Mastodon Autopilot is sometimes life-threatening, otherwise often annoying – Sascha Wübbena

Autopilot is sometimes life-threatening, otherwise often annoying

As I already mentioned, a Tesla Model Y has been on my doorstep since February 2024. That’s “funny” because the news about Tesla has been coming thick and fast ever since. Sales figures are plummeting, the Cybertruck is a disaster from start to finish, mass redundancies have been announced, and Mr. Musk has even fired his entire marketing team. As if his marketing team were in any way to blame for the nosedive. But that’s just by the way. Meanwhile, I completed my first long journey in the new car. To summarize: nice car to travel in, but we still arrived home safely.

Sounds cryptic, doesn’t it? Let’s break it down, then.

Nice car for travelling

Where the Model Y definitely scores points is in terms of space. If you have a suitcase with you, it’s almost like throwing your sports bag into a gym. The thing is simply a giant. And that is also noticeable in the car interior. I’ve rarely sat so comfortably in a car. And occasionally, I think it’s a shame that you don’t sit in the back. Then the view with the panoramic roof would be even more impressive. You just don’t get enough of it from the front.

Even though the Tesla is not the quietest electric car (due to a lack of decent insulation and double glazing in the rear), it was pleasantly quiet on the freeway. You could talk at a normal volume or listen to music and podcasts. The wind noise was also limited to 120 or 130 km/h.

And as far as charging is concerned: Yes, Tesla’s charging network is simply a luxury. You don’t have to worry about whether you’ll find a free charging point and whether it will work. No fiddling with maps of any kind or apps. Just plug it in and it charges. And with its 170 kW charging power, the battery is full again faster than you can swallow a cheeseburger. And with a consumption of 21 kWh per 100 kilometers, the consumption is also perfectly okay. Especially as we only had an average temperature of 5 degrees Celsius. A lot more will be possible at higher temperatures.

Strenuous paternalism

But there were also moments that either made me rage or sweat. Shall we start with white heat? Good. Let’s talk about the autopilot, which wants to be more than it really is. And when I talk about autopilot, I’m talking about the basic version. This includes a lane keeping system and adaptive cruise control. Let’s take a look at what this looks like in practice at Tesla.

The lever to the right of the steering wheel activates the autopilot. Press it down once to activate adaptive cruise control and lane departure warning. But that’s not all. The lights and windscreen wipers are also automatically set to “automatic”. Sounds good, but it’s annoying for two reasons:

  1. When it’s bright, there are situations where I like to switch on the lights. For example, when it’s raining and the spray makes it difficult to see. It’s a little safer for me when you can see the rear lights. If you switch on the autopilot, your Tesla thinks to itself: “Oh, it’s bright enough. Then I can switch off the lights.” I can then switch it back on manually via the display, but the next time I activate the autopilot, my setting is gone again.
  2. Speaking of rain. Tesla’s automatic wipers have almost become a meme. It does what it wants. Yes, it wipes. But disproportionately hectic. As with any other car, you can set the interval yourself via the display. But (you’ve probably already guessed it) the next time you activate the autopilot, the automatic wipers are on again.

When the freeway is empty, and you’re driving at a leisurely pace, the question arises as to why you have to keep activating the autopilot. Good question. Because the lane departure warning system (currently still in beta) is the biggest piece of crap I’ve ever experienced in a car. Normally, a lane departure warning system recognizes that I want to change lanes by flashing and releases the steering wheel again. Once the lane change is complete, it switches back on. Not so with the Tesla. I turn and have to literally yank the steering wheel round for the assistant to understand. Unless I’m so close to a car in front that the computer senses that I want to overtake. But then it has already reduced the speed because of the distance.

So there’s always a jolt through the car when the lane departure warning system switches off. Although … it’s not just the lane departure warning system that switches off, but the entire autopilot. So the adaptive cruise control switches off too. Therefore, I always have to press the power pedal when changing lanes because otherwise the car brakes. Once I’m back in my lane, I activate the autopilot and have to set the lights and windscreen wipers as I want them.

Still arrived home safely

But it gets worse. Tesla has an emergency braking system, which is a good thing in principle. However, I was able to identify two scenarios in which emergency braking was firstly completely improper and secondly, just too life-threatening.

  1. I’m driving in the right-hand lane at a relaxed 120 km/h on a freeway slip road. On the right, diagonally behind me, a driver is keen to join the freeway and naturally accelerates. The autopilot senses danger and makes an emergency stop.
  2. In the second scenario, I overtake other vehicles in the center lane. In the left-hand lane, a car races past me at a good 200 km/h. The autopilot senses danger and makes an emergency stop.

Emergency braking on a freeway in broad daylight is insane! I just imagine a truck driving behind me and not being able to react. Because I was expecting such strange maneuvers, I was always in a ‘beware’ position and was able to react quickly and step on the accelerator to get away quickly.

There were a few situations like that. Knowing that something like this could happen, I wasn’t really relaxed during the whole journey. I was always busy paying attention to normal traffic situations to prepare myself for unexpected actions by the assistants. And always making adjustments because the Model Y thinks it knows better.

What I expect

My expectations are not high. I just want the assistants to work in the same way as other manufacturers have done for many years. No extravagances. BMW, Volkswagen, Mercedes, Opel and all the others have years of experience of how things work. So why change everything?

Automatic light control? Gladly, but on its own. Automatic windscreen wipers? Yes, please! But what does it have to do with the driver assistance systems? Adaptive cruise control? A must-have feature for me, but why does it switch off when I change lanes? Lane departure warning? I love it. But I want to decide when to change lanes. And I simply expect it to at least switch off automatically when I indicate: no matter how far away the car in front is. And no, I’m not going to spend €3,500.00 on an autopilot extension just to get the lane change assistant. Who knows what bugs I’ll catch.

In the end, everything went well. When I got home, I was extremely exhausted and tired. I’ve rarely felt so exhausted after driving our Opel Adam. My great hope is that all the faults and shortcomings I mentioned will be rectified by Tesla. And before they go even further downhill.

There are times when I think about whether it wouldn’t have been better to spend the extra €70 to €100 per month and have a better car. But cancelling the financing and returning the car won’t be that easy.

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