There’s a lot that can be said about Tesla. In my opinion, Tesla is to Electric Vehicles what Apple is to computers and phones. Apple didn’t necessarily invent the smartphone, that’d be IBM with the Simon Personal communicator, which first released all the way back in 1992, but until the iPhone came out, Smartphones were seen as somewhat of a gimmicky gadget, complicated, full of problems, designed purely for those who thought more about productivity maximisation than they did about the latest episode of Seinfeld… or Friends… or Scrubs. They were very much phones for absolute turbo-nerds, then along came Apple, hitting an absolute dinger with the iPhone.
The iPhone did basically everything that the other smartphones on the market did. They took calls and texts, browsed the internet, could handle documents and files, played music files (like a lot of phones at the time did), and so on. However unlike the others, it did so in a way that was both aesthetically pleasing, and yet somewhat intuitive. The iPhone was more or less a piece of hardware that leveraged software more than any other smartphone on the market. Physical keyboards were eschewed for a big, bright multitouch display. Stripped back WAP browsing was replaced with a stripped down, lightened version of Safari, and its operating system wasn’t a bespoke OS designed for the device, like Symbian was for Nokia phones, it was instead a stripped back version of the very OS you likely used on your Mac at the time, MacOS X. It encased all of this in a sleek, cool design which made you think “wow, this thing’s from the future” whilst also being timeless enough to not look out of place in the time period. It was Apple once again, doing its “cool minimalism” look, letting the software do the talking.
Tesla, aimed to do to EVs what the iPhone did to phones. EVs at the time were seen as a bit of a nerd’s curio, a lot like Smartphones are. GM’s EV1 proved that electric vehicles were indeed possible, and economically viable, but the EV1 was very much a niche nerd’s product. only 1100 were sold and you never really “owned” your EV1, you effectively leased from GM. When GM abandoned this program in the 2000s, Elon Musk, then a multi-millionaire off the back of his sale of X.com and his parents apparently owning an emerald mine in South Africa, decided in 2004 to buy into a fledgeling automotive startup called Tesla Motors, which was founded by Martin Erberhard and Marc Tarpenning. He then wriggled his way to the CEO position by 2008, by buying up more and more shares in the company. Tesla’s first ever car, the original Roadster, released in 2008, was based on a Lotus Elise chassis with different bodywork, and a battery pack in place of the Petrol engine’s original position. This car was… to put it frankly, clunky, but kinda cool. A lot like the very first iPhone. It made people think “wow, that’s a cool car”, but the clunkiness of the experience, based entirely on the fact that it was basically a body-in-white Elise converted to Electric, made the team at Tesla completely rethink the experience.
Now fast forward to today. Tesla’s one of the most talked-about car companies, not just because of its batshit crazy CEO, who was once lauded as a real-life incarnation of Tony Stark by people whose social skills desperately need work and who also desperately need to take showers (ie Redditors and Cryptobros), but because Tesla, for some reason, can actually produce a somewhat good car now.
In short, The Tesla Model 3 is better than the Polestar 2 i tested earlier. But it’s a little more complicated than that.
See, comparing EVs is a lot like say, comparing Samsung phones to iPhones, than it is to comparing say, a Ford Mustang to a Chevrolet Camaro. Both the Model 3 and Polestar 2 in their base, MY2023 guises, offer the same experience. They offer punchy acceleration, quiet driving, and of course, the convenience of never having to worry about if Joe Brandon or Anthony Albanese’s got their finger on the petrol prices. I mean, why worry about petrol prices when charging your car only costs about 45¢ per kilowatt hour at a DCFC, or if you charge off solar at home, it costs you literally nothing.
The Polestar reminds me of a Samsung Galaxy in more ways than one. I mean, it even runs Android like a Galaxy does. In some ways I find the more traditional car-like controls seen in the Polestar 2 to be friendlier to newcomers in the car space. Likewise when it comes to smartphones. I would steer you to an Android if you’ve never used a smartphone before, surprisingly enough, because if you’re just used to making calls on a phone, there’s features on Android phones that make the transition from dumbphone to smartphone a lot easier, like T9 dialling for example. The Polestar does this by means of maintaining the same sort of logical car controls where you would expect them. The gearshifter in a Polestar is in the centre console, where a T-Bar automatic would go. The indicators are in the same spot as all European cars, on the left hand side of the steering wheel. The headlight controls are in the dashboard, to the right of the steering column, where they are on a Commodore. The high beams are controlled using the right stalk. The volume controls are on the steering wheel. You can open the glovebox with a latch like you would on a regular car. The HVAC controls on the touch screen are at the bottom.
