I’m a huge gadget head, so when Tesla first unveiled the Model 3 in 2016, it was a big hit of dopamine to the brain. A tech-focused EV with a giant touch screen for its infotainment system? Sign me up – now!
It wouldn’t be until late 2017 that I got my first EV (a Volkswagen eGolf), and not until 2021 that I got my first Tesla.
But along the way, I steeped myself in the world of EV-centric tech features that far surpassed my expectations. Here are some of my favorite pieces of EV tech that have won my heart over the years.
- Autopilot. Despite claims to the contrary, Tesla’s Autopilot system is aptly named for what it does. As a 15-year pilot who has flown a few planes equipped with autopilot, I can say confidently that Tesla’s implementation is a good road-based analog: a system that delegates the control inputs to the vehicle while allowing the person behind the controls to take more of a “management” approach. Just as an autopilot doesn’t fly a plane from takeoff to landing,* Tesla's autopilot (included on all Teslas) helps with just the cruise phase of a drive. It offers lane centering, adaptive cruise control, and adjustable following distance, and is an incredible tool to reduce driver fatigue on highway trips. It has been a favorite of mine since I first got a Tesla. A solid 80% of my freeway driving is done on Autopilot. As directed by Tesla, I diligently watch the road and monitor the system for any unintended behavior – which is corrected before it can become dangerous, just like in a plane.
By the way, most modern EVs have some sort of lane keep and adaptive cruise control featureset. With Tesla leading the game, it’s pretty much the price of entry.
- Cabin preconditioning. Unless you paid extra money to equip your gas car with remote start, an EV is likely your first exposure to any preconditioning features. Beginning with my e-Golf and later my Bolt EV and Tesla, I was able to turn on my air conditioning and cool my cabin before getting to my car. On hot days where my car bakes in the office parking lot or grocery store parking lot, it’s a huge luxury to have the cabin at a comfortable temperature by the time I get in. The battery hit is minimal and the function can be controlled from the mobile app on most EVs. And, unlike remote start in a gas car, EV cabin preconditioning can be safely used inside a garage.
- Cameras galore! I realize that as of 2018, a backup camera is required on all new vehicles sold in the US. However, EVs have taken this a step further. Now cameras come standard on many EVs – for not only parking purposes, but also for driving automation and security purposes. Tesla, for example, uses eight exterior cameras to power its Autopilot features. In addition to that functionality, you can use four of those cameras (front, back, side repeaters) as a dashcam or to review security footage from Sentry mode while the car is parked. The side cameras can also be set to pop up on your display when you use your turn signal. The picture quality isn’t great since security and lane change are secondary usages compared to what the cameras were designed for (Autopilot). However, it’s still good enough that I use them daily. Teslas conspicuously lack 360-degree parking assist normally seen on many luxury makes and models, such as the BMW i4, Rivian R1T/R1S, and numerous others.
- Keyless entry; keyless start. On certain makes and models, you can open doors and start your EV without the need for a key or keyfob. On Teslas, Rivians, and some Fords, you can use your phone as a key: you just walk up to your car and open the door. When you get in, you simply shift the car into gear – no start/stop button. When you’re done driving, press the park button, step out of the car, and walk away; the car locks on its own. I have gotten so used to this that I’ve accidentally walked away from our gas car without locking it. Whoops!
- I love being able to watch YouTube when waiting in my car for extended periods of time. The sound system is great and provides for an immersive, comfortable experience.
- New EV pickup trucks offer EV-specific features such as air compressors and power sockets built into the cargo area. Using power tools or inflating rafts/tires/mattresses without extra equipment (or batteries) is utilitarian to the max.
- Over the air updates are great. There are so many things that can be improved on EVs due to their flexible touch-screen interfaces. Not needing to visit the dealership is a huge time saver. It also ensures your car becomes more feature-rich over time, helping to combat depreciation (and boredom).
- Honorable mention to the Rivian portable camp speaker, which docks to the center console for charging and then can go with you on a camping trip or other outdoor adventure.