I got my Tesla Model 3 a few days ago. The car looks even better in person than in photos. I’ve put over 250 miles on it now and clicked around on most of the nooks and crannies of the software in the car. After all a Tesla isn’t a car, right? It’s just a computer with wheels.
Let me start by saying that I’m not a big fan of driving. I do it out of necessity. So to all the people who ask me about the drive, handling, acceleration etc. – it’s great and a gas car will never have that silent and smooth EV greatness. But that’s the wrong question to ask me. Go read other reviews of the car. I’m the person to ask the question about how much of the driving can the car do for you? The other questions I can answer are nerdy tech questions about the software and interface of the car and that is most of this review.
With that said, here we go:
I’ve driven a Model S a few times and the Model S was a game changer. A step towards rethinking what a car should be. Long range, electric, software driven, OTA updates, no on/off buttons, magically locking/unlocking by approach etc. The Model 3 takes it one step further. Everything including steering position and even AC vents (or lack thereof) are software controlled. There are no keys provided. The car is designed to be accessed by phone. If you do need to give someone else access, Tesla provides nfc key cards. Tap on pillar to unlock, place on console to use the car.
You sit in the car for the first time and look at the Scandinavian plain, clean modern interior and you just know that this is something different. Something new. Just like the iPhone moment for cars. While everyone is figuring out how to put more buttons on the steering wheel, the Model 3 steering wheel has just two. They scroll vertically and click horizontally. That’s it. Just two buttons that are context sensitive as opposed to lots of buttons for individual functions. Compare that to the Mercedes S Class steering wheel for example.
There are no visible AC vents. The airflow is controlled from the screen just like almost everything else. Even the turning signal stalk is designed in a way that is obviously software controllable. When indicating turns, the stalk instantly returns to the original position.
The wiper speed controls are also on the screen. The stalk just has a button for a single wiper swipe, which automatically brings up the wiper speed control on the screen. While this might bother some, the wipers are designed to be used in “auto” mode. And here comes my first minor complaint. Auto wipers need to be slightly faster. And the beauty of Tesla is that such changes are just a software update away.
All this brings me back to the title. No other auto manufacturer is even thinking of all the little things that are required for a car to be fully software controlled. And even if they are, such changes are several generations away. And this is very important because the next phase of automobiles is self-driving cars. To make that future happen every feature of the car must be driven by software. And Tesla has solved that UX problem and made everything simple, easy and intuitive.
My car has autopilot. I haven’t paid for the self driving features yet because self-driving is not yet enabled. Autopilot in its current state is spectacular. It is like cruise control on steroids. The steering controls for autopilot are excellent. Scroll slowly for +/-1, fast for +/-5. It feels much more natural than any other car I’ve tried. I tried autopilot on curvy roads and the car keeps perfect speed for the curves, slowing down when needed and speeding up after. Just exactly as I would do as a human. It also keeps good distance from the car in front which gets smaller as speeds get lower. It comes to a complete stop if the car in front of you comes to a stop and starts when the car in front of you starts. Great for city roads and traffic. The first few times it took a lot of control not to take over from the car by natural instinct. Autopilot does not stop for stop signs or lights, which I assume will come when self driving arrives. Yes, autopilot is NOT self-driving.
With that being said autopilot is clearly not complete. Yet, it is the best driver assistance system on the market. It seems like not all cameras are enabled. The cars in front of you are visible in the display, however for cars on the sides and behind you only see colored line warnings which I’m guessing are from the ultrasonic sensors. The system will likely become even better when data from all cameras is used. Maybe a bird’s eye view like on my Nissan Leaf will be available soon. Or maybe I’m thinking about this wrong. I’ll just be able to make the car back itself out using summon soon. Who needs the bird’s eye view then?
Autopilot also contains a beta feature called Autosteer. Autosteer seems great on highways but I’ve not tested it enough yet. The car, however, thinks that it can Autosteer (shows a logo in the top left of the screen indicating the feature is available) in a lot more situations than it can. I’ve tried to enable it on city roads and have taken control often. In many of those cases it is possible that the car would have steered correctly but I’d rather be more careful and take control if the car has not already started turning when I would. As I get more comfortable with the abilities of the car, I’ll try to take control less often. After all, this is my primary motivator beyond being an EV to get a Tesla.
One thing I’ve not tried yet is auto lane change. One day when I’m a bit less scared to let the car do more and I’m on a highway, I’ll try it out.
Interface, Console, Sound etc.
Let’s get back to the controls. How long did it take you to figure out Bluetooth on your current car? This is another place where Tesla shines. Bluetooth works perfectly and is very easy to setup.
Every driver can setup a profile for themselves. Driver profiles include everything from seat and steering position to regenerative brake settings. There is a convenient feature called easy entry, which pushes the seat all the way back to make entry and exit easy automatically.
The sound system is just fantastic. The streaming music interface is excellent. It took my wife just seconds to find and use the equalizer! Map visuals are excellent, far above and beyond anything I’ve seen in a car.
The center console is designed with modern phones (plural) in mind, not flip phones or only one phone and coins. Charging for two big screen modern phones (the image shows two Nexus 6Ps charging side by side) is up front and two USB slots are available for rear seats. The console has spacious storage thanks to the lack of a shifter.
The glove box is also software controlled. When you put the car in valet mode it locks the glove box.
Interior and Cargo
The best feature of the car is the glass ceiling. Makes the car feel open and spacious and it is just wonderful being surrounded by glass especially as a passenger. The glass is tinted enough to not be uncomfortable even in extreme heat.
The rear cargo volume is comparable to sightly more than compact luxury sedans in its class and the frunk puts it above everyone else.
Tesla has really designed the car from the ground up or as Elon Musk refers to as first principles and the car is miles ahead of anything on the market or on the horizon. With great range and access to supercharging, Teslas are the only road trip to capable EVs.
You need to drive one to see what makes a Tesla a Tesla and why nobody else can compete. I look forward to what new software updates bring me. I hear that the next update brings “summon” in addition to other stuff. Also here is what I got as a day one reservation holder who ordered the car sight unseen:
This review just scratches the surface of things Tesla has done to make the car great. Once you drive a Tesla, it is hard to switch to anything else. No near future car is going to kill Tesla. For some entertainment, lookup #TeslaKillerCemetary on Twitter. The Model 3 is just that good.