The Tesla on the other hand, is a bit like an iPhone. Its interior is more minimalist, but you notice that it looks a lot cooler than the Polestar’s. The model we drove was one with the Black interior with wooden accents, which in my opinion, is the one to get. They had a white interior model in the showroom (which is an option, by the way), which to me, has no right to exist in Australia. Why? Well if you ever take a roadtrip out bush, you best believe those pristine white seats will turn red in a flash. The ochre dust of Australia’s more regional areas has a tendency to get everywhere and I would not want to spend extra money for more headaches.
The Tesla’s gearshift is on the column, like an old Falcon or most older American cars. There’s no physical key, just a keycard like a hotel room. You stick it in the centre console and it starts the car. If you want to dial in your seating position, that’s easy enough, but the lack of a physical set of buttons for column adjust was the first of what was to come with the Tesla. The Polestar lets you do this by means of an electric adjustment on the steering column, whereas the Tesla has it buried in a car settings menu. You use the two dials, which kinda remind me of the scroll wheel on an old Logitech mouse (tilt scroll function and all) to set your steering column and mirror positions.
Once i was dialled in, the salesperson gave me a quick walkthrough of how to drive the car. Basically, the startup procedure was explained to me, and they entered in a preprogrammed route from their centre in Osborne Park, to a location in Yokine where we could test out the parking cameras and reversing features. I was with a couple of our friends at the time who wanted to take a look at the Model Y, who rode in the back seats. They found the back seats to be comfortable and plush. My partner was also with me to give her feedback. She told me that she found the interior to be physically smaller-feeling than the Polestar’s, but the seats being more comfortable and more plush, more than made up for it. To me they felt nice. The “vegan leather” (ie, Vinyl) didn’t feel too bad either. It didn’t feel cheap, but it didn’t feel like real leather. I didn’t notice any of the notorious panel gaps, creaks or rattles that other users and reviewers reported. I attribute that mostly to being a Fremont thing. Australian Teslas are all Shanghai cars, and just like with the Polestar, it seems that with a foreign company overseeing QC, the Chinese really know how to screw a car together well.
Driving the car brought back the nostalgic memories of driving the Polestar, only this time the sensation was bettered by the fact that the motor was in the rear. You got more of that lower-back shove that you get from rear-wheel drive ICE Cars, but still with the unrelenting surge of electric torque you’d expect from an EV. What was interesting I found was that One-Pedal drive was enabled by default. The steering I felt was pretty much on-point too. In its standard setting it felt as if I was using Polestar’s sport steering mode. I am sure that if I put the Tesla into sport steering mode i’d feel that it was too stiff, but in reality the normal setting felt good. One-Pedal driving was also easier to modulate than the Polestar’s. Its regeneration was a lot stronger, however I felt that it was also easier to dial in. The pedals had good feeling to them and I felt that the car generally handled inputs a lot better than the Polestar did.
This is where the Polestar once again though, comes in clutch as a more regular car. One-pedal drive in that car can be enabled with creep mode turned on. In the Tesla, from a cursory glance I saw that you cannot turn creep mode on and have one-pedal driving. This might make the experience of going from an ICE car to an EV a little more difficult for the average person seeing as the average person who owns an automatic ICE car is going to be used to the slow-roll creep that Automatic cars have once you lift off the brakes at a stop light. However I got used to this pretty quickly. In a way it was a lot like driving a very, very tall-geared car with a V8 in second gear. You got the absolute mountain of torque that a V8 engine provides, however you are speed limited by the gearing, the upside being is that your “engine braking” is good enough to slow you to a complete stop.
