Categories
Electric Vehicles Tesla

2021 Tesla Model 3 Review

For 8 months and 8,000 miles, I put the 2021 Model 3 Long Range edition through its paces. Here are my thoughts.

Full disclosure: The 2021 Tesla Model 3 Long Range is the first EV I’ve owned. I’ve owned hybrids before (Honda Insight), but this is a different beast altogether.

Buying Experience

I purchased the Model 3 Long Range edition in late December 2021. I had taken a test drive in early December at the Atlanta Tesla Showroom. Of course, with COVID protocols, I was unable to have a Tesla representative in the car with me, and without them in the car, they wouldn’t let me test full self driving. They did their best to pitch it to me in the showroom, but there was no way I was going to plunk down $10K for a software upgrade without being able to test it.

The Tesla representative offered to let me take the Model 3 I was testing home for the night to get a better feel for it. I can’t stress how important this was to assuage my concerns (and my wife’s) about buying an EV.

I put my order in online, and used a referral code from a friend. This ensured that both he and I got 1000 free supercharging miles (good for 6 months after delivery). I can’t stress this enough – if you buy a Tesla, use the referral code. If you don’t have one already, you can use mine – https://www.tesla.com/referral/theodore90943.

I was trading a vehicle in, and this process was a little different than other car dealers. I received an email pointing me to Tesla’s website. Here I was able to provide details about my trade, and upload photos of the car from various angles. After submitting, I had an offer for my trade within a few hours. The offer itself was inline with what you should expect from a valuation from any of the online sites.

Delivery took a little over 2 weeks, and again, was ‘contactless’. I took delivery at night, which I wouldn’t recommend. You’ll want to inspect your car thoroughly for any build issues, and it’s best to do that during the day. Luckily, my Model 3 didn’t have any, so it wasn’t an issue.

For the first month I charged at home with the provided charger off an outlet in my garage. I purchased the Wall Connector and had it professionally installed. The charger itself was $500. The installation cost me about $1100. Depending upon where your breaker box is, this may cost more or less. This gives me a charging rate of about 50 miles/hour. I was also able to get special ‘super off-peak’ charging deal from Georgia Power. This rate is essentially 1 cent per kwh if I charge between 11pm and 7am, which is when I set the car to charge.

Fit and Finish

The Model 3 has a spartan interior. Everything is handled via a steering wheel with two stocks (one for wiper control, the other for drive/park/reverse/neutral. Environmental controls are handled either via voice command or the center touch screen console. This takes some getting used to, but the voice commands allow you change climate without taking your hands off the wheel, which is definitely safer than fiddling with a knob.

The seat themselves are fake leather. I stuck with the black finish, and I’m happy I did. The seats are comfortable for long drives (a bit more on that later), and offer electric controls to adjust height and position. You can save these settings as a profile, so if you have multiple people driving the car, you can easily swap between settings.

Tesla Model 3 Interior

Much has been made about the lack of physical controls and having to do everything from the steering wheel or the touchscreen. It takes some getting used to, but now whenever I drive my other cars, I feel the dash controls are over cluttered. Having the ability to do just about everything via voice commands makes the Model 3 a joy to use, and makes me miss that feature when I’m driving other cars.

One of the improvements in the 2021 edition of the Model 3 is the addition of a powered trunk. There’s also a button on the bottom of the trunk to make it close itself. It’s a nice improvement. Other 2021 improvements include USB-C ports in the center console, wireless charging pads, a new heat pump system, and a better/improved battery with increased range and efficiency (more on the later). On the exterior, the 2021 edition removes all of the chrome around the car and replaces it with black. I was never a fan of the chrome look, and I’m glad they ditched it.

Handling

The real selling feature of the car is how it handles. Any electric car is going to bowl you over with how much toque it can produce, and how quickly it can accelerate. The Model 3 is no different. I think the main thing that this car has that has spoiled me on driving ICE vehicles is the smoothness of going from a full stop to a 60 or so miles per hour. Along with using regenerative breaking (where instead of using the breaks to stop, you simply let up on the gas and let the car slow itself to a complete stop) you get a nice smooth ride all around.

