Are you thinking about buying a Tesla, but not sure which model is best for you? I will try to help. Below: Our Teslas in 2018. Pepper (2018 3LR RWD), Shadow (2015 S P90DL), and Belle (2017 X 100D) On July 15 2009, I ordered my first Tesla. Over the decade since, my wife and I purchased five more – including at least one of every model. Below I will compare and contrast them. We have owned: 2010 Roadster (2009 – 2016; 57k miles) 2012 Signature Model S85 (2012 – 2017; 88k miles) 2015 Model S P90DL (2016 – 2018; 49k miles total; 35k miles were mine) 2017 Model X 100D (since Dec 2017; 24k miles so far; my wife’s car) 2018 Model 3 long-range RWD (May 2018 – Nov 2018; 2k miles) 2018 Model 3 Performance+ (since Nov 2018; 9k miles so far; my car) They have all been daily drivers, and we have taken all of them on road trips. Our total Tesla miles are at 215k, with over 40k of those miles on road trips. Since 2012, when my wife traded her EV for a Signature Tesla Model S, we have only owned Teslas. Below: some of the places we have driven our Teslas Before the Teslas, we had a Prius converted to a PHEV, and a 2003 Toyota RAV4-EV. We haven’t purchased gasoline since we sold the Prius PHEV in 2009, and our total electric miles are well over a quarter of a million. I have set no records - there are others on the forums that have bought more cars, driven more miles and done more road trips. I hope some of them will chime in with their impressions. But now that I’ve hit the decade mark, I thought I’d reflect a bit on the differences between the cars, since I see a lot of questions on the forums about which one to buy. In the past, I have written at length an attempt to answer the related question, “Should you buy a Tesla?”. While it is older (there were a few updates, but I started it in 2013), the majority of it still applies for those readers still on the fence. In a semi-related piece, I attempted to describe some of the benefits of driving an EV, most of which are not obvious. I have also noted a few statistics about my first 10 years of Tesla driving, and the difference between deciding on my first Tesla purchase and my fifth. WHY BUY? First, I’ll give reasons why I think somebody might want to consider each of the cars – Roadster, S, X, and 3. In the next section I’ll give more detailed impressions of each car. Why buy the Roadster? Below: 2010 Roadster Sorry, this is about the first-gen Roadster. I haven't had a chance to own the second-gen Roadster yet. In 2009, it was the only EV available. It suited my needs then, it was a blast to drive, it helped Tesla get to where they are now (building the 3, which is really the car I wanted all along), and I have absolutely no regrets. That said, the pitch for a used one today (they were only sold in the US from 2008 until 2011) is a lot harder. Newer Teslas have a warranty, better comfort, more space, are quieter with a better ride, charge way faster, and have better safety and tech. Plus, being hand-built, the Roadster is likely (not enough data to be sure) the least reliable Tesla, and parts can be hard to find and expensive – ditto for experienced labor. Objectively speaking, the Roadster just does not measure up to the new cars. But subjectively…man, I still miss it. The Roadster is an absolute hoot to drive, especially if you like the top-off experience. If you ever get a chance to drive one, take it – you can’t tell everything by reading specs online. I think today I would mainly recommend the Roadster to somebody that already has a daily driver (say they already have a more practical EV, or they need a minivan or pickup or something), but is looking for an extra low-guilt, fun “weekend” car. I don’t think it would make sense to replace one of our current cars (a 3 and an X) with a Roadster, but if I had a third garage bay I’d sure love to have one around. Why buy the Model S? Below: Electra (2012 Model S Signature 85) The Model S has tough competition in the Model 3, which has many of the same good qualities – and even a few advantages – for a far lower price. The Model 3 is clearly always going to sell in higher quantities. That said, for people that can live with the price difference, the S has several very notable advantages; if my wife and I were to own just a single Tesla, it would be the Model S. The Model S has twice the cargo space (and it’s more accessible with the power hatch), has notably more range (up to 370 miles), notably better performance at each trim level (0-60 in 2.4, OMG!), can display more info on its instrument cluster, is quieter and has a better ride, the warranty is unlimited miles (5 years bumper-to-bumper, 8 years battery and drivetrain), it has a bioweapon filter for when you drive past something noxious, I prefer its physical autopilot controls, and at times (like right now) it comes with unlimited free supercharging. All of this adds up to a very fine road trip car – the 3 is quite impressive, but the S has several serious advantages here. Aside from road trips, if you need the space, or want the performance or the better, quieter ride (or other features of the adjustable suspension), the S is a great choice for those that don’t mind the extra cost over the 3. If you are comparing the S to the X, the S is cheaper, lighter, quicker, more efficient, more reliable, has more range, can have a roof rack, and looks better. And while the X has more (largely just