Driving a Tesla, first impressions

Further to my blog entry detailing the journey into getting the Tesla Model 3 LR, I thought I’d follow up with how I adapted to driving the new car, from home charging to range anxiety and phantom braking.

Prior to taking delivery of my new car, I had to consider how it was going to get charged; the lease company normally arrange for the charging point to be installed but for some reason it didn’t include Tesla cars. So I had to do some research to see what were the best options. In the UK, new electric vehicle drivers are able to claim a grant to support the costs, but in the end I decided to go for the Tesla charger, which wasn’t on the list. The advantage of the Tesla unit is that I can easily hook it up to the car without messing around with an app to get things started.

The first thing I noticed on day one from delivery was that the car was a head-turner and people want to stop and talk about it and owning an EV. In fact, as the car was being driven from the low-loader, a neighbour stopped and chatted about it and how shiny and new it looked.

For me, the Model 3 is a nice sporty-looking car and it’s performance matches its looks. The first thing I did was to take it out for a quick spin and within a few minutes I was amazed by the ease in which it drove. The simplified dashboard, it only has a single screen where all the controls are sited, along with regenerative braking which gives you single pedal driving means you effectively just have to steer and go. As the car has a low centre of gravity due to the vast number of batteries that power the car, it also handles really well on the road.

And then there’s the acceleration.

Now I’m not a speedy driver but there is some satisfaction in putting your foot down and experiencing the sheer thrust of an electric vehicle; the Model 3 LR has a 0 – 60mph in 4.6 seconds and you certainly know it.

The first real test of whether I would experience range anxiety was at the weekend after it was delivered when Tina and I had booked to join my brother and his wife for a weekend away on the coast in Hampshire. Door to door the distance was just over 150 miles but with the car capable of travelling over 300 miles on a full charge I wasn’t overly concerned and knew we’d get there in one trip. I was also aware that the park where we were staying had a Tesla destination charger so wouldn’t have any worries about topping it up once we arrived.

We set off with the car at 95% and it had calculated that we would arrive with 35%, plenty of wriggle room for our first long journey out. But incredibly as we progressed, the car adjusted its estimated arrival percentage, with the final arrival charge of 41%. Clearly I’d laid off the accelerator, a sure fire way of expending electricity, and taken it steady for my my first full trip out.

The car drove like a dream, with the semi-auto pilot feature taking much of the burden out of the long trip. It did take some getting used to at first though. There are two levels of control. The first stage is just cruise control, quite normal on many cars these days where by you just set the speed you want to drive at and the car sticks to it, the difference being that if the vehicle in front slows down so does the Tesla. The second stage is more complex. This is semi automation whereby the car will steer as well and that does take some getting used to. I found this feature worked better on quieter roads so most of the journey down I stuck to cruise control.

One area I will criticise is the safety features, which for me are still in development. The Model 3 has 9 cameras and a number of sensors mounted around the car, which are used aid the driver and help control the safety features. One of the features is collision avoidance whereby if the car detects another vehicle gets too close it emits an audible warning and applies the brakes in extreme conditions. Unfortunately, I don’t believe the technology is quite there yet and on a couple of occasions we experienced ‘phantom braking’ for the first time. This is a well publicised phenomenon that Tesla’s seem to be known for but unless you’ve experience it first hand you can’t quite believe it. Obviously if the car was going to collide you want it to slam on the brakes but on the two or three times it happened on our first trip it was the result of passing large lorries on the inside lane of dual carriageways or motorways. The car seemed to think the trucks were going to pull across into your lane so suddenly applies the brakes. Fortunately on each time there were no cars behind but it could have been a problem and something I’d need to watch.

So my initial impressions of owning the Tesla were pretty positive and despite the braking issues I had no regrets in moving over to an EV. And the driving costs were pleasing too; we did roughly 350 miles that weekend and the total cost of electricity was £15. That’s not a bad Wh/mile (the mpg equivalent of a ICE car) and I can’t see me ever going back now.