I spent a weekend with Tesla's Model 3. It was the most fun I've had driving a car, but Autopilot made me nervous.
Mark Matousek/Business Insider
- I drove Tesla's Model 3 sedan for a weekend in late September.
- I rented this example of the car from a private owner via the car-sharing app, Turo. I came away very impressed with the vehicle's driving dynamics.
- And Tesla's Supercharger network made charging much easier than in other electric vehicles I'd tested.
- But I had a few issues with this Model 3, particularly with Autopilot.
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Tesla's Model 3 sedan has been both a blessing and a curse for the electric-car maker, earning rave reviews and boosting sales while also putting pressure on gross margins and laying bare Tesla's production issues.
I rented a long-range, all-wheel-drive Model 3 from the car-sharing app Turo for a weekend last month, and I came away very impressed with the car, but I had a few concerns, particularly with its Autopilot driver-assistance system.
Because I was renting a private owner's Model 3, I was not aware of any preexisting issues the owner may or may not have had with their vehicle.
Here's what it was like to drive this Model 3 for a weekend.
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I picked up the long-range, all-wheel-drive Model 3 on a Saturday morning.
Design is one of Tesla's strengths, and the Model 3 looks great.
The vehicle's sleek proportions and contour lines make it look like a single, unified object, rather than two or three separate compartments fused together.
As is sometimes the case even with luxury sedans from Audi, BMW, or Mercedes-Benz.
Immediately, there were a few differences from any other car I'd driven.
Rather than using a key, the Model 3 is locked and unlocked with a card that's roughly the size and weight of a credit card.
And the door handles are flush with the vehicle.
So you have to push into the handle before you can pull it.
While I'd briefly driven a Model 3 before, I was again struck by its interior, which eliminates most buttons and knobs in favor of a 15-inch touchscreen that controls most settings.
Some settings, like audio volume, side-mirror adjustment, and the maximum speed at which Autopilot can drive, are controlled through the two buttons on the steering wheel.
The navigation system was excellent. The search function was fast and robust, and the size of the screen made it easy to follow directions.
But at one point, while testing the vehicle's built-in games, the screen froze.
The backseat felt comfortable and relatively spacious.
And I liked the panoramic roof.
The Model 3's driving dynamics were excellent.
The long-range, all-wheel-drive Model 3 is the second-"slowest" vehicle trim Tesla sells, but the acceleration was quicker than I'd experienced in any other vehicle.
I found myself wanting to accelerate quickly on the highway whenever it was safe to do so legally.
The handling was also better than I'd experienced in any other vehicle.
The Model 3's steering was exceptionally precise, so much so that I almost didn't feel the sensation of centrifugal force (the feeling that I'm being pushed to the left if I'm turning right, for example) when turning.
The car's regenerative braking, which slows its speed when you take your foot off the accelerator, was also well-tuned.
Like the other electric vehicles I've driven, I appreciated how much quieter the motor was than a traditional gas engine.
Autopilot, which allows a vehicle to handle steering, acceleration, and braking in some circumstances, was useful in some ways but concerning in others.
Adaptive cruise control, which controls the car's speed and keeps it at a set distance behind the vehicle in front of it, was more useful, but also gave me more problems.
Finding and using a charging station was much easier with the Model 3 than when I tested the Chevrolet Bolt EV and Nissan Leaf.
I could immediately determine how many spots were open at a station before driving to it.
The station I chose was tucked into the corner of a strip mall parking lot, but the distinctive appearance of Tesla's charging stalls made them easy to spot.
One small disadvantage this time was the fact that I had to back into my spot because the Model 3's charge port is near the trunk, and the charging station's cables weren't very long.
I used the touchscreen to open the charge port.
Tesla automatically charges the owner's credit card for charging sessions. No need to pay at the station.
All I had to do was grab the cable ...
... and plug in. The car started charging immediately.
Once it started charging, I could monitor its progress on the touchscreen.
I arrived at the Supercharger station with 32 miles of range left. A little over 40 minutes later, I had 273 miles.
Overall, I came away very impressed with the Model 3.
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