higher) cargo space, the lower S can be easier to put some cargo in, like my wife’s bike. Why buy the Model X? Below: Belle (2017 Model X 100D) The X is the biggest vehicle in the range. If you need the maximum cargo space (though to be honest it’s not a ton more than the S; it’s primarily taller, but the floor is higher so not as much as you might think), or to carry 6 or 7 people, or want easier access to the interior, or to tow, the X is going to be your vehicle. Those hauling children or elderly parents that may have trouble getting in to a sedan will find the X easier. Or if you just love fancy windows and doors – the huge sweeping windshield, self-presenting front doors, and the falcon-wind rear doors – you may want the X. The interior feels more open and the views are better through that windshield. And while I probably wouldn’t have designed the car with falcon-wing doors, they work well for us and do make access really easy. Why buy the Model 3? Below: Pepper (2018 Model 3LR RWD) The lower price is obviously the big allure of the 3; and if you don’t need any of the advantages of the S and X listed above, most people will go for the 3. It still has the same autopilot and over-the-air updates, the same responsive accelerator and similar smooth acceleration. The same excellent AWD is available. But don’t think of the 3 as just a cheaper but less capable Tesla - it has some advantages of its own. For example, compared to the S, the 3 is lighter, more efficient, has better handling and steering feel, and being smaller is easier to park and wash. It also currently has different cells that can charge at a faster rate; although that requires V3 superchargers (rare so far) and matters most when the battery is very low, so the actual time saved may not always be huge – the better efficiency may matter more. If you spend any time on a track - aside from drag racing - you will probably prefer the lighter, better-handling, less-prone-to-overheating 3 over the S. DETAILED IMPRESSIONS OF EACH CAR Roadster While no longer sold, you can find them used and they are an awful lot of fun. Most owners I knew in the early days used them as daily drivers, but now I think more owners tend to have them as a weekend car. Below: My 2010 Roadster at Glacier Point in Yosemite · Passenger capacity and comfort: 2 people. Passenger seat had no adjustments; driver seat only moved back and forth. Difficult ingress/egress with top on – the door opening is small, there was a sill to step over, and the seat was very low. Very little space inside, and legs stick straight forward. I am fairly average in height and weight and my joint disease was just getting started at the time, so it didn’t bother me – I was fine with comfort (even on road trips) and getting in and out. But it’s clearly the bottom of the bunch in this category. · Driving joy: It’s slower than the Performance models of the other cars, RWD only, and the 3 has better handling. But I don’t care, this was still my favorite. It is the lightest, has the best steering feedback (you could feel the road surface through the unpowered steering wheel), had a great pod-racer sound, and the combination of top off and low seating position gave you a great sense of connection to the road. And while the car was harder to get in to and had less space, while you are driving it feels more like you are wearing the car – you never forget you are driving a Roadster, while the other models can fade in to the background a bit. · Cargo space and access: Yeah, this was an issue. Just a tiny glovebox (or shelf in the 2008s) in the cabin, and a really small trunk at the rear. That was it. It suited my needs at the time, though (given that I had my wife’s larger EV to borrow on the few occasions I needed it). · Range and charging: It was rated at 244, but I think on today’s scale it would have been more like 220 miles. No DC charging; just AC but it did go up to 240V 70A. It had a special connector, but after J1772 was finalized they came up with a large, expensive adapter. (Henry Sharp on the forums has a better solution). · Technology and safety: No AWD or autopilot; the front airbags were single-stage (part of the reason 2011 was the last year they sold them). Almost 65% of the weight was on the back (probably why it understeered a lot at the limit – the adjustable suspension helped with that - and the traction control was so buttoned down). The battery came up to the top of the trunk; it wasn’t all below the seats, so the center of gravity was relatively high (although still low because the car was so low). The screen was only 3”. No over-the-air updates. The sound system sucked, but given the noise the car made, that didn’t matter. Given the market at the time and the size of the car, it wasn’t too bad for tech and safety then…but it does not compare to today’s models. · Ride and noise: This was the roughest and loudest of the bunch, by a long shot. There was an optional manually-adjustable suspension and two levels of soundproofing; but neither was enough to make up the deficit. · Cost: price, maintenance, efficiency: the earliest 2008 buyers got it for $92k, but it quickly went up to $109k, plus many options of course. Annual service was $600, and as a very-low-volume car parts were expensive. Warranties varied, but mine was only 3 year/36k. At least it was really efficient! Because of the light weight it was the most efficient