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9 min read

    9 min read

    Tesla has been in the news a lot lately with the launch of its controversial Cybertruck and, love it or hate it, Tesla is an automotive brand that’s likely here to stay. Earlier this year, we interviewed YouTuber Andy Slye about driving for Uber and Lyft with his Model 3, but RSG’s auto expert Gabe Ets-Hokin wanted to get a first-hand perspective, so he borrowed a Model 3 to put in some Uber and Lyft miles. What’s it like driving a Tesla with Uber? Gabe covers it all below!

    I’ve been a fan of electric vehicles for over a decade, when I tested my first electric motorcycle. From that day, I’ve wanted an electric vehicle (EV) of my own, and was thrilled when I had a chance to purchase a Chevrolet Bolt. I even wrote an article on the best EVs for Uber and Lyft drivers!

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    But when Tesla started selling its Model 3 for about the same price as my Bolt, I wanted to jam shrimp forks in my eyes in frustration. If only I had waited a year! Luckily, my mother bought a Model 3, so when Harry asked me to write about the Model 3, I found myself asking my mom if I could borrow her car on a Saturday night –  for the first time in over 30 years. Here’s what happened.

    What is a Tesla Model 3?

    Tesla Motors’ Model 3 is the company’s “entry-level” luxury-performance sedan, introduced in 2016 and first delivered to customers in July 2017. Aimed at the BMW 3-series and other European and Japanese entry-level luxury-sports coupes, the Model 3 offers comfortable seating for 5, serious performance and handling, an all-electric range of 220-310 miles and a starting price under $40,000.

    Highly anticipated, Tesla took almost a half-million reservations for the car before the first one was delivered to a customer, and is now one of the best-selling luxury sedans in the United States.

    How to Sign Up with Uber

    Getting a Model 3 signed up on the Uber platform is as easy as signing up any other car. I went to an Uber Greenlight Hub and was stunned when, less than 60 seconds after I pulled up to the inspection station, the technician there told me my car was so new it didn’t need an inspection!

    I went inside, showed my paperwork to the Uber representative in a video kiosk, and was on my way in about 20 minutes. Doing it remotely might take longer, if you don’t have access to a Greenlight Hub in your area, however you can use a service like Rideshare Mechanic to do a virtual inspection.

    Driving a Model 3

    Your first drive in a Model 3 will be disorienting, especially if you’ve never driven an electric vehicle. There’s no key – you log in to a smartphone app or use a key card – and the car automatically unlocks the doors as you get near. Sitting in the driver’s seat, you’ll notice there are no instruments and almost no controls: almost everything is done through the big 15-inch touchscreen mounted between the seats. It takes a few minutes (at least) to get your seat adjusted and your preferences programmed before you’re ready to take off.

    Once you’re moving, you experience an eerily quiet, smooth and comfortable ride. In a word, the 3 just feels sophisticated; you know you’re surrounded by tech, but it’s not intrusive (unless you want it to be – you can select “lane assist” and other driver aids, including Autopilot, which actually changes lanes for you) and the steering response feels balanced and natural.

    Model 3 interior is airy, spacious and comfortable.

    My mom’s car is a white-on-white Dual Motor Long Range, and it hauls ass. Where your Prius or midsized sedan struggles to get up to freeway speeds without making horrible noises from the engine compartment, the 3 just hunkers down and flies.

    Zero to 60 times are in the low 4 second range. If you’re not a car person, go ahead and count to four – ‘one-one thousand, two-one thousand, three-one-thousand, four-one-thousand’ – and imagine going from a dead stop to freeway speeds in that time. To go that fast in a (stock) gasoline car, you’ll need to spend over $80,000; the Dual-Motor Model 3 starts at $48,490.

    Getting up to 100 mph takes just another six or seven seconds, but I would never test that, because, as President Nixon liked to say, that would be wrong. The single-motor, $39,490 Standard Range Plus is no slouch, with 0-60 times in the 5 second range.

    The downside to the blazing top speeds and acceleration times is that you’ll eat up range too fast if you’re a leadfoot. But drive like my 81-year-old mom (sorry mom!), the recipient of just one speeding ticket her entire life, and the stated ranges (250 miles for the Standard Range Plus, 310 for the Long Range) are attainable.

    I can also say that charge times are outstanding: unlike my Chevy Bolt, limited to 50 kWh fast-charge speeds, the Model 3 can gulp down up to 150 kWh or more of electricity. That means you can stuff five miles of range into the battery every minute, or get an 80 percent charge in 30 minutes using the latest Tesla “V3” Supercharger. That’s only when you’re road-tripping, or need to get back home after a very long ride; once home, you can use a 240-volt charger to recharge in about 10 hours from an empty battery.

