I’ve owned a Tesla Model 3 SR+ for over a year and I thought it would be a cathartic to write about what it’s like driving this thing 31,000km as my primary car.
The Model 3 is a great, if not the best electric car on the market, but I think it’s a pretty average overall car. Take the fun electric drivetrain out and the Model 3 is expensive for the build quality and amount of features compared to competitors in the $60k-$70k price range.
Unlike most Tesla owners, this car is not my first electric vehicle (I owned a 2019 Hyundai Ioniq) and I think that’s why I don’t love it as much long term as other Tesla owners who seem to have nothing but praise for their cars.
WHAT I LIKE ABOUT THE MODEL 3
The primary reason I upgraded from the Ioniq to the Model 3 was for extra range. There’s significantly more charging facilities now, so it’s possibly less of an issue, but the ~330km I get out of the Model 3 is way more practical for my driving habits than the ~200km of the Ioniq. With the Model 3 SR+ and a rapidly growing charging infrastructure around the country, there’s very few places I want to visit that I can’t get to.
If I’m bored or need to get my mind off something, I’ll go for a drive around the plentiful backroads between Bacchus Marsh and Ballarat because holy shit the Model 3 is fun to drive. I never feel like the car is exceeding its limits. Hardly any body roll, can stop so quickly and acceleration is more than fast enough with 0-100 km/h at 5.3s. Driving the Model 3 hard is when it’s at its best and helps me overlook most of its faults.
Unlike my experience with the Hyundai smartphone app on the Ioniq, the Tesla app works all the time, every time. When the car is charging, I can see the charge rate. When the charge is done, it sends a notification. I can open the app at any time and see how much range I’ve got. The app could be way better (Tesla seem to have made no feature additions at all) but the basics work so compared to the competition it’s way ahead.
Built-in Dashcam & Sentry Mode
It’s awesome peace of mind knowing I have proof of any incidents on the road or when parked in public, so anyone trying to do me dirty can be told to fuck right off. It’ll even ping your phone with a notification if Sentry mode is set off. I’m really surprised more cars haven’t copied this feature. I wish you could access the footage via the Tesla app for easier viewing & sharing.
Every few weeks an update from Daddy Elon drops and the car gains a new feature or fixes a bug (or introduces a new one!) that downloads to the car over wi-fi or. Look at the list of updates they’ve made to the Model 3’s software over the years. It’s nice knowing your car hasn’t been abandoned and if the Tesla brains trust think of a new idea they’ll roll it out to all the cars.
If you’ve got a question about how something in the Model 3 works or if something is normal, there’s thousands of nerds who have nothing better to do than help you out. Facebook groups, owners forums, YouTube - there’s so much information about the Model 3 that there’s always someone out there to lend a hand. The other owners can be annoying at times (almost to the point of being a cult), but they come in handy when you’ve got a problem.
WHAT I DON’T LIKE
This damn car isn’t cheap (I paid $75k, but now the same car is $66k in VIC thanks to a $3,000 rebate) and I’m reminded of that every month when the bank rips $1000 out of my account. The Victorian government isn’t helping either, implementing a road usage charge for EVs that would make the Tesla’s running costs per kilometer higher than a hybrid car. It’s gonna be a while until I can get a $30k-$40k EV with ~350km range, so until then I’ll keep telling myself the Model 3 is good for the environment.
Adaptive Cruise Control Phantom Braking
Despite the Model 3’s fancy computers, its adaptive cruise control is the worst I’ve ever used due to “phantom braking”. I’ve lost count of how many times the car thinks something is in the way and suddenly slams on the brakes, despite no obstacles in front of me.
This didn’t happen until a software update a few months ago, so I really hope a software update fixes it soon as it’s only a matter of time until someone rear ends me at 110km/h.
I’ve never owned a car with as many annoying tiny issues as the Model 3:
- Intermittent creaking/knocking noise when turning right at low speed.
- Dashboard vibrates at highway speeds.
- Intermittent high pitched buzzing on driver’s side door/roof right at ear level.
- Water sometimes drips into cabin from driver’s side window when in a car wash.
- Rear passenger side door panel not flush with rest of car.
- Hood not aligned properly on passenger side.
