- We took a 1046-mile round-trip from Ann Arbor, Michigan to St. Louis, Missouri and back in our long-term Tesla Model 3 to gauge the feasibility of long-distance electric-vehicle travel.
- The 523 miles each way takes about eight hours in a gasoline-powered vehicle. The Tesla required three recharge stops, adding nearly three hours to the trip.
- Tesla's Supercharger stations are located along major Interstates at convenient intervals, and the car's navigation system directs you to the nearest one as the battery runs low.
Few things will make your heart sink deep into your stomach quite like missing an exit to a Tesla Supercharger with only six percent of battery life remaining. I'll admit, I zoned out for a quick second while listening to Black Dog by Led Zeppelin. The next second, our Model 3 long-term test car's navigation system rerouted me four miles ahead to the nearest interchange so I could turn around. In that moment, I heard myself repeating "oh God, no" while hoping I was going to make it back to the Supercharger.
With less than about 60 miles of range remaining, a Model 3's battery icon turns from green to yellow and, soon after that, to red. The colors make you doubt and reevaluate, constantly double-checking the distance to the suggested Supercharger on Google Maps even though the navigation system does that for you. But is the technology really trustworthy? It turned out that it was. After missing the exit, I reached the Supercharger with just three percent of the battery charge remaining.
I was in the process of heading back to Ann Arbor, Michigan after two weeks at home with my family in St. Louis. The 523-mile one-way drive is a familiar one for me, and it usually takes eight hours and requires just one stop for food and fuel when driving most other gasoline-powered vehicles. But the Model 3 required three stops along the way to charge its 80.5-kWh lithium-ion battery and took almost eleven hours.
Thanks to Tesla's vast Supercharger network, planning for a road trip in one of the company's vehicles isn't as challenging or as critical as it was in 2014 when we drove down to Virginia International Raceway in our long-term 2015 Tesla Model S P85D. Tesla's supercharger network now consists of about 1870 stations worldwide—908 in the U.S.— found mostly off of major highways at grocery stores, malls, gas stations, and sometimes in apartment-complex parking structures. They either supply 250 kW or 150 kW; there are also chargers in urban locations that have 72 kW of electrical power. With chargers spread out strategically across the most-travelled routes there's no need to worry about making it to a station.
Plugging in at a Supercharger is easy: Just open the car's charge port via the dashboard-mounted 15-inch touchscreen, hop out, grab the charging cable off the charger and plug in. For the Model 3, the cost is usually about $0.26 per kilowatt-hour, which is charged directly to your Tesla account. On our three-stop trip, each charging session ranged from around $7 to $13 and took, on average, about 50 minutes. Good thing Netflix and Hulu are integrated into the Model 3's central touch screen.
While charging might lengthen a long trip by several hours, driving a Model 3 on a multi-state jaunt is relaxed and effortless. Our Model 3 is equipped with Tesla's autopilot feature, which enables the car to accelerate, steer, brake, and cruise semi-autonomously within its lane; it can change lanes automatically, too. This, along with the Model 3's easy-to-use cruise control and comfortable, quiet ride made for a relaxed long-range trip.
We can't speak to the time and effort that would be required to make this same trip in a non-Tesla electric vehicle using one of the other, less widespread public charging networks from companies like EvGo or Electrify America. But our Tesla trek does prove that cross-country journeys in electric vehicles are on the brink of becoming not only feasible but also low-stress affairs. That is, as long as you don't miss the exit to a Supercharger station.
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