I received my Tesla Model Y, Long Range version, two years ago and have driven it about 20,000 miles. It was one of the first batch of cars released as I had pre-ordered it as soon as it was announced. Current production vehicles have had some changes, but my comments should be relevant to anyone considering a Tesla.
Prior to getting the Tesla, I had a couple other electric cars. I had an early VW e-Golf. I loved this car, but its limited range (~100 miles) made it an “around town” vehicle. I also had (and still have) a 2016 Chevy Volt. Officially the Volt is a plug-in hybrid, but it has about 50 miles of all electric range so you only have to use gasoline for longer trips. Before those vehicles, I had a variety of gas cars, from pickup trucks to sporty turbo convertible. So I have a decent range of cars for comparison.
Before I go on, I should say that I’m a pragmatist – I buy vehicles for very practical reasons. I don’t care about brand loyalty. I am NOT a Tesla Fanboy but I do like their vehicles for many reasons.
Most of my driving these days consists of short trips, ranging from 10 to 100 miles per day. I also took several road trips from Pennsylvania to Massachusetts (~330 miles each way) and a long trip to South Carolina (~700 miles each way).
I am also participating in the Full Self Driving Beta program (henceforth referred to as FSDBeta). There have been many articles about Tesla’s “self-driving” capabilities, so I’ll keep my comments about that to things that I feel might be most relevant to actual purchasers of the car who are NOT part of the beta program – i.e. the general public.
Things I Love About the Tesla Model Y
Acceleration / Drivability
Every review of Tesla’s cars starts with raves about the acceleration. I’m not a performance driver. I don’t really care that it can go 0-60 in 4.1 seconds. Sure, that’s cool, but it’s not the way I drive. In fact, I almost always drive the car in “chill” mode, which makes the acceleration much smoother (i.e. slower). I find the normal mode to be too jerky, as it lurches forward as soon as you touch the accelerator. Some may like this but I prefer smoother acceleration.
That said, having great acceleration makes the car much safer than a typical gas engine car because the acceleration allows the car to be much more responsive. And the acceleration from an EV is more intuitive than that from a conventional gas car. You press the accelerator and the car goes faster. If you’re sliding into traffic on the highway, you simply step on the accelerator, and in a second, you’re cruising at the same speed as the rest of the traffic. In most gas cars, there are often those seconds of panic while you hope the car will go fast enough to avoid the traffic coming up from behind.
Once you’ve experienced the sheer drivability of an electric car, you’ll never want to return to a conventional gas car. It’s a night and day improvement. It’s the way driving should be. All my electric vehicles have had this benefit but the Tesla is in a category with sports-cars, while the other EVs I’ve had are simply “sprightly.”
The Model Y has been tested to be one of the safest vehicles ever produced.
The Model Y, like most EVs has a heavy battery pack, mounted low, which makes it much less likely to roll over than a conventional vehicle of this size. A lower center of gravity helps hold the car flat to the ground during turns and sudden swerves. There is none of the lean that you get with other cars.
The overall design of the car promotes safety. Lacking a large engine up front gives the front of the car a much large “crumple zone” to absorb impact during crashes. It also has an abundance of air bags to further improve safety. Fortunately, I’ve never had to test these features, so you can find more safety info in other reviews.
Space – Interior Layout
I’ve always liked practical cars with lots of storage space. The Model Y, in spite of its streamlined design, has ample interior room. Legroom and headroom are awesome. Cargo space is also exceptional with the additional “Frunk” (small trunk under the hood) as well as standard rear area with folding flat seats. There’s also another storage space under the rear storage area that’s large enough for me to store a few bags of groceries.
With the rear seats folded, the back area is large, though it’s not very high. You can easily fit a lot of luggage in there for a two-person road trip. I usually keep my golf clubs and pull-cart stashed in there without the seats folded down and still have enough room for a trip to Costco, which usually entails a giant shopping cart full of groceries, paper towels and toilet paper. Very convenient to have all that room!
I love the convenience of the Tesla app on my phone. At any time, I can see the amount of charge in the battery. I can close the windows if I forgot to do that. The car unlocks and locks automatically using my phone as a “smart key.” I now hate using cars that require keys. It just seems so much better to not have to think about remembering a key or having to remember to lock the car.
Another thing you can do is turn on the air conditioner or heating while you’re away from the car. This is a god-send on hot days. A few minutes before I get back to the car, I simply turn on the AC and it’s comfortable when I get in. No more scorching hot seats and suffocating air! The car also has a feature where it can turn on the climate automatically if it gets too warm in the car. It has another feature where it can keep the AC on and the interior comfortable so you can have pets in the car while the car is parked. When in this mode, it displays a message on the large screen to remind people that your pets are comfortable and safe in the car.
This is really a “convenience” feature, but also so much more!
With it’s long range (around 300 miles) the Model Y LR doesn’t require frequent charging, however most people will plug it in at home at night. This is one of the best features of EVs – you don’t have to go to the gas station anymore. Simply plug it in and it’s ready in the morning.
