Technology

The experience is electric: my Tesla Model 3 leasing review

When my car lease ran out, I had to make a difficult choice on what to replace it with. I could either get another traditional gas-powered sedan, probably another BMW that I knew would fit my needs, or I could do something entirely different. I wasn’t completely sure, but I felt just confident enough that electric vehicle technology had advanced to the point where it made sense to own one over a gasoline car, especially with my short commute. I ended up leasing a Tesla Model 3, and after one of the hardest car-buying decisions I’ve ever had to make, I am very happy with my choice.

Three years ago when I leased my current car, I was just about to become a father. I turned in my two-seater Z4 convertible for a sporty but practical four-door sedan with plenty of room for the stroller. Shifting from a sports convertible with nothing between me and the sun was hard, but the added practicality made up for it. Back then, Tesla had just unveiled the Model 3 and while I was tempted to put down a deposit on it, I just couldn’t reconcile the risk of a delayed delivery or that the company would go under in the meantime which I couldn’t afford with my commute and new family. Three years later, the landscape had significantly shifted to the point where leasing a Tesla actually made sense.

While Tesla is by no means a long established car brand, it has demonstrated results enough to prove it can last and build customer loyalty in a challenging marketplace. While the future is still uncertain, it feels far less likely now that the company will just disappear or fail than it did when they were only making a single model. With the shift to producing their own batteries and improvements in build quality and service, investing in a Tesla no longer felt like a huge risk. Plus, I had wanted an electric car for both the environmental impact improvements that come with one as well as the fun of driving a continual torque machine. With the added benefit of a tax incentive, no gasoline purchasing and time sitting at stations, and no real maintenance on the car, I figured an electric car would better suit my lifestyle. With two three year olds growing up, I wanted to take the step to give them a slightly better planet and set a more positive example.

Originally, I couldn’t decide which car to go with. I loved how Tesla had advanced the industry, but worried about the spartan interior of the car and what it might signify as far as features and service. If the inside of the car was so plain for the price, would service be just as non-existent as the physical dash buttons? I considered the electric Mini, surprised that Mini, as one of the first companies to mass produce an electric version of a car back when I owned one in the mid-2000s, had limited electric options and no true electric only offering. BMW was similar with the only realistic option being the i3 which was priced similar to the Model 3, is far less appealing to my sense of style, and has a dramatically lower range with the only extended option coming with a gasoline engine. Toyota had no real option, also surprising for the company that pioneered success in making and marketing hybrids. I couldn’t believe how little progress these companies had made in the EV space in the intervening years.

I found better options with the VW eGolf, Nissan Leaf, and Chevy Volt. Thankfully I immediately discounted the Volt as too pricey for what you get – GM killed it off right after I made my decision. The Leaf was intriguing as it seemed to be the leading competitor in the EV space and was setting the bar for an affordable EV. I nearly ended up going for the eGolf after driving it, impressed with the power of the electric engine, the practicality of what feels exactly like every other Golf, and the fun small car handling I had missed since owning my Mini. The price was also hard to ignore, coming in significantly less than the Model 3 thanks to dealer and tax incentives and a lower base price.

I ended up making my decision when Tesla updated its lease options. Suddenly the Model 3 was in the range of affordability. Added to the fact that I realized I probably didn’t need the extended range or 4 wheel drive, the eGolf got less range than the standard range Model 3 and had front wheel drive, the end prices were much closer than I originally thought. The Tesla still of course cost more, but the additional range, the premium feel, and the cool-factor of having a Tesla made the different. While I didn’t realize it at the time to make my decision, another huge factor to consider is the charging network. My Tesla can use all of the same public chargers as the VW, plus the large Tesla SuperCharger network, nearly doubling the total options and providing a much faster way to power up.

From the beginning of the experience until I drove the car off the lot, Tesla didn’t just prove they can be an average car company, they exceeded every expectation with premium service and attention to detail. Once I made my decision and was ready to start the lease, I was able to do pretty much everything online and over email, an underappreciated necessity for busy people that most car dealers don’t seem to get. I put in my deposit and the next day was matched to a car in the right configuration already in my area. In fact this happened so quickly that I actually couldn’t take delivery of the car due to travel. Tesla is producing so many cars now though that I was again matched up a few days later when it was convenient for me. During this, I completed all of the lease application, insurance, and payment information online, having all of my questions answered over email. It felt like car buying finally moved into the digital age.