around town of Tesla’s models, although I believe the slicker 3 becomes more efficient at some highway speed. Model S Below: Shadow (2015 Tesla Model S P90DL) We don’t have one now; my wife needs an X for her father, and given that the X is around, the 3 is more than enough for our second car. But we really love the S and someday hope to have another. It’s what I generally recommend to people that only plan to have a single Tesla – unless they need more room or to tow, it’s a little more practical than the X, and unless price is a barrier it is a lot better for cargo and road trips than the 3 (and if you only have one Tesla, you want it to be able to do everything!). · Passenger capacity and comfort: It holds 5, although some older used ones may also have a rear-facing seats for 2 children. For the first 4 people, cabin space is remarkably similar to the 3, but the 5th person definitely gets more shoulder room. Having owned a Roadster, I think the S is remarkably easy to get in and out of, but that A-pillar does sweep quite a bit and the rear doors aren’t terribly wide so people who are larger or mobility-impaired might prefer an X. Once inside, I find it very comfortable (and again very similar to the 3), but for ultimate comfort I prefer the X. · Driving joy: It is a large, heavy car, and you will notice it in hard turns, moving through heavy traffic, parking, etc. That’s one place the Roadster and 3 have an advantage. But that aside, wow. 0-60 is either 3.7 or 2.4, and that’s in an incredibly smooth, quiet, and responsive fashion. Steering weight is adjustable, the quietness helps you focus on the road or stereo…and with the adjustable suspension and extra insulation, it is very smooth and quiet on road trips. While it’s not the canyon carver the 3 is, it’s an incredibly pleasant ride, more planted than the X, and the acceleration never gets old. · Cargo space and access: the frunk and rear cargo area are both about twice the size of the 3’s – a very significant difference. Plus there is a powered hatch in the rear, which makes access notably easier. The X has more cargo space, but not very much more – just a little taller. While the frunk may be a little low (it’s easier to get stuff out of the X’s frunk), the lower height of the S makes it easier to get some kinds of cargo in the rear, like a bike. Although the X’s higher, flat access is better for others, like a flat-panel TV box. The rear seats fold 60/40, but not quite flat with the cargo area. · Range and charging: 370 miles (345 for Performance). Up to 240V 48A for home charging, and they use Superchargers. With a 100kWh battery, they can Supercharge at a high rate for a fairly long time. However, their cells can’t take the same rate the 3 can, so they don’t take the highest rate (Tesla is just starting to roll out faster stations that the 3 can take advantage of). · Technology and safety: Technology-wise, it doesn’t have everything. There’s no Carplay or 360-view, for example. But man, it has a lot. With two large displays, and all the in-car apps, and the smartphone app, and over-the-air updates, and autopilot, there is a lot of stuff to play with. As for safety, it is awesome. It has fantastic passive and active safety features and may well be about the safest car on the road. · Ride and noise: It’s more of a performance car than a luxury car; so it’s not the smoothest, quietest thing on the road. But considering the level of performance it offers – it’s awfully darn good. Of course the wheels and tires you select will make a difference. I haven’t yet tried the new “Raven” suspension, but it sounds like a nice improvement (still probably not to Bentley levels though). It’s similar to the X, and better than the 3. And of course way better than the Roadster. · Cost: price, maintenance, efficiency: it starts at $80k; add $20k for Performance and $6k for “full self-driving”. It costs a lot more than the 3, but it’s much bigger and quicker and has more range – and there’s not really any gas cars that can compare in performance and utility. It has more parts and less automated assembly than the 3, plus lower volume so there it is likely to have a little more maintenance and cost – including the larger tires. It should, however, need less work than the more-complicated X. At 111 mpge it’s well ahead of the 87mpge Model X, and not far behind the AWD Model 3’s 116mpge. (However, the RWD standard-range 3 gets 131mpge). Model X Below: Belle (2017 Model X 100D) charging just before a thunderstorm hit in Arkansas It’s, well, the SUV of Teslas, for better and for worse. It is bigger, costlier, less efficient, and has less sleek styling – but, it has the most space for both people and cargo, and is the easiest for them to get in and out. It’s the most comfortable road trip car I have ever been in (and the enormous windshield improves the view). It can tow up to 5,000lbs. And while I generally prefer simpler and cheaper mechanisms, it does have some pretty cool door tech. · Passenger capacity and comfort: It comes in 5, 6 and 7-passenger varieties. Access to the first two rows is excellent, although the third row in the 6 and 7-passenger varieties, while not bad, is obviously not the same. While seating comfort will vary by person, for my wife and I front row seat comfort is the best we’ve experienced in any car. The second row is probably the best of the Teslas, although like most