But we're still waiting for Tesla's Full Self-Driving feature to materialize.
With more than a year and 24,000 miles logged with our Tesla Model 3, we're way past the honeymoon phase. Our initial 12 months of included premium connectivity has expired, which means in-car audio and video streaming now only works with a Wi-Fi connection. And since not one of our area Superchargers has it, we are no longer whiling away the time spent charging our car by streaming Netflix.
Our maintenance costs thus far have totaled $313, which is on par with the cost for many gas-powered vehicles. That includes two rather steep charges from Tesla's in-house service network: $103 for a tire rotation and $210 for an unusual service to lubricate our car's brake calipers, which is called for annually on cars that reside in a state like ours that uses salt to rid the roads of ice during winter months. That service is to prevent the brakes from seizing, as they don't get much use when regenerative braking from the electric motors is employed more often to slow the car than the conventional friction brakes. Also unusual, though not expensive, is that the key fob has already burned through a battery. We also spent $1088 to replace a cracked windshield, but that was our fault.
What never gets old, however, is plugging in while out running errands and getting fuel for free. Even 14 months in, that perk still feels novel. We haven't had any other significant issues with our car since the replacement of the rear motor assembly that happened a year ago. The trim on the driver's side B-pillar—the piece you tend to bump getting in and out of the seat—came loose and was fixed under warranty. We noted squeaks and rattles that materialized early on, but those don't seem to have worsened with the additional time and miles.
The spring and summer months substantially improved the Model 3's energy consumption. In the most efficient month, June, we averaged 267 watt-hours per mile (Wh/mile), while in December—with winter tires installed and the average temperature plummeting to 34 degrees compared with June's 81—it increased to 354 Wh/mile. That equates to a 60-mile swing (or 20 percent) in expected range, depending largely on the outside temperature. And that's if it's plugged in overnight. Otherwise, the Model 3 can easily shed an additional 10 or 20 miles of range. Our overall average consumption is 316 Wh/mile, and our average efficiency—unlike consumption, which includes charging losses—has bumped up by 10 MPGe to 84 MPGe.
At the current national average residential electricity rate of 13.6 cents per kWh, it's costing us 5.5 cents per mile to power our Model 3. If we instead relied entirely on Tesla's Supercharger network, the cost would nearly double, to 10.4 cents/mile, almost matching the price of keeping our long-term BMW M340i filled with 93-octane premium (10.7 cents/mile). That may be an extreme example, but it proves the point that having a high-voltage charger at home or at your office is critical if you want to reap the potential financial benefits of going electric.
Although our Model 3 was dispatched to our annual Lightning Lap event at Virginia International Raceway, completing each 635-mile leg of that trip from Ann Arbor and back with three stops to charge, we have still yet to beat our previous best of 221 miles between plugging in. That's partially because, according to the TeslaFi tracking tool we're using, our battery has lost 7 percent of its capacity, or 22 miles, since it was new.
We're still smitten with the Model 3's swiftness. And we're intermittently impressed and befuddled by the varying experiences of its Autopilot feature. Sometimes it seems that fully autonomous driving is nearly upon us. At other times the system bobbles a seemingly straightforward maneuver so badly that we think the promised Full Self-Driving (FSD) capability that we paid for more than a year ago—and are still waiting to materialize—is much further off than Tesla would have the world believe.
Instead of meeting its self-imposed 2020 deadline to release FSD, Tesla deployed a new feature at the tail end of last year, called Boombox, with which we can now assault the outside world with music or various noises—including, naturally, a whoopee cushion—using the car's external speaker. That update also rejiggered the layout of the central touchscreen, giving more real estate to the area that depicts the car's surroundings, which will likely become more important when hands are no longer on the wheel. Both of these are changes that we haven't seen in any other car, proving yet again that the Tesla experience is definitely not car-making as usual, for better and for worse.
The updates on many of our long-term cars, particularly the trouble-free ones, tend to be as much about us as about the vehicles. In the absence of reliability or service drama, the focus instead becomes the places we visit, plus whatever new annoyances we find over the course of 40,000 miles.
But the Tesla ownership experience is as different as the driving experience. A Tesla actually changes over time with the company's steady stream of software updates. In the six months and 10,000 miles since we've taken delivery of our Model 3 Long Range, there have been 12 software updates, or an average of one every 16 days. Not all of them are substantial, however; many are small, follow-on updates to fix issues after a major update is released.