The interior of the Tesla felt quieter than the Polestar. The materials used were of a similar quality to the interior seen in the plus-pack equipped Polestar 2 we drove in our previous review, but in some ways, I feel the Tesla has chosen its textures a lot better. The Polestar uses a lot of Piano Black plastic in its interior, with the centre console spar and steering wheel controls blanketed in the glossy plastic of smudgy hell that we’ve come to expect of modern automakers. Tesla’s earlier model 3s had chosen this material, but I am happy that the interior designers at Tesla listened to reason, and have since switched out the piano black for a nice, matte gunmetal grey colour in its, frankly cavernous centre console… At least when compared to the Polestar.
This is the thing with EVs, with the lack of a transmission, you can use the space in the car more readily, and the cupholder and centre console arrangement seen in the Model 3, as well as the relocation of the gear selector to the steering wheel column, you now have what I can only describe as a centre console perfect for your typical drug courier… or perfect for a cop who just so happens to be looking for said courier’s drugs. Seriously, there’s so much room in this thing. There’s enough room in the front-centre console pocket for two decently sized soda cans, and room for at least another four in the rear box under the armrest. The cupholders are also in a more logical position too, in a side-by-side arrangement in front of the armrest, like they are in my Commodore.
The armrests on the door are deep and touchpoints on these armrests are vegan-leather and alcantara lined. My partner disliked the Alcantara, but I thought seeing as it was in a spot where it was less likely to be rubbed (which is the main failing of Alcantara, it’s not very abrasion resistant, which is why it makes a terrible choice for steering wheels), it’s more than ideal. The wood accents in contrast with the gunmetal strips and black soft-touch plastics make for a rather pleasant place to sit. This is made even better by the fact that the seats were designed by a former Volvo interior designer, you know, that company that is a sister company to Polestar and is famous for making really, really comfy seats?
We made our way through traffic. The most interesting thing you will notice about the car is the fact that the screen shows things that its cameras and internal software detects on the sides of the road. If you drive past a row of bins, the car will detect the bins and show them on the screen under the speedometer. The speedo placement took some getting used to, however it is not in a position where it is too far out of the way. In fact i’d argue that seeing as the steering wheel isn’t blocking it, it makes the view forward much more open, and seeing as it sits roughly at the same level as my hands on the wheel, it’s not too much of a hassle to just glance slightly to the left as opposed to glancing slightly downwards. One thing I did miss about the Polestar was the fact that it projected maps onto the centre binnacle, meaning I didn’t have to take my eyes too far off the road to notice where I was going. I know this is a feature on most modern cars, even ICE ones, but you gotta remember, I am coming from a car from 2010, that was actually first released in 2004. My two current daily drivers are 13 year old cars with 16 year-old interior designs and tech.
The car holds speed and behaves particularly well. People complain about the car being able to handle bigger bumps, but being slightly fidgety over smaller ones. I personally didn’t notice this, once again compared to my current cars I felt it handled the bumps and undulations of the road way better. The Polestar felt a bit more planted than the Tesla did, however the Tesla feels like it manages these bumps a lot better. The Polestar’s suspension tuning is definitely geared more to drivers who want to feel the road a little more. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing as they tend to angle their experience more towards existing car enthusiasts, people who enjoy the sensation of driving and don’t mind feeling the road. I just wish Polestar would take the Tesla’s steering and put it in their cars. In short, I like the Tesla’s suspension way better than the Polestar’s. It’s more comfortable, and the upcoming Highland model aims to improve on this tuning even further.
The camera system on the Tesla absolutely destroys anything outside of the realm of the Germans. One of the neat things it does that I wish more cars would do, is that when you activate the indicator to turn left or right, there is a pop-up display on the screen below your speedo that shows you what’s in your blind-spot in case you forget to head-check. I would still advise that you do perform head-checks when you switch lanes, but it at least gives you that little bit of extra confidence when switching lanes. Visibility is good for a modern car. It is by no means better than my Getz, which has a 90s level low belt-line, which means I can see around that car with very few issues, with the sacrifice being that if I get T-Boned in that thing, I will likely not come out of it in a good shape. The visibility is way, way better than my Ute.
