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Which Tesla should you buy? A decade-long comparo: Roadster, S, X, 3

Discussion in 'Tesla, Inc.' started by ChadS, Aug 5, 2019.

  1. ChadS

    ChadS Last tank of gas: March 2009

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    #1 ChadS, Aug 5, 2019
    Last edited: Aug 5, 2019
    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)
    Trifecta.jpg

    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
    TripMap.jpg

    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
    Roadster.jpg

    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)
    Electra.JPG


    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)
    Belle.jpg


    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)
    Pepper.jpg


    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
    RoadsterAtYosemite.jpg

    · 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)
    Shadow.jpg


    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
    BelleStorm.jpg


    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+)
    Merlin.jpg


    · 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.
     
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  2. johnnyS

    johnnyS Member

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    Chad, I have always enjoyed your informative posts. I remember when you wrote about road trips in a Tesla. While I was anxiously waiting for my 2012 model S, I read every word from you and others that had Roadsters.
     
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  3. ChadS

    ChadS Last tank of gas: March 2009

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    Thanks, johnny. Boy, that was a lot of text, wasn't it.

    Here's a much shorter summary. Say, a 1-floor elevator pitch for each car.

    Roadster: Best for weekend drives
    3: Best value and commuter
    S: Best for road trips or households with only one EV
    X: Best for passenger access and comfort, and towing
     
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  4. ChadS

    ChadS Last tank of gas: March 2009

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    #4 ChadS, Aug 10, 2019
    Last edited: Aug 10, 2019
    Here is a more visual way to make pretty much the same comparisons.

    Note that in these charts, I am comparing the cars to EACH OTHER. The scale does not include all possible values, nor even all other scores that other cars might receive. For example, Roadster acceleration is awesome compared to most cars...but slow by Tesla standards, so it doesn't look great in these charts. This is done to make the differences between the cars clear, which is likely why anybody would be staring at this.

    First, a legend of the graphics used below.



    Let's start by looking at Comfort. As you might guess, the Roadster comes in last. The X is best, followed closely by the S, then the 3.



    Now let's look at the driving experience. Unfortunately a lot is visceral and not included here, so it's hard to grasp the whole thing. But generally speaking, the smaller, lighter cars are more fun to drive.




    Now let's look at practical matters. As you can image the 3 looks best, the Roadster worst. The X is almost as bad given that Utility is a different category, shown later.




    Some safety issues. They are all really good, especially in their respective categories. But they do span a notable weight range, and the older Roadster doesn't have all the same tech.



    And finally, utility. As you can imagine, it's largely a case of the larger the vehicle, the more utility it offers; although there are of course some exceptions.



    Disclaimers: some rankings are just subjective. Worse, most of these cars have options (like different battery sizes or tires) that can affect their ratings. In general, if an area is important to you I figure you selected the best option for it, so I tried ranking them that way. For example, if you are looking at range, I ranked them by the largest battery offered. Whoops, I guess I forgot to include the 3.0 battery available for the Roadster. That should get a better ranking for range!
     
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  5. ChadS

    ChadS Last tank of gas: March 2009

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    #5 ChadS, Sep 23, 2019
    Last edited: Sep 23, 2019
    For those primarily looking to buy a Tesla for Autopilot (and for me, as I'm hoping somebody else might post a tip I'm not aware of):

    Here is my take on the Autopilot differences between the Model 3 and the S/X. Keep in mind that, as far as I know, they have identical sensors and software (well, there are multiple versions, but I believe they can be upgraded to be the same). How the car acts on Autopilot should be pretty much the same. The main difference is in how you activate/control autopilot.

    On the S/X, there is a dedicated stalk on the left (at least in the US) side of the steering column:

    [​IMG]
    • Pull the stalk towards you (or down) to activate TACC;
    • Pull the stalk twice quickly to activate Autosteer.
    • Push the stalk away to cancel. (Or give the steering wheel a tug to stop Autosteer, or press the brake to also stop TACC)
    • Move the stalk up or down to change speed (light movement = 1mph, larger movement = 5mph).
    • Turn the knob at the end of the stalk to adjust following distance.
    On the 3, there is no dedicated stalk. To activate and deactivate, you re-use the gear selector stalk on the right (at least in the US version):

