[Part 1 here]
After picking up the car from the service center, I didn’t really get to drive it much. I originally expected 1+ months of waiting, from ordering till delivery, but I got it in 2 weeks. August is a bad month for me as I have cons and other trips. The Model 3 can’t fly so it doesn’t work going to Japan…
I managed to squeeze in a road trip with it, however, so here’s a very different perspective than the part 1 post, which was written before the road trip. The odometer had 129 miles before I went on the trip, and after the trip it’s almost 500 miles, so here goes.
The main points I want to talk about are the more well-known aspects of the Tesla cars: charging an electric car, the autopilot features, and just the overall experience after spending more than a half-dozen hours in the car in the span of 28 hours. It turns out, this car (judged as a car) is actually really good. The car reviewers and the youtubers out there are largely right. I don’t think it’s a car for everyone, but it’s a good deal and I don’t think I will regret buying it.
First of all, while the car displays its “fuel” or battery levels in both % and miles remaining, both are not really that exact. It’s fairly accurate, but not super exact, I should say. I definitely realized the mile thing, while close enough to real miles to count on, depends a lot on how fuel-efficient your driving style is. You can definitely squeeze that aerodynamics and get more from your tank of electricity than my driving style, which is largely keeping it around 75 mph up and down I95.
I did touch 90mph in a short burst, and the car feels more or less the same as it does at 80mph. It’s really stable, not only because there isn’t a roaring engine, but the Model 3 motor doesn’t even whine. It’s just road noise and wind noise. The latter isn’t even really notable.
As far as charging the car goes, I left the house without bringing my cord. Which I think is the intended mode of use? LOL. I had maybe 290 miles left when I left the house, and one-shotted my friend’s house with about 12% left, or 40 miles of range. The next day, I drove to a nearby supercharger (it’s in Northern Virginia so there are quite a few destination chargers and a few superchargers in 40 miles range). My friend didn’t get the difference between the destination charger at the Tesla dealership at a nearby mall versus the supercharger, so I had to look it up and explain. Anyways, the closest supercharger was about 11 miles away and I had a nice lunch while charging. After an hour I was at about 85%, and I took another 20 minutes to go to 95%. That gave me enough juice to one-shot back, plus a detour.
As a M3 owner I should have to pay for my supercharging, but to actually use it, it is just plug-and-go. There was nothing to fiddle with. Supposedly the bill comes later on your Tesla account, but I didn’t see it when I looked for it later in the same day. So yeah, it feels like supercharging is not as convenient as going to the pump, but it does make me feel like getting Extended Range model on the M3 was a good choice. If I didn’t, I would have had to stop over once on the way down and once again on the way back.
I come to realize that, at least in sports mode, the M3 steering is very sensitive. Maybe this is why some people say the ride is rough. Compared to the Miata, this is actually pretty similar. It manages to tell you a lot about the road and about the car itself. Without an engine, though, there’s not a lot the car will tell you about itself. So that leaves the road. And maybe it is a little more chatty than some likes. Not for me though. To me this is a hallmark of a fun-to-drive vehicle. You have to feel the road in some way. Some say this might be partly due to how pressurized the tires are (and the tire pressures are displayed in PSI numbers in one of the on-screen views, which is very neat). It’s at like, 50 PSI, which is kind of high.
I don’t know, however, if a very responsive steering is a good play for Tesla, given its autonomous driving system. And it’s a hard thing to talk about. First of all, I get this from all kinds of people, but there is a lot of misunderstanding about Enhanced Autopilot in the form that other manufacturers have similar features already in their cars. This is partly true, but mostly false. First of all, if we break autopilot down into the features working together: adaptive cruise control, autosteer, auto lane change, I don’t think there is anyone except GM Supercruise. [Nissan comes kind of close…] The Germans and Japanese cars have similar but differing features. For one, a lot of them have lane detection but it’s to make sure you don’t drift out of lane. They don’t steer for you: if you let go the wheel, it will ping pong between the lane markings. It would also complain if you let go the wheel in a curve. It’s a very subtle distinction that a lot of car guys don’t get, but the point of Autopilot is that it’s driving, and you’re just awake enough to make sure it doesn’t screw up. A lot of the alternatives people say it’s the same are the reverse: you’re suppose to be driving and the automated features make sure you don’t screw up.