of them more thigh support could help. I (fairly average height and weight) fit fairly comfortably in the back row, though with no room to spare. · Driving joy: I am afraid it’s the bottom of the bunch for the Teslas, because it is so darn large and heavy. But Tesla driving joy is a very high bar; we did a 6,500 mile road trip in our X last month and I really enjoyed it. Compare it to a gas SUV, and it is amazing – smooth, astoundingly quick acceleration, and an extremely low center of gravity mean you can still have a lot of fun driving it. · Cargo space and access: The second row does not fold in the 6-passenger version; but the second and third rows of the 5 and 7-seaters both fold for one big, flat load floor – with more storage underneath. The frunk is large and up high, easy to load. The rear hatch and falcon wing doors make it very easy to get at everything. · Range and charging: 325 miles; 305 for Performance. Up to 240V 48A for home charging, and they use Superchargers. With a 100kWh battery, they can Supercharge at a high rate for a fairly long time. However, their cells can’t take the same rate the 3 can, so they don’t take the highest rate (Tesla is just starting to roll out faster stations that the 3 can take advantage of). · Technology and safety: Technology-wise, it doesn’t have everything. There’s no Carplay or 360-view, for example. But man, it has a lot. With two large displays, and all the in-car apps, and the smartphone app, and over-the-air updates, and autopilot, there is a lot of stuff to play with. Don’t forget the auto-present front doors and falcon wing rear doors. As for safety, it is awesome. It has fantastic passive and active safety features, is very heavy and may well be about the safest car on the road. · Ride and noise: It’s more of a performance car than a luxury car; so it’s not the smoothest, quietest thing on the road. But considering the level of performance it offers – it’s awfully darn good. Of course the wheels and tires you select will make a difference. I haven’t yet tried the new “Raven” suspension, but it sounds like a nice improvement (still probably not to Bentley levels though). It’s similar to the S, and better than the 3. And of course way better than the Roadster. · Cost: price, maintenance, efficiency: this is where the extra space and towing capability will cost you. The X starts at $85k; add $20k for Performance and $6k for “full self-driving”. And perhaps 3 or $6k for extra seating. It costs way more than the 3, but it’s much bigger and quicker, can tow and has more range – and there’s not any gas SUVs that can compare in performance and utility. It is likely to have more maintenance and cost than the 3 or the S. At 87 mpge it’s well behind the 111mpge Model S, not to mention the Model 3’s 116 to 131mpge. Model 3 Below: Merlin (2018 Model 3 Performance+) · Passenger capacity and comfort: It seats 5. Space and comfort for the first 4 are remarkably similar to the S, although the 5th passenger will envy the S’s extra should room. Entry and exit are also remarkably similar to the S. While perfectly comfortable for me day-to-day, it can’t match the X in capacity, comfort or ease of access. · Driving joy: well, it’s not as quick as the S, or even the X – although at least the Performance version is quicker than the Roadster. But the handling and steering feel are awesome. I’d still have a little more fun in the Roadster, but the 3 isn’t all that far behind. The Performance version can come as low as $50k, way under the S and X and it is enormously entertaining to drive. · Cargo space and access: while it beats the Roadster hands-down, the 3 only has half the cargo space of the S, and even less compared to the X. And it has a manual trunk, rather than a powered hatch. But compared to gas competition, like a BMW 3 or an Audi A4, it’s very slightly ahead. · Range and charging: 220 to 325 miles. Up to 240V 48A for home charging, and they use Superchargers. While the batteries aren’t as large as those in the S and X, the cells can charge faster – especially nice when paired with the 3’s better efficiency. Tesla is just starting to roll out faster Supercharging stations that the 3 can take advantage of. · Technology and safety: It’s not as heavy as the S and X, and doesn’t have the adjustable suspension. And obviously it doesn’t have the X’s fancy doors. But I think it has everything else the S and X have, and it is likely the safest car in its weight category (which at 3600lbs and up is not really that light). · Ride and noise: with less soundproofing and no adjustable suspension, it is not as good as the S and X. But it beats the snot out of the Roadster, and while not a luxury car, it beats at least economy ICEs and probably most performance-oriented ICEs as well – your choice of wheels and tires will matter. · Cost: price, maintenance, efficiency: it starts at $39k, and even a Performance can be had for $50k. The S and X do have some very notable advantages that are important to some, and they don’t have ICE peers. But if you don’t need the S and X goodies, the 3 packs incredible value. And while there’s insufficient data so far, it is likely to be the simplest and cheapest to maintain, at least by a small margin. At 116 to 131mpge, it beats the 111mpge S and 87mpge X. The Roadster may still beat it around town, but the 3 probably beats even that on the highway, at least at higher speeds.