May 20, 2022

A Tesla Model 3 is the Best Car (For Me)

Edit: There were a few commentators which suggested that I hadn’t factored into this analysis the additional cost of insurance for an EV. I ended up getting insurance with RACV for a price which was comparable or even lower than what I would expect for an ICE car. I don’t believe it is a significant difference based on my own personal experience.

My 2013 Renault Clio wasn’t going to cut it anymore. Yes, it only had 60,000 kilometres on it, but it was manual, slow, small, and the red exterior trim on black paint made it obvious that I bought it when I was in my 20s rather than my 30s.

But before I could run off to the Ford Mustang configurator, my wife looked at me and said “I know what you’re thinking. No. We need something practical…something we can raise a family in.” Resigned to the fact my future held some brand of Mazda, Toyota, or Subaru in it, I started doing my research.

The joke was on her; I found a much more exciting car to fill my needs: the Tesla Model 3 Standard Range Plus.

Here are the drivers on which I made my decision:

  • Total cost of ownership over 5 years
  • Availability
  • Performance
  • Practicality
  • Other desired features

And here are the cars I decided on for my shortlist:

Clearly, there are a number of cars outside this shortlist which may fit my needs. This list was developed considering my interest, availability, fit-for-purposeness, and mostly my wife’s interest. There were also some dealbreakers for me (e.g. very high level of safety including Blind Spot monitoring, AEB etc.) which cut some options out.

So let’s deep dive into some of my criteria and find out how my selected shortlist fared against my criteria for assessment.

Total Cost of Ownership

Outcome

Winner: Mazda CX-5
Acceptable runner-ups: Subaru Forester, Subaru Outback, Tesla Model 3 SR+
Unacceptable options: Genesis GV70, BMW X3

The winner in this comparison was the Mazda CX-5 GT Turbo. However, it didn’t win by much. The two Subaru contenders and the Tesla Model 3 SR+ came in close. In the case of the Model 3 SR+, the higher RRP (which is fixed as Tesla doesn’t have a dealer network) was offset by much lower running costs primarily because it doesn’t use traditional fuels.

The Genesis GV70 and BMW X3 predictably came in last. I had a notional budget of $85,000 for the car, and it was surprising that once you included the running cost, these two cars were well over that amount. Always consider the lifetime cost of the car in your budget rather than the price the man in the shiny suit gives you.

Drive away price

Driveaway prices are difficult to gauge in today’s market. Some dealers will give you significant discounts – BMW will often offer up to 10-15% – while others, such as Tesla and Genesis, don’t negotiate on the RRP at all as a matter of principle.

The fact that stock is so short at the moment on most models isn’t helping things. Cars that would typically have seen significant discounts (e.g. the CX-5) aren’t being budged on at all – the dealers are selling everything they have. Therefore historical price norms aren’t very useful.

To get a better idea of the realistic drive-away prices, I spoke to a car broker and did my research on various forums. A caveat then, that the prices quoted are nothing more than directional. What you might be able to achieve will really be a point-in-time outcome based on the willingness of the dealer to discount.

Servicing cost

I took the 5-year servicing cost from the OEM as a guide. Most offer pre-paid packages these days but note, the level of servicing they offer can differ greatly. BMW for example offers a ‘basic servicing package’ which isn’t very comprehensive at all.

EVs – such as the Teslas – technically don’t need to be serviced. What they will need is brakes and tyres, however, given those are very rarely included as a part of a servicing package anyway, I disregarded those costs for all of the vehicles. As a result, the EVs came out on top here with no servicing costs at all.

The other winner in this category is Genesis – they included the first 5 years of servicing with purchase. That’s a nice touch.

The loser? The Volkswagen Passat with a 5-year servicing cost of an eye-watering $3,500.

Taxes and other levies

Victoria (where I live) has now imposed a 2.5c/100km levy on electric vehicles so that they pay their “fair share” for road usage – my thoughts on this policy decision I’ll reserve for another post. What this means is that you need to submit your odometer readings every year to the authorities. Assuming 12,500km driven per year, this ends up being about $300. On the plus side, as an EV owner, you also get a $100 refund on your registration.

