If you haven’t seen it, there is a Tesla Model 3 driving around the country right now, driven by one of the first non-employee owners, You You Xue. Check out the Facebook page of the Tesla Model 3 Road Trip to see if there are any remaining stops near you.
I traveled to Ann Arbor Michigan to see it Friday, the closest stop to my house. This is an unbelievably generous thing for You You (sounds close to yo-yo) to do. Be sure to thank him. He’s beating the tar out of his car, putting a ton of miles on it, and enduring a lot of sleepless nights for little to no personal gain.
Let’s start with full disclosure. I have a first day deposit down on a Model 3. I do not own Tesla stock (unless it’s in one of our mutual funds.) While I’m a big fan of Elon Musk, I am not a total fanboy, I’m more than willing to be critical.
Problems with the Model 3
Speaking of being critical, let’s start with the problems with the car either You You or myself noticed. Almost all of them are software based, which means that Tesla can push an Over the Air Update to fix them. Most were related to the record breaking cold snap You You was driving through.
1. Fogging glass in cold weather. There was ice inside the back windows. The HVAC system in the car couldn’t completely clear the fog. You You said he couldn’t get it to completely clear. I tried a few things as well and didn’t get anywhere. There may not be enough outside air coming in to dry out the interior or enough dehumidification capability at these low temps. This is something that will need to be addressed by Tesla, it reduced visibility out of the car significantly. It’s also the only serious flaw I experienced.
2. Poor trip calculations in cold weather. Cold weather below about 10F is really hard on batteries and electric cars in general. Cars only get about half the range and charge at slower speeds. You You almost got stranded just before he got to Ann Arbor, I watched this harrowing video live in my hotel room, he pulled in with 0 km showing on the range meter, and drove for a few minutes with it on 0. He was less than pleased about it (language warning at the end of the video.)
3. “Ping Pong” in Autopilot. AutoPilot 2.5 is still a touch rough compared to 1.0. It bounces around in the lane sometimes. Here’s a video of the test drive where we got on the highway and engaged AutoPilot. Ping ponging is not super obvious on video. It also doesn’t seem completely fair to whine about small imperfections of a car literally driving itself. This will get ironed out over time, and part of the ping pong was a dotted line on the side of the road where an exit was. It does better with solid lines. Using AutoPilot on snowy days where road markings have been obscured is not a great idea.
There were a few other things You You mentioned like navigation being glitchy and some glitches with the screen like there being no way to exit the “Paint” app where you can draw on the screen. All of them can be solved with updates, and since updates don’t require a trip to the dealer, I’m not concerned.
My Car Cred
I should probably start with a little car cred on my part. I grew up around expensive ($250K+) 1920s and 1930s cars being restored by my dad. I’ve rebuilt 3 engines (only one of which blew up…) I’ve driven more cars that I can count from a Ferrari Testarossa to a Mercedes S600 to one of the Queen's Rolls Royce Phantom 5 limos to my wife’s first car, a rusty 1992 Toyota Corolla. I four wheel drifted my 1989 Ford Thunderbird Super Coupe through college, scaring the bejeebers out of my friends. (That car is still in one piece, but it’s the engine I blew up.) While I may not be the most skilled driver, I’m no slouch.
Basically, I’m a car guy. I decided a few years back that I’m done with internal combustion. The path to the future is to electrify everything, something that we do to houses in our Cleveland Ohio practice.
As far as EVs, I’ve driven a Nissan Leaf, a Chevy Bolt, and a Tesla Model S P100D Ludicrous. I found the Leaf and Bolt to be quite vanilla and uninspiring. The P100D is a stupidly fast car, but it costs more than my house and I don’t prefer big cars anyway. I’ve always wanted a BMW M3, I’ll likely get a different kind of M3 now…
Driving Impressions of the Model 3
Thankfully, car magazines have already gushed about this car. Motor Trend’s Kim Reynolds said “Have I ever driven a more startling small sedan? I haven’t.”