When parking, the passenger-side mirror does a really neat thing to make up for its mirror frames. Polestar’s mirrors are of Volvo’s patented frameless design, which gives you a huge range of visibility, however Tesla makes up for this by dipping the passenger-side mirror when reversing to allow you to avoid kerbs. The cameras are better than the Polestar’s with less distortion in the 360 view. I can more accurately park using the cameras in the Tesla than I can with the Polestar. That “smaller size” feeling gave me a lot more confidence when parking. This is great because I live in an apartment, where the developers of said place stuck to the bare minimum sizes when it came to parking spaces, and i’d have to avoid several poles when reverse parking the car. The mirror dip feature and those cameras would make it an absolute breeze for me to park.
We stopped for a brief moment to switch sides. My partner hopped in the driver’s seat. She is 4ft9 (148cm) tall, so it’s hard for her to get into a car and reach the pedals sometimes. She absolutely does not fit into the ute, for example. She could fit well in the Model 3, and was able to adjust the driving position to suit. Unlike in the Polestar, her driving position was not compromised by the design of the headrests, which in the Polestar, stick out slightly to support a more Zero-G seating position. the Zero G position is possible in the Tesla, and it is indeed quite comfortable in this position, but for shorter drivers this car will be a much more usable experience. This is also in part due to the ergonomics not being messed up for shorter drivers, with my partner being able to access the centre armrest whilst in her seating position, and her arms not being blocked by the centre console.
I hopped in the back to get a feel for the rear seats. In my driving position I could fit in easily, and so could both of our friends (who came along for the ride). All four of us could fit comfortably in the car with good knee room, good legroom and good head room. I am sure that a taller driver would make knee room a bit squished in the back, and the high floor would make it a bit less comfortable for taller people. Kids however will find no issue in the back seats. ISOFIX points are in the rear seats behind covers, with the Highland getting front-mounted ISOFIX points in the 2024MY.
All in all, a good car. I think that when the Highland comes out, I need to book a longer session to test the thing out, with some more freeway driving and more tight-road driving to really put it through its paces.
On the way back from the drive, I had to start thinking about the implications of buying a Tesla. What does this say about me? I personally, cannot stand Tesla’s CEO, especially for his more recent antics on Twitter. Sorry, on X. Elon is an interesting character. Born of affluence, getting a decent head start, buddying up with some of the biggest movers and shakers in Tech, such as Peter Thiel, whose controversial opinions include a belief in Seasteading, the Gold standard, and that PayPal should’ve gone further and should’ve been a Cryptocurrency. It made me think about Tesla as a company, and why it is that it’s so controversial to own a Tesla, and yet it isn’t at all controversial to own say, an iPhone. Both are headed up and were accelerated by eccentric billionaires. Steve Jobs wasn’t exactly a rosy figure, he was one of the most harsh, brutal leaders you could ever encounter. He famously banned his kids from using iPads. Yet that man’s vision steered Apple from being a borderline footnote in the 90s, to being the most valuable company in the world, to date. Let’s not forget however that Steve Jobs did not design the Macbook, iPhone and iPod to look so cool. That’d be the efforts of Johnny Ive. The reason why the Tesla Model 3 looks and feels the way it does isn’t because Elon is some sort of Reddit Bacon 420 super genius, the Model 3 was designed by Franz von Holzhausen, formerly of Mazda, General Motors and Volkswagen. Its motor and control systems were designed by a bevvy of skilled and talented control systems engineers, automation experts and electronics engineers. Its assembly was conducted in a mostly automated way, but said automation was designed by a company which Tesla purchased back in 2017. Elon would like to paint himself as a visionary who “Invented” the Model 3, but he is a lot like Steve Jobs, in that he didn’t really do much to create the product, but rather is the masthead who intends on selling it. Consumer demand drives the need for the Model 3 itself.
