Product Review Tesla Model 3 Performance Review – At 3 Years and Counting - We Are Three Years into a Transportation Revolution!

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Dfwatt

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Model 3
Tesla Model 3 Performance Review – At 3 Years and Counting - We Are Three Years into a Transportation Revolution!

It's hard to believe that it's been a full three years since we plunked down what seemed like just a ridiculous chunk of money for the first of our two Performance Model 3s in July of 2018. Time has gone by very quickly . . . and for the most part very pleasantly in relationship to the two cars. That first one arrived in a matter of weeks after placing the order online – and I was so blown away by the car and the overall genius of it and how it managed to move the goalposts in so many ways that I ordered a second one the next day after delivery of the first one . . . . Just barely one week before the free unlimited supercharging deal was about to expire. Definitely one of my better moves as we would've been fighting over who got the Tesla spaceship and who got stuck with the crappy ICE vehicle. Neither of us at that time could have appreciated how much our experience of both driving and overall car ownership was about to change. We feel we are three years now into what is the front wave of a major transportation and energy revolution. Although I certainly wouldn't say the two cars (or Tesla for that matter) have been perfect, we had generally very good service on the minor issues that have cropped up, and my wife, who was no version of a car person, endorses that this is the best car she's ever driven. Indeed she is always regarded cars as necessary evils to get from Point A to point B. But she loves her Tesla!

Our cost per mile (with free unlimited supercharging and 12 kW solar system with 2 Powerwalls in our winter residence) is estimated at <2 cents per kilowatt hour (with 90-95% of the driving being ‘free’ energy and 10% being in New Hampshire with its punitive $.20 a kilowatt over roughly 17,000 kWh of charging time to cover roughly 58,000 miles (34K miles in her car, 24K miles in mine) between the two cars. That's untouchable, and obviously without our solar panels in Florida and without the unlimited free supercharging for trips (including now 3 drives down and back to Florida), we'd be talking about significantly more cost per mile. For sure, the most revolutionary aspect to the whole experience is being able to simply power your car from sunlight. It's an amazing feeling that not only do you not pay to power your car (other than the initial investment cost of the solar system) but it's virtually completely carbon free. We expect in the coming year to have no more than $40-50 worth of utility-based home charging cost between now and our trip back to Florida in late October. But I've included an amortized value for the solar system cost as well, as obviously the solar system itself is not free.

Service And Operational Costs:

  • two-year service on bleeding brake fluid at $100 per car or $50 per year per car.
  • multiple bottles of windshield wiper fluid at $2 per bottle (estimated $6 per year per car).
  • air cabin filters – $40 per car/per year.
  • amortized cost of solar system ~$2000 per year/24 year lifespan – but this includes elimination of electric bill at $1500 per year, leaving $250/car/year estimated car energy costs.
  • $1300/every 35,000 miles for Pilot Sport 4S tires (~three years worth of driving) or $433/yr/car.
  • Insurance costs and depreciation which vary enormously – insurance is about $400/year for us since we are in New Hampshire, while depreciation is several thousand dollars/yr. I don't consider these in the overall cost of operation, given their variability although they are for sure costs of ownership.
Total operational expenses for both energy use and basic service items ~$780/year/car. Assuming 12,000 miles/year, this works out to about $.08 a mile to cover virtually all energy, operational, and maintenance costs. This is untouchable – and the largest fraction of that turns out to be the three-year life interval of the rather expensive OEM Pilot Sport 4S tire – but worth it in my estimation given their overall excellence. I have not put in estimated lifespans and cost estimates for brake rotors or pads because it's really unclear (given that neither car is tracked) how long those will last – easily 7 to 8 years but perhaps longer. There certainly is some wear on the system if from nothing else rust on the rotors that has to be swept off – and certainly there are incidental applications of the brakes despite almost all braking in sensible driving being regen. In any case it's possible that pads and rotors might last 10 years? Actual service by Tesla has been minimal and all under warranty with no charge – 1) replacement of a computer module in my wife's car within the first year, 2) adjustment of a too-tight trunk latch, and 3) replacement of the charge door servo, and 4) service on the Bluetooth head unit – does not recognize the key phone consistently. But that's it. And most importantly, the cars have never failed to get us someplace we were expecting to go, and have never died and left us stranded. So for all the talk about Tesla's poor quality control, I have to say that in relationship to the most important functional reliability, the cars have been absolutely rocksolid.

