Tesla Model 3 from the back

A Chevy Bolt EV owner reviews a Tesla Model 3

Q Causes, Electric Cars, Science, Tech review Leave a Comment

So, I own a 2018 Chevy Bolt–it’s my daily driver, in fact, and I’m quite fond of it. I want to get that out of the way right off the bat so you understand where my biases might come into play. I’m also a massive car nerd, and I’ve been obsessed with the things since I was old enough to verbalize my desire to own one. Yup, I own a project car (1986 Fiero) too.

I rented a Model 3 from Turo for a long weekend trip–largely because we didn’t want to use gas, and it wasn’t much more expensive to rent then the mid-size crossover we’d have needed (at least) to house all our stuff for the trip. I had it for 5 days and drove it from Cleveland, OH to Hershey, PA (along with lots of little side trips around eastern PA). I put about 1,000 miles on it in that time, so I got to know it a bit, but didn’t exactly have it long enough for a more complete review.

With all the background out of the way, here are the main takeaways:

The good

  • The performance (0-60 in 4 seconds, and it handles like a far lighter car)
  • The seats (they’re quite comfy)
  • The storage (you can fit a whole bunch of crap in it)
  • The range (all the Teslas on the market right now offer great range)
  • The superchargers (because of course)
  • The (mostly) seamless integration of charging and nav (it figures out charging stops for you)
  • The smartphone key (it’s freaking great)
  • Cost of ownership (this one is complicated)

The bad

  • The door handles (too hard to use when juggling kids and their stuff)
  • The UI (from opening the glovebox to seeing how fast you’re going)
  • The cruise control (I realize I may be in the minority here, but I’ll explain)
  • Proprietary everything (from chargers to parts)
  • The price (again, complex)

The yuck

  • The blinkers (I loathe the blinker stalk)
  • No Android Auto or Apple Car Play (yeah, I get why not, but it still sucks)
  • Nav is not as good as Google (like I said, no Android Auto)

The good stuff

Performance: As I mentioned, I’m a car nerd–I absolutely love to drive, so I enjoyed the hell out of the pull the Model 3 had. Seriously, even going 60 or 70 on the highway, stomping on the go-pedal threw heads back into seats, and it was awesome. The car stayed flat through the corners, and had tons of grip thanks to the AWD system and, for an EV, fairly wide, grippy tires.

My kids (1 and 4 years old) loved it too–in my Bolt, they really like the instant-torque acceleration. They call it “wee,” and when they want me to accelerate, they say, “more wee!” Yes, it’s adorable, and I also love “wee,” so I don’t mind at all. The first time they asked for “more wee” in the Tesla it surprised them–dead silence from the back seat for a few seconds then, “more wee!!!!” Seriously, it’s otherworldly, and that’s coming from a guy who is used to instant torque and has a daily driver quicker than the most popular dailies on the market. It’s fast–and it’s a practical daily driver, which is an absolute dream come true for someone not rich enough to own a whole bunch of cars.

The seats and storage: When you take a pair of young kids on a road trip, you bring a ton of stuff. For us, that includes several large objects like our Pack & Play and the Battle Wagon. Add to that suitcases (my son just had to bring his Millenium Falcon suitcase), my laptop bag, the shoe bag, the snack bag, etc., and it adds up very quickly. Yes, it all fits in my Bolt (which has a surprising amount of space), but it’s real tricky to load (think Jenga mixed with LEGO), and it encroaches on the space my kids have in the back.

Even dirty, my Bolt fits a lot of Chipotle in the back

The Tesla, on the other hand, has ample storage when you combine a generous trunk (with a bonus, deep well under the false floor) with a small-ish trunk (a medium-to-large duffel went in there), and you can fit a ton of stuff in it without sacrificing passenger space. I was really impressed.

The seats are also more comfy than my Bolt’s (though, I don’t mind my Bolt seats at all), and they’re both power seats (something my Bolt lacks, even if you got the Premier trim). The car is also wider, which makes for more room in the back for the booster and child seat we had belted in.

The frunk is surprisingly useful!

Range and supercharging: Arguably, this is the best thing about the car. I say arguably because my vote goes to the performance while my wife, Amanda, casts her vote for the supercharging and range. Going from Cleveland to Harrisburg (just outside of Hershey), the Model 3 wanted us to stop twice for at least 10 minutes. Had we taken the Bolt, which we were originally going to do (before the recall times), I’d have had to stop at least 2 times for 45 min to an hour each stop, at least, to get there (three stops might have been the plan). That’s for a 332 mile drive, which gives the Tesla a very nice advantage.

