I took delivery of a Tesla Model S 60 kWh (now 75 kWh) in September of 2016 and it has been by far the best car I’ve ever driven. Much can be said about the technology of Model S, its styling, and its role in reducing carbon emissions, but the thing that impressed me most was simply how much fun it was to drive. I felt like I was flying–not balloon flying, but Superman flying.
For all the wonderful things that could be said about Model S, it wasn’t really the car I wanted: It was too big, and mine would never be capable of self driving. Model 3, on the other hand, promises to be those things, and indeed, I ordered a Model 3 even before I took delivery of Model S in September of 2016. Finally, my Model 3 arrived and I took delivery yesterday, not to replace my Model S which my wife likes very much, but her old gasoline car. We’re all electric now.
This blog post is about my transition from a Model S to a Model 3.
The Model S I bought had the standard seats and interior, so no fog lamps, no premium sound system and no glass roof. I did get smart air suspension. Once upgraded to 75 kWh it had 249 miles of rated range, but after 37,000 miles of driving range is down to 230-something. For the long trips I’ve wanted to take the range was adequate, but just barely enough to support more direct routing between Superchargers. I’m looking forward to the extra range in Model 3. All Model 3s sold now have the premium package that includes the premium sound system, fog lamps, ambient lighting, power seats and the glass roof. With the premium package, the features of the car remind one of Model S.
There was virtually no difference in the delivery experience between Model S and Model 3. I took delivery of Model S in Matthews, North Carolina and Model 3 in Glen Allen, Virginia. It was a very congenial dialog between me and the delivery specialist. We went over the basics, most of which I already knew having driven a Tesla before and being familiar with the videos and the owner’s manual. The only notable difference was in the lack of swag. With Model S I got a coffee mug, a certificate and an umbrella. None of that with Model 3. (There’s been talk of the “5 minute” Model 3 delivery, but mine took about 30 including the paperwork.)
Due to a tight schedule, I didn’t have time to really exercise Model 3 except on the 51-mile drive home mostly on an interstate highway. The few twisty roads leading to my house would have been interesting except for the slow delivery truck in front of me.
On the interstate I found that Model S was a bit smoother riding than Model 3. That might be the air suspension I have on the Model S. Model S is also a little quieter perhaps for the same reason, but not much. The Autopilot was still calibrating for the first 25 miles of the trip, so I drove half with cruise control (TACC) and half without. I couldn’t engage Autosteer because I hadn’t accepted the disclaimer and the car has to be in Park to do that. It seemed to me that TACC was a little smoother when slowing down for another car and that is consistent with what I have heard from other drivers with the current firmware release.
Controls and display
Controls and display are a major point of discussion with Model 3 and on the first day there are a lot of controls to set. I think some of the earlier criticism of controls has been answered by firmware upgrades. While Model 3 has virtually no dedicated controls and everything is done on the large touch screen, in practice that’s not a problem.
For example, there was criticism that the cruise control speed and following distance were set on the touch screen, but when driving with TACC on, the right scroll wheel on the steering wheel sets both of those functions. The touch screen isn’t involved. Most things are automatic: windshield wipers and headlights for example. People had concerns that the speedometer was on the right rather than directly in front on the dash, but speed is something you set, not something you have to read on a Tesla. I can glance at the speedometer in about 0.1 seconds and this is because the speed display is large and completely clear of the steering wheel. (I really like not having to set the steering wheel somewhere just so I can see the speed.)
Some of the more obscure controls that are rarely used (setting up Wi-Fi, Bluetooth phone pairing, garage door opening, radio favorites) may take a bit of finding, but these are things you’d never do while driving. Before the first day is over, a Model 3 driver will be able to tap Controls and know that everything that’s conceivably needed for driving is there on the Quick Controls panel–but even those things will rarely be needed after the first day.
I went out and sat in the car for about 15 minutes going through all of the display options and I found it logical. After that time, I’m comfortable with finding things. But I must emphasize that when driving, the controls you really need are found on the steering wheel under the scroll buttons and the stalks. The touch screen is for monitoring and settings; the steering wheel is for driving.
The display for navigation was top notch. I cannot overemphasize how crisp and readable this display is–better than Model S. Overall I strongly prefer the Model 3 touch screen over Model S.
The one thing I miss is the energy display, a graphical display of energy usage over time and a plot of how my driving compares to projections. [Update: This feature was added in a firmware update.]
Overall I am very pleased with the Model 3 display and control system as now delivered, but I think it will be even better when, as promised, voice controls are expanded.
So far my hands down favorite feature of Model 3 is the air conditioning vent (singular). I never was able to control the air flow exactly where I wanted it in Model S. It was either blowing in my face, or not blowing on me at all. Model 3’s single-vent system made positioning of the air flow effortless. I really like it.
One complaint about Model S is its limited personal storage space. Model 3 excels in this area with door pockets in all 4 doors, seat back pouches in the premium model and a really well-designed center console with lots of space and much more intelligently located cup holders (let’s face it–cars are all about cup holders). I like the dedicated charging slots for phones. Oh, and there are coat hooks.
The rear trunk storage space in Model 3 is less than Model S (16 vs 30 cu. ft.) and that’s an issue mitigated in part by Model 3’s space being more square. Model 3 is a sedan rather than a hatchback like Model S. The sub trunk can be exposed to allow transportation of taller items. One thing I like about Model 3 is that the rear seats fold down to make a flat storage space unlike Model S. I’ll comment more later when I’ve had a chance to haul things in Model 3.