We already mentioned that the update to version 10, a major one, was ready when our car first arrived, and it added Smart Summon and Theater mode, which allows streaming of Netflix, YouTube, and Hulu. It's a great way to pass the time while charging. Since then, we've seen a flurry of changes, such as the addition of true one-pedal driving. (Before the update, the car would slow to about 3 mph but wouldn't come to a complete stop.) There's also Dog mode for maintaining a comfortable cabin temperature while us humans are running errands (and displaying a large message to assuage any window-smashing would-be do-gooders passing by). Dashcam and Sentry mode security features also have been added. Sentry mode stores clips from the array of exterior cameras, either at the driver's behest or when the car detects motion while parked. Just this week, Tesla righted a wrong by adding the ability to view that footage on the car's center screen.
Although the Model 3's acceleration—and particularly its responsiveness—was already garnering universal praise by our staff, one of the updates included a claimed five-percent power bump, which improved our car's performance across the board, including a 0.1-second improvement of its zero-to-60-mph time to 4.0 seconds.
Then, on Christmas Day, disaster struck. While parked in a driveway, a short in the rear power inverter triggered a pyrotechnic fuse, which prevented an even worse outcome. Following a tow-truck ride to the closest service center about an hour away, the entire rear-motor assembly was replaced. We received plenty of emails and DMs from other Model 3 owners sharing similar stories of getting stranded at the hands of a Model 3. But we've had zero reliability issues since, related either to this event or anything else.
How Much Does Climate Control Affect EV Range?
Complaints about the automatic wipers have continued despite an update meant to improve them. Given the poor performance we've experienced, we question Tesla's choice to rely on the front cameras to control their operation rather than a rain sensor like every other automaker employs. Print director Eric Tingwall elaborates: "The wipers often lay dormant as the windshield becomes nearly opaque with spray from surrounding traffic. Then you wake them up by tapping the stalk for a single wipe, and they unnecessarily run at full speed for several minutes." Many also have commented on the difficulty in locating the wiper settings in the center screen.
This brings us the most regular logbook refrain: the Model 3's near complete reliance on the center screen to control its various features and functions. "I now know how my grandma felt when we got her an iPad," said staff editor Connor Hoffman after driving our Model 3. "Every time I get in it, I find something new." Road-test editor Becca Hackett admitted to tinkering with the center screen for an hour in her garage as she tried to acclimate herself to the setup when she drove the car home for the first time. And staff editor Colin Beresford asks an existential question: "If a member of Gen Z can't find a feature on the screen, does it even exist?" Some of the few physical buttons that do remain are in odd locations, too, such as the hazard button up on the headliner. Other regular comments include the disconcertingly loud clunking noises that happen while plugged in at one of Tesla's fast-charging Superchargers. Although this doesn't happen in the Model S, it seems to be normal for the 3.
We've also done some experiments of our own. We discovered that the Model 3's plastic wheel covers improve range by up to 10 miles. And although the near-instant warm air blowing from the Tesla's HVAC system is welcome on a cold morning, we found that cranking up the climate control alone can reduce range by 60 miles. We also recently compared the charging speeds on one of Tesla's new 250-kW V3 Superchargers versus the older 150-kW units.
We're still waiting for substantial updates to the full self-driving option that added $6000 to the purchase price. Although Tesla has added more features to the visualization that appears on the left side of the screen while driving—including displaying traffic lights and construction cones—we're waiting for a real improvement in Autopilot's capability that Tesla has been teasing of late.
Not making it easy to keep up with the frequent updates is the fact that Tesla requires a Wi-Fi connection to download software and won't do so through the built-in data connection. Plus, the Model 3 only connects to simple Wi-Fi sources like the typical home router with a network name and password. Anything more complex, such as a network that requires a username and password, or if you need to open a browser window to agree to legal boilerplate, won't work.
So, where have we driven our Model 3? Not very far. We've mostly stayed in our home state of Michigan as we've soldiered through winter. Its logbook is full of anxiety-ridden comments about near misses on range, which we've been chewing through at a rate that's roughly 50 percent higher than predicted. Our farthest drive thus far was a 221-mile run from our office to northern Michigan. Longer road trips with multiple stops—such as Hoffman's recent 520-mile drive to St. Louis—generally don't allow attempts at range maximization since pit stops have to occur where the Superchargers are. And it's not time efficient to wait to recharge the battery all the way to 100 percent.
But we'll certainly be trying to improve upon that that as the winter tires come off, the temperatures continue to warm, and we're once again free to roam the country.
Months in Fleet: 6 months Current Mileage: 10,626 miles
Average Fuel Economy: 74 MPGe
Battery Capacity: 75.0 kWh Observed Fuel Range: 236 miles
Service: $0 Normal Wear: $0 Repair: $0
Damage and Destruction: $0
One of the most interesting things about the Model 3, and Teslas in general, is just how much it deviates from the norms of autodom. Unlike other automakers, which often wind up creating very similar entries by carefully tracking and matching features and equipment relative to the competition, it's refreshing—and occasionally annoying—how Tesla simply does its own thing.
