I want to buy my first car, after years of renting or sharing. It doesn’t need to be luxurious, but I want something comfortable and reliable and not too big. I’m single, 34 years old, and I live in downtown Toronto. I want a car to leave the city on weekends – visits to family, skiing in winter and friends’ cottages in summer. Everyone tells me I should buy a Tesla Model 3 and I like the idea of an electric car, but I live in a condo and cannot charge it at home. Is that a big deal when there are so many Tesla public chargers? Also, a friend told me not to bother writing to you because you hate Teslas – why is that? – Sam
Mark Richardson: We’ve been waiting for a question like this, haven’t we Petrina?
Petrina Gentile: Yes – it’s time to clear the air on some stuff.
Richardson: Sure. Should we start with hating Teslas?
Gentile: I don’t hate Tesla or Elon Musk. I actually admire Musk for everything he’s done in terms of accelerating the manufacturing of new EVs by other car companies and changing the business model for selling cars – something that’s outdated and has remained the same for decades. He’s a trailblazer in my books, but you might not agree.
Richardson: Kudos to the guy – he does things his own way, which speeds up the entire process of bringing a vehicle to market, compared to the traditional automakers. It sometimes seems rushed though, which is one reason why Tesla has a spotty record for quality.
Gentile: Yes, the build quality can be poor, especially if you look at vehicles like the Model 3 and Model Y. It won’t be hard to find issues, such as huge panel gaps on the exterior, paint chipping or peeling clear coat.
Richardson: The technology is way ahead, but that also seems to be because Tesla makes it available to buyers while other makers are still hemming and hawing over the legalities. For example, most of the other car companies have full self-driving technology as good as Tesla, but they won’t release it until it’s guaranteed to be 100-per-cent foolproof.
Gentile: Exactly. Back in 2018, I tested the semi-autonomous driving tech on the Mercedes-Benz A-Class in Croatia, and it was incredible. It could change lanes on its own without the driver touching the steering wheel or pedal. But I was disappointed to test the latest system on the Mercedes EQS electric sedan in Germany last fall – the system could no longer change lanes on its own.
Richardson: A couple of years ago, I took my friend’s Tesla Model S for a drive to try out its autonomous driving feature. I wanted to understand a news story about a couple in Alberta caught asleep at the wheel, at speed. He told me that story was obviously “fake news”, but then was shocked when his own car let me drive for at least eight minutes without me touching anything. It would have sped through a red light if I hadn’t hit the brakes. I published the story and the video, as I said I’d do, and he hasn’t spoken to me since. Tesla lovers can be thin-skinned to honest criticism.
Gentile: Tesla has a cult following. But let’s get to Sam’s question. If they live in a condo with no charging at home, I’d skip the Model 3, or any other EV for that matter. It can be inconvenient and time-consuming to rely on a public charging station.
Richardson: It’s not cheap, either, if you can’t recharge at home. Public charging at peak times can be as costly as buying gas, especially in the U.S. When Tesla changed the fee structure at its Canadian superchargers recently, the price tripled in a month. Musk himself tweeted to say Tesla is working to make it more fair, but nothing has changed yet.
Gentile: So we’re in agreement – no EVs for Sam until they can get a charging system at home. So what are you thinking?
Richardson: I think Sam wants to spend the same kind of money as the cost of a Tesla Model 3. That bumps him – or her – up into BMW and Mercedes territory. If they can find one, the BMW 330e is a plug-in hybrid with up to 37 kilometres of pure-electric range, and it starts around $48,000. It has electric cachet.
Gentile: But they don’t need a plug-in hybrid. They live in a condo and can’t charge at home. There’s no point in paying a premium for a PHEV and then going to a public charging station for 37 kilometres of electric power.
Richardson: I still think Sam wants the bragability – is that a word? – of an electric vehicle with their friends. If that’s the case, they can charge when it’s convenient, not when they have to, and can flick a switch to preserve that charge until they know they want to use it, like in heavy traffic.
Gentile: But they don’t want luxury. They are better off with a Mini.
Richardson: A Mini is such fun to drive that it doesn’t need to be justified, or explained. They can even get a PHEV Mini if they want, though there’s a price premium for the extra motor.
Gentile: Forget about the PHEV, Mark. The gas-powered Mini Cooper three-door is ideal for them – it’s a good size, handles like a go-cart, is spacious for carrying gear for their summer and winter adventures and priced around $30,000 to start. What’s not to like?
Richardson: Well, its reliability for a start. Minis don’t have a good reputation with those high-compression engines. And they all use Premium gas. There’s a price to pay for having sass.
Gentile: With the rising price of gas, the last thing Sam wants to do is pay for premium gas. They might be better off with a tried-and-true Mazda3 Sport. It’s fun to drive, affordable, and spacious thanks to the hatchback styling.
Richardson: You know, that’s the simplest alternative: practical and a little sporty, and comfortable without being luxurious. The basic car costs about $24,000, and if they want all-wheel drive and a peppier engine, they’re looking at around $30,000 plus taxes. That’s probably way better value for them in the long run than most EVs.
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