Pros:

  • an amazing dynamic envelope of overall performance, including great handling, braking, with instant-on acceleration. The car has a pretty decent ride too. We have replaced both suspensions with two versions of the Mountain Pass coilover kits, with the Comfort Adjustable on my wife's car and the Sport kit on mine – both are incredibly high quality kits with a wide range of adjustment. The ride on my wife's car (set at the default 12/10 compression/rebound) is amazing, and both cars ride and handle better than they were when new. Simply the most fun car I've ever driven – and I've driven Ferraris, several iterations of Porsche Caymans, a recent Taycan Turbo S and C7 Corvettes that were not as much fun, and frankly not as responsive overall as the Model 3 Performance. Although the Taycan Turbo S would out accelerate my Model 3, it did not out-handle it, and it was far more nonlinear in power delivery, particularly from full throttle to trailing throttle, and thus significantly more difficult to drive smoothly if you were trying to go fast. Plus, there was no way you could create or set up one pedal driving on the Taycan – bizarre frankly. I haven't driven the Plaid, let alone the new Roadster, but I challenge anybody to find a car at this price point that's more fun to drive.
  • Easiest car ever to drive, perhaps one of the biggest surprises. Can be a very low effort, relaxed cruise mobile when you want to loaf and take it easy. Autopilot is part of this, but it isn’t just the AP, as I've had Tesla newbies step into the car and say "wow this thing is really easy to drive". Great steering, feedback from all the controls is generally excellent, and you can position the car on the road with considerable precision and little effort. And the systems are amazingly intuitive and easy to learn, even when they are paradigm shifting. A+ on this for sure.
  • Brilliant, paradigm-shifting integration of all the car’s systems through a big, bright and beautiful 15 inch touch screen, complemented by NFC card keys and Bluetooth phone access. This effort to consolidate the entire operating system into a touchscreen was incredibly brave of Tesla, particularly given that the absence of traditional speedo and gauge clusters – to say nothing of keys or even key transponders – might disorient and turn off some potential buyers. But Tesla as pulled this off and it now sets a benchmark for the industry in terms of operating system integration, ease of use, etc. We could never go back to keys, key fobs, and all that stuff now seems like working with typewriters. Again, both a giant leap forward in convenience, and virtual elimination of the punitive replacement costs around lost key fobs (vs. $20 for two NFC cards). Remote access/control via the phone is a game changer, allowing remote activation of locking/unlocking, monitoring, climate control, charging, etc.. Game changers all around!
  • Over the air updates that regularly and significantly improve functionality of multiple systems. Only car on the market that is significantly better after two years then when new. This first included the early and now infamous antilock braking fix over the air, but the last two years significant horsepower increases, improvements in the screen layout, cold weather behavior, enhanced supercharging, Sentry mode, Dog mode, viewing of Sentry video in car, etc.. Too many improvements to list! Again, total game changer.
  • Speaking of supercharging, the best charging network hands down. Not even close. Increasing availability of more Version 3 superchargers and the enhancement of Version 2 charging rates to 150 kW will continue to cut down on trip travel time. Version 3 is also about to go to 300 kW fairly soon.
  • One of if not simply the best real-time navigation system, with excellent speech to text input in terms of destinations. Excellent integration of potential supercharger destinations and their current level of availability into the nav system, with battery conditioning now whenever you have a supercharger as a destination.
  • Enhanced autopilot. We have not upgraded to full self driving and probably won't at least in the near future. Yes, we know all about Autopilot's quirky and even occasionally frankly unsafe behavior, the occasional strange phantom braking and other gaffes, but it's simply a brain-saving and stress-reducing Godsend on long drives. Its only trade-off is that you have to monitor the car versus do the tiring grunt work of driving it. I'll take that trade-off on any long drive, even just 15-30 miles. It removes the most cognitively fatiguing aspects of driving – lane centering and speed matching (although all radar-guided cruise controls on many newer cars take care of the second of these challenges), and trades those for a simpler and perhaps wider angle monitoring of your environment. I believe that taking your attention off the minutia of driving actually enhances traffic awareness and safety. And since you are less fatigued, you are by definition a better driver at the end of your trip.
  • Excellent infotainment and sound system.
  • Best front seats I've ever experienced (version2). Excellent and highly customizable driving position, savable across multiple drivers which is hugely convenient (while reducing family squabbling!)
  • Track Mode 2.0 and recently 3.0 with a track G meter with ‘sliders’ (adjustable max torque front and rear)! Excellent car for the track junkie, at least in shorter sprint-type races.
  • Speaking of tracking and tweaking, there are excellent options for aftermarket tuning, particularly from Mountain Pass Performance (our personal fav and one of the all time great vendors!), but multiple vendors are getting heavily into the Tesla mod after-market. Excellent coilover kits are available, along with a wide range of wider and lighter alloy wheels, a great front spoiler from UP, etc.
Cons:

