There’s been a lot of press around the Tesla Model 3. No surprise since this is the “electric car for the masses”. This statement is slightly untrue as the least expensive configuration for the Model 3 right now is still $49,000. The bigger issue is that the press that has been going around has been focused on the Model 3’s technology. That horse has been thoroughly beat to death. Here is a closer look at the Tesla Model 3 from a car enthusiast’s point of view. We’re going to find out if the Model 3 is a proper sport sedan.
Let’s start with the engine, I mean, electric motor. While Tesla does not publish official power figures, they claim a 0-60 time of 5.1 seconds with plenty of third party sources getting faster times than that. If you have never driven an electric vehicle, you have to experience the acceleration. It’s smooth and immediate but of course, Tesla takes electric vehicles to the next level. The throttle has instantaneous response, the only thing holding you back is the amount of time it takes for you to press the pedal. Accelerating in a Tesla is always such a strange sensation since there is no noise. The sensation of speed is startling but the actual cornering behavior of the Model 3 is where things get interesting.
Starting with the steering, it is a huge improvement over the Model S. The Model S felt vague, detached and in the dual motor cars, far too heavy in Sport mode. The Model 3 is different. The weight is much more natural, no matter the selected mode (Comfort, Standard or Sport). It has virtually no dead spot on center and provides far more feedback. The steering is extremely precise and is even better than some of its competitors such as the BMW 3-Series and the Audi A4.
Through the corners, the car rotates well and manages to keep its body roll in check. With a curb weight of around 3,800 lbs it’s about half a ton lighter than a Model S, which is not an insignificant amount. The handling is let down by the mediocre tires that Tesla puts on these cars. The all-seasons just don’t give the grip this chassis deserves. Our test car came with the standard 18” wheels and Michelin tires. Because of that, the front end grip suffers. You’ll find a touch of understeer on turn in and even during mid corner acceleration. The tire choice is how the Long Range version of the Model 3 achieves an EPA claimed 310 miles on a single charge. The optional 19” wheel package still uses all-season tires and does not offer a huge performance upgrade. Tesla also offers a 20” wheel package wrapped in Michelin Pilot Sport 4S’s, however, 20” wheels are a little large. More rotating mass means more mass to stop during braking and more mass to deal with during cornering. If I owned a Model 3, I’d stick with the 18” wheels but put a sticky summer compound on those instead (with the Aero caps removed, of course). Despite the handicap of the tires, you can overcome the understeer by giving it a bit more throttle. Then, the rear tires will slip ever so slightly and you feel the back end do a tiny shimmy. It’s nothing crazy and the traction control stops you long before you lose control and crash, but it’s enough to remind you the joys of rear wheel drive.
In terms of daily drivability, there is little wind noise but a fair amount of road noise although the lack of an engine makes the cabin a fairly quiet place to be. The suspension is harsher than a Model S but it’s far from uncomfortable. It’s a worthy trade off for the sharper handling. The forward visibility is fantastic with the low hood (since there is no engine) and low dash. It provides a very open feel to the cabin. The rearward visibility, however, is awful. The trunk lid is extremely high and the rearview mirror is also way too small.
The Model 3 comes with a fair amount of standard features. It has full LED headlights and taillights, blind spot monitoring, front and rear parking sensors, and navigation amongst other things. The Model 3 also comes with latest generation of Autopilot hardware that includes a forward facing radar, 12 ultrasonic sensors and eight cameras. The hardware is standard but the software that gets you the famous Autopilot Traffic Aware Cruise Control and Autosteer with Auto Park is optional. Tesla installs the hardware as standard in order to give customers the option to upgrade in the future and also future proof vehicles for when Full Self Driving is available.
All Model 3’s are currently being built with the Premium Upgrades package which includes things like leather interior with heated front and rear seats, upgraded sound system, tinted glass roof and LED fog lights. It’s a fairly comprehensive package and definitely worth selecting when configuring. The premium sound system is very good. It has great volume with clean mids and trebles and punchy bass.
My one of my gripes about the features on the car is that the Traffic Aware Cruise Control aka radar cruise control, is part of the $5000 Enhanced Autopilot package which is poor packaging in my opinion. Autopilot is currently in beta and the famous Autosteer function is not perfect. I’d like to see the adaptive cruise be an à la carte option. The other frustration is the fact that the blind spot indicators are on the touch screen. It shows up as grey curves around the animation of the car that turn orange, than red as cars get closer. It’s a terrible placement and requires far too much time to find and interpret the information before making a decision to lane change. There should be indicators in the side mirrors or at least near, like every other car. There are also no audible warnings. Of course, Elon claims that the Model 3 and later Model S and X's with Tesla's Full Self Driving Hardware will one day be fully autonomous so details like this won’t matter in the future. That may be then but as of now, it’s almost unusable.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder which is why the Model 3’s styling has been so controversial. Personally, I think the Model S is much sleeker with better proportions. The Model 3 seems to have the proportions of the Model X SUV. The side windows are rather tall which makes the car feel short but tall. There are certain angles that the car looks attractive but overall, it’s just okay.
The interior has also been controversial, you either love or hate the spartan interior and the large landscape touchscreen sticking out from the center of the dash. The quality of the interior is better than a Model S but still slightly behind the competition. People often complain about fit and finish but truth be told, that’s not the point. BMW traditionally was behind the competition in terms of interior quality but its core competency was (is?) chassis tuning. Tesla’s pièce de résistance is technology and advocacy for the adoption of electric vehicles. If you want an amazing interior, perhaps an Audi will suit your needs best. But if you want the latest in technology and a taste of what’s to come in the automotive industry, you have to have a Tesla.
I expected the Model 3 to simply be a miniature Model S; quick and with a big touch screen to distract the average consumer from the middle of the road interior build quality and average handling. However, the Model 3 is truly an evolutionary step. It manages to capture the performance and spirit of the Model S while receiving the additional chassis tuning that makes it a truly fun car to drive. Its handling prowess is due to the way it drives and feels, rather than the brute force of an electric motor. It’s a pleasure to feel it maneuver corners and it speaks to you about how the tires are slipping. It now feels less like a cold machine and has more of that X-Factor that car enthusiasts look for. It will truly give cars in the luxury sport sedan class a run for their money.
Great Steering Feel
The Latest In Car Tech
Fit And Finish Issues
Unknown Long Term Reliability
Specs: Engine: 3-phase, six pole, internal permanent magnet electric motor Drivetrain: RWD Power: N/A Torque: N/A Transmission: Single Speed Direct Drive Fuel Economy (City/Highway/Comb.): 136/123/130 MPGe Wheelbase: 113.2 in Curb Weight: 3,902 lbs (48%/52%) Base Price: $35,000 Price as Tested: $51,000 (incl. dest. as of Mar 2018)