    [​IMG]
    • Pressing down puts the car into Drive; but while in Drive, pressing down once again activates TACC
    • Pressing the gear selector twice quickly activates Autosteer.
    • Lifting the gear selector up (as if shifting to Neutral) cancels. (Or give the steering wheel a tug to stop Autosteer, or press the brake to also stop TACC)
    • Speed and following distance are controlled by the right control wheel on the steering wheel.
    • Scrolling the wheel adjusts speed (one click = 1mph, several clicks rapidly = 5mph)
    • Pressing the scroll wheel side-to-side adjusts the following distance.
    I like using the 3's control wheel to adjust the speed - it's simple and natural. But that's not a big gain over moving the S/X stalk up and down; and aside from that, I prefer the S/X interface:
    • I really like having a dedicated stalk, rather than re-using the gear selector and risking an error if I press at the wrong time, or once too many times.
    • Especially given that the 3's gear selector method for activating TACC and autosteer seems to fail a lot more often than when I try to activate them with the dedicated S/X stalk.
    • Pressing the 3's control wheel to the sides to adjust following distance isn't terribly natural, and you can't tell when you are at the ends (setting 1 or 7) unless you look at the screen - but in the S/X, turning the knob is simple and it's easy to tell when the knob is at the ends.
    Plus, with the S/X you can view autopilot information on the screen directly in front of you, leaving the 17" infotainment screen available for maps, music, rear-view, etc. On the 3, the autopilot graphics are always on the left part of the 15" screen. I don't find the position to be a problem, but I do prefer that the autopilot graphics not take away from the space on the infotainment screen.

    Most of these differences aren't major; using Autopilot on a 3 is still a good experience. Generally speaking I wouldn't base a purchase decision on the differences between the platforms. But I am throwing them out there in case somebody plans on using autopilot a lot and has some concerns. The 3 is great around town, and if you drive in stop-and-go you will probably be very happy with the 3 experience. But the S/X are better road trip vehicles in general (more space, quieter, better ride, etc), and the Autopilot interface makes that even more true.

    I will note that the most difficult thing for me, personally, is having two cars with different interfaces. That causes an occasional error when I switch vehicles. The errors have only been mildly annoying; nothing dangerous has happened.
     
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  6. ChadS

    ChadS Last tank of gas: March 2009

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    One more really minor Autopilot issue that I just noticed today. On the 3, if you have a reason to reboot the infotainment screen...you have absolutely no driving info while it is rebooting. Autopilot kept doing its thing OK during the reboot, but I couldn't see what it was seeing, see my speed, check my following distance, etc. I very rarely reboot it; but it was a little eerie.

    On the S/X, the Autopilot information is on the smaller screen in front of the driver, and so not affected by infotainment reboots.
     
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  7. ChadS

    ChadS Last tank of gas: March 2009

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    #7 ChadS, Sep 25, 2019
    Last edited: Sep 25, 2019
    Here are some more detailed thoughts on steering, handling, etc. (Probably too much text for existing owners to wade through; but I hope that potential buyers trying to nail down which options to get find it helpful). The fact that the smaller cars steer and handle better than the larger ones is probably no surprise, especially if you read the earlier posts in this thread, so I'll focus more on the difference between RWD and AWD cars. This won't help new S or X buyers (they are all AWD) but if you are buying a 3 or a used S, it could help.

    First, some important caveats that basically add up to "your mileage may vary":
    • I am not a handling expert. I am happy to hear other opinions
    • Almost everything below is about street driving. Track driving is a very different thing (see footnote [1])
    • The wheels you choose will affect this, and even more so tires will have a huge effect
    • Part of the experience is also due to Tesla's programming (i.e. for how much wheel slip to allow); which could be different on new cars, or even on an existing one after an update
    • Different people want very different things (for an example, see footnote [2])
    Note that I'm primarily looking at steering/handling effects here, rather than the extra grip that many people hope to get out of AWD (but see footnote [3] for more on that).

    The primary difference that I have noticed is that Tesla's AWD cars are generally a lot more buttoned-down than their RWD equivalents. (Of course there are always exceptions; in this case it is the RWD Roadster which was perhaps the most buttoned down of them all, most likely due to the 35/65 weight distribution - Tesla really didn't want owners to spin them out). It's not just that the AWD cars have better grip because more tires are grabbing; it seems to me that they are programmed to slide around less. If you accelerate quickly on a turn, or take a sharp turn suddenly at speed, the AWD versions generally seem to slip less and/or recover faster. Nobody knows for sure (and it may well be different per car and over time), but I think Tesla wants their RWD cars to slide around because a lot of RWD performance car owners want to have "fun" by sliding their rear ends around; while AWD owners are perhaps more looking for confident grip.

