My Model 3 1-year review

[First impressions here]

I have owned my Tesla Model 3 for just over one year. So now is as good of a time to update this on this dead blog I guess.

In the interest of time and brevity I’ll try to cut the fat.

Key details: I live in NJ and we get all 4 seasons. Last winter had a few brutally cold days (<15F or <-10C). The car is a Long Range RWD, black paint and interior, 19″ wheels, with the EAP package at the time. It’s kind of mind boggling that for the same price of my car, I can basically buy the Dual Motors version today. It’s basically the difference of the Federal incentive.

Those were, basically, what I’m lampshading regarding this car.

There weren’t any real issues at delivery. Panel gaps were on average, average. Other than maybe a couple places things were within tolerances.

Day to Day Stuff:

I love the car in terms of just normal, every-day handling. The range is no problem for normal local driving. It’s fast, and the acceleration is extremely notable at higher speeds. Like a gas car can do just as well 0-60 as electric, but if you are already going 65 on the highway, it is a cinch to get to 85 in my Model 3, where as it’s a downshift and uprev in a gas car. The time it takes to get that 20mph probably is less than the time it takes to shift and for the turbo to ramp for some cars. This aspect I love a lot, mainly because it is a practical performance characteristic, and thrilling to apply.

Engine sound used to be my audio cue to how fast I’m driving on the highway often, so in a car without an engine it means I have to learn again how to not speed. With its fast acceleration even at high speeds it was easy to get to 90, 100mph with just stomping on the accel briefly. Only the wind noise cues me in.

I also kinda love summon, and this is not even the enhanced one Musk shows off with these days. At the base level, it lets me park the car into my small garage without having to mind opening the car door inside the garage. The car can pull in and out on its own. Unfortunately the feature was kind of not reliable in version 9 of the software and earlier, but it’s pretty good now. There are also some tricks. For one you need relatively even lighting to let the camera see your garage versus outdoor lighting. Having a person behind the car while it pulls out is also good, as a marker of sorts. The car technically lets you automate the doors as well if your garage opening system is hooked up to it, but I don’t use it. I think it’s possible to hook Alexa up to it and tell it to open the door and pull out your car, but I didn’t look into this.

Having to charge at home means I never need to get “gas” unless I am on a road trip. One less thing to do, but as someone who don’t normally drive this is not a big deal. If you drive everyday this is a huge deal I imagine.

The UI took getting used to but I was over it pretty early, maybe a month in owning? There were some tips that I learned on youtube which were helpful. The most helpful one is, how to stay awake when Autopilot nags you to keep your hands on the wheel. To do that, just rotate any of the dials on the wheel, and it will go away.

I do have EAP package, so I use Autopilot on the highway more often than not. It is extremely helpful for long drives on the highway, and makes things much less tired if just not having to center the car the whole time. A month ago I was driving around all day in a Honda Fit rental in Japan and it made me miss Autopilot a lot. I can totally attest how driving while tired is actually not going to kill you in this car.

Navigate on Autopilot is neat but it isn’t very good, so I don’t use it often. Mainly two reasons: it is not great at lane changes, and it is not great at adjusting speed (it doesn’t, but it ought to). You can manually change lanes to avoid NoA from doing stupid things, but why bother with Navigate on Autopilot at that point.

Issues:

The only trouble I have encountered purely as a matter of the car was the frozen charging cable latch. I was unable to engage it once on a road trip (thus could not charge my car when it needed charging), and I was unable to disengage it once when it was parked in my (detached) garage. Both times, the temperature on average was 17F or less. This is not a deal breaker but a major issue since you can get stranded (in the first-mentioned case).

The solution is to heat up the trunk of the car, so the charging latch defrosts. It is a mechanical device that comes up from the bottom of the charging port and locks in the charging cable. There is a manual release for it, but when it’s frozen it does squat. Really it’s just a proxy for the electronic release available from the dash or your app.

I have contacted Tesla roadside assist the one time it locked up on my road trip, who told me about the workaround: turn heat up, lower back seats, let air in. Their preferred method is a hair dryer (and maybe heat gun but they don’t wanna melt anything).

I also visited the local service center (about 40 minutes away) twice. Once to address my front right wheel which was slowly leaking–that turned out to be a bent wheel due to jumping a curb (don’t ask). I was immediately given a loaner wheel that day when they sent me home with a large bill (~700) so to wait for the replacement wheel to come in. It turned out I actually did not have to pay for it. Long story–about 6 weeks after the visit, I was contacted to make a follow up appointment to do the replacement. I was also quoted a price about half as much (all by a separate dude). I’m like, well ok. So the week before the appointment another guy called and said if they can do the mobile service thing at an even later date. I said OK as it sure beats driving 40 minutes back and forth on a Saturday that I had free, at any rate. Then on the day before the appointment I got a reminder call. On the day of, I left my car in my driveway the day of, and when I got back I got a bill of zero and the work was done. It’s hard to complain about 2 months late service if I didn’t get billed for it. Plus it was not a pressing problem due to the loaner wheel that I had.

