I’ve only owned my Tesla Model 3 for a couple of weeks now, but it’s quickly become my favorite car I’ve ever had. A huge part of that is the set of unique features and software first approach to design. Of course the electric motor itself is a huge feature, but I found so many other great features that come from the on-board smarts of the car. Tesla may not (smartly) herald itself as a software first company, but compared to other car companies, they certainly do tend to move quickly, push frequent updates, and continuously add new features. This approach means that drivers get new features on a regular basis and the car keeps getting better.
Not all of my favorite features come just from the software though, several are hardware related. In general though, the best features I’ve found with the Tesla just make the car smarter and remove little annoyances for the driver that I’d just gotten used to with other cars. I love driving, and while I never thought I would want a car with self-driving, I’ve actually found many of the best features just take care of the little things that aren’t actually enjoyable about driving, leaving the driver to just get to focus on the actual driving.
I was introduced to many of the features when I first picked the car up over the course of about an hour. But with so many features to learn and cognitive overload from just wanting to drive the car, it took until now to really figure out what I liked best. These are my favorite features I’ve discovered in my Model 3.
The massive display – It’s impossible for the display in the Model 3 not to make a big first impression. It takes up a huge part of the front dash and it’s the only thing there. I knew not having a display for speedometer and instruments in the wheel wouldn’t be a problem for me since I used to have a similarly, configured Mini, but the giant size of the touchscreen makes it even less of an issue. The information is very glanceable and it only took me a day or two to get used to quickly navigating the menus without having to look down and focus. The navigation, provided by Google Maps, is good enough that it’s the first car I’ve actually used the built-in nav rather than my phone. Unlike my BMWs which always seemed to have Bluetooth issues and would require enough painful steps each time to reconnect them, my phone immediately connects in the Tesla and allows me to easily listen to music, podcasts, and books from the minute I get in the car. I thought I would want Android Auto in the car after loving it on my wife’s new car, but with this great display, I haven’t really even thought about it again.
Autopilot – It’s much better to look at Autopilot as enhanced cruise control or automatic lane steer assist. Compared to the huge aspirations of full self-driving, it is fairly simple, but coming from any car with regular cruise control, it’s a huge shift. Not only will it maintain speed based on radar to keep a set distance from a car in front, but it will also automatically steer the car to keep it in the lane. This can be odd the first few times as the wheel magically turns around corners, but it really is awesome for boring stretches of highway. It’s also a great safety feature, enabling emergency braking and even obstacle avoidance with the steering. As a parent, it’s perfect for those times when a kid has dropped a toy they absolutely need this second in the back seat and you need to reach back.
Automatic Headlights – Squarely in the realm of convenience that you didn’t know you need until you have it, automatic high beams, just like automatic windshield wipers, are a huge game changer once you get them. No longer having to worry about flipping the lights on and off for other cars, the car just automatically does this for you, increasing safety without having to think about it at all. I already spotted a deer hanging by the side of the road that I wouldn’t have otherwise because I wouldn’t have bothered putting the high beams on.
Remote Climate Controls – There is no worse feeling than hopping into a 110 degree car interior on a hot and humid day, and nothing is better than knowing you won’t have to worry about that because the car is cooling down to 70 before you’re even there. Because the car is never truly off thanks to the electric motor, the climate control can run on demand and automatically as desired. In fact, in order to preserve the battery life, the car will cool the battery compartment if it gets too hot. The mobile app actually allows the driver to turn on the climate control remotely as well. Every day as I get within 10 minutes on my bus ride, I turn the air on and arrive to a nicely cooled car.
Location Tracking – The Model 3 actually has a pretty wide selection of security features and enhancements over traditional cars. You can lock and unlock it remotely, limit the speed, set a pin for valets, and generally lock the car down for others depending on how much you trust them. I could even imagine letting my children eventually drive the car, knowing that I can set a maximum speed at the speed limit for them. One of the cool features within the app is the ability to see where the car is at all times too. I was able to monitor the car when I parked it the first time with a valet to make sure it stayed put in the garage. I could also see exactly where my wife was on her shopping trip so I could know when to start getting my kids to bed.