    Of course the tires matter too; but for a while my wife had an RWD S 85 and I had an AWD S P90DL, and in the winter they both had the same tires. WIth aggressive [4] driving, the RWD car would slip more than the far more powerful AWD car. (I am referring more to high-speed sharp turns than to straight-line acceleration, where the extra pair of drive wheels are an obvious advantage). And when we would get an RWD S Performance car as a loaner, wow. I know their owners love them, but I didn't like getting P85 loaners, because it seemed like the rear wheels were always spinning. I had to be so careful to avoid it. As with anything else, an awful lot comes down to what you are used to.

    After 7 years with the Roadster, and 2 years with an AWD S, I was pretty used to the buttoned-down experience. When driving aggressively, the cars would watch out for me and slow down as necessary; my wheels would very rarely spin despite me being pretty heavy on the accelerator - especially in turns with my wife not in the car. Then I got an RWD Model 3. Wow, was I surprised at first. Take a turn aggressively, and there goes the rear end. While it did grow on me a bit, at first I didn't like it at all. And while the 3's handling was generally awesome - quick, linear, smooth - I did notice that some maneuvers, like accelerating through a 270-degree on-ramp, resulted in the lead corner lifting more than I had been used to in my AWD S.

    So I test-drove an AWD 3 after they came out (a Performance model). Sure enough, while it still allowed some sliding, it seemed to recover faster. And while accelerating on a long sweeping curve, there was definitely less lift in the lead corner. The Performance sits 1/2" lower, and maybe (?) there are some minor suspension differences. But I suspect (though without much backing) that a lot of the difference comes down to how Tesla wants them to behave. In any event, I liked the AWD's handling better, Tesla made me an incredible trade-in offer, and I ended up with an AWD 3. Note that this was entirely because of handling, not snowy-time grip expectations (although I understand there is some overlap between the two). I work from home, snow rarely sticks around here, and my wife has an AWD X with chains, so I really wasn't concerned about snow.

    If you are looking at a used S, an AWD one (at least if not Performance) can be a little more efficient than an RWD one - I suspect (though I am just guessing because Tesla tells us so little) largely because of different sized motors that are likely also geared differently. But this doesn't seem to be true in the more-efficient 3; the lighter RWD vehicles are more efficient (so fuel is cheaper, range is longer, charging is faster). Plus the cars are lighter and cheaper. The steering on the RWD 3 is precise, quick-reacting and linear. I think almost everybody will be happy with an RWD 3. But, if you do like to push the handling envelope...give the AWD 3 a try. It might not slide as easily, which will disappoint some; but the programming still allows for some slide (a lot compared to my old AWD S; I have gotten used to it and enjoy it now) before the car recovers, and I appreciate the flatter acceleration through a sweeping corner.


    Footnotes for people that feel they haven't read enough yet:

    [1] I have only been to the track once in my life; around 2013 I took a driving class with my Roadster. It was a great experience; fun and I learned a lot. I especially learned just how different track handling is from road handling, where you are not pushing the car nearly as hard. I had been driving the Roadster for years, and never realized it had understeer until I drove it much harder on the track. It understeered like a pig! Trying to take very tight turns as quickly as possible was very frustrating. (I have been told you can get rid of the understeer with the optional adjustable suspension, but my car did not have that). The understeer was likely to keep owners from spinning out easily, given that 65% of the weight was on the rear tires.

    [2] I have always loved "sporty" cars; and while acceleration is awesome, I'll take sharp handling any day. But I've always realized that some people want different things out of cars, and this was never clearer than the day I met "Granada Bob". My Dad used to buy salvage cars, fix them up, and sell them. One day in the early 80's he was selling a 1978 Ford Granada. It was easily my least-favorite car of all time...it had horrible, noisy, over-assisted steering. You could shake the steering wheel two inches back and forth, and nothing would happen. You turn it quite a ways in one direction, then wait, and then the car would move - it was kind of like steering a boat. Ugh, I hated it, and was glad to see my Dad sell it. I rode along as Bob, the potential buyer, got behind the wheel. I worried that the steering would annoy him (had my Dad even fixed the car correctly?), and cause him to back out of the deal. While still making his first turn, Bob exclaimed to his wife "Wow! Feel that steering! Now THAT is a fine car!". He bought it without haggling as soon as the ride was over. I guess life would be awfully boring if we all liked the same things...