I agree. This is not just a great EV, it’s a great car. The Chevy Bolt felt like a $22K car that costs $40K. The Model 3 feels like a $70K car that costs $35K. (Or $55K in the case of You You’s car.) I think the base car would suit me fine, which was a pleasant finding for my pocketbook.
The Model 3 reminds me of a mild mannered brother of a mid 90’s BMW M3 I drove. It has a very firm, but not punishing ride. The steering is laser precise like the Bimmer or my 2006 Saabaru with Subaru WRX steering. I loved it. You can even make the steering lighter if you want with the touch of a button.
It’s very quick. You You encouraged us to hammer the car, I did and let off at 75 MPH. My gut is it took 7-8 seconds with 4 adults aboard on salt slick roads in snow tires.
It’s sure-footed. With snow tires You You said all wheel drive is not necessary. I didn’t drive it in the snow, but the car is unusually sure footed on salt encrusted roads. I got in my car after the test drive and spun the wheels like crazy with the same driving aggression.
It was only a 10 minute test drive, but where the Leaf and Bolt felt very vanilla, this car felt like it was built to be driven hard. It almost begs to be beaten on.
The interior is sweet. I’ve never seen such a simple interior, almost devoid of buttons. The steering wheel feels a bit cheap, but all the rest of the materials in the car feel expensive and nice to the touch. The wood on the dash is better than I expected. The buttons to open the doors have a great tactile feel. The doors close with a satisfyingly solid clunk. The Drive noted no squeaks and rattles in a record breaking cross country trip, that was my impression too.
The HVAC, aside from the defrosting problem, is remarkable. I love how you can aim the airflow anywhere you want. The single vent slit and lack of other vents is part of why the interior is so striking. I only scratched the surface of how to configure the HVAC system, but it’s one of the slickest setups I’ve seen.
Being an energy guy, I had my Flir One infrared camera with me and I clocked the back seat vents at around 135F. For reference, most home furnaces put out air from the vents in the 105-120F range. My camera is not super trustworthy for temperature readings, but this felt about right, the air coming out of the vents was hot. The car has no problems keeping warm, even in frigid temps. If, that is, you have the range to run the heat that hard, a challenge unique to EVs.
The backseat is cavernous. I’m 5’8”, so no giant, but I had 6” in front of my knees and the front seat was set for You You, who is around 6’. The back seat made me think of a 7 series BMW for legroom. The glass roof made the car feel open and I had 4-6” above my head as well. The space is really well utilized inside the car. I wouldn’t want 3 people in the back seat, but for two it is quite comfortable.
If you are on the fence about buying a Tesla Model 3, just do it.
I can’t thank You You Xue enough for doing this crazy trip, which he has done largely solo. I was particularly impressed with him, he’s self confident and wildly organized. He bears up well under challenges like his car almost dying a few hours before he arrived and two severely bent wheel rims just after he left Ann Arbor. He’s young, still studying, and I got the impression that I’d met a great man just about to start his career.
He’s also not a Tesla fanboy, even though he has 3 Teslas. (An S, 3, and X, I can’t help putting them in that order.) He was quite critical of Tesla at times, talking about how some of the programming issues in the screen were elementary and being pretty fierce about the range calculator in cold weather. He’s been quite open about his experience with the car on the Tesla Model 3 Road Trip Facebook page, if you want to know about the car, warts and all, be sure to read the whole page.
Oh, and don’t ask questions that are already answered on the FB page. He will simply point you to the page to look for the answer.
You You was originally scheduled to get to Ann Arbor at 5 PM. He arrived at 3:40 AM the next day. The experience of meeting him, seeing the car, and then driving it was totally worth it!
I also hope he enjoys the signed copy of The Home Comfort Book I gave him, which just below the surface is about how to electrify your home.
Thanks for reading! And good luck to you as you #electrifyeverything!
Nate Adams is fiercely determined to get feedback on every project to learn more about what works and what doesn't. This blog shows that learning process.