While I waited to pick up my car, I also had the electric charging outlet installed in my garage. Luckily with a relatively new house for Northern NJ, we already had modern amperage and voltage electric going through the breaker in our garage. The installation of a 240V outlet, the exact same kind as our washer and dryer use, took about 30 minutes and cost $450, which likely would have been less had I paid in cash. While Tesla would have gladly sold me their special wall charger for an extra $500 on top of the installation which would offer slightly faster charging speeds, I am more than happy with the 30-35 miles per hour charging rate I’m getting and like that the generic outlet will likely be a better selling point should we move from the house. It will also work with any other electric car in the future unlike the proprietary Tesla one. I might consider getting the massive floor pad that offers wireless charging of the car because I’m just that lazy and pulling in to the garage and charging immediately seems like a dream future.

When it came time to pick up the car, it was the best car buying experience I’ve had. Even when we took delivery of the Z4 in Munich and got to drive it around the Alps in the summer, the amount of hassle and paperwork leading up to the pickup wasn’t fun. With Tesla everything was simple. After a short wait, I just had to sign a few papers granting Tesla authority to handle interactions with the DMV for me (I wish they’d do my license renewal too) to handle the plates – not sure why this couldn’t be done online too but I blame the DMV – ensure I had the Tesla app installed and ready to go, and head out to the car to learn about the features and get it set up. On the way out, we mentioned our twins and how excited they were about the car and our advisor even grabbed a set of model cars for them to play with which was an amazing attention to detail and made the experience stand out.

At the car, we first walked around to make sure everything looked ok. I was a bit worried for this after reading numerous comments online from owners where they got their cars with dings, poorly applied paint jobs, or noticeable differences in the panel gaps, demonstrating poor build quality from Tesla. They must have dramatically improved their process because I didn’t notice a single issue. We even had a full reservoir of windshield wiper fluid, something others had noted that Tesla had forgotten. I even liked the matte black aero wheels that came as standard on the car, worried that in pictures they looked incredibly cheap and monstrous. One of the cool things about Tesla is that they don’t have model years, so they continuously improve their models as they are produced, so it’s fully possible that they responded to feedback on these issues and made changes by the time mine was manufactured.

After this, we got into the car and began to walk through the features. First, we paired our phones with the key cards. Since Tesla doesn’t have physical keys, everything is done via a smart phone, with two little cards for backup if a phone is dead or not working. The phone uses Bluetooth to pair with the car, allowing it to unlock right as you get to it, way cooler than any keyless entry car I’ve had before. It also means the app can control just about everything with the car including running climate control remotely, opening the doors or trunks – yes there is a trunk in the front since there is no traditional engine to go under the hood – and honking the horn. Since the car is basically always on, just in low power mode like a cell phone, the features aren’t limited at all.

We also walked through the numerous features on the touch screen. There is no steering wheel mounted panel, nor any physical buttons to speak of, so every single feature of the car is controlled through the massive touch screen. At first, this seems distracting and difficult, but within 20 minutes of driving, I already fully understood the navigation and felt no distraction from the system. Like the Mini with the center-mounted speedometer, it was easy to get used to glancing down to the right to see speed and other info. This is especially important in the Tesla because it’s very easy to rapidly accelerate past the speed limit due to the lack of noise and the massive torque of the motor. While my standard trim model doesn’t include streaming music, I didn’t mind the omission since I tend to listen via phone over Bluetooth anyway and the Bluetooth seems much more reliable than in the BMW.

Throughout the walkthrough, our delivery advisor was great with tons of details on when to use each feature, how to set a reasonable default and adjust to the biggest differences like regenerative breaking and autopilot, and answered all of our questions. The great customer service felt very premium and if Tesla can keep that up, I can see a lot of buyers moving to the brand thanks to word of mouth. Similarly, my sales advisor and the delivery manager always responded to me quickly and with great detail, helping make the decision easier. Contrary to reports of poor experience, I found Tesla to have some of the most knowledgeable and professional employees of any brand I’ve worked with.

Though it’s only been a few days with the car, I know I made the right decision with the Model 3. It’s the first time I have actually planned out extra trips and looked forward to getting in a car so much since I first got the convertible in the summer. Not only has the electric range not been an issue, we actually took a longer than typical road trip just to test it out, the additional power and flexibility have more than compensated for it. The acceleration is blistering yet quiet and refined. Autopilot makes long trips on the highway way easier, and while I don’t trust it to fully drive for me, it at least let’s me reach into the back seat to grab whatever toy one of the boys dropped safely and without worrying about swerving off the road.

At first I worried about the cost and stability of Tesla, but after going through with it and taking the leap, I have no reservations. Going from a traditional car to it is just like the leap from a flip phone to a smart phone. The technology and car itself feel like a quantum leap into the future of driving. The experience of buying the car was also transformative, and felt like what a car buying experience should be in the digital age. After the exemplary buying experience with Tesla, I don’t think I will ever go back.