Saturday 30 March 2024

Tesla Model 3 (2022) standard range RWD review

I've been lucky enough to have this car as a "technology evaluator"/guinea-pig for some work experiments (I work at an energy company and we're exploring the possibilities of smart-charging EVs based on solar panel output, and/or time-of-day/off-peak rates). Having lived the Tesla ownership experience, but without the usual accompanying financial commitment, for two months now, I think puts me in an interesting and somewhat unusual position. Sure, a car reviewer would get the car for free but would be unlikely to hold onto it for the twelve weeks I'm going to have it for before I have to give it back. A purchaser has a significant vested interest in seeing past the flaws - it's just human nature. ## Background Unlike many, historically I've considered myself neutral towards Tesla the company. I am able to separate the company from their CEO, and recognise that _not every_ design decision is always Musk's personal directive. High-profile tech leaders like Gates, Jobs and Musk have all at times had their names unfairly cursed, probably by someone who's never seen just how many layers of (mis)management separates a modern CEO from people actually creating stuff. What cannot be denied is the extraordinary acceleration of EV adoption that can be directly attributed to Tesla. The **Roadster**, **Model S** and **Supercharger network** were truly groundbreaking pieces of technology that traditional automakers would probably never have come up with in this half of the 21st century. ## First impressions - Exterior This car is made in China, unlike earlier Teslas which all came out of the USA. Build quality feels good and the panel gaps look consistent, aside from the left C-pillar where the decklid panel sits proud after you close the boot/trunk. Then again, this car isn't new (it's a lease model and has had at least one owner before me) so it might have just been abused since coming out of the factory.
The car wears black aero wheelcovers which preclude using my bike pump to inflate the tyres. Annoying, because the car warns constantly about having low tyre pressure (sub 42psi). I've since purchased a $3 adaptor to allow correct inflation. I could have gone to a service station to inflate the tyres but I'd feel guilty about using their facilities when I haven't bought fuel from them. The glass roof instantly strikes me as inappropriate for Australian conditions. Even on partly-cloudy days I can feel huge amounts of heat radiating off the inside of the ceiling. Cooling the cabin down hence uses far more electrical energy than it should, affecting range. I think Tesla missed a trick not reverting to a solid metal roof in the 2024 **"Highland"** Model 3 refresh. Make the glass roof an option if you want, but I've perceived very few benefits after the initial "oooh" factor. ## First impressions - Interior
The central screen is huge, but then again it has to be as there is nothing else. A strange plank of driftwood-coloured plastic stretches the width of the car, disguising the slot from which cool air and audio emanate. I like that I can get a direct breeze in my face, and the audio sounds good too, but I really object to the single screen and the UI it presents. The touchscreen looks and feels exactly like a giant iPad. This is a double-edged sword. It's snappy, polished and pretty well laid-out. However many, many things are either hidden behind at least two-too-many screen taps, or insufficiently large target areas. This is simply dangerous, as it requires taking eyes off the road to focus on a nearfield object and a hand off the wheel to then try and hit a small target. The screen defaults to a very large map view, with a smaller camera view and even-smaller "info tile" for currently-playing media or trip info. A lot of the time, the thing you need to see or do is on that smallest of UI elements, and requires a swipe and/or a tap on what feels like a 30px square target. This would be fine on an iPad - it's not fine in a moving vehicle with other tasks to be maintained. ## Driving experience I've owned cars that are as fast as this one (0-100km/h in 6.1 seconds) and as "luxurious" (leather, electronic gadgetry), but never at the same time. The silence combined with the exhilarating acceleration is a potent combination. It's a pretty nice thing to tootle around the 'burbs in, enjoying the ability to punch off the line to be first in an upcoming lane-merging situation with minimal outward effort. The steering is nice and tight (no matter what mode you've put it in) and the suspension is on the firm side, but this is exactly how I like it. I specifically chose the Model 3 rather than the Model Y because I loathe