After more than 6 months with our new Tesla Model 3 Standard Range things are going swimmingly. Tesla gave us a free Homelink upgrade – as it was apparently stated on the website during the buying process – and has fixed the few odd paint chips that the car had upon delivery.

Driving the car is fun and a fantastic experience every time. Charging it is super simple and waaaaay more convenient than filling up our petrol car ever was. The constant OTA updates have given us tons of new features that weren’t there when we drove it away from the shop and more keep coming every month.

Despite all the flashy gadgets and tricks that it can do though (and there are many!) there’s one of them that I’ve found we use far more than anything else. That feature is its Autopilot systems. Driving itself on freeways, general roads and so on has totally flipped how we use our car and I can’t go back.

From Driver To Passenger

While most people aren’t too aware of what Autopilot is or its capabilities owning a Tesla allows you to play around with it and test it on any road it allows you to enable it on, which is most.

If you don’t own a Tesla or know much about Autopilot you might just assume it’s a “fancy cruise control” which really isn’t correct at all. Autopilot – as of writing this – is extremely capable as a driver. Countless times I’ve seen it demonstrate legitimately impressive qualities far beyond just merely steering and accelerating/decelerating.

It’s also just recently gotten far more competent both here in Australia and abroad with it now recognising many things in real time like cones, markings on the road like arrows, bike lanes, disabled spots, traffic lights, stop signs, turning lanes all different sorts of cars (utes, sedans, SUV’s, trucks etc) and even things like people, bikes and motorcycles.

Obviously on freeways it performs perfectly from entrance to exit. I don’t think I ever take control anymore on any freeways. On the more major roads (fully divided, 80 km/h type things) it’s also near perfect. I can’t remember the last time where I had to take over.

Just some of Tesla’s FSD Visualisations. Source: Cameron Kelly

On the suburban streets (so two or one lane roads with no divider at 60 or 70 km/h) it’s still quite rock solid. However there will be the occasional time where I’ll have to take over for brief seconds to avoid certain things like parked cars jutting out into the lane or if it seems to get a bit too close to other traffic when the lanes are small. We’re talking one, maybe two of these occurrences per entire trip.

Obviously I also still have to take over anytime there is a stop light, turn or round about. It’s certainly not a robotaxi just yet, but if there’s a car in front of you, which is quite often, you don’t have to take over going through stop lights which is super handy.

All of this extremely competent driving also happens in not so perfect weather too. Whether it’s pitch black outside or pouring with rain – or both – I’ve seen Autopilot perform excellently with all the same tasks.

You quickly learn which things it can and can’t handle and where not to enable it. Recently a lot of my driving has been to and from work which is a roughly 22 km drive one way and involves a freeway for about half of that distance.

The rest is on non major, suburban roads that have speed limits like 60 km/h or 70 km/h. They wind around, have close together traffic / lanes to navigate, have lights, roundabouts and more. Out of curiosity I calculated how much of the journey I drive vs how much the car drives. It turns out it drives more than 90% of the time both ways.

The trip takes around half an hour, so for 3 minutes I’m driving, the other 27 minutes I just sit there, alone in the car as the only passenger watching it do its thing. I have come to realise that I no longer drive our car, it drives and I occasionally interject and drive it through a difficult part like a major intersection.

With the introduction of stopping at Traffic Light & Stop Sign capabilities already being rolled out in USA I imagine this 3 minutes will be reduced even further soon. Overall though it’s very hard to convey to those that don’t own a Tesla how different Autopilot makes things.

From talking to various friends and family they often just assume it’s a fancy cruise control. That it does radar controlled acceleration/deceleration and follows the road lines but is otherwise basically as useful as the olden days cruise control is. Useful… but you don’t have it on 90%+ of the time you’re driving.

To say “it’s awesome” or “game changing” doesn’t really seem to fully articulate it entirely. It seems like it might just be some sort of gimmicky feature that you don’t really use that much or if you do, it’s like cruise control where it kind of only works on the freeway and in very specific conditions. Autopilot is very, very different.

It doesn’t need a car in front to be as good as it is. Availability isn’t limited by a certain geolocked region or road network, instead you can enable it on virtually all roads. It even works quite well on roads without lane markings. Even roads that have curves/bends in them aren’t an issue with it working excellently every time on about 95% of them.

A Sound Analogy

To try and convey how important I now consider Autopilot I tried to think of other things in a car that I use more than 90% of the time that I’m driving it. Things like seat heaters or power windows and even GPS are all certainly great to have in a car… but I don’t use them all the time. I use them occasionally like when it’s cold or when I don’t know where I’m going.

There was one thing though that fit the criteria, the sound system. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone drive a car without music of some kind playing near 100% of the time they actively drive. You don’t play music in a car “occasionally” or when you’re lost, you use it constantly. Every day, every time you drive and all of the time you drive. This is how often we now use Autopilot.

So I’m hoping that you can now imagine what it’d be like if you went to hop into your car only to realise that it had no sound system. Not just no radio or whatever, no speakers! Absolutely no way of having any music playing at all, you couldn’t even use your phone either. You would just have to sit there, in silence, all the time you’re driving.

That’s the feeling that hits you when you hop into another car that isn’t equipped with Autopilot.

It’s like you’re in some kind of weird alternate universe where everyone is insane and actually drives their cars themselves instead of relaxing while it drives you around. I’m also hoping it helps convey just how often we use Autopilot. It’s not a “nice to have”, it’s a must have.

I wouldn’t trade our Model 3 for a Lamborghini or basically any other type of legacy car regardless of cost because they don’t have anything that comes close to Autopilot (plus, you know, they’re all fossil fuel guzzlers too).

Carmakers Are Worrying About The Wrong Thing
Volvo XC40 Recharge P8 AWD in Sage Green

Legacy car companies seem to be worried – and rightfully so – about not being able to compete with Tesla on producing “compelling” electric cars. While this is a legitimate concern they are fighting a battle from near a decade ago as far as I can see.

There are still no production cars that can compete with the 2012 Model S on things like range. When it comes to Autopilot, legacy car makers are effectively selling cars that don’t have an audio systems in them. The only reason people are still buying them and not walking away in disgust is because they haven’t driven a Tesla with Autopilot for a week.

As such I would highly suggest renting one and doing so if you’re considering buying a car that’s $80,000 AUD or more. The Tesla smile is real and to not test one before committing that kind of capital isn’t super smart IMO.

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All this talk about Autopilot though also totally ignores the fact that it’s constantly improving at a huge rate. It’s like Android was way back in 2010, many solid main parts already developed and fully operational… but still with lots of things to add and improve upon.

I predict that as more Model 3’s, Model Y’s and eventually Cybertruck’s roll off the line and into peoples driveways it’ll slowly dawn on everyone what they’re missing out on. By that point Autopilot will have progressed even further too and while our car drives me to work 90% of the way already, no one else can really tell that it’s not me driving. This means the feature is very stealthy by nature.

As such consider this me calling it out to everyone loud and clear: A car without Autopilot is like a car without an audio system. Purchase one with great caution!

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