I installed a 230V charger in my garage for my previous EVs. However the Model Y came with a charger (it doesn’t any more) that can run on normal 115V or on 230V. I got adapters so that I can plug it in to a standard electric dryer outlet. This provides a full charge overnight from near empty.
If you don’t have the luxury of a 230V outlet, you can charge using a normal house plug. This is much slower, providing only a few miles of range per hour of charge, so you probably have to keep the car plugged in whenever you’re not using it if you want to maintain enough for a daily commute. When we went to South Carolina, we only had access to a standard outlet, but it worked out fine. I just kept the car plugged in when it wasn’t in use and had plenty of range for our short day trips. I’ve done the same thing on my trips to Massachusetts, though now I have access to a 230V dryer outlet in the garage of my family’s house, so I can charge pretty quickly there.
I also love the convenience of charging on the road. From where I live up to Massachusetts, there are Superchargers sprinkled around enough that I don’t have to think much about charging. Many of the rest areas along I95 have chargers that are fast enough to add the needed charge during a 15 minute “bio-break” or a longer lunch stop. For me, most of the time, I have to stop to relieve myself more often than I have to stop to charge so charging on road trips is actually more convenient than stopping for gas. The Tesla Supercharger network was the primary reason I purchased a Tesla.
However, the charging system isn’t always reliable. I’ll talk more about charging on the road in a later section.
As an energy geek, I think Tesla deserves much more praise for the efficiency of their vehicles. The Model Y is a much larger vehicle than my other EVs and yet it provides as many miles per kilowatt-hour (kWh) as them. And if you compare it to other electric vehicles currently being produced, the Model Y is vastly more efficient than most.
Think of this as the MPG for electric vehicles. Overall, I get more than 4 miles for every kWh of electricity used in average driving. Highway driving consumes more, giving about 3 to 3.5 miles per kWh. Put another way, it uses 0.25 kWh per mile.
For comparison, the Ford Mustang Mach-E, which is virtually a clone of the Tesla Model Y, uses around 0.4 kWh per mile, meaning you get only 2.5 miles for each kWh. That’s a HUGE difference in efficiency.
Tesla has created an entire power train and vehicle tuned for efficiency. The electronics are more efficient. The motors are more efficient. The software is more efficient. It’s in a class by itself.
This translates to fewer charging stops and lower operational costs. It’s one of the main reasons I bought a Tesla.
Auto-pilot (not Full Self Driving)
I’m breaking this into two sections. In this one, I’m only talking about the Auto-pilot feature (referred to as AP). However, while driving, the Tesla doesn’t tell you which mode you’re in, so I can’t 100% be sure which was operational so my comments may be slightly inaccurate.
Think of Auto-pilot as a smart cruise control. It maintains speed and keeps you in lane. This is a great feature for road trips. In fact, without it, I would have had a much harder trip home from South Carolina. It makes driving so much safer and more comfortable because it holds the lane far better than I normally do! It also pays attention better than me. A couple of times, it noticed that traffic was slowed ahead and beeped at me before I noticed. Without it, I might have rear-ended someone.
With AP/FSD, you still need to pay attention with your hands on the wheel. Every several seconds (something like 10-15), it reminds you to apply force to the steering wheel. If you don’t it harshly beeps at you and then disables it if you further ignore it. This is why most Tesla owners know that any recent reports of people sitting in the back seat or working on the computer while “driving” are fake. You simply can’t do this.
AP is best used on highways and well marked roads without a lot of sharp turns. Again, think of AP as a smart cruise control. It maintains a safe distance behind the vehicle in front and keeps you in lane (most of the time). It can also pass cars, switching lanes and accelerating, if the traffic in your lane is going substantially slower than your desired speed. I personally do not use this feature (like I said, I’m a conservative driver). I’ve found that usually, if the traffic ahead is slow, then adjacent lanes will be as well, so I don’t want the car changing lanes. That feature can be enabled or disabled as desired.
Over-the-air Software Updates
This feature is amazing. Every few weeks, my car gets software updates. And most of those recalls you hear about for Tesla – they’re almost always fixed by software updates, so calling them recalls is misleading.
Things I Don’t Love
Fit and Finish
Every Tesla review for early Model Y’s complains about the construction of the car. For a car in this price range ($60k+), the construction is sub-par. Panels don’t align perfectly. Plastic trim parts have popped out. It’s just weird.
My car, as delivered, was better than most. However, when you look closely, you notice stupid misalignments. And, like I said, having plastic pieces randomly pop out is unacceptable, especially for a car this expensive.
Inconsistent Supercharger Performance
Tesla claims most of its chargers work at 150+kW, and drivers count on this performance when planning road trips.
When the chargers are working at full speed, they’re wonderful. You plug the car in and come back 20 minutes later and you’ve got another 200+ miles of range. However, on my road trips, I found that many of the chargers were only charging the car at 50ish kW. This occurred regardless of whether there were others charging at the time (this can affect charging performance). 50kW is really too low a charging power for a road trip. Several times during our long trip to South Carolina, we had to charge for 45 minutes to over an hour in order to add 200 miles of range. Fortunately, most of these were at meal stops, so we just ate while the car charged. However, it was very apparent that charging was slow. If we had been on a deadline and didn’t have the liberty of waiting, we would have been out of luck.