I will point out that there were an equal number of fast chargers for my Bolt vs Tesla Superchargers on the route, but the Superchargers tend to be a little bit more reliable, and they’re much faster than my Bolt can charge. We did a 200 mile trip in my Bolt just this last weekend with one stop, and it wasn’t a big deal–we sat down, we ate, we left. Not really an inconvenience, but for longer road trips, the Tesla definitely wins, even if I’m OK with the Bolt for these trips right now (kids can’t stay in the car too long anyway before they start going crazy).

Every station I pulled up to worked and worked fast . . .

The integration of the trip planner in the Tesla navigation is seamless too. When I take my Bolt for a road trip, I generally scout out the fast charging stations ahead of time, putting some real thought and care into my trip so that I can be sure I have enough juice to make it to my destination. In the Tesla, I just input a destination. If I need to stop to charge somewhere, the car knows that, adds it to my trip, and sends me on my way. It’s pretty great.

The smartphone key: every manufacturer should do this (and most are starting to offer options similar to it). Basically, you securely store your “key” on your phone. Walk up to your Tesla, and the doors unlock and you just hop in. Once you’re in, the car is on, and you drive away. No muss, no fuss. In a lot of ways, it’s even more secure. If someone steals my phone, I can remotely lock or wipe it from just about any other device. If someone steals my car key, they can get into my car and drive away (with my Bolt, I can call OnStar and they can disable it, but the bad guy has already gotten into the car).

This was awesome, and worked 99% problem and worry free (once I had to actually pull my phone out of my pocket and open the app to get it to work, but that was the only issue).

Cost of ownership: I’m going to get more into this later, but the cost of owning an EV, in general, beats pretty much any comparable, or even a bit down-market ICE (Internal Combustion Engine) car. Recent studies prove this out nicely, and as an owner of an EV with 51,000 miles on it, I can corroborate. I’ve had one unexpected repair that I think is mostly tied to some seriously messed up road I had to drive on this winter (suspension related), but that doesn’t seem to be a common problem reported in any of the owner groups of which I’m a member. As far as regular maintenance? I’ve bought tires, washer fluid, and a cabin air filter. That’s it. My brakes still look like new (I love one-pedal driving), and “filling my tank” costs a fraction of what we paid in gasoline for our old Equinox and Malibu. The car can take up to 60 kW, and I only pay $0.077 per kW, so, if my battery is flat dead, that’s $4.62. Even $0.15 per kW would only cost $9.00. Not bad.

Tesla has all the same benefits–EVs just need less maintenance. There are way fewer moving parts to worry about, and ultra-high mileage EVs are already a thing (the highest listed Bolt EV has over 235k on it).

The bad

Door handles and UI: I get why they did it. Yeah, flat door handles both look cool (they really do), and they reduce drag, even if only by a tiny bit. But the way these things open just kinda sucks. I’m sure, if I owned a Model 3, I’d get used to it, but when you’re carrying a screaming child, have a diaper bag on your back, and groceries in your hand, it’s freaking hard to open the door. My Bolt door? No problem–I can do it with one pinky, which is something you absolutely cannot do (unless you’re really quick) on a Tesla Model 3. The Model S does it better–the door handles just pop out and work like regular ones as you approach the car.

The UI, in general, on the Model 3, needs help. For the purposes of this post, I’m going to refer to anything the “user” interfaces with as the “UI.” The most obvious is the touchscreen. While the navigation isn’t awful, it does have a learning curve, and some settings were really hard to find at first (e.g., it took several minutes for me to figure out how to turn off the “easy entry” function so I didn’t smash my 4 year old in the back seat every time I put the car in Park).

Having my speed down and to the right of where I look while driving also sucks. I got used to it quickly, but it’s still objectively worse than having the speed in your line of sight or directly below (you just have to move your eyes further). A HUD would fix this problem nicely, and it’s not exactly advanced tech. My 2006 Grand Prix GXP had a HUD. Heck, my cousin’s ’98 Grand Prix had a HUD. Tesla needs to fix this.

