It was the longest Sunday. It started in Newport Beach at 7:30 am and ended at 11 pm in San Francisco. In between, it featured the clear blue skies and light traffic that make for a fantastic road trip. This one turned out to be unlike any I had ever taken: it was my first extended trip in a Tesla Model 3.
I don’t drive. This means that, on a long voyage like this one, I have a lot of time to experience a car with relative objectivity. I am also less likely to be emotional about it, because I don’t own it. The owner was a friend who was driving his car back up from Orange County. He had been unable to bring it back after it ran out of charge on his last visit. I was tagging along, because I wanted to take the Leica SL2 out for a proverbial walk and make some long exposures. My hope was to get to to Pebble Beach by the golden hour, which is about 5:30 to 6 pm these days.
My previous Tesla experiences have mostly been in the city with Models S and X. I do have another friend with a Model 3, and I have ridden in it to get coffee. But I have never done a done a road trip in any of the cars — certainly not one, like that which I found myself in on this particular Sunday, with long-range batteries and double motors.
The car had about 120 miles worth of charge when we left Newport Beach, which meant that we had to think about the nearest supercharger to make sure we made it with ample power in the battery bank. We left, and did a 15 minute stop up in Irvine. That was enough for us to get to Ojai, where we wanted to get breakfast and charge the car while feeding ourselves. An hour was enough for refueling all three of us. And no sooner was that done, then we had to begin thinking about the next supercharger. Our next stop was in the San Luis Obispo area, where we stopped for 20 minutes to top up as much as possible. Later, we stopped in Morro Bay and marveled at the Morro Rock, which looked quite magnificent. The next supercharger we could access was in Monterey, where we had to stop for about 30 minutes before we could make it back to San Francisco.
Obviously, the trip itself was lovely. What’s not to like about driving through California on US 101 and the picturesque Highway 1? But I wouldn’t say it was the most pleasant journey. On a long trip, the car is nice but not as comfortable as one would expect from a vehicle that costs about $55,000 (before the tax rebates.) I thought the road noise (if that is really a word) was actually pretty high for a car that produces very little noise of its own. On top of that, the trip was filled (at least for me, as I was constantly looking at the battery levels) with range anxiety.
Unfortunately, the charge-ups added roughly two hours to the trip, which made me miss the golden hour at Pebble Beach. We did stop near the Hearst Castle, where I managed to get a handful of long exposures of the boardwalk. But it got dark pretty fast, and the rest of the drive was pretty uneventful.
As a passenger, my conclusion is that the Model 3 is a good city car, but I wouldn’t recommend taking it out for road trips where you are driving for long stretches of time. If you do, remember that the car battery capabilities are as variable as the batteries on our phones — usage defines the range. Drive too fast, and the battery drains fast. Too much braking and acceleration only makes matters worse.
That said, I am confident that battery and charging technologies are going to improve exponentially. Too many products and companies depend on it. And truth be told, you could do worse than to spend a day with a good friend in a Model 3, especially if you can tolerate many hours of range-induced anxiety — and you’re not trying to be somewhere by a certain time.
November 19, 2019, San Francisco
Featured Photo of a boat leaving Morro Bay, California by me, made using Leica SL 2. Focal Length 50mm. Aperture f2. Shutterspeed 1/600th of a second using a 3-stop ND filter made by Wine Country Camera.