About a month ago I made a video called The End of Gas Powered BMW’s where I drove around in my 1990 735iL just talking to the camera about electric cars and my desire to drive one. I’ve been curious and interested in electric vehicles for a long time. In fact, I gave an elaborate presentation on Toyota’s hybrid technology for an engineering class at The University of Connecticut back in 2006. Wow, it’s hard to believe my college days were that long ago.
Anyway, after uploading that video, it turns out that one of my subscribers is a Tesla employee who also happens to be a BMW enthusiast. Hey, even Elon Musk began his passion for cars with BMW, long before the idea for Tesla was born. Elon’s mother tweeted the photo below two years ago: Elon working on his E21 BMW in 1995!
In the photo, it looks like he has the door card trim panel removed to repair a broken window regulator motor. The steering wheel also appears to be a three spoke sport 320iS wheel, so Elon had good taste in well-engineered cars even then.
Allen, the Tesla employee and viewer, emailed me with an offer to come down to the Milford, Connecticut Tesla Gallery to test drive the new 2021 Model 3 and 2021 Model Y. Of course I jumped at this opportunity as soon as I could get down there to drive cars for a few hours.
Upon arriving, we introduced ourselves from a safe, social distance while wearing face masks of course. While chatting about his BMW experiences, Allen performed Tesla’s safety protocol for test-drive-prep: wiping down all surfaces, steering wheel, door panels and touch points with disinfectant and a microfiber towel. The windows are also down to allow fresh air to blow through the car. Test driving a car can be challenging during a pandemic, but Tesla seems to have a very strict (and safe) procedure in place.
You can even schedule a contactless test drive on Tesla’s website, here. This is so far removed from the olden days where a pushy salesman would ride in the passenger seat with you on the test drive, digging for your financial info. Tesla is doing it right; enjoy and experience the product on your own accord, with space, no pressure at all. The gallery experience is akin to a trip to the Apple store, where the entire experience is considered carefully. Bravo, Elon.
Test Driving the 2021 Tesla Model 3 Plus (Base Model)
Before the test drive, your sales associate will hand you a plastic Tesla credit card which acts as your key. It holds a chip that activates the car by placing it down on the center console behind the cupholder space. A chime from the car lets you know the car is now on. From a safe distance, Allen described to me how to adjust the mirrors, steering wheel, seat and the available steering options. I could drive around as I pleased, or set the navigation to their predetermined route called Work.
Selecting Work would bring you around the twisty backroads of Milford, and then up onto the Merritt Parkway rt. 15 for a jaunt at speed on the highway. Selecting Home on the navigation touch screen would automatically direct you back to the dealership. Genius.
What was most noticeable upon entering the model 3 was the shape of the steering wheel. The wheel diameter was round, of course, but the shape of the steering wheel handle radius had a square oblong shape to it, not round like a standard steering wheel. Interesting. This shape must somehow enhance your grip on the controls as the instant torque of the dual motors forces your body deep into the vegan leather seats.
The next thing immediately noticeable was how the regenerative breaking grabs you and slows down the car – as if you were hitting the brakes – as soon as you lift off the “go pedal”. With enough practice, Tesla drivers can operate the car with what is known as one pedal driving: effectively accelerating and slowing down with just one pedal.
Overall, the model 3 was a pleasure to drive, quiet, with a build quality that was high and a drive as sporty as a 3 series BMW. The base model lacked a bit of wow factor that I was hoping for, but I quickly found that special quality as soon as I got into the 2021 Model Y Performance model.
Driving the 2021 Tesla Model Y Dual Motor AWD Performance Model
The Model Y is the newly released mid size SUV offering from Tesla, but critics have called it merely a bloated model 3. The car doesn’t look too big from the outside, but once you get in, it feels spacious like a mid sized SUV. The ride height and visibility through the front glass felt very similar to our first generation 2005 E53 X5 BMW that my wife daily drives to work. Though I lament the level of maintenance it has required over the past five years, the X5 has grown on me lately, and I may hold onto it for an X5 overland build coming soon. More on that later.
The performance model Y comes in at around $60,000 USD which is a substantial amount of money for this market segment. However, there are not many SUV’s (read: none) that are all electric, dual motor, and can do 0-60 in as little as 3.5 seconds. The performance of this SUV is just absurd, so much fun, constant acceleration with no delay between gears to shift.
I fell in love with the Model Y instantly, it is everything I would want in a new family hauler. The 326 mile range and supercharging is more than enough to suit our personal transportation needs.
As a life long BMW enthusiast, I am really looking forward to seeing the new i4 electric sedan and iX electric SUV offering from BMW. The i3 is another car I’m looking forward to driving on the channel soon, though I doubt it would be a practical dad car due to the rear door design and small overall size. We will see how that goes.
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Happy New Year