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.

Going all electric

Since passing my driving test I’ve always driven combustion engine vehicles, whether they be company vans or cars, and as I generally lived a distance from my base office didn’t think twice about filling them up. For me the vehicle was a means to an end – I needed it for work and it was just a necessary expense.

Of course, up until recently there wasn’t really any other choice, with fossil fuel vehicles continuing to outperform in terms of practicality and cost, despite the government trying to de-incentivise their use by penalising both petrol and diesel drivers heavily through fuel and personal taxation. But in recent years, manufacturers have woken up to the fact that oil-based fuels won’t be around forever so have started to move towards producing electricity-powered vehicles, which also come with tax incentives.

Firstly we started to see hybrid versions. The advantage of hybrids was that they didn’t need charging but instead used regenerative breaking to supplement the fossil fuel engine and thus improve performance and extend range. This meant that the existing fuel station infrastructure remained a neccessity as cars still had to fill up, albeit less often.

I did consider switching to a hybrid at one point, mainly to reduce my monthly fuel outgoings but the cars were still quite expensive and I couldn’t justify the extra cost for the moderate return in fuel savings. But certainly the fact that the cars could go almost third further on a tank of fuel was enticing, especially as I hated the chore of having to fill up at petrol stations.

Of course the perfect solution would have been to switch to an all-electric car but the choice was limited, and with my commute of over a hundred miles a day, the cars on the market were either not practical or prohibitively expensive.

But the idea was always in the back of my mind.

And then Covid-19 came along and way we work was completely transformed. Gone was the daily drive to an office but instead the ask was stay at home, working remotely wherever possible. And for me that suited me just down to the ground as the regular commute was now just to move from the bedroom to the study, where I could be just as effective as working from an office.

But at the same time, my existing car, a 2012 Hyundai i35 started to show its age, even though it was spending most days sitting on the driveway wondering why its owner has stopped racking up the miles.

Now I’m not one for regularly switching cars; the i35 was bought 6 months from new and for me it is was just a vehicle for taking me to and from work and shelling out a fortune on a new model every couple of years was not a good investment, especially as I was adding +25,000 miles each year.

But lockdown got me thinking.

With the likelihood that driving to work each day was going to be less of a requirement I started to look at my options. Should I go diesel, hybrid or even electric and should I buy or lease?

Fortunately the choice became clearer when a colleague suggested I investigate the company car leasing salary sacrifice scheme, also mentioning that the deals on electric vehicles were really competitive. And with the benefits in kind tax on electric vehicles at zero percent leasing was viable option.

And they also had Tesla’s on their list.

Now I’d been watching how the Tesla company had been progressing in car manufacturing when I saw one for real at the Birmingham Gadget Show in 2016. At the show they had demo versions of the Model S and I was smitten by how modern they looked, and the silence from the car was mesmerising. And the battery range was improving, 200 miles on one charge. One day I thought.

Fast forward four years and with a promotion secured, my ‘spending’ power had increased significantly. By then Tesla had brought out their Model 3, a lower priced, saloon version with significantly improved range. I completed the online form to get my estimate of monthly costs, not quite believing my dream of getting an EV was becoming a reality. The salary sacrifice scheme really is a great way to be able to get a car that would be way out of my league to purchase at £50,000 as the lease costs are taken before tax, making the bill affordable.

In July I took the plunge and completed the order and was given an estimate of 8 weeks delivery, taking me up to September. That would give me time to sell my existing car, sort out a charging point at home and look at power company charging scheme options. I also hit YouTube for every video I could find on Tesla Model 3’s, eager to learn as much as I could before delivery. I also downloaded the online manual and read it cover to cover multiple times, to the dismay of Tina, who couldn’t understand my obsession with ‘a new car’.

In early August I received a text from Tesla, confirming a delivery date at the start of September and the VIN number of the car. This information enabled me to track the delivery of the car across the Atlantic through The Tesla Motors Club forum on the shipping movements page, helping to build up the excitement.

My new car arrived, as scheduled, on the 2nd September and was immediately named ‘Trevor’ which seems to be a tradition bestowed by Tesla owners on their new vehicle.

In a future post I’ll give a run down of being an EV driver.