Tesla Model 3: The Pros And Cons Of Extreme Innovation
Tesla is reinventing the fundamental aspects of driving. But there’s a learning curve.
By now everybody knows that Tesla vehicles are fast and offer long-range capability. That was clear when I recently took a Tesla Model 3 Performance on a 515-mile drive from San Francisco to Los Angeles. But what surprised me about my time in the car was how Tesla fundamentally reshaped the driving experience. It was a revelation about the benefits of thoughtful, user-oriented design applied to an automobile. But extreme innovations also can present challenges to users behind the wheel.
*If you’re viewing this article as a slideshow, click the arrow on the image above to proceed to the next slide.
Pro: App-Based Entry and Start-Up
Tesla turns your smartphone and an app into a key fob on steroids. There’s no need to think about unlocking doors or pushing a start button. Step on the brake pedal and the car is ready to roll. After reaching your destination, simply put the Model 3 in Park and leave. The smart tech knows when you walk away. It automatically turns the car off and locks the doors. It’s brilliant. Tesla manages to eliminate unnecessary steps to create an experience that feels lighter and easier than a traditional vehicle.
Con: App-Based Entry and Start-Up
I usually carry my phone in my back pocket. It took me a few days to realize that I needed to twist my hip for the car to pick up the phone’s low-range signal. It didn’t happen to me, but a phone that runs out of juice could require pulling a near field communication (NFD) card from my wallet to open the door like a hotel room. I can see why some folks want buttons but, for me, the Tesla system of egress and ingress is progress.
Pro: Flush Door Handles
Slippery aerodynamics are essential for maximizing EV range, so it’s only logical to cut drag with door handles that are flush with the body panels. The flush handles help make the Model 3’s drag-coefficient among the lowest in the industry. Besides, it creates a sleek look. That alone makes it a worthwhile innovation.
Con: Flush Door Handles
The cool aero effect of the handles comes with a small learning curve. For the week that I had the Model 3, every new passenger had to figure out the idiosyncrasies of the car’s doors. It’s Vulcan-esque handshake in which you press first with your thumb and then grab with your fingers. It only takes a few seconds to figure it out, and then you’re fine. That said, Tesla’s clever designers could concoct an even easier flush handle for the next generation of EVs.
Pro: Huge Center Screen for Everything
Tesla’s most risky tech innovation in the Model 3 was the use of a 15-inch screen to control nearly every interior function. If the interface had not been so deftly handled, it would be confusing and perhaps dangerous. But Tesla’s skillful interface designers make it entirely intuitive. The benefits go way beyond best-in-class turn-by-turn navigation because the screen becomes your primary way to understand your state-of-charge, as well as when and where to plug in for longer trips. Also, when charging at home, you can easily peer into the car from the outside to see the charging speed and time remaining to a full pack.
Con: Huge Center Screen for Everything
For all the benefits of the huge screen, it requires that drivers make a conscious decision to keep your eyes on the road. If one of the pleasures of driving is to disconnect from our screen-dominated lives, you don’t get that opportunity with a Tesla Model 3. On my drive down the majestic California coast, the view of the craggy seaside was never free of the screen’s light. Switching between controls for infotainment and, say, climate control wasn’t difficult but definitely required split attention.
Pro: Scroll Wheels on Steering Wheel
Some of the few pieces of hardware in the dashboard are small twin scroll wheels on the steering wheel. They are elegant, useful, and multi-functional, providing such functions as turning audio volume up and down with your thumb, adjusting cruise control speed, or clicking right or left to affect which side mirror can be adjusted. These buttons are masterful examples of industrial design both in terms of how they feel and their potential to control driving functions the same way computer users wield a scrolling, clickable mouse.
Con: Scroll Wheels on Steering Wheel
The ease of scrolling is mostly a good thing. However, several times throughout the week, as I was making a turn (sometimes with one hand on the wheel), I mistakenly slid my hand over the scrolling device, thus inadvertently quickly blasting the audio volume. This quirk in user function might not be frequent or common, but the discomfort to my ears was real. The novel tool feels like it has not yet been fully utilized, with rumors about using them for easier AC fan control as just one example. Fortunately, the possibilities are endless by virtue of over-the-air updates.
Pro: Big Panoramic Glass Reinvents the Sunroof
All of the currently available versions of the Tesla Model 3 come with the premium interior, which brings a long, panoramic tinted glass roof. The experience was transcendent for my drive down the coast and through the coastal redwoods around Big Sur. We felt a part of the landscape.
Con: Big Panoramic Glass Reinvents the Sunroof
The driving experience was less delightful when we were driving directly toward the morning or late afternoon sun. During that time, there was little relief from the glare (although the Tesla shop offers an aftermarket sunshade). Also, after a rain, the roof was streaky. A metal roof is still being promised but, despite my encounters with glare, I would still go with glass.
The use and importance of Tesla’s Autopilot are too numerous to name here. It’s arguably the most transformative of the Tesla innovations that I experienced. It’s also the most tempting to play with – just to explore which types of road situations it can handle and for how long versus the conditions that were less certain.
Unfortunately, my experiments with Autopilot made my fellow passengers freak out. So before long, I reserved its usage for its more straightforward intended use: more pleasant highway driving with my hands gently placed on the wheel to not interfere. If Tesla can fully realize the potential of Autopilot, as it has electric motor and battery technology, driving as we know it will cease to exist.