Tech Take: Tesla First Impression

As I mentioned in my post from last week, we have been living with my parents in Arizona for the past 5.5 months while searching for a home in the Atlanta area. Not the ideal situation for 30-somethings with a dog and a small child – or for 60-somethings that aren’t used to simultaneously running a daycare and a kennel out of their home. However, one perk of the arrangement is that my Dad and I have spent a ridiculous amount of time talking about technology and all of the latest and greatest gadgets. Not only did I get my love of technology from him, but I also learned how to explain the technology and complicated concepts to others. So he probably deserves some credit for this blog. Thanks, Dad.

Now to the topic of today’s Tech Take. Tesla. Before arriving in Arizona, Tesla (or electrics vehicle in general – “EVs” as the cool kids like to say) wasn’t really on my radar. Sure, I’ve kept up with TSLA’s ups and downs and Elon’s meme-of-the-week, but overall, the thought of owning a Tesla never crossed my mind. My Dad, however, is the latest Tesla fan-girl, and upon our arrival in Arizona last November we found out that he had purchased a Model Y and was awaiting its delivery. Even presented with the opportunity to now see a Tesla up close and personal, I still wasn’t overly excited. Fast forward several months and more than a few “test drives” later, and I am thisss close to jumping on the Tesla bandwagon – spending my evenings watching Tesla YouTube videos on how best to optimize my car’s battery, and discovering unique uses for the “Frunk”.

So, as if there aren’t enough people reviewing and showing off their Teslas – I’m here to add one more “take” to the list. However, this is NOT an in-depth comprehensive review. As I alluded to above, there are a million videos on YouTube if you’re looking for a detailed cost-savings breakdown of owning a Tesla vs a regular ol’ gas-powered car. This take is meant to be, well, lighter. Because really, what kind of tech blogger would I be if I didn’t offer up MY take on Tesla and give you a few of my first impressions!?

Likes

Beautiful Touchscreen

This actually falls into my likes AND dislikes (but more on the latter below). On the “like” side, the touchscreen is extremely sleek and responsive. Why other car companies haven’t been able to make a touchscreen that works even as well as an iPhone 4’s screen is just baffling to me. Seriously, whether you have a BMW or a Kia, they ALL STINK. But not Tesla’s. This one is *chef’s kiss*. And that’s good news considering that pretty much everything in the car is operated via this screen. Radio, GPS, child locks, AC, wipers, lights…you get the idea.

On one hand, you have a central place to control everything, which is nice. But I experienced some downsides to this too. More on that below. One of the coolest/most impressive things about the screen is just how smart it is. For example, while you’re driving, the screen displays your car moving along whatever road you’re on. When you pass a car that is on the other side of the road the screen shows a little gray rendering of the other vehicle driving by. While in some ways the other vehicle looks like a generic blob, if you pay close attention you’ll notice that the “blob” mirrors the type of car that drives by. If it’s a pick-up truck, the blob looks like a truck. If it’s a sedan, the blob looks like a sedan. It will even pick up BIKES that are driving in the bike lanes, or traffic cones if you’re driving through a construction zone. It really feels like this car has a brain.

One side-note about this is that I think it would be cool if other Tesla’s on the road would look different than all of the other gray car blobs on the touchscreen. How cool would it be if the touchscreen displayed the actual color or model of the other Tesla passing by?! Or maybe Tesla owners could pick a unique avatar to represent their car (think: Waze). Maybe too distracting? I don’t know. But I imagine the software is smart enough to do this if Elon wanted it to.

Simple Interior

When I first sat in my Dad’s Tesla I thought to myself “this is it?”. The interior (other than the touchscreen) is incredibly underwhelming. Tesla definitely utilizes high-quality construction/materials, but it just felt so…plain. I had never seen one in person and was expecting a few more bells and whistles. However, the more I rode in it the more I came to appreciate Tesla’s simplicity. It also made me realize how bloated the interiors of other cars are. Buttons, knobs, and lights everywhere. Tesla definitely makes all of that feel like overkill.

