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I drove a Tesla for the first time. It's perfectly fine but still left me underwhelmed.

Chris Johnston   

I drove a Tesla for the first time. It's perfectly fine — but still left me underwhelmed.
  • I drove a Tesla for the first time to work out why some people love the vehicles so much.
  • The Model 3 is a great car to drive, but it has a few annoying features.

I've been a passenger in plenty of Teslas over the years, and I have friends who own one — but I'd never been behind the wheel to really get a feel of what it's like to drive one.

I figured there was only one way to resolve this problem: Rent a Tesla. As I picked a holiday weekend in the UK last month to do so, none seemed available from rental firms, so I found a shiny gray 2022 Model 3 on Turo (despite a frankly outrageous "service" fee).

Gaining access to the Tesla was a clever procedure. I downloaded the Tesla app on my iPhone and the owner added me to his account, meaning no physical key was needed. This was just as well, as the owner was away at the time. (I'm not quite sure what would've happened if I'd lost my phone during the rental, though. And the tech has not been faultless either.)

So on this sunny Saturday my friend, who was visiting from Atlanta, and I set off from East London for Oxford — a journey of about 80 miles, which nevertheless took well over two hours because British roads are not quite as wide as those in America.

Connecting my iPhone to the audio system was simple, and there are convenient twin cordless charging pads built into the central console. The soundtrack for our trip included Dua Lipa's "Radical Optimism" and the latest Pet Shop Boys album, "Nonetheless." Both sounded great through the car's array of speakers.

What I found incongruous, though, was the fake-looking wood paneling on the dashboard. It feels out of place, and I have no idea why it's there. (Tesla wisely got rid of it in the recent Model 3 refresh.)

The Tesla's interior is dominated by an enormous touchscreen that controls every function of the car. It serves up a cavalcade of information, and I often found it difficult to hit the right bit of the screen without taking my eyes off the road, though I admit it makes navigation easier.

The lane-assist and hazard-warning technology can often be too clever for its own good, getting overexcited about supposed dangers that are nothing of the sort.

The trunk is cavernous and could easily accommodate the luggage of four or even five people.

The Model 3 is a very quiet drive, as you might expect of any contemporary EV. It handles well and does pretty much everything you might expect such a car to do, but I just couldn't shake off the feeling that something was missing. If I had to sum it up in a sentence, it'd be this: The Tesla was just a bit boring.

Maybe it's comparable to a movie or TV show with a three-star review — I want it to be either really great, or really bad. Being somewhere in the middle is just "meh." And I suspect this is going to be one of Tesla's biggest problems in the coming years.

Back in the day, if you wanted to show you cared to some degree about the environment (and had fairly deep pockets), driving a Tesla was a no-brainer — as long as you had a garage with a Powerwall and didn't make lots of long trips, that is. (I opted to return my Model 3 without recharging it, so I can't comment on the difficulty of finding somewhere to plug in the car — but I'm glad I didn't have to.)

Tesla now has plenty of competition from legacy automakers, its vehicles are still reasonably expensive, and some of the people who bought them in the past may not be repeat customers for a variety of reasons.

Then there's the realization by some drivers and manufacturers, too, that hybrids might be a better bridge to a greener motoring world than pure electric.

Nevertheless, it's worth noting that Tesla increased its share of the US car market in the first quarter to 51.3%, with Ford a distant second at 7.4%.

I'm grateful I got to take the Model 3 for a spin so I could make up my own mind, but sorry Elon — I'm still no Tesla fanboy.

June 19, 2024, 8:40 a.m. ET: This story was updated to clarify that the interior paneling in the Model 3 that the author drove looked like fake wood to the author, who did not confirm the type of material used. An earlier version of this story also included editing notes that were not meant for publication; they have been removed.

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