Traditional ICE vehicles are taxed for road usage as well in the form of a fuel excise which is 42.7c per litre of fuel purchased. I’ve already included this however in the fuel section of the calculation.

Fuel

Fuel is one of the main costs most vehicle owners will face. For this comparison, I used the claimed fuel consumption for each of the vehicles (which may differ from real-world usage but it is difficult to control for that). I also assumed for the petrol-based cars that I would fill up with 95-octane fuel (which I believe in doing over 91-octane as it is better for the engine and environment given its lower sulphur content) at an average price of $1.70 per L.

The Teslas, while not needing fuel, can be considered similarly. They use electric charge in kWh and cost money to charge (for the most part). I assumed here that I would be charging with a mix of at-home off-peak charge (costing around 12c/kWh), third-party chargers (which vary from free to 40c/kWh) and Tesla superchargers (52c/kWh). I settled on 20c/kWh as a blended rate – you should flex this up or down based on your usage.

Clearly, the Teslas smashed it out of the park (as you would expect them to) and came out the cheapest. In fact, the Model 3 SR+ costs just 24% to “fuel up” compared to the cheapest ICE car. The Genesis…not so much. That’s a thirsty car!

Here were my calculations:

Availability

Winner: Tesla Model 3 SR+, Volkswagen Passat, Tesla Model 3 LR
Acceptable runner-ups: Genesis GV70, Mazda CX-5
Unacceptable options: BMW X3

One of my key requirements was that I was able to actually get the car in a reasonable timeframe. With COVID-19 supply chain challenges, and an inexplicable sudden and intense urge driving folks to buy new cars, shortages were everywhere.

Some OEMs were either lucky or well prepared and have lots of stock. Others have been caught with their proverbial pants down. For example, at the moment Tesla appears to be getting lots of stock through from China, and the wait times on a Model 3 are very short (like literally a week).

BMW on the other hand is facing significant supply issues, as is Volkswagen (one of the reasons the Tiguan is not featured in this comparison).

Here are the delivery timeframes I was quoted:

Performance

Winner: Tesla Model 3 LR
Acceptable runner-ups: Tesla Model 3 SR+, Genesis GV70, BMW X3
Unacceptable options: Subaru Forester, Subaru Outback

After owning my Clio for the last 8 years and having to shift into 2nd to get up most hills, I wanted a car that had great performance and felt fast. Given what I was coming from, anything sub-6s to the 100 km/h felt plenty quick. That then became my rough benchmark.

There was a clear winner: the Tesla Model 3 LR. At 4.4s, it blows past everything else on my list. Surprisingly, the GV70 and SR+ weren’t far behind and were more than quick enough for me, as was the BMW X3.

I also considered the fact that the sedans (and wagons) would likely have better driving dynamics, although there are some SUVs that are also excellent in that regard (e.g. BMW X3).

The Subarus fared the worst and this was probably the death knell for the pair in my eyes. That 2.5L NA engine just isn’t doing them any favours at this point. When I test drove it, it droned and was mind-numbing.

Practicality

Winner: Volkswagen Passat
Acceptable runner-ups: BMW X3, Genesis GV70, Subaru Outback
Unacceptable options: Mazda CX5

My wife and I had been thinking about starting and family, and therefore we needed a car that was going to be able to fit a rear-facing baby seat in the rear and a full-size pram/stroller in the boot. Selfishly, I decreed that it should also be able to fit my golf clubs as a matter of priority.

The only vehicle in my shortlist (I had already sort of vetted the cars that would be clearly too small or impractical) that didn’t meet the mark was the CX-5 with a small 442L boot. A slight surprise given its popularity among families here in Australia.

The Volkswagen Passat on the other hand…was absolutely massive. A clear 100L ahead of the next best option.

None of the cars appeared to have any issues with fitting rear-facing car seats apart from the CX-5 which is cramped and small in the back part of the cabin. An excellent website to check out for this sort of information is Baby Drive.

