I'm an autos reporter who's driven plenty of EVs. My first experience with a Tesla was still eye-opening.

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I'm an autos reporter who's driven plenty of EVs. My first experience with a Tesla was still eye-opening.
  • Driving a Tesla is unlike any other experience I've had behind the wheel.
  • The nearly buttonless interior was hard to get used to.

In the more than 10 years I've been covering the automotive industry, I've driven plenty of cars — electric, hybrid, and gas-powered.

One of the perks of this job is having access to press fleets where I can try out all the cars I'm writing about every day. It gives me a better understanding of the evolution of technology and engineering in these cars as I cover this ever-changing industry.

But Teslas have always been harder to come by. Elon Musk's electric car company doesn't have a traditional press fleet. I've only been in Teslas for short periods of time, either to drive as a comparison to something else or in a ride-along capacity at auto shows.

Over the holidays, I decided it was finally time to get a Tesla in my driveway, and I rented a Model 3 from Hertz. Business Insider has reviewed the Model 3 before, but I would be going into this as a Tesla novice.

Along the way, I found that much of my past experience didn't serve me in a Tesla. Musk's cars are a wholly unique experience, from the drive and feel of the car down to the way you can interact with the technology.

Here's everything I learned from my five days with the Model 3.

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Superchargers make a huge difference

Superchargers make a huge difference
One of my many stops at Tesla Superchargers during my five-day rentalNora Naughton

I've always known from data and talking to actual Tesla owners that the Supercharger network is a game-changer. But I was still shocked by how much quicker and easier it was to charge my Tesla than when I had an EV from a legacy automaker.

The longest I spent at a charger was about an hour on my second day with the car to juice up from around 20% to 100% (I later learned it's better to charge to 80%, especially in cold temperatures, but the full charge didn't seem to negatively affect my experience).

On the other hand, when I took a Chevrolet Bolt on a road trip in 2019, I spent hours upon hours at Level 2 chargers in rural areas and rarely ever filled the battery all the way.

I probably would have had a better charing experience in warmer weather

I probably would have had a better charing experience in warmer weather
Tesla Model 3 battery preconditioning notificationNora Naughton

I didn't have a great experience with the battery preconditioning option in the cold weather here in Michigan. I did use my Tesla to navigate to a Supercharger every time I needed to charge, which meant the car started warming up the battery en route to improve my charging experience.

But all four times I charged my Tesla I got a warning on the touchscreen that my battery was cold and would charge more slowly.

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The nearly button-less interior meant I had to think more about simple tasks

The nearly button-less interior meant I had to think more about simple tasks
Interior of Tesla Model 3 Hertz rentalNora Naughton

There are some things that are so standardized in every other car I've driven that I didn't expect to be tripped up by in the Tesla. My first obstacle was the side-view mirrors. The Hertz employee who delivered the car was much taller than me (not hard to be), so the mirrors needed serious adjusting when I got in the car.

The only problem was that when I looked in all the usual spots for the mirror toggles — on the driver's door, next to the steering column, in the center console — the usual buttons were nowhere to be found. I had to dig through some instructional material Hertz sent me to find the mirror settings on the touchscreen.

I’m not a fan of one-pedal driving, but it does help around town

I’m not a fan of one-pedal driving, but it does help around town
Tesla Model 3 trunk full of groceriesNora Naughton

In all of my previous EV experiences, I have either turned off or turned down the regenerative braking system because I didn't like the jerky feeling when I would take my foot off the gas. I couldn't find any settings for one-pedal driving, so I decided to go all in on the experience.

I'm still not a fan of the jerky nature of one-pedal driving, even once I got a better handle on slowly taking my foot off the gas to simulate the same coasting effect you get in a gas-powered car. On the highway, not being able to coast normally made for a less-than-smooth ride. I wouldn't recommend it for someone prone to car sickness.

Still, it's nice to use for around-the-town driving once you get the hang of it, and I'm sure that my one-pedal driving saved me some range while I was running last-minute holiday errands.

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I didn’t know how to turn off the car

I didn’t know how to turn off the car
The only two buttons in the Tesla Model 3 are on the steering wheel.Nora Naughton

Most surprisingly, the first time I parked my Model 3, I quickly realized I wasn't actually sure how to turn off the car without a push button start or key.

After toggling back through the settings menu I found when adjusting the mirrors, I was still stumped. So I whipped out my phone and literally Googled "how to turn off Model 3."

Turns out it's painfully simple— as is almost everything in the Tesla — to the point where I almost didn't trust it. All you do is walk away with the key (or your phone if you're using the Tesla app), and the car will lock and turn off automatically.

I hopped out of the car and backed away slowly, waiting for the headlights to turn off or a beep to assure me the car had locked. There wasn't a beep but the lights did eventually dim and turn off.

This felt weird at first, but I got used to it quickly. So much so that when I got back into my Subaru five days later, I walked out of the car while it was still running.