So yes, service can be very slow, but if your issue has to do with, say, a leaking wheel, that is high priority and you can just go to the service center, they have to send you out in driving shape. YMMV I guess.

As for damage, my car had some curb rash on one of the wheel (I am all too familiar with this as my Miata had the same proclivities, both having low profile tires) and the front bumper has some minor scratch on the bottom, just because sometimes I can’t see the curb and drive just over it.

As they say, the black interior is not the best for hiding dirt. I haven’t had much time spent wiping down the interior. The center console can look grimy. It fogs easily inside the windshield but I solved this by applying an anti-fog spray/cleaner.

Road trip:

I don’t drive regularly, but I did drive to Toronto twice, Baltimore twice, DC/NoVA once, and just normally on weekends around the area.

Autopilot definitely is great on long drives. I guess part of the difference here is my last car, a MX-5, is pretty intense even on long trips. LIke, I don’t fall asleep because it’s such a responsive car, even when driving at highway speeds it feels really exciting, just going straight (or around traffic or what have you). But I am very much not tired out by driving anymore with the Tesla.

Navigate on Autopilot is a different bag. I think it’s mostly useful on simple use cases, but it still has a lot to make up when it’s going through a ramp or interchange. For one, it does not automatically change speed well. Some ramps have also no posted speeds but the map says 5 or 15mph, which is ridiculously slow. And once you’re out of the ramp the speed autopilot is on is sometime stuck at the low speed. Likewise, when you are about to exit the highway it doesn’t really slow you down more than it has to, which can be going from 75 to 45 to 25 while you’re making a really tight corner.

The other issue is how it sometimes does not know when not to change lanes. You could let it run the course but it isn’t always making lane changes at the best time.

If normal autopilot is like “co-pilot” or as I say, driving with a new system, NoA is like babysitting an AI and you really need to work with it or work around it to drive smoothly.

Range isn’t a problem. Supercharging location is kind of a problem. Going from where I live to Toronto requires 2 stops, maybe 3 if I don’t have destination charging or I don’t stop for the full time. That’s not too bad, other than I kind of have to stop 30min each or more every time.

DC Metro area is really not bad at all. It’s just one stop and maybe zero if I have destination charging, maybe 2 if I don’t. In my prior trips I did 2 and 3 for each round trip, depending. By the way NY State needs more going up to Toronto. I have really 1 route due to the way things are laid out. But it isn’t far at any time, between you and the next Supercharger.

Range anxeity:

Range anxiety is definitely a thing, especially in winter and you have no power left, LOL. Also for long trips you have to plan your stops, at least if you want to be efficient and stop at places that are more optimal (schedule, distance, amenities).

You also get used to it. I don’t fret much at all now.

Supercharging is also not really cheap but it’s not much. Maybe half the price than gas, on a per-miles basis?

The other issue with managing range is that speed matters a ton. If you are driving fast your range will go down. I like to drive between 75-80 on road trips so I get maybe 230 miles for each full tank. Not great. It’s also one of those conceits of ICE cars–highway is more efficient than city, and it’s the opposite for electric cars. Just something to be aware of–you’re more likely to not get your full range unless you are driving close to the limit.

Another anxiety-inducing thing is the range calculation in the Tesla does not take into account elevation. Going up hill will suck way more juice than down. Real-time energy measurements will adjust to that eventually, which means the car will tell you you might not make it to your destination before needing charging, but it’s not taken into account on the navigation level.

When I go to superchargers, sometimes I want to blog about them. There is probably such a thing…

Accessories:

The Model 3 barely had any accessories when I bought it. Now it has a ChaDeMo adapter, roof rack, floor mats, and even a wireless charging pad, all from Tesla. I obviously did not buy any of them–I got 3rd party floor liners…and that’s pretty much it. Air freshener? But the floor liners are holding up and are of decent quality. I thought about a trunk mat, but I barely use the frunk (and it’s small as it is), and the trunk mat would block the underneath compartment that I actually use quite often.

I might go buy that center console liner at some point and ask my dad to put it in. Oh, I tried buying some 3rd party USB-C L-head cable but it doesn’t really fit. Not sure if I want first-party ones, because too often I pick up the phone. Usually I leave it in the cup holder.

So more as a to-do for me: I’d like that ChaDeMo charger especially when Walmarts roll out their fast charging. Maybe a tow package in the future? A better charging situation would be nice too, which I will detail below.

The third-party stuff nowadays is plentiful and if you have any great tips please let me know. Of course a lot of things that you’d put on a luxury sedan will work well on a Tesla, just note that it is fairly low maint.

Sound System Nitpicks:

I want to talk about the sound system a bit. It is definitely very good. I would say it is audiophile level. When you’re on the road, since there is no engine noise setting the floor, you hear more of it. The dual-edge-sword of all that though, is that you also hear more road and wind noise in your music, let alone the quality of the audio source showing.