Cool Factor

I’ll admit it, after spending some 1:1 time with a Tesla, I have kind of bought into the hype. I love observing technology trends and seeing what makes one product a short-lived gimmick and what gives another real staying power. I can’t pinpoint exactly what “IT” is about Tesla, but the more I drove one, read about them, and watched videos about them, the more I actually wanted one. Tesla lovers and owners are PASSIONATE. And not just about their cars, but about the company, its eccentric CEO, and the future of EVs. Tesla definitely has an Apple-like cult following, and I think it’s only going to grow.

SuperCharger Stations

In case you aren’t familiar with Tesla Superchargers, these are basically gas stations for Teslas where you go to charge your car up. In case you’ve REALLY been living in a bubble (global pandemic! no shame!), Teslas run on batteries (not gasoline), so they need to be charged just the way any other battery-powered device does. I haven’t had my first Supercharger experience yet, but I’m hoping to visit one before we head to Atlanta. Telsa claims you can recharge up to 200 miles in 15 minutes, which honestly isn’t that much different than making a pit stop at a gas station (minus the stale hot dogs). And I’ll be honest, I dig the idea of watching Netflix for a few minutes while charging up (yes, you can watch Netflix or play games on that beautiful Tesla touchscreen!).

No Keys, Please

The fact that Tesla has no physical key is a small thing, but it’s one of my favorite features. I love that your phone IS your key, and you have a keycard as a backup. To lock and unlock the car with the keycard you hold it up/tap it on the door frame. Very cool. And you actually can get a traditional key fob if you so desire, it will just set you back ~$150.

UFOs, Farts, and Mariachi Bands

What do these three things have in common? Nothing. Except if you own a Tesla and you want to set a funny “sound effect” to accompany your horn or back-up noise. This “feature” may seem utterly absurd to some people, but even as a grown woman I still find farting (mostly) funny. And I find it especially funny when you can trigger a whoopie cushion sound when someone sits down in their seat. That’s all I’ll say on this, but Elon Musk is a pretty cool dude for enabling his cars to toot.

Self Driving Mode

I guess I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Tesla’s self-driving capabilities. So I’ll mention it, but I won’t dive too deep on this because I honestly didn’t spend much time using it. I tried it a few times and while it definitely felt like a glimpse into the future, coming from the South, where driving a massive, gas-guzzling pick-up truck is a sought-after status symbol, I struggle to believe I’ll ever live in a world where we are all “driving” autonomous vehicles. But I would love to be proved wrong!

Endless Resources

As I’ve mentioned several times, there is an endless amount of resources out there for Tesla owners (or just wishful prospective buyers and interested tech nerds). There are so many Tesla-dedicated YouTube channels it’ll make your head spin. My Dad actually watched a ton of Tesla videos before he bought his Model Y. Partially to educate himself, and partially (I’m convinced) for car porn. But whatever your objective is, trust me, there’s a video for it. One of my favorite Tesla-dedicated channels is Andy Slye’s. I discovered him on Twitter and owe my piqued interest in Tesla to his videos. If any of you have other favorites, post them in the comments below!

DISLIKES

Too Much Touchscreen?

Overall I think Tesla’s touchscreen is a beautiful thing. However, while I think there is some benefit to having most of the car’s controls in a centralized location, the downside is that it a) definitely has a bit of a learning curve associated with it, and b) can be a little distracting while you’re driving. I think both concerns can be alleviated by simply driving the car regularly and getting used to the screen, but it was frustrating when I was actively driving and wanted to adjust something and couldn’t easily find it on the touchscreen. I felt like I was asking for a fender bender. On a related note, I finally had a chance to drive my Dad’s Tesla at night and it was VERY weird to not have a glowing console on the dashboard in front of you. It was almost eerie!

Price

Let’s address the elephant in the room here. I think a lot of people find Tesla’s pretty neat. I also think most of us can agree that the majority of Tesla drivers are old(er), rich people. Of course that is a bit of a generalization, but I only have a VERY small handful of friends and peers my age that own one. While the price point on Tesla’s “cheapest” model (the Model 3) has come down significantly since the cars first launched, they are still out of reach for most people.

