How Tesla Cracked The Code On EV Road Trips: Model 3 Performance
A big battery plus the Supercharger network equals a car capable of long-haul travel.
I have a confession to make. In more than seven years of driving an electric vehicle, I had never taken a long-distance, all-electric road trip. But that changed a few weeks ago when I got behind the wheel of a Tesla Model 3 Performance with 310 miles of range. The combination of the Model 3’s big battery pack and easy access to the Tesla Supercharger network enabled my emissions-free 515-mile journey from San Francisco to Los Angeles. Moreover, it completely changed my concept of what adequate EV range could mean.
Information is the key to a confident EV road trip. That’s where the Tesla Model 3’s navigation system comes into play. It factored my desired location, the battery state-of-charge, and the location of Supercharger locations to provide the info I needed. My plan was to stop for lunch in Monterey. At the onset, the large touchscreen informed me that I would be at that Supercharger location in one hour and two minutes and that I would arrive with about 40 percent state of charge. I could also see that several Superchargers were open and available there. Off we went.
Upon pulling up to a Supercharger, the experience of plugging in was as easy as a home-charging event. After plugging in, the Supercharger identified the car, so RFID cards or credit cards were unnecessary. DC quick-chargers that I previously used with a Nissan Leaf and Chevy Bolt required a membership card and had an industrial feel. Those chargers made clunkity-clunk sounds when engaged and emitted a high-pitched buzz. Using a Tesla Supercharger meant backing the car up close enough to a relatively short cord, but otherwise it was a completely consumer-friendly experience.
The focus of a discussion about EV road trips is usually range. Can you make it to your intended destination or not? But perhaps the biggest and least discussed advantage of having a big battery pack like the one in the Model 3 was the ability to drive as fast as I wanted (within reason) without the fear of running out of juice. Of course, driving fast sucks down the electrons and thus reduces the number of miles you can travel – but with so many spare kilowatt-hours and the awareness of accessible Supercharger locations, I didn’t need to compromise a brisk cruising speed for range.
Tesla App Tells You SOC While You’re Stretching or Eating
Most Tesla Superchargers are located next to amenities. When I stopped in Monterey, it was easy to find a decent lunch spot. We ordered, and I placed my phone with the Tesla app on the table. In that way, I could see that the car was charging at a decent rate. Before the food had arrived, the estimated range was back to nearly 200 miles. I was not yet finished eating when I got an app notification that read, “Supercharging almost finished.”
The Supercharger was faster than the restaurant’s service, so the car was waiting fully charged well before I paid the bill. Seeing its progress from the convenience of the restaurant table was vital.
The road trip experience would be unpleasant if there were only enough Superchargers available to limp between one station and another. But on the next leg of my trip, I could choose between two or three available Superchargers to strategically select a location along my route where state-of-charge would be lower upon arrival. Empty batteries add miles faster than full batteries. The navigation system made those choices easy – for example, to go another 80 or 100 miles before charging. Ultimately, I decided to drive to my friend’s house near San Luis Obispo for a slow and easy overnight top-up using his Level 2 charger.
Waking up to a full pack with an estimated 300 miles of range, I set the destination to downtown Los Angeles. It seemed like I had a ton of juice to traverse the 200 miles to LA. But I must admit that it’s hard to drive a Model 3 Performance in the most fuel-thrifty manner. Because I was driving faster than the onboard computer had anticipated, I received a warning about being able to reach my destination with a comfortable amount of excess charge. Duly noted. I added an impromptu 15-minute pit stop in Oxnard where I added 105 miles of range in just 15 minutes. That brought the estimated range to 183 miles – more than enough for the remaining 65 miles of my road trip. The goal doesn’t always have to be topping up. Sometimes you can add just the amount you need for some cushion.
By the time I completed the 515-mile trip (513.8 to be exact), I had used 159 kilowatt-hours of energy. Considering the many stretches where I pushed the limits of the Performance model’s capabilities – and the average overall speed – I still managed a more-than-respectable efficiency above three miles per kWh.
But the real kicker was the road manners of the Model 3. I would never have imagined how pleasant a compact car could be on a coastal highway. The level of interior comfort, roadway refinement, and passing power was on par with experiences I’ve had driving the coast in a Mercedes S-Class and Rolls-Royce. Not once did I worry about range.
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