The best way to get high quality audio in the car is from streaming directly via Slack or Tunein, or by the USB drive feature. The car supports bluetooth audio over AAC, which is pretty okay but not the best. Depends on your perspective, that is already above average, or not good enough. I want LDAC or at least AptX support, which all Android phones support since version 7, but I don’t think Tesla is interested in adding these features. They just want to port more unity games, I guess.

I’ve tested highres flacs in the system and they work fine usually, maybe 9 out of 10 times. On the road, sometimes the USB connection skips due to vibration or something, and the cache is not enough. I wish there was more tweaks to this.

Another headache in USB audio mode is how the system will order your music basic on tags. It displays and order the tracks by the ID3 title field. So you have no way to play albums by track order unless you also rename the title field. This is a major problem for people like me, as it basically relegates playback to random play or single track play or a playlist. Supposedly if you use album view it does order by track order? If you google this stuff the internet is full of people who is frustrated by Tesla neglecting the lame-o media playback aspect, and it has been the same complaints for years.

[Sort of an aside, in order to set up the dash cam and sentry cam features, you have to use a USB drive (usually usb stick of sorts) and format it to FAT for the car’s system, and create a “TeslaCam” folder. This happens to clash with the car audio part, as there are only 2 USB ports and you don’t want to use up both of them for data and leave none for charging. To get around it some folks use a hub (lol a USB hub for your car), or you can partition the dash cam/sentry stick to put music on it by doing it a certain way. All of which is PITA at first but now there are some guides for. Forget about racing games, how about some DOCUMENTATION, huh?]

Charging at home:

At home, I have not installed a 14-50 NEMA. I use 120V wall. I barely drive, as said. As of this writing there’s like not even 7000 miles on it. And it works fine. Part of it is also since my garage is kind of far from the house, I will have to pay to wire it out there and all, so it’s a hefty cost (~1500).

I mention this also because 120V charging is only like 70% efficient, where as you get about 90% with the other methods. Still, since I have residential solar now, there are times when I basically can charge my car for free.

Most of my charging costs are at superchargers, which runs me somewhere between $15-18 at a time. Maybe half as much as gasoline? But it’s a lot versus charging at home, or at a free charging station that you can occasionally find.

Conclusion:

It’s a good car. It is about average at this price range in terms of build quality (taking into account the 7500 tax incentive). Performs above average at this price range (love that acceleration), and the low body roll is the kind of trade off I would take in exchange with the rougher ride (especially in terms of road noise).

The best description of buying the Model 3, in my estimate, is that you are buying an American luxury car. This is a foreign concept to someone like me, because, like, American luxury cars kinda…are not great? This is just a market phenomena–people generally do not buy American luxury cars when they do buy a luxury car. No matter how good the CTS-V may be–and it is a fine car–how does it hold up to the likes of Lexus and Mercedes Benz? And I don’t mean “on the track” or “list of specs” but in terms of cultural cache, in refinement, in residual value, and in practicality.

Turns out the Model 3 has very good residual value for a luxury sedan. It has well-below-average maintenance costs (which is an area of research I’ve done more after I bought it LOL). It has obviously above-excellent fuel economy, and probably will beat most of said cars on a track. It wins on paper and does at least as good as a push in reality.

Culturally…it’s a car that’s in the news regularly. Nothing really needs to be said, at least, because it’s been said by all the news outlets.

It’s quite practical, if you put aside the electric aspect–that can be argued as making the car more practical or less practical. It has more cargo space than a lot of other comparable cars thanks to the frunk, and it is about average in terms of creature comfort features, considering the trim I got was more or less the “standard” at the time. The “Partial Premium” interior that is available today isn’t even that different. There are interesting and useful features like autopilot and the OTA updates, which are definitely practical to me.

So the only real improvement the Model 3 needs to make is in terms of refinement. And that is not just panel gaps or whatever, but also the overall quality of ride and just some of the attention to details that is missing during Tesla’s rush to market.

Which is to say, even having the experience of sitting in a Model S and Model X for some time, Tesla has a long ways to go in that generally. Maybe it’s not a priority today because, it is not like the ride isn’t fine, it just isn’t as fine as their European competitors. And even the CTS-V. But owning and living with the Model 3 really feels like owning and living with American luxury. It just isn’t quite as fine.

But if you think that is a good tradeoff versus the features you get in a Tesla–the OTA updates, the self-driving features, the fact that it’s the only electric car worth buying (supercharging network, range, overall value)–then this is probably the car to buy for you. Since I took ownership of the car, I got free dash cam upgrades, games, stupid easter eggs that are worth a few laughs, and bug fixes. It’s definitely worth that crushing depreciation as luxury cars does.

Now if Elon comes through with that robotaxi stuff and if indeed, as George says, Tesla will win it, well.

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