  • ‘Range anxiety’ – no question about it you have to work with this one and be willing to live with a certain amount of it on trips. However, we find that the roughly three-hour functional range of highway driving at 70+ mph is about concordant with how long either of us wants to sit in the car. While in my 20s I could drive for 5 hours without getting out of the car, I just can't do that, so the restrictions on range and the need for more frequent refueling, with longer stops, are fine by me. As a trade-off, who knew that we hated going into gas stations? I don't miss them!
  • ‘Range loss anxiety’ – this is now our single biggest concern and a growing one. We've experienced significant range loss despite practicing pretty good battery hygiene, and it is progressing, although it has not yet reached the point where it is changing our trip charging habits or forcing additional charging stops on our trip South in the fall or the return trip North in the summer. But it's getting close to that threshold. And we are concerned about that possibility emerging in the next year or so, particularly as range has gone from 310 miles when new to about 280 miles in one car and 290 miles in the other (~10% in the car with 35,000 miles and about 7% in the other with 24,000 miles). Although range loss has been described as nonlinear and tending to be greater in the first year or so and then more modest in rate from there, we are finding that it is progressing year-by-year in a fairly linear fashion once it started appearing. Although the overall range loss is still way under the 30% battery loss warrantee, we are concerned about it progressing much further past where we are. Long before you get to the battery warrantee threshold, your long distance driving is constricted by needing to make more frequent stops. A 25-28% range loss would be functionally punitive for folks who use their cars for long distance driving. Even a 20% range loss would change our trip planning to Florida in terms of charging stops and convenience. Tesla has still not announced any kind of plan for what option owners might have at the end of their battery warranty to purchase a new battery pack, if people want to restore the original range of the car, or perhaps purchase the latest technology which might potentially include a range boost. This uncertainty about what happens to battery packs as they near the end of their service life remains our single greatest concern about the long-term viability of the cars. Tesla's silence on the subject does not help, nor does their history of conflicting statements about range loss. Finally, their apparent eagerness to avoid any form of battery replacement under warrantee, including replacing battery packs failing the warrantee threshold with used packs with often above-fleet-average range loss makes customers feel that Tesla is dodgy about their responsibility to provide some version of stable range. Tesla seems totally focused on new sales and not on what to do with maintaining an aging fleet.
  • Interior materials simply do not match up with or even get close to best-in-class from the Germans and Japanese. This includes carpets, trim pieces, door panels, etc. This makes the cars look and feel cheap at their price point.
  • While were on the subject of the interior, the back seats seem set too low – I'm sure this was in the service of preserving headroom for the rear passengers, but it would be nice if this could be adjusted.
  • Long wait times for service, and although service has been generally excellent, Tesla in our case did not agree that a structural issue with the glass roof is a factory quality control problem versus some kind of rock or other impact problem, despite the absence of evidence for clear impact. Service centers are typically a long way away. This can mean a three-hour drive just to get an issue taken care of that mobile service can fix.
  • Tesla communication, across products, (energy and cars), needs work. Sometimes it is responsive, but people seem to disappear from time to time. Too much turnover? Other issues? Communication ranges from excellent to totally chaotic. What's that variability about?