    [3] Of course AWD gives you better traction for winter driving. That's why a lot of people buy it. But remember that that traction is largely only good for not getting stuck when you are trying to accelerate. Not getting stuck is great, don't get me wrong...but I think braking and turning are a lot more important, and AWD doesn't do nearly as much for those. Numerous tests have shown that good winter tires will do a lot more for you than AWD. Of course AWD *plus* winter tires is the best combination; but if you don't do a whole lot of driving in extreme conditions, you shouldn't feel that AWD is a necessity. With either RWD or AWD, getting tires with the best grip (which means different tires summer and winter) is an enormous safety feature. All-season tires may be convenient; but all of your car's capabilities, fantastic as they might be, are literally riding on your tires.

    [4] While I thoroughly enjoy quick acceleration and carving corners, I am careful to only do so when visibility is good, no other cars are near and I have an exit strategy in case things go haywire. If all three of those aren't true, I don't push very hard - and even when I do push "hard" on the street, it's not nearly as hard as I might on a track (see footnote [1]). I have had friends die in car accidents, and acquaintances that have killed others through careless driving, and I really want to avoid being on either side of that coin.
     
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  8. tonybelding

    tonybelding Active Member

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    This is a really helpful thread. I'm still running my first-and-only electric car. . . a 2010 Roadster! It had 20,000 miles when I bought it, and it's over 40,000 now. As much as I love it, the practical limitations are starting to get to me.

    While owning the Roadster, I've had a couple of S loaners and an X, but I have never driven a 3.

    I think I'm getting close to pulling the trigger on a new S Long Range. The "Raven" update went a long way in tipping me towards it. The new suspension system is actually the feature that interests me the most, although I haven't seen a lot of reporting on it. I did see the CNET Road Show review on YouTube, where they heaped quite a bit of praise on the new suspension. (They also harped repeated only on how "dated" and "in dire need of a refresh" the S is, which just made me laugh and laugh. The reviewer clearly lives in a different automotive world from me.)
     
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  9. ChadS

    ChadS Last tank of gas: March 2009

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    Hey, Tony. It's good to hear you are looking at an S. (Will you keep the Roadster, or sell it?) I'd love to own another S some day, and it is about 2 orders of magnitude more practical than the Roadster.

    As much as I think the S is a great practical choice, I will say that moving from a Roadster to an S was kind of difficult for me. The S is SO much bigger, and that affects all sorts of things, but especially handling. While I got more used to the S over the years, I was still excited when I finally got in to a 3, because I prefer the 3's handling to the S's. Unless you need the extra range, cargo space or comfy suspension of the Raven S, maybe you should test-drive a 3 first just to make sure? At least, if you really like small-car handling.

    The 3 won't be as quiet or comfortable as the S, nor does it have as much range or space, but the 3 is so far ahead of the Roadster that it might serve your needs while coming closer on the steering/handling. Just a thought...the Ravens are the one major option I've never tried, and I probably should. I have mostly heard about how the new suspension helps the ride, but I wonder if it does anything for handling?
     
  10. tonybelding

    tonybelding Active Member

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    Let's say, I will not be under any pressure to sell the Roadster. I'm not in a great hurry to.

    As for the size and handling of the S vs. 3, I've given that some thought. Anything would seem like a big car in comparison with the tiny, fierce Roadster — but I live in Texas, and the S is not a big car in Texas terms. It's not particularly big in terms of the cars that I grew up with. It's actually similar in size to the 1995 Pontiac Bonneville SE that was a long-term favorite car for me.

    As for handling. . . The way the Roadster drives is pure bliss on an early morning spin around the back roads, but it can be pretty annoying when driving any long distances, and one of my reasons for wanting a new Tesla is to drive some long distances. The Roadster is my third "proper" sports car in a row that I've owned, and I'm beginning to think maybe enough is enough.

    The Road Show guy seemed pretty impressed. Here's what he said about it: “Overall the car just feels so much better than it did before. The Model S has always been a very fast car, and generally fun car to drive, but it never really felt poised. It never really felt comfortable being pushed into the corners. This new one seems to settle so much more quickly coming over a crest or into a hard corner. I mean, you can get your foot down very quickly and enjoy it a lot more.”
     
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  11. brianman

    brianman Burrito Founder

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    Note:
    If the cost to upgrade from AWD to AWD P is not a concern, Track Mode on a Model 3 Performance makes this available (but comes with other changes that you may or may not want: cooling, regen).

