled charging stations got any sign on the road or freeway to direct drivers their way, something that doesn’t happen to regular gas stations. On the one hand, one can understand that an EV driver doesn’t need that, as it can track stations through the GPS. On the other hand, road signs informing drivers of the existence of charging stations would end the myth that “there isn’t charging infrastructure for EVs.” Well, there is charging infrastructure, but most of the time it’s not advertised to the regular driver, so such people can’t guess how many are out there.
But I digress — back to Gustine and the road trip. Thanks to a 118 kW charge rate, we quickly were on our way back to the road. Soon after, the traffic started to become more dense, enunciating the imminent arrival in Silicon Valley.
1,000 miles (1,600 km) later, we were back at Tesla’s facilities in Fremont, and … it was hard to say goodbye to our red Model 3.
You will be missed, Robin Hood.
Robin’s Pros & Cons
- Unbeatable range and an unbeatable charging network make Teslas the only EVs in 2018 that can be used as easily as regular gasmobiles for road trips.
- Multimedia and navigation systems are one step ahead of the competition.
- The free-thinking logic behind the vehicle brings unique features* to the Model 3 that are absent in the competition or only available in high-end cars.
- Hard-to-beat power and road handling.
- Although not perfect, Autopilot is a great help to drivers.
- Did I already mention it’s a drop-dead gorgeous car?
- The interior design is functional, but the minimalistic approach might not be for everyone.
- Same for the center screen.
- The steering wheel switches could have more functions.
- The glove compartment access would be better with an “open” emergency mechanism, like there is for the front doors.
- After two and a half years of waiting in line, it’s still not available outside North America.
The Model 3’s unique features — gimmicks or really useful stuff?
Frunk — Useful backup trunk for the stuff you thought would fit into the regular one. Well insulated from the outside.
Door handles — You might not get it the first time, but after a few openings, you get the hang of it and it becomes a non-issue. Besides, they look great.
Center screen — One possible issue for many people. Turns out, at least for me, that it was a perfect fit, with the most important information close to the driver and clear visuals to check. But there are some easy-to-fix niggles:
- The command line at the bottom should be more flexible. It should be possible to change it to either side of the screen, imho.
- The toggle switches on the steering wheel could have more functions. For example, when Autopilot is turned off, the right toggle could work as a command to change the streaming tracks, radios, etc.
- The drawing pad is a great addition to the car’s entertainment system, but could be more developed. For example, the “undo” button should be able to go back several times, not just once.
- Front A/C vents: Design-wise, they are perfect. At slow speeds, you aren’t even aware of the vents’ existence, confirming their usefulness. It makes you wish the backseat vents had the new system too.
In a Nutshell
Once you drive it, you feel like you’re in a sports car. You sit low, have a short hood ahead, and with direct steering and a planted chassis, the car drives like a thoroughbred. But then you look back and there’s a regular, family-friendly sedan behind, ready to serve your family.
It’s like having two cars for the price of one, with the added bonus of low running costs, leading technology, and an almost bullet-proof charging infrastructure.
As they say: “To sit in it, is to love it.”
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