What it’s like to drive the Tesla Model 3

A Tesla is three things: it's a luxury car, an electric car, and a high-tech car

Today's expression: Check the boxes
Explore more: Lesson #435
January 20, 2022:

Have you ever wondered what it’s like to take a Tesla out for a spin? It has all the ordinary features of a luxury car, plus all of the benefits – and thrills – of an electric car, like instant acceleration. Plus, Teslas have a feature that might make you less stressed in traffic, and you’ll learn “check the boxes.” On Monday, the lesson will focus on the Tesla technology.

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Here’s what it’s like to drive a Tesla

Lesson summary

Hi there everyone, it’s Jeff, and this is Plain English, where JR and I help you upgrade your English with current events and trending topics. This is lesson 435, so you can find today’s full lesson, including the free transcript, at PlainEnglish.com/435.

Coming up today… Tesla is the world’s most valuable car company, and it has sold more electric vehicles than any other carmaker. But have you ever wondered what it’s like to drive a Tesla? I have, so I decided to take one for a test drive. I brought JR along with me, and the two of us took a Tesla Model 3, the cheapest version, out for a thirty-minute drive in the suburbs of Chicago. Between today and Monday, we’ll tell you all about the experience of driving a Tesla. Today’s English expression is “check the boxes,” and we have a song of the week.

Driving a Tesla: Part 1

A Tesla is three things: it’s a luxury car, an electric car, and a high-tech car. In today’s lesson, we’ll talk about Teslas as luxury and electric cars. We’ll focus on all the technology that makes the Tesla experience unique on Monday.

The most ordinary thing about the Tesla is that it’s a luxury car. The features that make it a luxury car are common at its price point: comfortable seats, quality materials, good speakers, plenty of room, and lots of small adjustments to get comfortable. Drivers can personalize seat settings. In a nice touch, drivers can program the seats to slide back when they get in and out of the car. Again, these are common in the luxury segment, and Tesla checks the important boxes .

All Tesla vehicles are electric cars, and this is where the experience starts to depart from what most of us are used to behind the wheel. The most striking thing about driving an all-electric car like a Tesla is the process of accelerating and decelerating. In an electric car, there are no gears, so the acceleration is smooth, uninterrupted.

A traditional car needs to change gears to achieve the best acceleration as speed increases or decreases. That’s true for cars with either a standard transmission or an automatic transmission. From a complete stop, a vehicle gets its best acceleration in first gear; then, as it gains speed, it gets better acceleration in second, third, and fourth. Higher gears are good for maintaining a higher rate of speed. Modern automatic transmissions move through the gears smoothly, but no matter how good it is, you can always feel the car shifting, and you can feel the acceleration vary as you increase speed.

That’s not true in an electric vehicle because there are no gears. When you press the gas pedal—I should say , the accelerator—the car starts moving and accelerates up to your top speed without any hesitation. The Tesla, in other words , was highly responsive to my foot as a driver. But, in the first few minutes of driving, I kept wanting to feel that hesitation of gears shifting under me.

The other thing that would be unfamiliar to drivers is the process of deceleration. In a Tesla, as in many electric cars, if you take your foot off the accelerator, the car will come to a stop. This is different from a traditional car, which will maintain a little bit of forward movement. In a traditional car, you use fuel to move forward but then friction to stop the car with the brakes. That friction is a waste of energy. Electric cars harness that wasted energy with a regenerative braking system. These advanced brakes recharge the batteries by converting the vehicle’s forward kinetic energy into electricity, which goes back into the battery.

The system kicks in when you remove your foot from the accelerator. If you’re driving down the road and remove your foot from the accelerator, the car comes to a complete stop rather quickly. This allows drivers to control the car’s speed, most of the time, using just one pedal. And with a little bit of practice, driving in traffic becomes a lot smoother. You don’t get the sensation of stopping and starting, lurching back and forth in heavy traffic.

This has benefits besides comfort. Part of the stress of driving in traffic is the attention needed to shift constantly between moving forward and back. You don’t have to decide when to use the brake or the accelerator quite as much in an electric car. It’s less about switching between the brake and the gas pedal and more about easing down or up with just one pedal. I found that I only had to use the brake a few times during most of my test drive. This was nice for my one thirty-minute drive, but I think this would significantly reduce the mental strain of driving in traffic over the long run.

The heater is different, too. In a traditional car, excess heat from the engine is used to warm the interior. Electric cars don’t produce engine heat, so they have a dedicated electric heater. That means you can get warm air in the cabin as soon as you get in.

You can’t talk about electric cars without also talking about range. A Tesla can plug into a regular outlet 120-volt in your home and charge up that way; it’s like plugging in a cell phone. Every hour of charging this way gets you about two to three miles of range—not a lot at all. However, with an upgraded 240-volt outlet in your wall, you can get about 30 miles of range per hour of charging. Charging that overnight would get you a full charge on the Tesla Model 3, I drove.

Tesla’s own network of charging stations go even faster. At these, Tesla claims you can get up to 200 miles in about fifteen minutes of charging. Now, I need to correct a statement I made in a previous lesson . In Lesson 430, I said that long-distance travel could require multiple hours at a charging station. I learned that charging the battery to 100 percent is not always necessary or even desirable. You only have to charge enough to get to your destination or to the next charging station.

When I was at the Tesla showroom, I asked the salesperson to show me how to plan a trip from Chicago to Minneapolis, a distance of about 400 miles or 650 kilometers. Tesla’s mapping software planned my route and my charging. I’d have to make three stops at charging stations, and each stop would have been between 30 and 45 minutes each. That’s definitely more than I’d stop with a traditional car, but it’s much more manageable than I thought it would be.

A few other differences

Three other quick things to note about Tesla, electric vehicles are lighter and have fewer components than a traditional car, so there’s more room and more storage. The trunk is bigger and deeper than a traditional car’s trunk. And there’s even additional storage under the hood in the front.

Second, you don’t really turn the car on or off. When you open the door and sit down, it’s on. When you get up and leave the car, it’s off. It’s more like a phone going into sleep or hibernation mode rather than turning it on or off. You can turn it off entirely, but it’s usually not necessary.

The last thing is that it’s quiet. You mostly notice this as you’re idling, but there is slightly less cabin noise as you’re driving around.

But the big differentiator is the technology, and that’s what we’ll talk about next Monday.

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Expression: Check the boxes