    The first day I turned on Track Mode was at an autocross event for my second lap. I spun (only 180°) before the final gate (though the lap was clean as I recovered carefully). I haven't felt a Tesla even near a spin since some foolish days in the wet with Model S P85 (see signature).
     
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  12. ChadS

    ChadS Last tank of gas: March 2009

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    #12 ChadS, Sep 28, 2019
    Last edited: Sep 28, 2019
    Great, Tony. Given how you will use the car (and given that you will probably still have the Roadster around) I retract my suggestion that you try a 3 before buying. I agree that the S sounds best for you.

    Thanks for the Road Show quote. I'm not in the market for another car yet (both cars we have now are under 2 years old), but I definitely have to drive a Raven at some point. Aside from general advantages of being smaller (easier to park and wash, more efficient, etc) the only thing I prefer about the 3 over the S is the handling. If Raven Ses handle better than the Ses I have driven, that is great news!

    And Brian, thanks for the reminder about track mode - and how it can help AWD owners that want to enjoy that slippery-rear-end feeling. (Boy, that sure doesn't sound how I meant it). I still haven't tried track mode in my 3! Something else I gotta do...
     
  13. ChadS

    ChadS Last tank of gas: March 2009

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    #13 ChadS, Jun 16, 2020
    Last edited: Jun 16, 2020
    I haven't owned a Model Y yet, but my wife and I spent an hour test-driving one today. While that's not the same as owning one, it does fit in to the lineup pretty much as you'd expect, so I'll put down some quick impressions of the how the Y compares to Tesla's other cars. There is probably no need to compare it to the Roadster, but I will compare it to the 3, S and Y.

    Y COMPARED TO 3

    My daily driver is a 3. The Y is largely the same car embiggened, so you largely get the natural trade-offs that you would assume:

    The 3, being smaller, is sleeker, quicker, and handles better. None of those are really big deals though. A bigger deal is that the 3 is quite a bit cheaper, especially given that it is currently offered in more configurations (like RWD, standard battery, etc). The rear visibility is better (which surprised me as hatchbacks are usually better than sedans).

    The Y, being larger, has more space in the frunk, rear leg room, and especially in the cargo area. It is easier to get in and out, and it offers a 2" hitch receiver. The powered hatch, dual hidden compartments in the back, and rear seat-folding switches are all very nice touches. The Y also has a few manufacturing updates, like the heat pump, full glass roof (no cross bar), and fewer parts at the rear. Some smaller items, like wireless charging and USB-C ports, are already showing up in the 3.

    Ride and noise depend a lot on wheels and tires, which of course were different on our test car. But they seemed pretty comparable.

    My recommendation would be to consider the cheaper 3 to be the "default" and check it out. If you're happy with it, great, you saved money and got the car that's the most fun to drive. But if you need more space or a hitch receiver, you'll pay more for the Y but get notably more utility and the fun factor will be awfully close.

    Y COMPARED TO X

    My wife's daily driver is an X. The Y is on a smaller and very different platform. Being newer, the Y offers some advantages (primarily price!). But the X has quite a few niceties that the Y does not have (my wife generally likes smaller cars, but has absolutely no interest in switching to a Y from her X).

    The Y is far cheaper, and has enough goodies that it's going to be "good enough" for the vast majority of shoppers. It is smaller, so easier to park and wash, and more efficient. The handling is also quite a bit sharper. And it offers faster Supercharging, when you can find a V3 supercharger.

    The X, of course, is larger. So you get notably more storage space, and anybody in the 3rd row (if so equipped) will be far happier (although that may still fall short of "happy"). It also tows 5,000lbs instead of 3,500. Here's a a list of little things the X has over the Y (the reasons why my wife is sticking with her X). Not much on it is a must-have, but there are an awful lot of really nice things here:
    • more range
    • more comfortable seats (subjective, obviously)
    • heated steering wheel
    • two screens (more room to keep stuff on continuous display)
    • better autopilot controls (also subjective; see details in an earlier post)
    • biohazard filter
    • adjustable suspension
    • better ride
    • quieter
    • quicker
    • falcon wing doors, maybe. Some consider those a minus, but they've worked great for us
    • automatic front doors
    • more shoulder room if you have 3 in the 2nd row
    • longer warranty
    • key fob
    • while the Y's glass roof is nicer for rear passengers, you in the front row will get more out of the X's extended windshield
    • The X sometimes includes free supercharging, although I guess that's not currently on offer
    As usual, I recommend you look at the cheaper Y first and see if it's good enough. If you need more range or towing capacity, or regularly carry more than 4, you might need to spend the extra on an X. Otherwise, the Y will probably suit your needs, but if you find yourself not overwhelmed with the Y's tech and creature comforts, and willing to spend more, try the X. There are so many extra touches you likely won't even notice them all at first, but over time they definitely grow on you.

