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4 Things I Hated About Putting 1,700 Miles on a Tesla

(Image: Bob Al-Greene/Getty Images)

There were things I loved too, but first, we need to talk about that touch screen.

By Rob Pegoraro

There may be no more pleasurable part of the Tesla Model 3 driving experience than when you tap the accelerator with some force. The vehicle shoots forward, quicker than most gas-powered cars could ever translate your input into motion.

And there may be no more annoying part of that same scenario than what can follow: at 60 miles per hour on the highway, when you turn to the Model 3’s cluttered touch screen to cue up a road-trip soundtrack.

I spent almost 1,700 miles piloting an all-wheel-drive Model 3 Long Range rented from Hertz on the highways, byways, and streets of Idaho, Washington, Oregon, and California for PCMag’s Best Mobile Networks 2022 testing. It left me loving parts of the Tesla life, but sour on others.

First, the Good

Performance: The Model 3’s lag-free acceleration and its accompanying sense of control and power make the car a joy to drive. Tesla lists a 0–60 time of 4.2 seconds for the Model 3 Long Range (base price: $$51,390). Although I didn’t test that on public roads, I can describe the sensation of flooring the accelerator as “gut-churningly fast.”

Handling is terrific, too. The Model 3 kept planted on twisty roads such as US 101 in California’s northernmost reaches, thanks to the low center of gravity provided by the heavy battery pack under the car’s floor.

Our Tesla in northern California, beautiful as always (Photo: Rob Pegoraro)

I enjoyed driving enough to save Tesla’s Autosteer for a pre-dawn run to San Francisco International Airport at the end of the trip (Hertz disables full Self-Driving). It kept the car at a constant speed in one lane through curves, but required too much manual intervention as traffic mounted to represent much of a game changer over traditional cruise control.

Comfort: At speed on highways, the Model 3 offered a calm, mostly quiet ride—although it let in more wind and road noise than the vastly more expensive Mercedes Benz EQS 580 electric luxury sedan I test-drove briefly in December. The seat remained impressively comfortable, helped by powerful air conditioning that kept the interior cool even with sun streaming through the tinted glass roof. At charging stops, the driver’s seat revealed an extra advantage: It reclines almost flat to ease napping.

Range: Tesla estimates a Model 3 Long Range is good for 334 to 358 miles between charges, but my rental model did not fare as well. Still, I’ll call it “good,” as many competing cars would likely have done worse. Some blame may go to my occasional lead foot and the route’s mountainous geography, but the biggest culprit is likely the Best Mobile Networks testing process.

As in, not only did we have three Galaxy S22 phones drawing power from the car via an AC inverter, but the processor-intensive testing apps left the devices running hot enough (even with clamped-on Razer cooling fans, each separately plugged into the inverter) that the air conditioning had to be cranked down to 66 degrees Fahrenheit most of the time.

My longest drive between charges, a 226-mile leg from Portland to a charger off Interstate 5 in southern Oregon, took the battery from full to 26%, equating to a 305-mile range. The second-longest such distance, 155 miles from a charger south of Seattle to Portland, drained the battery by 49%, good for a 316-mile range. The worst I saw was 267 miles, estimated from the battery drain over a hilly 120 miles in rural Washington. My estimated average over six of these measured stretches: 296 miles.

Topping off at a Tesla Supercharger (Photo: Rob Pegoraro)

The Supercharger network: Tesla’s network of Superchargers, most placed near Interstates, erased range anxiety on this trip. They also replenish the battery impressively fast—especially when I’s select a Supercharger stop in the touch-screen navigation app, allowing the car to warm up the battery for a quicker charge that runs as fast as a 2% increase per minute.

I found multiple chargers open at each stop, although a Supercharger station in Santa Rosa, CA, enforced an 80% charging limit because of high demand. The one place I did fret about battery life slightly was the Seattle area, where the only close-in Supercharger east of Lake Washington hides in a garage in downtown Bellevue. On my way out of Seattle, I had to detour 15 miles off of I-5 to recover at a Supercharger.