I didn’t include the Teslas on the podium (or in the unacceptable pile) for the simple reason that the cargo space while large, is split between the rear boot and the front boot (no I will not ever call it a froot). That could be a good thing as well though as it gives you separation and flexibility. Further, given that they are sedans rather than hatchbacks, their boot apertures are narrower meaning it may be more challenging to get bulky items in (such as a pram or golf clubs in).

Other Desirable Features

Winner: Volkswagen Passat, Volvo XC60
Acceptable runner-ups: Genesis GV70
Unacceptable options: BMW X3

There were also a number of other features I was keen to see in my new car including smartphone mirroring, adaptive cruise control, leather seats and AWD. Here is how the field met these needs:

Smartphone mirroring (Apple CarPlay)

Being an iPhone user, I wanted Apple Carplay and preferably of the wireless variety. All of the cars except the Teslas had this feature, and the Passat, XC60, and the X3 had wireless.

It was a bit of a surprise to me that a purportedly high-tech car from Tesla lacked it, but Tesla says it is because they believe their infotainment is better, and already comes with many of the apps you would want to access anyway (such as Spotify, and Google-powered navigation). It was still a detractor from me, but I didn’t make it a deal-breaker for now as anecdotally, you don’t miss it in the Model 3. Most folks who have one think they are covered well enough.

Adaptive cruise control

I was planning many long road trips as a way to justify this car purchase, particularly as we hadn’t travelled anywhere internationally since our favourite pandemic hit. One of the critical features I therefore wanted was adaptive cruise control which manages your speed automatically with an eye on the vehicle in front of you. Not having this would be a dealbreaker for me.

All of the cars I tested had this feature with the exception of the BMW X3. What, you ask? A luxury European car not having this simple piece of tech?

A bit of context here: the BMW X3 did have this feature. But due to the semiconductor shortage (thanks again pandemic), they have removed it temporarily from models coming to Australia. I understand the reason why, but in a $90K car, that is unacceptable in my eyes. This is the point at which the BMW left my consideration set.

A quick note on lane following assist. This is not something I necessarily needed to have, but on the cars that I tested that had it, it was really handy. It’s called Autopilot on the Teslas, but don’t be fooled by the Elon-name for it. It does the same thing mostly as the system in the Subaru or Volkswagen.

Leather seats

If we were going to have kids, we were going to have yoghurt splattered around or orange juice spilled despite my best intentions to make the car a “no food zone”. I knew this. Therefore I wanted to leather (or leatherette) seats to make the clean-up process easier.

All the cars had leather seats. Some had nicer leather (e.g. Genesis GV70), and some had vegan leather (Teslas), but all would be able to be cleaned easily so I didn’t fuss about it. I’ll save the quilted Nappa experience for when I’m a little older.

All-wheel drive

In my head, I go to the snow every year and cut up the slopes. In reality, I go once every four years and spend a few days on the blue slopes before calling it because my hip flexors are strained.

But therefore, in my head, I needed AWD. It wasn’t a major consideration which is why the only model here to not have it (the Model 3 SR+) didn’t get marked down too much for it. RWD cars also tend to be better for driving dynamics so perhaps it was offset slightly.

Either way, in mild climate southern Australia, this wasn’t that important. A nice to have though.

Conclusion

Getting right to it, here is how the marks were awarded.

There were two clear stand-outs: Tesla Model 3 SR+ and Volkswagen Passat.

The strengths of the Volkswagen Passat were its excellent practicality and strong feature set, while the Model 3 SR+ was cheaper and had better performance. Both were good on the availability front.

Why did I decide on the Model 3 SR+? Because I liked it more. That’s might be a naff thing to say after showing you all this data and comparing them on objective metrics, but I think cars will always be an emotional purchase for me.

The idea of joining the EV revolution (I love ICE cars and always will, but the future is inevitably EV) and having something a little bit different and head-turning appealed to me. The idea that the car is always getting updates and evolving felt novel and exciting.

What do you think? Do you agree? Disagree? Let me know in the comments below.

I hope this overview and analysis helped or that you found it interesting. It is a point in time view, and with the Australian context, so please do your own research as well.

Until next time, take care.

N.G.

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