    Passenger Reactions and Interactions

    No surprises here. People love this car, although I was surprised by how many of my passengers got in without saying a word… unless you count the awkward struggle they had with the door handles. My first passenger couldn’t open the door to get in, but it wasn’t his fault: I didn’t know how to unlock the doors, as there’s no control on the driver’s door.

    There is a setting, buried deep in the settings menu, that automatically unlocks the passenger doors when you put the car in “park,” and then it’s just a matter of putting the car in park each time you pick up. Not how I like to do things in a busy city like San Francisco, where it’s always best to load and unload passengers as quickly as possible.

    One nice feature for Uber drivers is the seat-belt indicator for the back seats: always insist on the passenger behind you having their seatbelt buckled, unless you want to be the meat in a passenger/steering-wheel sandwich in an accident.

    When it’s time for the passenger to get out, there’s similar hubris. Nine times out of 10, I had to tell the passenger where the door-release button on the back doors were located, and that they needed to shove with an elbow to get the door open.

    Door troubles aside, passengers have no complaints about comfort. There is lots of room, even for three adults in the back seat, and the leather-esque materiel (standard in all models except the off-book lowest-price 3) is soft and rich-feeling. Six-foot-plus folks fit back there with no complaints, and the front seat is even more spacious.

    The ride is whisper-quiet, and conversation, even in lower tones, is perfectly audible at freeway speeds. This is a $40,000 (starting price) car that feels like a much more expensive luxury vehicle. Expect to see a lot of “nice car!”-type comments.

    Snapping some heads back with dual-motor EV power.

    If you’re interested in Teslas, you’ve probably seen plenty of reaction videos. You know the ones: the camera is set up to show the expression on the passenger’s faces as the driver mashes the accelerator to the floor.

    What’s surprising is the total lack of noise; wind, motor or anything at all. The car just whooshes forwards and heads snap back like you’ve all been dropped into the Grand Canyon. People love it, and it goes without saying that nobody is going to beat you into any gap in traffic unless you want them to. Look out for those passive-aggressive “a passenger reported you’re driving dangerously” emails and texts from Uber and Lyft, but driving a Tesla is a whole other experience than driving your average econo-box.

    Economics

    We’ve covered vehicle economics here at RSG many times, and the consensus seems to be that a full-time driver should consider leasing a vehicle – you can find our recommendations at our vehicle marketplace. But if you opt to buy a car, an EV makes sense only if you have a place to charge inexpensively at home and typically drive less than the car’s range in a shift.

    Total costs over 5 years with four of our favorite cars. I used Kelley Blue Book’s maintenance cost estimate, but other than tires, the Model 3 (and the Bolt) need almost no servicing over 5 years, so that number will likely be less for the Model 3.

    Check out my “5 Best EVs for Rideshare” article, and you’ll see it’s best to try to buy used to avoid depreciation. Tesla Model 3s are pretty rare used; when they do turn up, they haven’t depreciated much. Buying new and taking advantage of the $1,850 Federal tax rebate (if you take delivery before the end of 2019) and local incentives ranging from $1,500 to $3,500, as well as incentives from your electric company, may actually be cheaper than buying a used Standard Range Model 3. If you want more range and performance, you can save about $10,000 if you’re looking for one of the premium models that were priced over $50,000 when new.

    Plug those prices into a spreadsheet, and driving a new Model 3 40,000 miles a year will run you about 22 cents per mile, although those numbers can vary depending on maintenance and electricity costs. A used Bolt will be more like 14 cents per mile, which can mean a $200 a month difference for a full-time driver.

    There is some added earnings potential with the Model 3, however – I made a little extra when it was busy cherry-picking Comfort rides, and it’s eligible for Uber Select in some markets. And when the Standard Range Model 3s start hitting the used market in a couple of years, that price difference could bring the cost of operating a Model 3 to more like 19 or 20 cents per mile.

    Should You Drive for Uber with a Tesla?

    If you’re only looking for the cheapest EV – or cheapest vehicle for rideshare driving – a luxury-performance car like the Model 3 is not the way to go (yet). But if you want something that’s comfortable, safe, and fun to drive, a car that will knock the socks off your passengers, the Model 3 is every bit the awesome experience its fans say it is. If you want your workplace to be more glamorous than a Toyota Prius, and it’s worth an extra $200 a month to you, I’d say go for it.

    Want to get your own Tesla? Get a sweet discount if you purchase using our referral link here.

    What do you think – if prices came down for new or used Tesla Model 3s, would you drive a Tesla for rideshare? Why or why not?

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    Gabe Ets-Hokin

    Gabe Ets-Hokin

    Gabe Ets-Hokin is a veteran transportation professional with over 50,000 trips between taxicabs, Uber, Lyft and Sidecar. He's been writing professionally about motorcycles since 2004 and got into writing about Rideshare in 2015. He lives in Oakland, CA with his wife, son and two bitter, unfulfilled cats.