Combine that with the fact that there’s really only one option for families with a lot of little humans and all of the “stuff” that comes along with having little humans (more on that below), and it seems clear that for now, Teslas are aimed at a relatively specific market. As much as I’d love to join Club Tesla, it’s just not realistic for us right now, and I think many of you are probably in the same boat. In case you’re curious, here’s a price breakdown by model.

Do Looks Matter?

While I eventually came to appreciate Tesla’s simplistic interior, I still have a hard time with the exterior. And more specifically, the exterior of the Model X and Y. Just like a Prius “looks like a Prius”, I find that you can spot the Tesla SUV models from a mile away (they’re better than a Prius, but still). I know looks are subjective, but our Volvo and GMC SUVs look like pageant queens compared to my Dad’s Model Y. Elon Musk definitely marches to the beat of his own drum so maybe the look is by design. I mean, have you SEEN the Tesla Cybertruck!? Yikes.

Also, I have an extremely hard time distinguishing between the various Tesla models (and there are only four!). Obviously the Model S (sedan) and the Model X (SUV) look pretty different, even from a distance. But if a Model Y and a Model X drive by at the same time, I struggle to differentiate between the two. And Tesla’s are EVERYWHERE in Arizona, so I have seen my fair share of them over the past few months. Over time you do tend to be able to spot the unique characteristics of each (e.g. the Model X has the wing doors with exterior door handles that meet in the middle), but initially, I found it annoying that they didn’t just put the model #/name on the back LIKE EVERY OTHER CAR.

EV Learning Curve

This one may not bother everyone the way it bothered me at first (and sometimes still does), but the way an EV feels while you’re driving it is very different than a gas-powered car. The first thing that struck me was how quiet it is. When you turn the ignition on in your gas-powered car, you know the car is on. But when you “turn on” an EV, it feels (and sounds) no different than when it’s off. This isn’t a new concept – Priuses (and other hybrid cars) are the same way. But it’s a little weird when you’re used to something totally different.

The other thing that threw me off is how an EV responds when you take your foot off of the gas pedal. The best way I can describe it is that (depending on your speed) as soon as you take your foot off of the gas the car comes to a VERY abrupt stop. There’s no coasting like in a gas-powered car. If I’m driving at a low enough speed (under 35-40 mph) I almost don’t even need to hit the brakes when I come to a stop sign. Also very weird! Note: my Dad told me that you can actually adjust this and have the car come to more of a rolling stop, but I haven’t tried it yet. Overall, my point is that there’s a bit of a learning curve to an EV and it would definitely take a bit of getting used to if it was my primary vehicle.

Not Family Friendly

Why my 30 lb son’s car seat has to be 3x as large and heavy as his body is a mystery to me. Safety? I guess? His car seat is positioned in the middle of the backseat of my car (a Volvo SUV) and I struggle mightily to get him in and out of the seat. Knowing this struggle, I cringe at the thought of having to do it in a car with a lower roof (like a sedan). The Model Y definitely has that hatchback/smaller SUV feel to it and while the inside is more spacious than a sedan, the roofline is more similar to a sedan than a true SUV.

I have been told that if you have small children (and the glorious car seat baggage that comes along with them), the Model X is your best option. It has the “wing doors” that open UP, instead of out like a traditional car. Which is all fine and dandy except for the fact that the base price on a Model X is $90,000 (and is Tesla’s most expensive model). Not shockingly, this price point isn’t within most families’ budgets.

So that’s all I’ve got. I’ve never been a “car person” and have always driven a car that combines affordability with safety and practicality. With Tesla’s price point, it doesn’t appear that we’ll have one sitting in our garage any time soon. But as I just told Cody, if money was no object, I think it would be a ton of fun to own a Tesla as an “extra” car. A girl can dream, can’t she!?

Elon’s famous ode to Dogecoin meme

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