Battery

The biggest improvement in the 2021 Model 3 is the software and battery upgrades. In the Long Range model, range is bumped up to 353 miles. One of the things you will realize once you drive an EV for any amount of time, is that projected range and real world range often do not mesh, and usually real world range will fall short of what the projected range is. Sometimes that is by a small amount, other times, it’s by a large amount. Many factors can play in to how close your range is to projected range. Factors like how you drive and what type of wheels you use are within your control. Factors like road incline, wind resistance, rain, and other environmental factors are not within your control.

How you use your car and where you live will determine how big of a deal range is to you. For smaller commutes and trips, having a project range off by a few miles or percent isn’t a big deal. For use on longer trips (where getting to a Tesla Supercharger in the recharge window is imperative) it can mean the difference between getting to your destination or calling road side service for a tow to the closest supercharger location.

Obviously, if you are considering ponying up for the Model 3 Long Range edition, range matters to you. During the 8 months I’ve owned my M3LR, I’ve taken it on 3 road trips. Two to Orlando, which is a 500 mile one way trip for me. And one to a location that was 144 miles away.

One the first road trip to Orlando (just a few days after purchasing the vehicle), I departed my home with 100% charge. The Tesla navigation had me make 2 charge stops. The first was a quick charge of 20 minutes, the second was a charge of 40 minutes. This got me to my destination with about 20% of charge. Luckily the hotel I was staying at did have a Level 2 charger that was free to use to guests (there were actually 2 chargers, but one was in-operative. This happens a lot. Be prepared). And I was even luckier that I got to the charger before some of the other guests who had EVs did. I was able to charge back up to 90% and had plenty of juice to get me started on my trip back. But if my hotel didn’t have a charger I could use, I would have had to find the closest supercharger to the hotel, and get charged up there and head back to the hotel. For a short trip, this isn’t exactly ideal.

For my second road trip, we drove to a resort not far from my home (about 2 hours). The navigation pegged it as 114 miles from my home. We left with 100% charge, and when we arrived, the car had expended 45% of its charge. Being a rural area, there were no superchargers close by. The hotel itself had 3 outlets available to EVs, but all 3 were in use when I arrived and none became available. As such, I was limited in being able to explore the area around the hotel, and when we drove home, we were very nervous that we wouldn’t make it without running out of juice. I drove super conservatively, and didn’t engage any of the environmental systems so I could maximize my range. I ended up at home with 5%. Not ideal and not an experience I would like to go thru again.

For my third road trip, I once again travelled to Orlando. This trip wasn’t as smooth as the first. At our first supercharger stop, all the chargers were occupied except one. And when I connected to that one, it reported an error and wouldn’t charge. There was a Tesla technician at the charger doing work, so obviously it was being addressed. I could have waited, but I knew there was another Supercharger about 50 minutes further on the path that was free and opted to travel to that one. It meant a slightly longer charge at that location, but it was next to a Moe’s, so I didn’t mind.

But that brings me to my next concern – Supercharger availability. When you get to a gas station and there’s a car or two ahead of you and you have to wait, it’s no big deal. Most people take 5 minutes or less to fill up an ICE car. But at a Supercharger, most people are spending between 20 – 40 minutes. The turnover isn’t quick, so arriving at a full Supercharger with a few cars in front of you can mean a half hour or more waiting your turn, on top of the 20 – 40 minutes to charge. If you have some place to be, this isn’t ideal.

Now Tesla has announced they are going to open their Supercharging network to non Tesla cars. In the long term, this will be good. It will mean Tesla has expanded their ability to make the Supercharger network profitable, and should be able to put those profits back in to build more Superchargers. In the short term though, it means busy, crowded Superchargers are only going to get busier and more crowded.