The scroll wheels on the steering wheel are . . . nice to use most of the time, but they also move too easily. Several times, I actually adjusted my cruise speed by lightly bumping the scroll wheel as I put my hand back on the steering wheel from taking a drink of tea or scratching my nose. I think the scroll wheels are actually pretty cool–they just need to be a little harder to spin and maybe a little more clicky.

Opening the glovebox should not take a minimum of two taps. Just put a freaking mechanical button on there, please.

Oh, and buttons–more of them are needed. Touchscreens are very cool, and wonderful at lots of things. However, it’s very hard to operate one without focusing on it. Buttons can be felt out without looking, which is a massive advantage while actually driving a car.

Look at all those glorious buttons! My son loves them!

The cruise control: No, I didn’t try auto-pilot (mostly because I love to drive, but also because there are some valid reasons not to). So, I tried the minimal amount of car-controlled-cruise, which is basically adaptive cruise control. So, why is this landing in the “bad” section of my piece?

Well, three times, the cruise unexpectedly hit the brakes on me for no valid reason, two of which were fairly aggressive. When you drive from Cleveland to eastern Pennsylvania, you drive on a lot of twisty, hilly highways. My theory is that the combination of a hill, curve, and highway sign caused the Tesla to think something was in my way and thus hit the brakes to save itself (and us) even though it didn’t need to.

That happened three times in a little less than 1,000 miles, and each time it made me lose a little confidence in the system and added just a little bit of worry to the trip overall. All three times I was able to intervene (because I was paying attention) and nothing bad really happened, but it’s really jarring when you’re cruising along on a mostly open highway and your car suddenly decides to hit the brakes hard enough to make your head snap forward.

Nope. Did not like.

Oh, also, I was unable to figure out how to simply resume my previously set cruise. I’m sure there’s got to be a way to do this, but I was, instead, simply setting the cruise each time I disengaged it. Not a massive deal, but I found the cruise control settings to be . . . unintuitive. Even some quick Googling turned up no option for resume.

Proprietary parts and price: Teslas are extremely proprietary. They use a non-standard charging port (except in the EU where they’re being forced to use the international standard) and, until recently, didn’t allow third parties to sell replacement parts or even work on their cars. Even now, third party services are extremely limited and Tesla is not exactly helping push forward the right to repair movement.

One guy was quoted a $16,000 repair bill after hitting some road debris. A third party shop that isn’t officially supported by Tesla was able to fix it for $700 (which was mostly labor). Another guy got so pissed off waiting months and months for parts, he decided to fix the car himself. Even though it was easy to work on, tracking down the parts he needed (or a mechanic to work on the car) was really, really difficult.

Because all the parts are proprietary, they’re expensive. Because of the tight control Tesla exerts over its cars (even down to the individual level), it’s hard to find parts because you can mostly only get them from Tesla (and they’ve been backed up basically since the Model S launched). So, even if you can afford to fix a Tesla, you may wait several months for the parts. Oh, and they can be awfully finnicky about fixing cars that they should definitely fix, like this guy’s bumper flying off when he hit a puddle. Tesla initially told him the warranty didn’t cover “acts of God,” and wanted to charge him for repairs. Eventually, they fixed it under warranty and admitted there was a problem, but come on.

Right to repair is something I strongly believe in–Tesla needs to do more to support it

And the yuck

The blinker stalk: I despise the blinker stalk in the Model 3. I’m not even being hyperbolic here. You push down all the way to flash right and up all the way to flash left. Pressing down part way in either direction flashes your blinker three times (which is common to lots of cars, including my Bolt). Doesn’t sound too bad, right? Here’s the rub: in my Bolt the stalk stays up or down until I turn the wheel a bit. In the Tesla, it springs back to it’s original place. To turn off a blinker, you move it part way in either direction (up or down). In my Bolt, I just flick it with a finger to snap it back to my original position.

The Bolt’s blinker (and most other cars on the road) requires less thought to use. Sure, you’d get used to it, but why should you have to? It’s not better in any way that I can think of, and it adds some ambiguity to something simple like using your blinker. Also, making a right turn immediately followed by a left turn is kind of a pain–most of the time, I couldn’t get the blinker to switch from one side to the other as smoothly as I could in literally every other car I’ve ever driven.

Add to that the fact that I kept accidentally flashing my high-beams at people when trying to press the blinker up or down in just the right way (because of the angle and resistance required to activate the blinker), and it quickly went from a minor annoyance that I thought I’d figure out eventually to a thing I truly hated about driving the car.