- Intermittent whistling noise on highway.
- Driver’s side camera cover loose.
- Delivered with a short, but deep scratch on body under passenger door.
- Condensation in rear lights
I could get some of these fixed (good luck getting any car maker to diagnose and fix intermittent rattles and creaks), but as you’ll read in my next whinge, unless it’s a major problem it’s not worth the hassle for me to get these tiny things fixed.
After Sales Support
Toyota and Hyundai have service centres 15 min away and would assign me a loan car so I can get on with my life while the car is getting fixed. Tesla’s service centres are in Richmond (1hr) and Elsternwick (90 min) away, can’t promise me a loan car and often have a lead time a month or more for an appointment.
Tesla’s on-site technicians visited my house once for a safety recall issue, but won’t come to me for an issue I report, even if it can be easily fixed without a hoist. The poor after sales support is why I just put up with these small, but multiple issues instead of getting them fixed - it’s too much effort to write off an entire day each time an issue pops up.
The primary method of unlocking the Model 3 is via Bluetooth on your phone. When you’re in range of the car, Bluetooth connects and the car unlocks. It’s great when it works, but Bluetooth on iOS is a bit of a shitshow so about one in every four times I go to open the car I have to either wait for the phone to catch up and connect to the car or get the NFC keycard out of my wallet.
Bluetooth on Android is way more robust and you can even set your phone to be an NFC key. I could buy a $235 keyfob or some sort of NFC keychain thingy if it annoyed me that much I guess.
I actually don’t mind the lack of buttons in the cabin or no stalks for things like lights or wipers, but the thing that infuriates me and my wife (who is usually the passenger) the most is accessing the glovebox. It doesn’t have a button or a latch on it like every other damn car so if the passenger wants to open it, they have to reach across to the other side of the screen and touch a button to open it. Would it have killed em to add a button on the glovebox itself?
The Model 3 has a huge glass panoramic roof that lets in heaps of heat. After a day in the sun I can’t even touch the interior of the glass as it’s so hot it burns. Not only does it let in heat, but it’s also a risk of cracking due to rocks from trucks or washing the roof with cold water on a hot day. It’s not cheap to replace either, as Tesla are the only ones who can do it. It looks pretty but is so impractical. What’s wrong with a normal metal roof? It would have been cheaper and easier to build and leave the glass roof as an extra cost option for those who want it.
Everyone gets confused over how to get in and get out. The exterior door handles don’t “present” themselves and are flush with the door, so it’s not obvious how to get in. They’re also not very ergonomic and are difficult to use for people with mobility issues (e.g: all the seniors in my family).
To get out, the obvious mechanism to open the door is actually an “emergency” latch that can damage the window:
There are stickers to make the right button more obvious, but still, the emergency latch should be in a less easy to access spot.
Strangers Have No Idea How To Drive It
Not infrequently, random people need to drive the Model 3. Car wash attendants, tyre/wheel places, car park staff all require a 10 minute demo on how to move the damn thing. This Twitter thread sums up the experience I go through each time someone needs to drive it:
Like with the door handles, it’s tiring to have to keep on explaining to people how to use your weird car. For the driver its no big deal, you do it once and it makes sense on how to change it. It’s if you need to share the car often that it becomes a hassle.
I didn’t pay the $10,000 for “full self driving”, so “Autopilot” is a combination of advanced lane guidance/lane keep (aka Autosteer) and radar/adaptive cruise control. I’ve already had a whinge about the adaptive cruise, so this is where I tell you that Autosteer is mostly a waste of time.
Not that it doesn’t work that well (it does a decent job staying in a lane if the lane has vibrant paint), it’s just that the circumstances where it’s worth enabling it are slim.
People claim it makes highway driving a bit less mundane, but that’s mostly the adaptive cruise control doing its thing. From my experience the only place I’m comfortable using Autosteer is a dual carriageway divided highway where there’s not much traffic. Because it can’t overtake cars you still need to disable it, then re-enable it again to overtake and you still have to like, pay attention, so in reality, even on dual carriageways, the amount of driving hours I’d have it enabled is pretty low.