The Model 3 in a way is a lot like the iPhone and the Ford Model T. The Model T wasn’t an innovation. There were plenty of cars that preceeded it, including models from Ford themselves. What made the Model T so successful that it brought the technology of the motorcar out of a niche curio of the elites and the enthused, to the mainstream. In a way, the Model 3 is the entire reason as to why we are pushing towards BEVs. It too is marred in controversy, the panel gaps, its paint finishes, the fact that to get anything other than the base model will cost you dearly. The fact that the Model 3 has all the hardware for FSD and is only restricted by software locks which cost $12,000 to unlock. There are a lot of compromises, but the compromises made are the right ones. Unlike the Model T, the Model 3 aims to be in some ways, an actually good car. Ford’s approach to the Model T was to make a car as dirt cheap and as easy to assemble as possible. Screw safety, Screw efficiency, it all boils down to how many cars you can make, to drive down the costs through the economies of scale. Hell, you could say that Musk and Ford have a lot in common. Both are industrialists who want to bring motoring to the masses, both have raging hateboners for certain groups of people, both envision a world where private transportation is the norm, but both do so because of ideologically self-serving reasons.
People forget that Henry Ford was a raging Xenophobe and a massive anti-semite. Hitler unironically praised Ford for his desire to make a literal “Volkswagen” and to exclude access to these vehicles to certain groups. He unabashedly praised the ideas that Ford implemented when it came to wages, excluding those whose wives worked from bonuses, and excluding people of Jewish descent from even owning a ford. In a way you could argue that Musk’s on that same train, just replace Hitler with Trump. Musk bought into a fledgeling car company, bought a media company to spread his shitty views, and at the same time, managed to convince people that electric vehicles are the future.
You just have to remember that billionaires do not give a singular fuck about you. This doesn’t just apply to the Automotive industry, this applies to all industries. The CEO of Alstom Trains is probably a raging asshole, but yet Alstom is producing a whole bunch of trains for Australia’s train networks. The difference is that Elon is using his controversial nature as somewhat of a powerful marketing tactic. Tesla, after all, is just a successful car company whose marketers, engineers, designers and workers have made a quality product that we can all access. Steve Jobs did exactly the same thing. He was a controversial figure who headed up a company, that made computing both accessible and cool thanks to the efforts of their engineers, designers and workers.
No car cannot come to fruition without its workers, and the belief that their product is good. This brings me to the sales experience I had at the Tesla dealership here in Perth. The staff there are incredibly knowledgeable and genuinely passionate about the product. They remind me a lot of Apple Store employees. Tesla either trains them really well, or their staff are genuinely enthused about Apple products, because it seems to me that whenever I go into an Apple Store, the staff there are super helpful and are willing to assist with issues that I may have. The staff member who chatted with me about the car knew exactly what I was referring to what I mentioned that I was “Waiting for the Highland”, which shows that they too keep in touch with what’s happening at their end. The person who helped us out owned a Model 3, and was happy to share more information with me after we left. The closest dealership experience I had was when I was looking at the Lexus UX300e and the staff member there was actually willing to recommend me competing cars to the UX to try out, to see if I liked them. They were genuinely enthused about EVs. That’s always refreshing to see. It just seems like this car was put together by passionate and dedicated people who are genuinely interested in the future of their product, it just so happens that their company is headed up by the same kind of person who headed Ford and Apple previously.
The best thing that Tesla could do is to force Elon to step down and enter a more Bill Gates position. Let Tesla have its Tim Cook moment. Tim Cook is a pretty “nothing” CEO. But, he’s managed to do things in a way that is innovative, yet not too controversial. Cook’s not out here siding with any side, politically speaking. He’s just doing what a CEO does, he runs the company in the best interests of its shareholders and customers. Even if they’ll have to take L’s like they did recently when they dropped the lightning port for USBC to meet regulatory demand, Tesla’s recent actions in opening up the NACS standard and the supercharger network are a lot like what Microsoft did in the 90s when it comes to its rollback of forcing Windows licenses onto competing PCs in the face of antitrust action. There’s a very real chance Tesla will face this action, and I am not going to be saying this is a bad thing. This is a good thing. Monopolies are bad. Tesla should face competition as it will force them to innovate. Ford was once a monopoly, with almost half of all cars being death-trap Model Ts once. Competitors forced Ford’s hand into making better cars, with the new Model A, etc, after the original Henry Ford stepped down in 1919.
The Model 3 is a fine product and It is now at the top of my list. I can happily push the Elon critique aside and say, with my hand on my heart, that so far, this is the vehicle that I am most likely to buy come 2025.
Elon just needs to learn to shut the hell up and get back to making cars.