Test Driving the Tesla Model 3

Ever since the Tesla Roadster became a thing around fifteen years ago, it became the dream car for myself and many other nerds. Not only was it the hot rod that you’d see inside lockers and on bedroom walls years ago, but it was also one of the coolest pieces of forward-thinking green tech. The original Roadster of course was a bit out of reach with a hefty price tag, but Elon Musk and Tesla always intended it to be the way to forge the path for more affordable electric vehicles years down the line.

Years later, that day is almost here. After going through a few more models and ironing out production kinks, Tesla has become a company that makes Ford and GM shake in their boots with the recent success of their Model 3. It isn’t exactly comparative yet with entry model gas-powered sedans, but it’s close enough to start to consider it and do some homework. I’ve been doing just that over the last month, and below is what I’ve learned about it so far.

Charging

This is the first step to consider when looking at any Electric Vehicle (EV). Are you going to be able to get enough miles out of a full charge for your trip? How will you charge it back up after a trip or commute? For most people in an area like Madison County who want to use it as an everyday driver, the answers are probably pretty satisfying.

The base standard range Model 3 gets a little over 250 miles off of a single charge. This could roughly get you from Huntsville to Nashville and back with a few miles to spare. And even if your daily commute is a 50 mile round trip, you’re still good for the whole work week off a single charge.

The one trick is home charging. With the base cable that comes with a Tesla, you get around 3 or so miles per hour of charge. So say you leave it parked and plugged in the garage overnight, you’d get around 30 miles off of a ten hour charge. This is a little slow, but there’s two options to consider. For around $500, you can get a home supercharger that can do the job much quicker. Or if you don’t mind topping off in town, there are a few superchargers at places like Stovehouse or Bridge Street that can top it off. You can find places to do this at a cool site called PlugShare, which will show you where these charging locations are.

For most people, the charging situation isn’t an issue. But a select few could find it to be a small problem, so it is worth looking into.

Drivability

This past month, I went with some friends to visit the Tesla dealership in Franklin, Tennessee just south of Nashville. The shop is pretty cool and has the same kind of vibe as an Apple store, just as you’d expect. Their team is helpful and informative without being pushy or traditional salespeople, so it’s a fun visit.

Of course, one of the biggest reasons to stop by is to test drive a Tesla yourself. My friends and I tried out a Model 3 for about a half hour and took about a ten mile loop up I-65 and around Franklin.

I’m not going to lie, I fell in love with the thing. It has three different settings that gives you different performance feedback, so just to get a feel for it I went for the middle option. Even with it, pressing on the “gas” feels like you’re accelerating on a roller coaster. The turning feels responsive and fantastic as well. But of course what most people are interested in is the autopilot. It takes a moment to trust, but once you do, it’s mindblowing. Some other cars with lane assist features feel as if they’re bounding around from line to line in your lane, but the Tesla feels as if the AI in a video game just took over for you.

Safety

The big indicator for me that the Tesla is extremely safe is that the insurance rates for it seem to not be nearly as expensive as you’d think. I was shocked to discover from my insurance agent that I could keep my same levels and only pay about fifteen bucks more a month. Considering I drive a thirteen year old car that’s a few steps away from a beater, I was overjoyed to discover this.

This is all possible because the Tesla has some of the best safety ratings in the auto business. I won’t pretend to know all the details, but many publications that I know to be trustworthy have given that aspect of it rave reviews.

Technology

If you want one, you know this is the biggie. The Model 3 in particular has a screen the size of a giant iPad that basically takes care of everything. It’s your gauges, it’s your controls, it’s even Netflix if you want it to be.

The only problem with the screen and the tech overall is that it’s pretty intimidating and has a high learning curve. There’s so many menus and submenus that it takes a long time to get the feel of where everything is. If you’re driving one for the first time, you’re going to feel lost. It took me a good solid five minutes just to figure out how to adjust the rear view mirrors.

Once you get past that though, it’s of course amazing. You can do everything from view the multiple camera angles to make the car fart when you use the horn or turn signal (yes, really).


After around a month of research and a test drive or two, I’m as close to sold on the Model 3 as anybody could be. It’s of course a big investment, but one that is very likely to pay off as the auto industry is moving closer to full emission-free EV slates in the coming decades. Companies like Ford and VW are chasing Tesla with pretty cool and relatively affordable options, but it’s hard to not go with the OG that has been in the game for around fifteen years at this point. Especially now that the Model 3 has fixed all production issues and has kept the price reasonably within reach.

For many Huntsvillans like myself, right now might not be the best time to buy. A potential EV tax credit is on the way, and many of us are continuing to work from home for the time being. But once both of those things come into more focus in the latter part of 2021, it might be time to let Elon take the wheel.

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