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Tesla is the Flashiest Player But Audi Quietly Wins the Game


If you are committed to buying an electric car, then Tesla is likely on your list. Elon Musk’s company (and the man himself) have dominated the headlines for years due to both his personal life (e.g., his youngest son’s name is X Æ A-12 and his tweets are attention-grabbing) and the hype over his cars (e.g., the Tesla 3 had ridiculously long waiting lists!). We live in the San Francisco Bay Area, home to the Tesla HQ as well as a Tesla factory. You can’t drive around here without seeing multiple Tesla vehicles (and the giant trailers transporting new Teslas from the factory in Fremont to various showrooms). Given their distinctive silhouette, Teslas stick out everywhere. I also regularly see Tesla supercharger stations throughout the region at Whole Foods and other suburban strip mall parking lots. These can recharge Teslas much faster than some of the low-level chargers that take hours. Plus, I assume the Tesla supercharger stations are better maintained than the random motley of companies with their own charging stations (e.g., Chargepoint, Blink, Electrify America, etc.) that I’ve used for my plug-in hybrid electric car (an Audi A3 e-tron that still has a gas tank). I’ve driven up to multiple chargers from many different companies only to find them out of order, whereas I always see a ton of Teslas lined up at their charging stations. Given the robust network of Tesla charging stations, Tesla seemed like the natural choice when I started to research fully electric car options. As someone who always refills her gas tank before it hits the 1/4 full mark, I never want to deal with the anxiety of searching for a working car charging station when my “tank” is low. Tesla’s technology is proven and they have invested in the infrastructure to reassure range-anxious owners. It seemed like a shoo-in, especially after we went on a test drive and enjoyed driving the Tesla Model X. Yet my husband and I were both hesitant to jump on the Tesla bandwagon for several reasons. Tesla’s flashy features and outsized reputation can’t make up for quality control issues. The giant glass roof on the Model X and the falcon wing doors are certainly dramatic and eye-catching, but I felt like Tesla chose a few flashy items to boost its reputation and try to distract you from the drawbacks. Think of it as the basketball player with the spectacular slam dunk who riles the crowd up every time. People love him, but his slam dunks don’t hide the fact that he’s horrible on defense and is not a team player. Moreover, some of that flashy stuff isn’t very practical. I found the tiny visor insufficient to block the sun shining through the glass roof on the X. It’s definitely not something I would want to deal with on a daily commute. There are documented flaws in Tesla cars that are often ignored. I have heard from other owners and read of build quality issues — panel gaps, cabin noise, paint trim problems, and other issues you should not ever have to deal with in such an expensive car. Even on our test drive, while the car drove smoothly, I noticed the fit and finish did not feel as refined as my husband’s old 2000 Lexus GS (which we finally sold to upgrade to a car with better safety features) or my Audi A3 e-tron (a hybrid plug-in electric car that has since been discontinued). Tesla just doesn’t feel like a good value to me. Starting at about $90,000, the Tesla Model X is a good $25,000 more than the Audi e-tron, which is another all-electric SUV option. After comparing the two, I just couldn’t stomach paying that much more for the Model X when it doesn’t seem that much better than Audi’s e-tron. There’s a lot of hype about Tesla’s technology, which is impressive as it remains one of the electric car brands with the longest range. It beats Audi there, as well as it with its AutoPilot feature (which we did not test out on our test drive). But those weren’t enough to sway us. This is going to be a daily commuter car for my husband to replace his 2000 Lexus sedan and the weekend car for our family and two big dogs (hence the bigger capacity). We don’t need AutoPilot, super fast 0–60 acceleration speed, an extra long range, or any of the other fancy features Tesla has that the Audi doesn’t. We plan to use it mostly for local family trips, like driving our kids to a restaurant or taking our dogs to the vet. The Audi has less horsepower and is slower than the Tesla X by almost a second when accelerating from 0–60. If those features are important to you, then the Audi will disappoint you. Moreover, we were surprised that Tesla is not really a luxury vehicle despite its very expensive price. I thought we would get the whole package. Frankly, I have always associated luxury cars with leather seats, not pleather. I also thought we would have an eerily silent cabin (as luxury cars often do). Wind and road noise are something I expect in a Honda, not a Tesla. Ultimately, I agree with Car and Driver’s notes on the weaknesses of the Model X: “Interior lacks luxury panache, top-hinged Falcon Wing doors are fussy, mediocre fit-and-finish.” Tesla owners have a terrible reputation as obnoxious and entitled tech bros. This is obviously a less important factor but it’s still something to acknowledge. Exhibit A is the guy who was finally arrested after repeatedly being spotted sitting in the back seat of his Tesla, with his foot on the wheel, to show off the AutoPilot feature as he drove around the Bay Area. Some of the Tesla owners I’ve met are hyper-conscious of their image, huge fans of Elon Musk (who I find smarmy and arrogant), and a bit too enamored with the idea of owning a Tesla (meaning they happily overlook obvious flaws). Not everyone is like this, of course, but a significant number are and it’s enough to make me hesitate to be associated with the brand. According to the San Francisco Chronicle: California drivers who buy electric vehicles overwhelmingly fit a narrow demographic profile. Most are male, white or Asian American, and between the ages of 30 and 49. The majority earn more than $100,000 a year and live in expensive coastal areas. The Chronicle analyzed the data about who received electric car rebates from the state Air Resources Board, California’s air-quality agency. We fit this stereotype, although I was the driving force behind going all-electric, not my husband. We ultimately chose the Audi e-tron, a less flashy electric car, for some very pragmatic reasons. It blends into the background more as their body type looks just like the conventional Q series SUVs. Audi has a reputation for producing high-quality vehicles that perform well and have all the latest safety features (e.g., we opted for the base model but added the Convenience package so we could get the 360-degree camera that makes parallel parking and reversing so much easier!). The price feels reasonable given the more luxurious fit and finish. It also helped that we didn’t have to wait more than six months to get our next car. Audi is selling out e-trons before they even arrive in the showroom, but Tesla said there’s at least a six-month wait for a Model X right now. Online message boards note that lengthy delays are common for Tesla buyers and that the company sometimes pushes the dates back even further on owners due to delays. In short, we chose the smart, dependable, and sweet nerd who sometimes blends into the background instead of the loud, arrogant Homecoming King who brags a lot but doesn’t always deliver. We’re very happy. This article was originally published by Anna,

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