Recently, I wrote about the future of mobility and my belief that the future is electric. Last week, I took a test drive of that future, making the pilgrimage to Eden Prairie to try out the latest version of the Tesla Model 3.
Before we begin, I was not compensated by Tesla, Toyota, or anybody, including Streets.MN, for this vehicle review.
I entered the dealership and mini showroom (only one car is there) with the story that I was potentially interested in the Tesla Model Y, which is reportedly rolling out in 2020. That is, if Tesla is still a company by then. It is true that by around 2024 I may be interested in buying a new vehicle, given that my current 2015 Toyota Prius bought in 2014 will be 10 years old. My former wheels included a 2003 Toyota Camry and a 1995 Ford Taurus. If the Model Y — a hatchback version of the Model 3 — was priced reasonably and was the kind of vehicle that met my needs in the not-to-distant future, it could be a real contender.
The Model 3 is an agile beast. With the heavy battery pack in the belly of the vehicle, the chassis hugs the road and cuts around corners like a Formula One champion. On a suburban office park side street, I was told to try out the acceleration. There was about a half second delay, then full torque, and I brought the vehicle to about 40 mph before decelerating. Accelerating onto the short bits of highway that we did was in high contrast to my current experience. The best-performing model of the vehicle is purported to have a 0 – 60 mph in 3.2 seconds and a battery range of 310 miles. The model I drove, the Long Range AWD model, had 4.4 second 0 – 60 mph acceleration.
The Model 3 has a customizable driving style. As a driver of a gas motor vehicle, I was used to the idiosyncrasies of how those vehicles drive. For instance, my current Prius “creeps” forward when in drive and without depressing the brake or gas pedal. In the Model 3, there was a setting to have that be on or off. When off, the vehicle sat still, which was a little unnerving in my test drive when I was used to coasting without touching the gas. Also standard on the Model 3 was an aggressive regenerative braking. My sales rep said you learned to drive with your foot always on the acceleration pedal. He also changed the settings on the console mid-test drive to have the regenerative braking set to “low”, as there was no “off”. After my test drive, I suspect if “creep” is turned on, it might give the same experience as a Prius or Camry, but it would take another test drive to test that out. In short, the Model 3 is an electric car first, not an electric car trying to mimic your current gas motor reality.
The experience of the sales rep changing settings mid-test drive got me to thinking, and hoping, that Tesla vehicles should have a password protection to changing vehicle driving settings mid-drive. I can imagine a misbehaving tween turning off creep and turning on regenerative braking and maybe causing an accident.
The sales rep was trying to sell me on the idea that Tesla was going to compete with Uber once its autonomous driving technology was ready for prime time. I declined to try out the company’s Autopilot software while cruising down the highway at 55 mph. At least four people have died while running Autopilot, and I didn’t plan on pushing up daisies any time soon. The sales rep said that Tesla was not allowing leasers to buy their vehicles at the end of the lease as the company intends to use the vehicles for a self-driving fleet of ride share vehicles and corner out Uber. If that comes to fruition, expect vomit on the luxury leather.
One large feature of the Model 3 that I really enjoyed was the landscape aspect ratio console screen. It displayed driving information like speed and battery level (not displayed elsewhere), and brought together all the environmental controls, entertainment, and settings. This is the future. When driving, the screen was not a distraction, but on the other hand I didn’t get any phone calls as I chatted it up with the sales rep. I learned he drives his own Model S and puts it on Autopilot for most of the commute to work.
But the main pro was that this was a luxury sports car that can race onto the highway and have a lot of fun in Germany. The top speed of the top model is 162 mph. I don’t think my Prius even has a third digit. Maybe when I am having a mid-life crisis in 2038, I will take a trip to Munich and race around in a Tesla, like my uncle loved to do on BMW motorcycles.
In the days since my test drive, I have been thinking about what my sales rep talked about with Tesla’s long game for taking on Uber. In a decade, will I even need a car to go to Costco or my mother’s appointments, or will we just order up a self-driving Uber? There could be the self-driving, electric SUV for Costco and a smaller car model for trips that would take an hour of time and $2.50 of currency if we took the bus. Will Tesla buy up downtown parking ramps to store its self-driving fleet and charge up during off-peak hours?
I for one like the assurance of ownership. For the time being, I like the idea that my vehicle can run when the power is out, the GPS satellites are down, your self-driving software has a killer glitch, or whatever happens. The current Toyota Prius Prime can go 25 miles on a charge before kicking in the gas motor, and has a 640-mile total range. The range of the electric Tesla Model 3 is 310 miles, less than half that. My ideal vehicle would go 100 miles on a charge, but then have a gas motor and a 16-gallon tank to take it farther. I could charge up at home overnight for all the common short trips, but then have the freedom to drive to Chicago to visit family without being a member of the Tesla supercharger club. For the record, the 2019 Prius Prime has a net hybrid horsepower of 121 hp, and Toyota does not share the 0 – 60 mph acceleration time. I expect Toyota will inch up the Prime’s battery capacity as battery technology improves. Maybe the 2024 Prius Prime will be my next?
The 2019 Tesla Model 3 starts at $39,900, which gets you a 240-mile range, a top speed of 140 mph, and 0 – 60 mph in 5.3 seconds. The model I test drove with more performance and range started at $49,900. The 2019 Toyota Prius Prime starts at $27,350, which gets you a 25-mile electric range, 640-mile total range, and performance of 121 hp. Really expensive apples and mid-range oranges.
What are your wheels? How do you go to the grocery store or get groceries delivered? Would you ride in a self-driving car ride share? Share your experiences and your fears in the comments.