Home » OPINION » Columns » BEN WILLIAMS — An Unofficial 2020 Tesla Model 3 Review
Illustration by Ford Williams

BEN WILLIAMS — An Unofficial 2020 Tesla Model 3 Review

Ben Williams

The 2020 Tesla Model 3 clicked past 3,000 miles with the AutoSteer engaged, the Traffic-Aware Cruise Control clocking 75 mph, and Old Dominion’s One Man Band blaring from the stellar sound system. For those in the market, here is an unofficial, unsanctioned 3,000-mile review.

Ordering the Model 3

The Tesla Model 3’s relatively low price, AutoPilot, liberal return policy (7 days or 1,000 miles), and palpable cool factor tipped the scales. On November 9, I ponied up the $100 order fee for one Model 3 Standard Range Plus Rear-Wheel Drive ($39,490) with Midnight Silver Metallic Paint (+$1,000), 19’’ Sport Wheels (+$1,500), and Black & White Partial Premium Interior (+$1,000). The Tesla website optimistically proclaimed the ultramodern car would arrive at my front door in time for me to claim the soon-to-expire federal tax credit.

Delivery

During what turned into a 5-week wait, Tesla texted, emailed, called and posted website updates with conflicting and erroneous delivery information. After several baffling gaffes, Tesla missed my doorstep but finally delivered the goods at 10:57 pm on a rainy, Friday the 13th, at the Pilot Flying J Travel Center in Pearl, Mississippi. The sleek lines of my Model 3 stood out like a gazelle among barn animals in that congested 18-wheeler stable.

“Pops, we have a problem”:  Tesla EPA Mile < Mississippi Mile

The next morning, my older son Ford and I left Ridgeland (Exit 105 on I-55) headed north to Oxford with a touted range of 200+ miles illuminated on the center-mounted 15” touchscreen. Ford took the wheel of the fully-electric Tesla, and I trailed in a combustion dinosaur spewing 404 grams of CO2 per MDOT mile. We chatted cellularly as the college senior tested the car’s kicky features. Less than an hour into the drive, Ford announced: “Pops, we have a problem.” Although we had traveled only 60 miles, the range on the display had dropped precipitously. Absent a charge along the way, reaching William Faulkner’s hometown on the current tank would be a stretch.

We wheeled into the strategically located Tesla Supercharger Center in Grenada (Exit 206 on I-55) coddling a skimpy 50ish miles left on the gauge. From one of the open eight portals, the Tesla charged up at an impressive 500+ mph, adding 100+ Tesla EPA miles in 15 minutes for under $5.00.   

Of course, by then we knew that a Tesla EPA Mile might be about 70% of a Mississippi Mile.

AutoPilot

Even without the hard-to-rationalize $7,000 “Full Self Drive” software download which I have not yet purchased, the included AutoPilot (the collective name for AutoSteer, Traffic-Aware Cruise and other auto features) proved a game changer.

  My family has tested AutoPilot on the interstate, four-lane roads, country two-lane roads, and city streets. AutoPilot takes curves like a champ! Darkness, rain and a tornado watch didn’t faze the system. Waterworks Curve in Jackson, the narrow and bumpy Old Agency Pkwy in Ridgeland, and Delta Hwy 448 are all a breeze. Roundabouts not so much.

After leaving the interstate in Batesville, AutoPilot steered me to Oxford on Hwy 6. Along the way, the Traffic-Aware Cruise Control slowed me down as I approached hayseeds in the left lane, and then brought me to a complete stop as the forward truck stopped for a red light in the city limits. When engaging AutoPilot, I’m mildly nudged left – perhaps because I hug the right line when I drive. Melissa, my indulgent wife, detects a faint swaying as the car constantly centers the lane lines. 

Battery Anxiety, Charging Locations & Tesla Service Center

My base Model 3, rated for 250 EPA miles, might travel 170 miles on a weather friendly, flat drive. The available 322 EPA mile upgrade would have added $9,000 to the price.  With Superchargers in Pearl and Grenada, “destination” chargers at numerous local venues, and the low-priced convenience of home charging, I chose the smaller battery.

The six Tesla SuperCharger Centers in Mississippi (Tupelo, Grenada, Meridian, Pearl, Hattiesburg, and McComb) cost around $0.22 kWh. Some local charging venues offer free charging, though chargers at McDonalds and Whole Foods are pay-to-play sites. A standard 110 outlet wall socket adds 5 to 6 mph of charge, and a 220 outlet runs about 22 mph. Tesla encourages installation of a logo clad in-home wall connector that bites the wallet but bumps the charge to 44 mph. Entergy says a kWh costs $0.115 for residences. I’m brushing up on my math skills.

As for maintenance, Mississippi has a Tesla Service Center on Airport Road in Pearl.

Tesla App, Software Updates, USB ports, Cameras, …

The cool Tesla smartphone app uses Bluetooth and Wi-Fi to supplement two stylish credit card-like keys. I can monitor and partially control the vehicle from a distance. I can also check out my younger son Morgan’s speed and location (unless he reads this column).

I’ve already downloaded three software updates. The car comes with voice-activated controls (“Play Jackson Browne Running on Empty”), multiple USB ports, and a bevy of cameras. The absence of the ubiquitous dashboard presents a soothing minimalistic interior. Just think of it as a futuristic test ride with Elon, and the chance of a software malfunction.

Tax Credit

The tax credit ended December 31, 2019, but I wiggled in and scored $1,875. Earlier purchasers reaped $7,500. Procrastinators get nada and like it.

My Decision

This Boomer is sold. The 2020 Tesla Model 3 Standard Range Plus works for me, but only because of the convenient Tesla Supercharger Centers. I’m calling it an impulse purchase rather than a mid-life crisis. I’m too old for the latter. Saving the ozone layer is just a fortuitous byproduct.

 

» BEN WILLIAMS, the author, is a Mississippi attorney.  Email Ben at Ben39157@gmail.com.  FORD WILLIAMS, the artist, is a senior at Savannah College of Art & Design (SCAD) in Georgia.

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