This doesn’t need to be any harder. (image credit)

No Android Auto or Car Play and navigation: This is likely the biggest in the “yuck” list. Tesla’s UI needs some work–there are some small touch targets, weirdly aligned controls in menus, a lot of window resizing, etc. It makes changing settings, adjusting audio, and other things a little more challenging than they need to be. Android Auto and Car Play are simply better user experiences in terms of the actual UI.

While Tesla’s navigation is built on top of the Google Maps, the navigational instruction is worse. Tesla is slower than Google to warn me about things like when I have to take an exit then immediately bear right or left. Google will tell me before I get off the exit, but Tesla tends to more often tell me in the moment, giving me less time to make sure I’m in the correct lane.

The colors and general layout of Google maps are also better, more intuitive, and easier to use while driving. I found the UI and the map itself from Tesla to be too monochromatic, which made everything sort of blend together. That made it a little harder to interact with at a glance if I wanted to adjust anything or cancel nav. I ended up using voice commands a lot, which did work pretty well.

I get why Tesla doesn’t support Android Auto or Car Play. They’ve done a lot of work to incorporate controls for the entire car into that infotainment screen. You can’t even open the glove box without it, as I’ve mentioned. That being said, it’s a big freaking screen . . .

So, how would I do it if I were lord and master of all things? I’d allocate a portion of the screen to Android Auto/Car Play, leaving a chunk of it available to still control the critical things in the car. This would give users access to things like Waze and Google Maps so they have an option outside of Tesla’s nav to be on the main screen. I’d partner with Google to make sure a Tesla owner could plan a route with Tesla Supercharger needs in mind–heck I might even go as far as setting up an API that allows the Model 3 (or any other Tesla) to tell Google things (e.g. current state of charge, recent efficiency, etc.) so that Google could route plan just like Tesla does. That way, if you want to use Tesla’s first-party stuff, do it. If you want to use Android Auto, do that.

I prefer choice to walled gardens.

To wrap up . . .

Overall, I liked the Model 3 quite a bit. Would I buy one? No, not right now.

While it has some significant advantages over my Bolt (mostly the faster charging, performance, and supercharger network), I just don’t see it as being that much better than my Bolt. At the time of this writing, you can walk off a lot with a 2021 Bolt EV for about $27k. A Standard Range+ Model 3 is $10 shy of $40k. That makes the Bolt nearly $13k less expensive than the closest comparable Model 3. I don’t think the Model 3 is $13k better than my Bolt, personally, and my Bolt has things that I find to be serious advantages (like buttons and Android Auto). Also, if I need work done on the thing, it’s easier to find mechanics.

Now, if the Model 3 came down in price a bit, it’d be very, very compelling (especially if someone made a better-blinker-mod). 🙂

I really liked the car, and enjoyed the hell out of the performance. I also fully acknowledge that some of the things I didn’t like about it are somewhat subjective. Also the status and exclusivity that comes of Tesla ownership is something a lot of people really enjoy (seriously, several people commented on it in parking lots and drive-thrus), it’s just not a thing I personally care about all that much. However, I do really love the fact that the recognition Tesla gets is spreading the good word about EVs in general.

Should you buy one? Sure–I’d recommend one to most people looking at buying an EV.

It should be said that, as an idealistic tech and car nerd, I have some significant concerns over their business practices (I’ve mentioned right to repair, but the way they sell “auto-pilot” and other software-controlled features sets a bad precedent for the industry in terms of what’s good for the consumer), and I wish Elon would make good on his promise to open up the Supercharger network. However, if you’re just looking at the car on its own merits? Yeah, it’s mostly a great vehicle to inhabit and drive.

My Bolt has seen me through rain, sleet, and even snow–a solid travel companion wherever I go

With the current Chevy Bolt recall woes, I’m seriously considering a new EV (depending on how GM helps me through this mess), and the Model 3 was on my list, but if it comes down to it, I’d rather keep my Bolt (with a new battery pack) than buy a Model 3–most of that has to do with my own idealism (again, right to repair), but I do really dislike the Model 3’s interior layout. The recall definitely has me concerned, and I may not end up keeping my Bolt, but there are other options out there like the Mach-E, ID.4, and even the upcoming Lyriq (just to name a few). The EV horizon is looking bright (fires notwithstanding).

Let me (and others) know what you think

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