    Y COMPARED TO S


    This is the most complex comparison. They have nearly the same space; it's just configured differently. Do you want a big fast cruiser sedan, or do you want a nimble high-tech crossover?

    The Y is far cheaper. Being taller, getting in and out is a little easier. And it offers towing. And the handling is sharper. It offers enough that almost anybody could "make do" (not that many would really consider a Y "making do").

    The S has most of the advantages of the X listed above, other than the towing, fancy doors, and 3rd row. Two of those were things that might push one from a Y to an X, so you may be less likely to be "forced" to an S. However, the S is far sleeker and the quickest car available; it is definitely a different driving experience. We still miss our Ses and they have only gotten better.

    If you aren't already pretty sure which one you might want, I can't see much to do other than to try both.
     
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  14. ChadS

    ChadS Last tank of gas: March 2009

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    #14 ChadS, Jun 16, 2020
    Last edited: Jun 16, 2020
    If our cars were to disappear and we had to replace them today, what would we buy?

    We were fortunate as our children grew older that the Roadster and S became available and we were able to drive them for years. 'Twas great fun. But times change...

    My wife's top priorities are to be comfortable, and have space for all of her gear (she does a lot of hiking and biking). She really misses her S, but her Dad can barely get in a sedan. She could make do with a Y if she had to, but now that she's gotten used to the niceties of the X, she is sticking with it and would definitely get another one. She put down a reservation for a Cybertruck; it will be interesting to see how she reacts to that once she really gets to drive one. (Me, I couldn't drive something that big every day).

    My top priorities are to be efficient and have fun. The 3 is pretty much what I was shooting for when I started buying Teslas in 2009 (although I imagined it as a slightly smaller hatchback), but after enjoying a Roadster and S Performance, I was initially just a tiny bit disappointed in my 3. But it has wormed itself in to my heart over time - it has an exceptional blend of qualities for a daily driver. Occasionally I may need to haul more or take my mobility-impaired mother somewhere; I figure my wife and I can just swap cars on those days. However, she doesn't find the 3 comfortable and would rather not switch; plus there are days she is gone camping or something with her car, and I might have to pick up my bike or mother or soon-to-exist grandchild or something. The 3 almost always suits my needs and I really love driving it, but if it were to disappear...well, I'd probably get a Y. Then I'd have all the utility I'd need and we'd never have to switch cars..and I'd have almost as much fun.

    Now that our parents are getting older and we are hauling parents and grandchildren, we are once again extremely fortunate that cars like the X and Y are available.
     
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  15. bnb85

    bnb85 Member

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    Does anyone have any input on the JD Power ranking Tesla dead last? I was ready to go purchase one today and then my spouse read/saw the article and is hesitant.
     
  16. ChadS

    ChadS Last tank of gas: March 2009

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    It is indeed a bummer to see Tesla on the bottom, and I sure hope they take it seriously and deliver their cars in better shape. I know they can; it's just a matter of what they choose to focus on. I think they should, because it's got to be expensive to fix this stuff after delivery, and as a "new" and controversial automaker, this stuff gets an abnormal amount of scrutiny.

    But really, if you look at the data (even if you take it at face value...Dodge is on top? I guess initial quality is quite different than reliability or durability)...are these numbers going to affect your buying decision? The chart shows a pretty steady distribution of problem rates from 1.36 to 2.5 per car, less than a 2x difference between best and worst. Even the best has problems, and the worst doesn't have a huge number of problems. (Plus, as others have pointed out, the problems generally seem to be minor cosmetic issues).

    The next time you buy a car, will you say "To heck with Tesla because they are in last place, I'm going with one of their main competitors, like MB, Volvo or Audi"? Sure, your expected new-car problem rate won't be 2.5...but it will still be over 2.

    Or will you say, "I'm reducing my problems as much as possible, and going with the best...that savings of 1.14 expected problems has driven me to buy a Dodge!"

    Audi seems to be selling well despite their 2.25 rating.

    Besides, Tesla is still #1 in customer satisfaction. You might get between 0.25 and 1.14 fewer expected initial issues with another brand...but you won't be as happy with the car.
     
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  17. ChadS

    ChadS Last tank of gas: March 2009

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