Tesla Model 3 vs. Volvo XC40 Recharge

I own a Volvo XC40 Recharge, an electric vehicle (EV). When I was doing comparison shopping for it in 2020 I took a look at the Tesla Model 3, another EV. They’re close to the same size and price, although the Volvo is shorter and taller and is a small SUV, while the Tesla is a sedan. At that time I didn’t care for several features of the Tesla and I’m now very happy with my choice. But last week I was in Texas visiting family and I rented a car, which turned out to be a Tesla Model 3 (although that’s not what I asked for). So I drove one for a week and formed a more educated opinion.

The bottom line: I really didn’t like the Tesla. Before I tell you why, let me say what I liked about the Tesla. First, it’s an EV. That’s a huge plus with me and should be with you. Their charging system, especially the superchargers, are much superior to the CCS fast charge system used by Volvo and most European carmakers. Tesla’s public (i.e. not home) chargers are faster, easier to handle, and more reliable, too. That’s important if you plan to drive it on long trips, but if you’re like me and able to charge every night at home or work, then that’s not very important. The Tesla navigation system is excellent, I was in a strange city and needed guidance. The voice directions were clear and perfectly timed. Volvo uses Google Maps and it’s very good, too, but I think Tesla’s system is slightly better. Warning: on one occasion it told me to make a U-turn at an intersection marked with a No U-turn sign.

Now for my complaints. The roof is not opaque!!! The sun shines right through it. It is darkened plastic, but still lets in enough bright sun to be annoying. I had to wear a hat in the car several times. What could the designer possibly have been thinking! That alone was one original deal killer in 2020 and driving in 102°F heat with the sun in my peripheral vision proved to be as bad as I had imagined. Along those lines: the air conditioner was inadequate and can’t be directed. To be fair, I’m not sure how well my Volvo would do in that heat, but at least I know how to lower the temperature, move the directional louvers, and increase the fan speed on mine. The Volvo uses the Google Automotive app and I can just call out climate control commands to it while driving. It’s usually perfect. I didn’t know how to change anything on the Tesla, certainly not by voice. I did see the temperature was set at 66° but inside the car it was easily 95°. That big screen control system also made driving difficult. Some controls, like the bluetooth, were located on the far right of the screen, basically in front of the passenger seat. I had to use it several times to change the volume of the music that was playing from my phone and that was dangerous as I had to take my eyes completely off the road. My Volvo has a small nav screen right in front of the steering wheel so I can see my next turn while still looking ahead. On the Tesla I had to look off to the right.

The key system on the Tesla is ridiculous. It’s a big honkin’ card about the size and shape of a pack of bubble gum baseball cards. By itself, that might not be too bad if you could fit it in a pocket or purse (which I couldn’t because the rental people fastened a big plastic tag to it), but you have to hold it flat against the outside of the doorpost in order to lock or unlock the car door. That’s really inconvenient, especially when you have your hands full, which I do quite often when getting in or out. It’s quite glitchy, too, and sometimes required me to put everything down and try repositioning it multiple times before the car recognizes it. My Volvo key stays in my pocket the whole time. I just reach for the door handle and if I have the key, it unlocks; to lock I just touch my hand to the outside of the handle. I can do this on my Volvo without letting go of whatever I’m carrying, and it’s 100% reliable. On top of that you have to slip the Tesla card into the center console area to get the car to start (the Volvo just starts when you sit). Then as soon as you start, the key card slides into the cup holders. It would be easy to forget the key when exiting. What’s wrong with an old-fashioned push-button remote to pop open the doors or trunk? Tesla just has to be “cool” at the expense of utility.

The door handles are yet another disaster on the Tesla. They’re flush with the body. This may be to reduce wind resistance, although I can’t imagine it makes much difference there. You have to press one end with your thumb and that levers out the rest of the handle, which you can then grab. If you can see it, that is. One night it was very dark out and I could not see the handle. I heard the door unlock, but without exterior lighting the car looked totally black (even though it was a red car with black handles). I felt around for the handle and only felt a smooth surface. It’s no problem finding the door handle by feel on the Volvo. With the Tesla I finally had to put everything I was holding on the ground, get out my phone, and use the flashlight just to find the door handle.

The interior door handles are even worse, at least in the back seat. There are none! Once at the supercharger I decided to wait in the car (est. 20 min). At first I sat in the driver’s seat and listened to my music through bluetooth. But the car faced south, full sun coming through the windshield, and it was blazing hot despite the A/C. So I decided to get in the back seat where the semi-transparent roof provided some shade at least. When I did that I discovered the car stopped the A/C and the music, presumably because no one was in driver’s seat, so I decided to get out and go to a nearby store. But when I reached for the “handle” I found it was just a fixed grab bar. There was no release lever like in the front, which had a normal pull-up door release. I felt all over and could not find a lever to pull. The door was locked and the window wouldn’t roll down. I actually started to panic. I tried both doors and the roof lining, the back of the center console, … everything, and could not find a door release. I’m over 75 and I could have been trapped in there. Fortunately I’m agile enough to climb between the front seats and exit out the front passenger door. That’s not just stupid design, it’s positively life-threatening. After I got out, I went into a store and searched for how to exit the rear of a Tesla and found a video. Apparently there is a small button (black on black, naturally, so you can’t see it) that one is supposed to slide forward. I never saw or felt that button. Sure, if you owned one of these cars and read the manual, you’d be aware of it, but this was a rental. I had only one minute of orientation to it, and I certainly didn’t think of asking directions on how to get out the car. Yet another idiocy in the name of coolness.

The car was too low and long. That’s the other major reason I didn’t consider the the Tesla in 2020. It wouldn’t fit in my garage and visibility is terrible since all the cars around you are taller. The seating height in my Volvo is nine inches higher and the car is shorter. The Tesla design is not a flaw, just a choice to go for less wind resistance (meaning longer range) but it was deal killer for me. The rear window on the Tesla is set too high and is too narrow. I was constantly readjusting the rear-view mirror trying to see behind me. It’s a safety problem.

So you may think I’m biased, and perhaps I am, but I spotted several of these problems back in 2020  when I didn’t have any investment in a Volvo. My mind was open then at least, and I didn’t like what I saw. Now I know why. And in case you’re wondering, I love my Volvo.

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