Now, the Bad

The touch-screen interface: The leftmost third of the 15-inch touch screen that replaces traditional gauges and switches is fine, cleanly presenting the current speed, speed limit, and a graphic showing your car’s position relative to others as seen by the Tesla’s cameras.

The rest of the display, however, combines too-small target areas for on-screen controls with a menu hierarchy hiding things as basic as the odometer and side-mirror adjustments. Worse yet, the system let me interact with complicated apps like the navigation system—and even open a web browser—while driving. This is despite the car being able to tell (by way of the inactivated passenger airbag) that only a driver was up front.

You can control many functions by voice, but this system’s reliance on cloud processing can leave you out of luck in thin coverage areas (meaning, much of my route). The nav system, in turn, speaks directions. But on the trip, it kept using “bear right” or “bear left” to describe anything from a slight bend to a 45-degree turn while failing to call out some smaller roads by the route numbers shown on overhead signs and the map display.

The Model 3’s 15-inch touch screen (Photo: Angela Moscaritolo)

Music playback: The Model 3 comes with two USB-C ports in a cubby afore of the cup holders and two more facing the back seats—but on new models, my 2022-built vehicle included, they only charge devices. A USB-A port in the harder-to-reach glove compartment allows local file access, except I couldn’t open that on my rental without a PIN that Hertz didn’t provide. (Hertz spokesman John G. Friess said the company does that “to protect data storage housed there.”)

Bluetooth streaming from phones still works, but Tesla’s implementation, devoid of support for Apple’s CarPlay, or Google’s Android Auto, required me to select music on my Pixel 5a’s touch screen.

Tesla does provide a house-branded set of streaming music channels that offers good variety. As a Generation Xer headed to Seattle, I had to try “90s Alternative.” If you pay for Spotify or Tidal, you can stream those services as well.

A Jony Ive approach to car design: Despite offering only the shallowest interoperability with iPhones, the Model 3 still seems resolutely Apple-esque. By which I mean, it reminds me of some of the purist excesses of Apple’s former chief designer Jony Ive.

The windshield wipers, for example, dispense with the usual infrared sensor to process imagery from a forward-facing camera using a custom neural network—which sometimes had the wipers flopping around in dry weather. And the only way to lock and unlock a Tesla rented from Hertz is to tap the RFID key card on the driver-side B pillar; I quickly grew tired of having to walk around the car to get at something on the passenger side or in the trunk. Owners, unlike Hertz renters, can use the Tesla mobile app to lock and unlock their vehicles remotely.

Supercharger plug (Photo: Rob Pegoraro)

The proprietary Supercharger plug: Tesla further evokes Apple in its use of a proprietary charging cable while most of the rest of the US industry has coalesced around the USB-C of electric cars, a standard called CCS, short for “ Combined Charging System.” (The Nissan Leaf and a few other vehicles use a third connector, ChaDeMo, which would be micro USB in this analogy.)

I understand why Tesla implemented its own plug; When it started developing electric cars 15-plus years ago, GM’s notion of sustainability stopped at supporting mostly ethanol blends of gas. But now CCS predominates across the country, and the AC adapter for the slower version of CCS that Tesla includes in a bag in the trunk was essential for overnight charges at some hotels.

This will only get worse as car charger buildouts tilt toward CCS, accelerated by almost $5 billion in funding from last year’s infrastructure law that will mandate support for that standard. With Tesla already set to add CCS support to future Supercharger sites, expect US-spec Teslas to switch someday to CCS as European models already have .

All that said, when I was soaring up a highway toward a mountain pass at 75 mph in this American-made electric land rocket and looking out at giant wind turbines that could be powering the next Supercharger, it felt like I was driving toward a future we want. But the electric car market is now big enough that Tesla no longer has the road to tomorrow to itself.

Originally published at https://www.pcmag.com.

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