An unexpected Tesla Model 3 review

An unexpected Tesla Model 3 review
Photo by Vlad Tchompalov / Unsplash

20 years ago, I joined the Hertz gold program back before Uber/Lyft existed and you had to have a car in almost every American city you flew to. Fast forward to 2023 and I hadn't regularly rented cars in a decade but recently I grabbed one and forgot how useful they could be, especially during those hours after you check out of a hotel but before your flight home in the early evening when you'd rather not lug bags everywhere on public transit.

This year I noticed Hertz started pitching me their new EV rentals over many emails. So a couple months ago, I was in San Diego and though I've spent many weekends there car-free, I rented an EV I always wanted to test drive, in this case, a Polestar 2. It was a pretty good experience since I'd owned two EVs in the past, and it was a well performing, comfy car that was easy to drive. Also, Hertz is smart and charges much less for EV rentals. Typical day rates are around $40, when a gas powered SUV might go for $75-100/day. The cost of maintaining an EV long-term seems much lower and I'm glad to see Hertz passes that savings along. Charging the Polestar was a bit of a challenge, but luckily I found a free city-run Level 2 charger to top it up while we were at a restaurant before heading to the airport to return it.

This past weekend I was in Florida visiting a friend and catching a soccer game, and wanted to drive all over the state while my friend had to work, so I signed up for another EV from Hertz, this time I reserved a Kia EV6, another car I always wanted to drive.

Oh no, it's a Tesla

I was kind of pissed when I walked to the Hertz garage and didn't see the Kia, but a recent Tesla Model 3 in my designated spot.

Renting an unfamiliar EV is a goddamned journey.

First I had to figure out how to even "start" the car, which for a Tesla meant pretty much nothing was labeled and you had to get to a failure state before it would nudge you in the correct direction. I spent about 5 minutes trying figure out how to play music from my phone in the car (no CarPlay, booooooo), then I turned on all the autopilot options and figured out hitting the brake and shifting to Drive wouldn't move the car until I waved a magic Tesla card on a keychain over a specific part of the dash.

Hertz might want to print out a quick start guide for renters, because it was frustrating to spend 10 minutes in a hot car hunting around and trying things and tapping into dozens of menus in order to get the car to go anywhere.

The driving experience

Leaving the airport, I got used to the heavy-feeling brake regen, and got up to speed on the insanity that is Florida freeways. I've written about them before but Florida has some of the most poorly designed signage and roads, constantly merging without warning, but the Tesla felt fast and confident, and the radar cruise control was incredible and helped me keep my sanity in the stop-and-go traffic you get every few miles on Florida freeways.

Once I got over 55mph, I engaged Autopilot (this Tesla had full self driving options) and I'm not going to lie, it was magical. A couple years ago I rented a Tesla Model X off the app Turo for a weekend, but it was an early Model X with the first versions of the hardware, and the auto-driving features were only about 70% correct, requiring constant driver intervention.

The latest and greatest Tesla auto driving mode is now about 95% correct, and on longer drives, I only had to nudge the wheel in the correct direction (often in construction zones which are unpredictable) once or twice an hour.

I landed at 5pm and had to drive 30 miles through intense traffic and the autopilot stuff really cut down on stress and the wild driving habits of people cutting in front of me. After just a few hours, I realized the Tesla was surprisingly nimble and practical and in full autopilot mode, felt like being in a quiet private train on tracks leading me exactly where I needed to go.

The charging experience

The next day, I decided to drive an hour south to Miami because I'd never been there and wanted to experience the city and surroundings. I cruised through Little Havana and then checked out the coast and a state park just outside of Key Biscayne, and soon enough the battery was down to 30% charge and I knew I needed to top up before heading back north.

I tapped the supercharger button on dash screen maps, picked a nearby option and followed the directions. The battery began preparing for fast charging automatically. The chargers ended up being a parking lot next to a Wawa gas station, and so I backed into a spot, then learned the Tesla power cords are very short and had to back up until I was nearly touching the supercharger.

The Hertz rental docs didn't mention anything about how to use Tesla Superchargers, so I connected thinking I'd pay for the juice on the car's dash screen with my own credit card, but to my surprise it just started fast charging immediately (I guess Hertz foots the bill? I haven't seen any added charges yet.).

I went into the Wawa, used the restroom, ordered a hot sandwich, grabbed a coke and paid for it all. After about 10 minutes, my sandwich was ready and I returned to the car to chow down. To my surprise, the car was already at 72% charge level. WTF, how was it so fast?! I had to eat quickly and by the time I was done, I was at 85% battery full in about 20 minutes.

I drove around Florida for a couple more days and used other superchargers as needed. They were always wicked fast, easy to find, and got me back on the road in about 15 minutes. Since Tesla owns everything end-to-end, it was a much better experience than the hodgepodge of EV America chargers at the backs of Walmarts I used when I owned a Rivian. The "cost" of Tesla supercharging on the screen was typically only $10-15 a session, which was less than half the price of recharging a Rivian at a Walmart, which usually cost me $30-40/session.

At my last long charge stop before returning it to Hertz, my friend and I watched YouTube recaps of other soccer games we missed on the giant center screen, which made the charge time fly by even faster.

I hate that a chaotic company and the man behind it made something so good

I hate that Teslas don't come with CarPlay enabled. I hate their stupid CEO/owner. Honestly, I hate that I even need a car in almost every major US city because instead of light rail and frequent buses, the best option is a single occupant EV car rushing down immense freeways.

I hate that the charging experience is a thousand times better than trying to find a Level 3 charger in a non-Tesla EV. I hate that their autopilot is so good it's freaky. I hate all the little convenient things the car did like come to a complete stop in traffic, but automatically resume from a dead stop when the person in front of me started driving (other EVs I've driven require you to tap the gas pedal to resume from a stop). Only a company run by a guy so rich he wouldn't care about getting fined or sued by transportation agencies would make a car that gives you a gentle beep sound when the traffic light turns green, to remind you to put down the phone you're reading at a red light to start driving again.

I wish other EVs could be this good. I will never own a Tesla, but I can see the appeal now. It was easy to drive, even easier to recharge, and was quite comfortable and made every other car I've driven feel like a relic from a past era of personal travel. Even my late model plugin hybrid Jeep Wrangler might as well be a coal-fired locomotive considering how primitive its systems and features are compared to a new Tesla.