Room to improve
The car does, however, need one more USB port so that it can charge 2 phones and have a place to plug in a USB flash drive for music. I’d also like to see a more accessible solution for 12V power for a dash cam. [Update: The Autopilot cameras can now be used as a dash cam, so no 12V needed. The dash cam does require a separate flash drive, so we’re still short ports, but I found that a USB hub works.]
Model S has a slight edge on performance, but Model 3 provides that same effortless power experience. I found myself going 80 on the interstate without noticing (the rest of the traffic was going pretty fast too). The Model 3 has more acceleration than I’m comfortable using. [Update: A firmware update increased the acceleration by 5%.]
Summary of the first day
I really like the car. It’s only going to get better both because I’ll get more familiar with it and because the Version 9 firmware release and the first full self driving features will start to appear.
I had an errand to run and took a 40-mile detour on the way home 😀 The car handles remarkably well on tight turns, and the driver’s seat is very comfortable. I again confirmed that looking to the side for the speedometer is a non-issue, plus with the industry’s best cruise control, unnecessary most of the time.
Again my frame of reference is Model S and I found a couple of things today that I really like about Model 3. One of the slightly annoying features of the Model S is walk-up unlock. When you approach your locked Model S with a key fob, it unlocks, the door handles present, it beeps, the headlights flash, and the mirrors unfold (if they were folded). That’s fine in a parking lot, but if you’re moving around the car at home, it keeps locking and unlocking–mildly annoying. The Model 3 has the same sensing concept (except it’s your smartphone instead of a key fob), but the car doesn’t actually do anything until you push on the door handle. It unlocks when it needs to.
Another improvement in Model 3 is with turn signals. To start Auto Lane Change on Model S, you have to keep the turn signal on until it changes lanes and the most efficient way to do that is to press the lever all the way and set the turn signal on continuously. The problem is that once the car changes lanes, the turn signal stays on and you have to cancel it manually. Model 3 cancels the turn signal after it completes an auto lane change automatically. Hooray!
One thing I didn’t pick up in my Model 3 research is the fact that one sits pretty low in the car. This means that a driver with mobility problems is going to find ingress and egress more difficult than with Model S. This is a good use for the Easy Entry profile. When you set your driver profile to use Easy Exit, the car lifts the seat up automatically. I just discovered that, and will see how it works as Model 3 and I get older.
A funny thing happened on the way home. I wanted the navigation system to map a route to my house. On Model S, I know now to set up a home and work address; it’s a single finger swipe to start the trip. I couldn’t figure out while driving how to do that, so I just said “navigate home” and it did. I really don’t know how the car knew where I lived. I need to read up on the nav system. The point I want to make here is that while I didn’t know exactly how to use the touch screen to accomplish what I wanted, I didn’t need to. [Edited to add: Duh. The NAV works just like Model S in that there is a lozenge with the word “Navigate” on it that navigates home when one swipes down. But why swipe when you can just ask politely?]
One thing I was interested to learn is how Tesla’s 2.5 Autopilot compares to version 1.0 in my Model S. My impression is that Autosteer has improved a good bit on the Model 3. I took it on come curvy roads and it handled all but the sharpest turns. I did experience some mystery slowdowns for a moment on 3 occasions one on a sharp curve at night with oncoming headlights–a situation that the owner’s manual cautions about. It appears that Model 3 is not yet reading speed limit signs: In my neighborhood it doesn’t show the speed limit at all (and we have signs) and on the highway it shows the speed as 55 when the sign clearly says 45. No doubt a future firmware update will take care of this problem. On those roadways of the type Autopilot beta is supposed to be used on, it operates flawlessly.
I’m still debating the question of whether it’s OK not to have a Model 3 key fob. The Model 3 uses a paired smartphone as the primary key, and a credit card-like backup key. Around the house my smartphone is often on the desk or charging and so when I go out to the car, I don’t have it. I have to go back in to get my wallet with the card, or pick up the phone. It’s a minor inconvenience. The solution, in my humble opinion, is not a key fob but rather a geographic setting to disable walk-away door locks at home.
Articles and YouTube videos abound complaining about the “fit and finish” of the Tesla Model 3. When I got the car, I looked at it hastily and everything seemed to line up well, the doors shut solidly and I didn’t see any manufacturing flaws; however, for the purposes of reviewing the car, I got out a digital gauge to measure gaps between body panels, and I did find up to 2 mm in variance from side to side on the trunk. On a BMW, this would have been unacceptable, but I’m not a dimensional engineer, and if I have to measure it to see it, then it doesn’t matter as far as I’m concerned.
For pure visual appeal, I like Model S better. As many have said, Model 3 looks like a smaller Model S–from the side. From the front Model S reminds me of a crouching panther. Model 3 just looks like a car. People come up to me in parking lots all the time to ask about my Model S, but to date no one has noticed or asked about Model 3 (my Model S is white and Model 3 is midnight silver and that might have something to do with it).
I really like Model 3’s interior though. Minimalism is good.
Getting in and out
The driver of Model 3 sits really low in the car, so low in fact that I had to work at getting out of it. I was initially concerned about this because I’m a senior; however, I was able to use the “Easy entry” driver profile to good advantage. When I stop the car, put it in park and open the door, the seat lifts and slides back as the steering wheel rises. It’s not hard to get out of the car after that. The only drawback is that it takes a few seconds for the seat to reposition.
I think most folks would be ecstatic after 5 days with the Tesla Model 3. I’m not. I’m not because I was driving a Model S before, which is an equally great car. I’m certainly not disappointed. When the car starts driving itself, then I’ll get excited again.