Sentry Mode – Perhaps the best security feature is a mode called sentry mode that the car can be set to while parked in public areas. Using the full range of cameras around the car’s body, the car will record anyone who gets too close to the car or touches it. It helps me feel much more comfortable when parking in a crowded shopping lot or public garage knowing that if something happens, I’ll know exactly what. If someone were to ding the car, I could also blast an alarm and make sure they know that I know it was them and prevent a potential hit and run.
Arcade Mode – I don’t technically need to be able to play games in my car while stopped, but it’s definitely nice to have the option. With a suite of classic arcade games that are surprisingly difficult, I’ve been entertained long enough to make it through a lengthy stop at Starbucks. A new game, Beach Buggy Racing, was just added which actually allows you to drive in the game using the steering wheel and brakes. Even better is that the game is coded to use an avatar of your exact car configuration, so it actually feels like you’re driving your car in the game. These little games are perfect for those times you need to just sit in your car while waiting for something and thanks to the huge screen they are more engaging than scrolling on your phone.
That instant power – It’s a cliché at this point, but the acceleration and torque from and electric motor really is something that has to be experienced to believe. What I wasn’t expecting though, was instantaneous available power from the motor to the ground. I knew that the motor wouldn’t have gear changes or lag, but it’s one thing knowing it and quite another actually driving it. Not only that, but the power is instantly conveyed at the wheels on the ground. It’s driving feedback I’ve never had in a car before, and it’s changed how I drive to the detriment of my driving in other cars like my wife’s. I don’t know if it’s the continuous rather than jerky acceleration or the tires, but even racing from 0-60 on an on-ramp in mere seconds, I’ve never felt disconnected from the road or squealed the tires.
Storage Space – I didn’t buy the car to be a great family car with my twins. I thought it was just big enough to use to transport them in emergencies. However, it’s actually wide enough that we all fit comfortably. Even better, the trunk is exceptionally deep, allowing plenty of room for a stroller and a few bags for family outings. Of course there’s also the front trunk, or frunk as Tesla owners affectionately call it, a big secondary space where the engine would normally be that fits a few extra bags. In a true crunch, there’s always the possibility to put down the back seats for a truly large storage space for plenty of items. Oddly, it’s actually been a pretty good errand running car.
Charging Availability – A lot has been made about electric vehicles and range and the ability to charge them. Tesla is certainly at the high end of the competition with its own supercharger network around the country which enables longer road trips and fast charging while you wait. I knew about these chargers before getting the car. I didn’t realize how extensive the secondary network of chargers was though. On a weekend day, we took the boys to the nearby zoo and discovered that their parking garage had about eight spots for EV charging, right in prime location in the garage. Even better, two hours of charging was free, plenty to top us up for the day. That night, we drove into New York City for dinner and found that the garage we had booked also had two charging spots, right next to the attendant booth, meaning our car was about as safe and secure as it could be all night. We also got about four hours of free charge while parked, enough to actually get me through the entire next week without recharging. The extensive network of charging locations has been a pleasant surprise.
Bonus: Not a feature but a great accessory: The Tesla Phone Wireless charger – Tesla doesn’t make too many accessories for the cars, instead focusing on the car itself and a limited number of first party parts. One item they do make, but is often sold out is the wireless phone charger. The console has a surprisingly well thought out – at least compared to other car companies who refuse to give drivers a place to stick their phone – little ledge for stashing and charging your phone with a usb cable. This awesome accessory, or the various third party ones on Amazon plug into those same USB ports, but replace the normal rubber mat with a Qi Wireless charging mat, allowing you to just throw your phone down on it to pick up a charge. The screen is even still visible while there, so it works for navigation if for some reason you want to use the phone instead of the screen. It’s another one of those things that seems silly but once you have it you’ll never want to go back.
I truly love my Tesla and the great set of features that demonstrate how well thought out the design actually is as well as showing Tesla is willing to break the mold and actually solve problems for drivers unlike so many car companies satisfied with the status quo. The software features show the power of over the air updates and a continuous delivery approach to building features for users. Each month my car gets slightly better – whether that’s new features, faster charging, better safety, or faster driving. Just like upgrading to my first smart phone, switching to a Tesla provides a huge set of features that I just can’t live without now.