This is really the core thing and I don’t blame them for not understanding it as it is very unintuitive. Truth is it’s hard to advertise autopilot features when society is probably not fully ready for it, or welcomes it. However, there is value in such a system and unless you know how it works and the different versions of it on the market, you don’t know if it’s worth the money or understand how it fits in a car/automobile ecosystem. And I didn’t until I drove the M3 for a few hundred miles…
Basically, it’s the distinction between “driver’s assistant” system and “self-driving.” The former is normal driving with bells and whistles (basically every other system except Tesla’s, GM’s and maybe Nissan’s). The latter is driving in a new way and learning how to drive all over again.
So the thing about Autopilot is that, at first when I was using it, I felt awkward. It was partly a trust issue. It was partly an instinct issue. I wasn’t sure I could trust leaving steering to the machine and I wasn’t super sure if I can trust adaptive cruise control to do its thing. Driving is muscle memory of hand-eye reflexes. I got over that on this road trip after seeing how Autopilot works in a variety of conditions, and in some difficult environment (night time driving in heavy rain). But make no mistakes, Autopilot drives the car in a certain way. You have to get used to it, and learn how it works, in order to make the right decisions (when it is likely unreliable; when to best disengage autopilot; when to enable auto lane changes to smoothly pass a slow car; etc). It’s literally learning how to use this system, learning how to drive this particular way.
After the psychology, the next barrier was trying to de-program myself. I had to be hands-on-the-wheel for Autopilot, but it was hard to do this while not trying to drive the car, LOL. Unlike GM Supercruise, you had to keep your hands on the wheel. It will nag you every 90 seconds when you don’t, which is fine if you wanted to stretch or get a drink or something. But it’s not what you’re going to do most of the time. What I did was, eventually I learned to “pretend driving” in order to coexist with its detection system. And in essence, that is the whole point. You don’t have to do anything except hold the wheel and look at the road. Well the latter is even optional LOL, since there’s no face tracking in the Tesla.
And using Autopilot like that was a learning curve that I had to get over with. It’s not trivial, in that ultimately I am still the guy who has to get a benefit out of the system. I shouldn’t be a servant of the autopilot AI, babysitting the car-computer to make sure it doesn’t screw up, even if that was what I had to do. It’s pretty weird, but I guess I can get used to it, and thousands of other Tesla owners?
How was it being the safety driver instead of the primary driver? I can say it’s definitely less tiring on a longer road trip. The Tesla Model 3’s “vegan leather” seat generally did not get very warm after sitting on for hours on end, so that’s a plus, but it still gets a tad warm. With Autopilot you can take plenty of time to stretch, to shift your butt on the seat, pull up your pants, whatever, without any worries. That helps a lot, LOL. However, it is still kind of “work” supervising Autopilot, and its strict wheel-holding requirement meant my arms can’t be slack while driving it, unless I want to just wiggle the wheel every time it nags. That felt like too much work–I just want to zone out driving, freeing my consciousness from low-level driving tasks and think about other stuff without interruption.
And this is another reason why maybe the Model 3 isn’t for everyone…Well, this is more a self-driving isn’t for everything thing. All consumer self-driving system require this sort of babysitting in the present and in the near future. Even GM Supercruise requires you to look at the road, which is much less tiresome but probably just as annoying.
I think once I get more practice with Autopilot I will become happier about the car. There was definitely an initial wow period when you realize this car really could drive itself. The fact that it can’t some of the times, is no big deal. It’s more like even when it could, you are required to play this role as Autopilot’s spotter, that is problematic. But I think even with practice that could be a better experience than what I had to go through.
The real question is, why let the computer drive this car when the human probably enjoy being the driver more than being the spotter for the computer? That is not fun. Which is just to say, if the Model 3 was less fun to drive, it might make Autopilot more compelling. As is, driving the car is a good break from being bored as the spotter behind the wheel, trying to pay attention to the computer not screwing up and killing both of us.
Okay, it is still not the pure joy of driving that was the Mazda MX-5, but the Model 3 is pretty good, all in all, and still can be entertaining as a car, in more than one way. It might be the little things (like knowing it can play hi-res flac in the USB port, or that the charger cover opens and closes automatically, and that the car is full of undocumented features AKA Easter Eggs). It might be the way it accelerates and corners. It might be that you get to relearn how to drive. Thankfully this car gives you some options between all those things.