Battery Degradation

The achilles heal of EVs is the battery. At the time of this writing, Lithium Ion batteries, for all of their wonders they enable, are a flawed technology. They have a life span, and as they age, their ability to hold a charge decreases. How much of that ability is lost depends upon many factors – charging habits, environment, driving habits and so on.

It is expected that your cars top range will decrease over time. If you’ve owned a smart phone or computer, you are familiar with the problem. Tesla sets no expectation of how much it will decrease and at what rate. So there’s only real world examples to go on.

As I said, I’ve owned my Model 3 Long Range for 8 months and have drive about 8000 miles. I’ve followed the recommended charging behaviors of avoiding letting the battery go below 10% (happened only once on the road trip described above), and charging to 80 or 90% daily. I’ve only charged to 100% a handful of times, usually when I’m going on a long trip.

My top range for the first month I owned the car was 353 miles. As of my last 100% charge from my last trip, my top range was 322 miles. That’s a 31 mile drop in 8 months. Obviously, I’m concerned about this. It’s possible that my battery just needs to be recalibrated (which I will try soon). But it’s also possible that factors like the Georgia heat are contributing to me losing range faster than I would like.

Tesla’s battery is warrantied for 8 years or 100,000 miles. Tesla guarantees your battery will retain 70% of its capacity over this lifetime. I’m 8 months in and have already lost about 9% of my range. Obviously if this trend is real and not reversible I’m going to be a prime candidate for a new battery. I’m not sure how this will play out but I’ll keep updating this site with information as it becomes available.

Full Self Driving

As I mentioned, I wasn’t able to test the Full Self Driving option at the test drive, so I opted not to purchase it. It was announced shortly after I purchased that FSD would be available via a subscription. Tesla has just made good on this promise. You can now purchase FSD on a monthly basis at $199.00 (plus tax) a month. There’s no minimum commitment and you can cancel and or restart at anytime. If you have an older Model 3, you may need a hardware upgrade to be able to use FSD. The cost is $1000. Any 2020 or newer Model 3 will have hardware capable of FSD.

When the subscription became available, I purchased it and put it through it’s paces in Orland, FL and here in my hometown.

And the short of it is – it’s not ready for primetime.

Now, I wouldn’t have even considered FSD had I not seen several videos showing it working. From the videos I watched, it looked very competent. In my experience, that was not the case.

Case in point – I was driving home from Florida on the highway with Full Self Driving enabled. The car wanted me to get off the highway at a particular exit and take a back road for the last 100 miles or so. I opted to stay on the highway for a bit longer and take a different back road a few dozen miles up the road. As I passed the exit the car had wanted me to take, it started slowing down drastically – from about 75 mph to about 30 mph – while I was in the center lane of the highway. This wasn’t a confidence inspiring move.

One thing I noticed after I ponied up for the one month of FSD is that most of the videos I was watching on FSD are people who are involved in the FSD Beta program. FSD Beta 9 will include auto steer on city streets. This is not present in the current FSD you can subscribe to. To my knowledge, you can’t get in to the FSD Beta program unless you have purchased the FSD package outright, so any evaluation on my part of FSD 9 will have to wait.

I really like driving the Model 3, so I’m not keen to pony up a large sum of money to have the car drive itself. That said, I can see myself laying down for a month of FSD if I’m planning a road trip, provided they can get the bugs worked out.

Wrap Up

There’s a lot to like about the Tesla Model 3. It handles exceptionally well. It has tremendous power. It’s a comfortable ride and provides lots of cabin amenities. It’s in-expensive to own (maintenance and fuel cost wise). It’s futuristic. But electric vehicles are not mainstream yet and owning one means things you took for granted before, like re-fueling easily on long trips, are now potential pain points. How much pain these points will be to you depend upon your lifestyle and travel habits.

For me, since I own a very nice and capable ICE car along with the Model 3, I’ll probably opt to take the ICE car on any road trip that would require more than one supercharger pit stop.

If you do decide to buy a Tesla, please consider using my referral code – https://www.tesla.com/referral/theodore90943. We will both receive 1000 free supercharging miles. It’s a win-win.