Constant Phoning Home
I’m less of a privacy nut as most people, but it is kinda concerning that every trip I make and everything I do in the car is logged and sent back to Tesla for analysis. Even though I’m at a low risk of anything adverse happening with whatever data Tesla collects, I wish there was a way to opt-out of it all and refuse to send data back to Tesla without it impacting the features in my car.
Air Conditioning Smell
Just recently I’ve noticed a bad smell coming from the air vents when using the air conditioner. It’s common for this to happen to cars, but usually not after just a year of use. It’s due to mildew in the condenser coils and Tesla released a software update to run the fan for a few minutes after you park the car to try and stop this happening. The cabin filter is a pain in the arse to replace too compared to most other cars where it’s just behind the glovebox.
Auto Wiper Rain Sensor
It’s a crapshoot as to whether the wipers will automatically engage. Sometimes the slightest drizzle will make them furiously turn on, other times drenching rain is ignored and I need to manually turn them on - which is done via the touchscreen (no longer hidden in a sub-menu at least). Tesla use a “Deep Rain neural net” instead of a cheap $5 sensor that everyone else uses apparently. Dunno why, probably hubris.
Lack of Safety & Comfort Features
The damn car is covered in cameras, but really lacks in the safety and parking sensor department compared to other brands. Hyundai’s Genesis has what I think is the best range of safety & tech features going around in 2021. Here’s the things most high-end Hyundai’s can do (e.g: blind spot monitoring & alarms, 360-degree parking camera), but my supposedly cutting edge Tesla cannot:
German car companies like Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz have features Tesla could totally implement on the Model 3 too - even having the choice as at-cost optional extra would be nice.
Lack of Active Suspension
Other cars in this price range (i.e: $60k-$80k) often have adaptive or active dampening suspension - meaning it’ll change suspension characteristics depending on the drive mode you’re in. Cruising on the highway? The car will soften up and absorb more of the bumps for a smoother ride. Unfortunately the Tesla isn’t that advanced. I love the stiffer suspension setup whilst winding around the hills, but it kinda sucks on the highway where you want a nice soft ride.
There’s no CarPlay on the Model 3, which sucks (I miss Waze!), but what’s worse is that the built-in apps a garbage. The Spotify app doesn’t refresh very quickly, so if I add songs to a playlist it won’t refresh for a few days unless I log in or log out. Searching is also slow as balls.
The built-in podcast app (TuneIn) is hot garbage and I don’t wanna use the Spotify app for podcasts, so I just use my iPhone over Bluetooth for most music & podcast stuff. Oh, and voice control (changing temps, sending/replying to messages) is worse than Siri.
It also shits me that over a third the display is taken up by absolutely useless self-driving visualisations.
The visualisation portion of the screen was only increased recently. I can only assume it was done to show off the FSD stuff in order to get people to buy it and for those that have it, to give them reassurance what they paid for it actually doing something. I wish it could be disabled entirely as it serves no purpose while I’m driving.
This is separate to the infotainment, as most of the car is controlled via the large touch screen, so when it goes wrong, it’s way more annoying than in other cars where you can’t listen to some music or use the navigation stuff. Here’s what’s happened to me so far with it:
- Multiple occasions of a hard freeze of the entire UI whilst driving that doesn’t fix itself unless I reboot the car.
- Multiple occasions of a random reboot of entire screen whilst driving leaving me unable to do anything that doesn’t have a physical button - this hasn’t happened for a few months so I think they squashed that bug.
- Indicator ticking noise just doesn’t happen sometimes. Will come back on its own after a few minutes.
- HVAC controls appear, but ability to adjust the air position is frozen. Needs a reboot to fix.
- Spotify sometimes just doesn’t load up. Tap the icon and nothing happens.
- The built-in LTE modem sometimes loses signal and refuses to switch back to LTE unless I reboot the car.
- Rear view camera freezes or has a distorted image.
You’d think that after reading all this that I’m a fossil fuel stooge and have a short position on Tesla shares, but that’s not true. I don’t even hate the Model 3 - I just think it could be so much better if Tesla and their owners learned from the legacy car makers instead of shitting all over them.
If after reading this you still want to buy a Model 3, use my referral code: https://ts.la/anthony81156