As we're embarking on a 40,000-mile evaluation of a 2019 Model 3 Long Range, our second long-term Tesla after a 2015 Model S P85D, it's impossible not to notice this electric vehicle's vast differences compared with other compact-luxury sedans that exist at a similar size and price. There's no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto here, although the feature has become nearly ubiquitous among its luxury-sedan peers, nor even a gauge-cluster display in front of the driver. However, there are lots of wowing tricks up the Model 3's sleeve to win over people coming into contact with a Tesla for the first time, such as Emissions Testing mode, with six different fart-noise options, and Dog mode to keep our furry friends comfortable. And its phone-as-key feature works completely seamlessly, unlike more recent attempts by traditional automakers, such as Hyundai, that require awkwardly getting out a phone and holding it to the door handle. Plus, there's the very capable suite of Autopilot driver-assist features, which is now standard and generally works impressively to reduce the amount of steering, braking, and accelerating the driver needs to control.
Quick and Enjoyable
Especially when viewed from the front, we wouldn't call the Model 3 attractive, but the low cowl and large glass area make for an expansive forward view. And that is one of a flurry of positive comments about driving the Model 3; it's extremely quick, with direct steering and even a willingness of our all-wheel-drive model to rotate under power. We're suckers for its instant response and forceful acceleration—at 4.1 seconds to 60 mph, this latest 3 is 0.9 second quicker than the initial Model 3 Long Range we tested, which only had a rear motor, and it's also just 0.3 second off the pace of the swift BMW M340i. What's more, the Tesla's power delivery sets itself apart by its instantaneousness, which is demonstrated by our 5-to-60-mph rolling-start test. The Model 3 nails it in 4.2 seconds, whereas today's highly boosted gas engines often have a significant gap between their standing-start and rolling-start metrics (the difference on the M340i, for example, is 0.9 second).
The Model 3 stacks up less well in other areas against the usual luxury players—BMW 3-series, Audi A4, Mercedes C-class—where its plasticky seat material, fixed and narrow headrests, and ultracheap, cardboard-like cover for the large bin under the trunk floor don't live up to its luxury price point. The Model 3 also isn't as hushed over the road as the traditional players; there's a lot of wind noise at 70 mph, and at 70 decibels, it measures one to two decibels louder at that speed than the segment norms. And that's not including the way it clomps loudly over lateral pavement seams, which is partly a result of its high, 42-psi tire pressures that help manage the Model 3's 4038-pound curb weight (that's 141 pounds heavier than the rear-drive Model 3 we tested in 2018) and boost its range.
Among the oft-discussed issues on early Model 3s were panel gaps and overall build quality, and in that area, this latest car is far better than our earlier example. However, the hood wasn't quite level on our car when it arrived, so we adjusted the hood grommets to make it so. We're already noticing some squeaks and rattles emanating from the instrument panel, particularly in the cold weather that has descended on our Michigan HQ.
We're using third-party software called TeslaFi to corral a staggering amount of data streaming from our car, including its whereabouts, mileage, charging and charge efficiency, temperatures outside and inside the vehicle, and climate-control usage. In our first two months, we've spent 85.5 hours behind the wheel of our Model 3 over 280 drives and a total of 3867 miles. However, partly due to an average outside temperature of 43 degrees, we've used nearly 50 percent more rated range than miles actually driven. That has led to complaints that the main range readout does not adjust downward when using up the battery at a quicker rate than its EPA rating suggests. However, there is a running average figure based on recent driving, found on the Energy screen. We've also noted that the battery's state of charge can drop by 5 percent or so when the Model 3 sits outside overnight in 40-degree temperatures without being plugged in.
Tesla Smart Summon Feature Is Looking Reckless
The only options on our test car are its $1000 Midnight Silver Metallic paint and the $6000 Full Self-Driving Capability, bringing our total sticker price to $57,690. While the latter feature—currently priced at $7000—promises at some point in the future to actually fulfill its name, for now it enables advanced Autopilot moves such as Smart Summon, where the Model 3 will drive itself to the location of the owner's smartphone in a parking lot, and automatic lane changes around slower traffic on the highway. Our car has the base 18-inch wheels with all-season tires and the aero wheel covers, and we tested just how much slipperier those covers are through the passing air than the better-looking aluminum wheels hiding beneath.
What has become a Tesla trademark is continual upgrades, and in the two short months we've had our car, we've downloaded Version 10 software, which added Smart Summon, and built-in Netflix, YouTube, Hulu, and Spotify streaming. Very recently, we updated to 10.1, which promises a 5 percent bump in horsepower. We'll be headed back to the test track to see how much that improves the already very quick acceleration numbers. No doubt there will be lots to talk about.