SUVs and their bloated body-roll. It belies its hefty 1800kg kerb weight. It doesn't take long to notice how quickly the battery percentage/range (you can't show both at the same time - come on, guys!) gets used up while tootling around though. I knew EV range-overestimation was a thing, but really, this car should get a real-world around-town figure of 350km (not 513km). And that's with me driving in Chill mode, with a _very_ gentle right foot and going for maximal regeneration. I've taken it for a 250km round-trip (no charging required) and it was a comfortable highway cruiser. This particular car has the full "Self-Driving Capability" option box ticked but I don't think there is anything to show for it - the adaptive cruise control was enough for me, and it works well. ## Charging experience Since the entire reason for having the car is based around home-charging, I've never taken the car to a Supercharger. It's always just been charged at home, using the standard Tesla charger that comes in the frunk, plugged into a regular 10A socket. Charging this way is the exact opposite of supercharging. It is _painfully sloooow_. How slow? It adds 15km of range _per hour_. This was hugely disappointing. Luckily we still have our existing ICE car, because you're looking at the car being off the road for most of a day to get the thing back up to 90% full. If you were to buy this car, you'd _definitely_ want to budget on the **Tesla Wall Connector** (and possibly upgraded house wiring to back it up) to alleviate this unexpected source of Charge Anxiety. ## Conclusion ### Positives I can't comment on its extended road-trip-ability or Supercharger network, but in my view, this is a **great car for city usage**. The slow home-charging can be mitigated (at a cost) and the range (despite being massively less than advertised) is more than enough to only need topping up once or twice a week (for our needs). It's comfortable, nippy, and handles nicely given its weight. ### Negatives The **glass roof** is a misfeature, and a major one. Having to order (at extra cost, and loss of headroom) the sunshade just to mitigate it would annoy me no end. The central **screen UI** has major safety ramifications and needs an overhaul to make common functions much more accessible. I would save a substantial amount off the purchase price and _not_ option the **Enhanced Autopilot** (~AUD5k) or **Full Self Driving Capability** (~AUD10k) features - I just think they are overpriced vapourware items. ### Differences Yes, I've added an extra section here that you wouldn't normally find in a conclusion. This is to sum up the things you'll find in a Model 3 that are maybe-good, maybe-not, but they are **different** to a "normal" car. It pairs well enough with my iPhone that the **lack of CarPlay** doesn't feel like a big thing, and the **Tesla app** is a simple and effective replacement for a conventional key, but it takes getting used to. The **push-buttons on the door interior** to open them are guaranteed to confuse first-time passengers, and the double-ended **exterior door handles** may be flush and aero but are incredibly fiddly to use and kids struggle with them. The **lack of a speedometer** in the dead-ahead position (even just a HUD would have sufficed) takes some adjustment. These feel like "just being different" features. The dispensing of indicator stalks in the "Highland" refresh again seems like something that saves Tesla $3 in parts, and they lean into their "minimal" mantra and get their fans to justify it as revolutionary.
## Final thoughts Long term, I'm worried that Tesla are implementing "features" like the minimal driftwood dashboard and the "Gigacasting" of body parts that make things cheaper and easier for them, while not actually benefitting the customer in any real way. Tesla fanboys might be excited about it but they'd change their tune when they get rear-ended and the car gets written off because the entire back of the car cannot be repaired without being entirely replaced... The whole car is, even without those expensive option boxes ticked, **about AUD$15k too much**. I understand there's a whole lotta lithium-ion under that floor and investment costs to recoup, but it just doesn't hit the mark for a AUD$60k+ car. Perhaps the _"Highland"_ refresh addresses some of those things, with the removal of that "plank" and addition of a small screen in the back for rear-seat passengers, and perhaps, well no, _definitely_, the electric vehicle rebates in my state (Victoria, Australia) are pathetic, but it's just too much of an ask. I'm excited for the future of BEVs and PHEVs, but I don't think the Model 3 will be in the future for me.

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