Another issue we experienced only once is “ICE’ing.” – this is when gas cars intentionally park in front of an electric car charger, preventing EVs from using the charger. Fortunately, it was not at a Supercharger, but at a small charger in the development where we were staying.
For some reason, there are obnoxious people who like to do this. I don’t understand the mentality, but it exists and EV drivers need to be aware that there’s a chance that they won’t be able to charge their car because of this bad behavior. Very frustrating!
No Spare Tire
About Tesla’s “Full Self Driving”
There’s been an incredible amount of discussion in the press about Tesla’s Full Self Driving Beta program. It’s been split between “this is going to revolutionize driving!” and “Tesla is incredibly irresponsible for testing their software with live drivers!”
Now, I’m going to give you my take…
First, let me tell you about myself. Before I became an energy geek, I started a company that developed software for scientific digital imaging. Think Photoshop, but for scientists. This experience gave me years of experience working with video cameras and interpreting the images that come from them. It didn’t involve AI or anything like what Tesla is doing, but it allows me to provide an educated opinion on what they have done and are trying to accomplish.
FSD is supposed to provide the ability to safely drive the car with minimal human interaction. Think of the great benefits this would afford society. Accidents would be greatly reduced. Drunk driving could be essentially eliminated. Those with impairments that prevent them from driving would be given new freedom. And, insurance rates would drop because there would be so many fewer claims. Those are the aspirational goals of self driving cars. They are also the expectations of many people about FSD.
Tesla has achieved amazing things with their FSD Beta system. Under many conditions, the car can drive itself, holding in lane, stopping and going at traffic lights and stop signs. Making turns along navigated routes. It often “sees” things that I might have missed, like cars in the blind spots, pedestrians on busy streets, and so forth. However, as a Beta, it is necessary for the driver to maintain complete control and vigilance while in FSD mode.
Driving is incredibly complicated. Humans require considerable concentration in order to navigate safely. There are, literally, an infinite variety of situations that can arise. Potholes can be anywhere and are sometimes filled with water. How do you tell the difference between that and a puddle? People can run out into the street without looking. Other drivers can choose to ignore the rules of the road. The sun can blind you (or a camera). Roads can be under construction with or without flaggers. People can open car doors. Emergency vehicles can be stopped in the shoulder requiring the software to know that it has to change into the passing lane. And on and on.
In spite of this, the FSD Beta software does a remarkable job of driving. But, it is far from perfect. And near perfection is the only standard that will be acceptable in order for the software to be considered “ready for prime time.”
Many will argue that even an imperfect system will result in fewer traffic deaths than human drivers cause. This may be true, but psychologically, if an autonomous car’s mis-operation causes a death, there will be huge lawsuit public outcry to ban these vehicles will be a nightmare. Even if it’s only one death vs. tens of thousands of human driver caused deaths, people will demand the system be outlawed (they already are…)
Back to reality of the current FSD Beta software.
In my personal experience, I have found that overall, the FSD Beta software handles a lot of situations, as noted above. But the mistakes it makes are a deal breaker for its intended use and all such issues will have to be remedied before it is released to a wide audience of people who will expect it to be essentially perfect.
I respect what Tesla has done and is trying to do but it has a long way to go. Here’s some of the most glaring safety issues that I have personally experienced with FSD Beta in June 2022 version 2022.12.3.20:
- It doesn’t drive along bends in the road properly, often crossing the center line in a way that could cause an accident if there was oncoming traffic.
- It appears to be lacking “sanity checks” for speed limits. I have had it decelerate from 65 to 30 on a highway and have had it accelerate to highway speeds while on small roads with much lower speed limits.
- It doesn’t avoid potholes at all and would drive through large ones that could break wheels, flatten tires or cause accidents.
- It takes turns into roads where it couldn’t possibly see if there was oncoming traffic (such as where corners are obstructed by shrubs).
- It has tried to pass vehicles that were stopped in the road. This occurred while waiting for a flagger at a construction zone and while cars were waiting for trash trucks and delivery vehicles.
There are also quite a few minor problems, such as braking for no apparent reason (called “phantom” braking), that make the experience less than ideal. Again, what they’ve done is amazing but I say that as a technologist. As a normal driver, I would find even the minor problems to be unacceptable.
I consider myself to be an excellent tester. I’m a conservative driver and monitor my surroundings and the car’s behavior carefully. I anticipate problem points and take over as soon as it appears that the car is doing something unsafe. For Tesla’s benefit, I think their testing group should be limited to people like myself who fully understand Beta testing and the limitations of the software.
Tesla is to blame for the bad press they’ve been getting. They’ve been “over-promising and under-delivering for years”. As a software developer, I personally consider the current software an “Alpha” or pre-Alpha version which should be tested by a small testing group with significant limitations. I definitely would not have permitted the press to evaluate the software, other than being passengers for a demo ride.
Hopefully, Tesla will remedy these issues and create a truly self driving car that lives up to the hype. Until then, they are still producing the best and most advanced electric vehicles on the road and I am more than satisfied with my Model Y.