The Tesla Model 3 is not merely a car, but a hyper-connected piece of technology that knows what ails you, what hazards your surroundings may pose, and tries to predict your every move.
However, is this the way we will all be driving - or letting the car drive us - in the future?
I am spending two days with a Model 3, the dual-motor, all-wheel-drive version of Tesla’s mass-market sport sedan.
It is an electric-blue-coloured window into one company’s vision of the future of driving, if not the future of driving. It is at least a preview of what is to come when cars go from gas-guzzling rust buckets, powered by explosions, to software-driven supercomputers fuelled by data.
Tesla announced record deliveries last week, overcoming shipping and logistics problems that plagued it in the first quarter.
The Model 3 is a joy to drive. With all its power available instantly thanks to the marvel of its electric motors, a touch of the accelerator pedal makes you feel like you are basically on a glide path to space. Let go of it and regenerative braking pulls you back to earth, seizing all that power back into the batteries to slow down the car - and extending its range in the process.
Autopilot features keep the car within the lane lines and steer it from on-ramp to off-ramp, maintaining speed and safe distance from the cars ahead. The car can make lane changes automatically with input from the turn signal stalk.
The really eye-opening stuff happens once you activate a feature called “Navigate on Autopilot”.
Navigate on Autopilot uses destination inputs (think Google Maps) to guide the car from point A to point B.
The car decides what lane to use for the fastest trip. Again, the driver confirms any lane changes the car might want through the turn signal stalk. But there is a further layer of automation.
Poke around in the menus enough and you will find the option to disable lane change confirmation.
This is where it gets interesting. In an ideal scenario, the car will navigate from on-ramp to off-ramp without inputs from the driver - who, of course, is supposed to keep his hands on the wheel and remain engaged at all times.
“This does not make your vehicle autonomous,” the menus say.
And it shows.
In Navigate on Autopilot, the car did not seem to know when it was about to be cut off by another driver, or anticipate lane changes from cars ahead that were using their turn signal indicators.
I sensed it guessing and checking, moving away from a lane and then back into the centre when it sensed another car.
At one point in a curve, the car veered unprompted between lanes at a slant, leading me to take over.Probably the most important lesson about Tesla’s model of automation I learned from a Tesla owner at a San Francisco supercharging station: Trust but verify. You are in control. It is not self-driving - rather, done right, it is a type of plugged-in hyper-aware driving that eliminates certain hassles that accompany daily driving.
Navigate on Autopilot was seamless at one point in traffic, shifting lanes one at a time and putting me into position to exit an off-ramp.
It could be useful for long-haul trips and eliminating the physical fatigue of driving, including the engine noises and pedal pushing and yanking of the steering wheel.
But responsible use of the features should still leave you mentally exhausted after that kind of trip.