In April of this year, I decided to take our 2021 Tesla Model 3 Standard Range Plus on a road trip from our base in Boca Raton, Florida to Connecticut. The round-trip totaled about 3300 miles, so I learned a lot about the car and how to use it along the way. Before setting out, I subscribed to Full Self Driving/Advanced Autopilot for one month ($199.00) to give it a try, and see what all the hype is about. The car was operating on the latest software update at the time.
Range and Charging
You may wonder if I am crazy for taking a car with a listed 265 mile range on a trip of this length. It turns out that the range was not an issue at all – ever. The Interstate 95 corridor is well populated with Supercharger stations, and has been for many years. New stations are being built as well.
Trip planning is easy as pie. Enter your destination on the touchscreen (or use voice commands), and the car automatically plans your route, as well as charging stops along the way. The ETA includes driving time, traffic, and charging stops, however the estimate is highly optimistic.
Before leaving Boca Raton, I set the car to charge the battery to 100% before leaving home. We have a level 2 charger at home, using a second dryer-type outlet. With this setup, home charging happens at about 30 miles of range per hour. I let the car recalculate the route to my first night hotel, and the charging stops all changed based on the starting level of charge. My first stop was planned at about the 180 mile mark, in Titusville FL. This was to be my very first experience with a Supercharger.
Wow! That was easy. Just pull into a Supercharger parking space and plug in. That’s it. My credit card was charged automatically (a whopping $12.25) when I disconnected. At this point I noted that the estimated charging time displayed on the navigation screen in the car was not quite accurate. On average, Supercharging took about 10 percent longer than the estimate. My average stop was about 20 minutes long. The planned Supercharger stops are based on running the battery down below 20%, then recharging to about 80%, because in this range the battery can accept the fastest charge rate.
One of the amazing features of the Tesla navigation system (using cellular connectivity) is that the car knows how many open Supercharger spaces are available in real time. At one point along the trip, the planned Supercharger station was nearly full as I approached, and the car automatically selected a different charging station. Awesome! I never once had to wait for a charging space to open up.
Let’s talk about battery range. Our 2021 Tesla Model 3 Standard Range Plus had a range of 264 miles when the car was new. That range has diminished by about 10 percent as of now. This is not a big deal for us (and normal for the mileage), because we rarely take trips longer than about 50 or 60 miles round trip. For the road trip, keeping the battery charge level between 20% and 80% means I was stopping roughly every 150 miles. For me, this was just about the time I would need a restroom, drink, a snack or meal, and stretch my legs. My gasoline powered vehicle can go longer between stops, but I rarely make it that far.
Speaking of restrooms, it turns out many Supercharger stations are not near public restrooms. Some are located in far corners of shopping center parking lots, or behind strip malls. Others are in the parking lot of a sit-down restaurant, where the meal takes longer to get than the car takes to charge. At one stop in Virginia, the Supercharger station was at the far end of a large shopping plaza parking lot, and it was a long walk to find a coffee shop where I could use the restroom. It would be nice if the Supercharger stations situated like this displayed some form of “This Way to Restrooms” sign. Further, the charging station details in the navigation display should mention available services, but did not at the time of the trip.
Full Self Driving
The navigation system in the Tesla Model 3 is very good, and easy to use. My only complaint is that all audible prompts are completely silenced when using the phone. This caused me to miss turns more than once during the trip, as the only notification of a coming turn is on the center display. If I were to use Apple’s navigation system on my phone, upcoming turns are announced with one beep for a left turn, or two beeps for a right (I may have this reversed – I can never remember). The beep tone is enough to get me to glance at the screen so I know which way to go. Tesla needs to improve this.
Using the Navigate on Autopilot feature of the Full Self Driving suite has its good and bad points. It is marvelous to let the car keep pace in traffic, stay in its lane, and automatically change lanes when needed for an interchange. I used this feature extensively on the long first day of my trip.
I made a rookie mistake and allowed the car to plan my first overnight stop about 900 miles from home. This would take 12 hours according to the navigation system. It turned out to take closer to 16 hours due to traffic, construction, and taking a few stops that were longer than what was needed for charging. I must say, however, that I was not exhausted from the trip. Allowing the car to carry the tedious burden of staying centered in your lane and not plowing into the car ahead of you is very relaxing. Mind you, I stayed alert the whole time. Autopilot makes driving much less fatiguing.
What Full Self Driving does well:
- Keep the car centered in the driving lane
- Keep a safe distance with the vehicle ahead
- Changes to the correct lane for highway interchanges or off ramps
- Merge into slower moving traffic
What Full Self Driving does poorly:
- Merge into faster moving traffic
- Merge lanes – car centers in lane
- Speed limit changes
- Stop-and-go traffic
- Traffic light control
When the vehicle you are following is driving slower than the speed you have set, the Autopilot has the option of changing lanes to pass the slower vehicle. There were time when this was downright frightening! We have all been stuck in a lane that is going 20 MPH slower than we want, so we drop back a bit, wait for an opening, and stomp on the throttle while merging. Advanced Autopilot DOES NOT STOMP! Nor can it see very far behind. At the time of the trip, Advanced Autopilot was programmed to change lanes first, then GENTLY accelerate up to the speed setting. More than once, the car was crossing the lane line into fast moving traffic, then chickened out when cars came into view of its myopic rear-facing cameras. It would then lurch back into the lane from which it was trying to merge. This made me feel like I was giving driving lessons to my teenagers again! I turned off the auto lane change feature.
In most areas along Interstate 95, the right hand shoulder painted line becomes a dashed line at merging on-ramps. In other areas, the shoulder line stops at the on-ramp, and tricks the Autopilot into thinking that the driving lane is now 20 feet wide. The car then centers in this newly tapered lane. As stated before, the Autopilot does very well at centering the car in the lane. In this scenario the car drives like an idiot savant. To avoid this, I tried to stay in the second lane if there were at least three lanes.
When it comes to speed limit changes, the center display indicates this by briefly enlarging the speed limit sign icon in the upper left. There is no tone or other alert, and the Autopilot does not make any adjustments. Without user intervention, this can lead to annoying other drivers, or a speeding ticket. Neither are good things.
When driving in stop-and-go traffic, the Autopilot does not creep with traffic smoothly. Rather, the car accelerates, then applies the brakes in a jerky fashion, ensuring the discomfort of the passengers. I much prefer to drive manually in these cases.
Sometimes when approaching a significant slowdown of multiple lanes of traffic, Tesla Autopilot will ignore the speed of the cars in adjacent lanes, and only pay attention to the vehicle ahead. There were times when this resulted in the Tesla going 20-30 MPH faster than the cars in the adjacent lane. This is putting way too much faith in other drivers not to do something unexpected. This is dangerous.
When driving with Autopilot engaged on roads with traffic lights, the Traffic Light Control feature becomes very annoying. The car will alert the driver to the presence of the traffic light, then proceed to stop regardless of the status of the light. This feature was turned off immediately.
Courtesy to Others
When driving at night, one of the nice features of a Tesla is automatic high beams. When driving on highways, this can be turned off to avoid blinding other drivers. However, when driving on Autopilot, auto high beams cannot be disabled. In congested areas, this is not usually a problem. When driving through the Carolinas at night, auto high beams have a tendency to greatly annoy other drivers, forcing me to disengage the Autopilot so I could disable the auto high beam feature.
Overall, my wife and I are very happy with the purchase of our 2021 Tesla Model 3 Standard Range Plus. The car looks good, is comfortable and fun to drive, and is much cheaper to operate than any gas-powered car. I am glad we did not pay up front for Full Self Driving, because Tesla has a way to go before Full Self Driving will be worth the money.