  • Quality control still is not quite up to snuff, although in general our second and third quarter 2018 cars were delivered in good shape, excepting a funky computer board in my wife's car, and a too tight trunk latch in mine. Getting better, by all accounts, but paint quality, panel alignment, and a host of other theoretically minor but ultimately annoying QC issues still seem to find their way into delivered vehicles.
  • Wind and road noise as you get above 65 miles an hour. We've mitigated this with the RPM Tesla noise kit, plus additional door seals, plus extensive door and trunk dynamatting. We doubt most users are willing to put this kind of time and energy into mitigating something that Tesla should have taken care of, especially in the pricier dual motor cars. We've gotten an estimated 5 db of noise reduction, but better noise mitigation should have been part of the standard equipment of the car.
  • Lack of support for both Apple Car Play and Android Auto. While we personally don't especially miss them, we know that a lot of people do.
  • Vulnerability of performance wheels and tires to damage and even failure from road impacts – this is not really a knock on the car, and as everybody knows, just an intrinsic trade-off of radical low-profile wheels and tires. But it might be nice to have performance versions with 19 inch wheels and tires, or even 18's if the buyer so desired.
  • Lack of an RS version – this could include an upgraded and lowered suspension with cockpit adjustable shocks, 275+ series tires, forged lightweight wheels, upgraded inverter with extra ~50-75 hp, and a taller drive ratio to put horsepower peak higher than 45 mph along with enhanced motor and battery cooling that would allow full power output until running out of juice. Obviously all this is wish list stuff. Currently some of this is available as do-it-yourself aftermarket mods, except of course the extra 50 hp and the taller drive ratio which would have to be factory redesign. We keep hearing rumors about upgrade to a ‘ludicrous mode’ or something like that but nothing looks remotely guaranteed on. Perhaps some of the technology in the new Roadster and Plaid can trickle down to a track version of the Model 3?
  • Lack of an LS version – this could include extra sound dampening materials, upgraded interior leather choices, upgraded interior materials, etc. More fantasy wish list stuff obviously. Probably will never happen, but who knows. In any case Tesla should consider that they're making the best car in its class with only two interior color choices – black and white!
Realistically most of these Cons are relatively minor issues, although someone getting a car delivered with poor paint and other quality control issues is not going to feel good about their Tesla experience as it gets started. On balance, these cars are still the best cars we've ever owned, and even the best cars either of us have ever driven, price no object. Overall, great work Tesla! But Tesla cannot remotely afford to sit on their achievements and needs to keep improving in multiple areas, perhaps most especially in terms of their communication with a loyal customer base which they cannot afford to take for granted. This is my biggest concern, and although we love both our Model 3s and our two home solar systems, we see some trends that concern us around Tesla’s customer service and communication. Under ‘corporate arrogance’, see what happened to GM. Let’s hope the collective genius on display in this car and in the Model Y, and hopefully energizing upcoming products, keeps Tesla moving forward into a sustainable future. But the most critical part of this revolution is not the technology, but Tesla’s relationships with customers. It's not clear to me how much Tesla understands that it's relationships, long-term reliability for the customer and corporate integrity and not geewhiz technology that ultimately secures long-term customer loyalty. There's no question that Tesla is way out ahead in terms of the fundamental technology supporting a sustainable transportation and energy infrastructure. It's less clear where they stand on corporate integrity, accountability and reliability for the customer. I see both good and bad indicators, but I'm cautiously optimistic.