Our three recent compact car reviews took a look at some of the most popular conventional cars in the market. Each, in its own right, is a capable product and has many virtues.
However, the Tesla Model 3 is a glimpse into the future.
With the likelihood of a Tesla press vehicle making it up to Maine growing dimmer by the year, it seemed prudent to accept the offer of driving a customer’s car. Already all “broken in” and upgraded with the continuous downloads and enhancements that Tesla provides remotely, Deb and Ric Newman of Ellsworth generously offered their Dual Motor Long Range AWD Model 3 for review.
The Model 3 is the small sedan offering in a lineup that also consists of the Model S large sedan plus the Model X crossover. A compact Y crossover is slated to debut next year, while Tesla is also promising a pickup truck late in 2020.
Slightly larger than a Corolla, yet a pinch smaller than a Camry sedan, the Model 3 is the everyman’s product that Elon Musk is staking the success of his fledgling electric car company on. This is the volume product destined to win over more than the early adopters who fawn over the brand, the car that will generate volume sales not only here, but in China and other markets.
Pricing is slightly less than constant, evolving as modifications are adopted. The base Standard Range Model 3, 260 miles, is listed at $39,000. Tesla is generally not building many of these, as it needs to move customers up to the Long Range Dual Motor 3 with 310 miles of electric range for $44,000 to get a return on its sizeable investment. The Long Range AWD lists for $49,000 while the top Performance Long Range includes the full range of features for $59,900.
Mr. Newman is an unabashed fan of his Tesla, traveling to Arizona to purchase it and then driving to Maine. An admitted technology guru, he was first attracted to the Tesla because of its AutoPilot capabilities, with the electric car performance secondary. After three hours of driving during a pouring rain, the Model 3’s general performance makes an ever greater impression.
Using the extensive battery pack and the dual electric motors as the foundation of the car provides a low center of gravity that enhances handling, ride and overall driving dynamics. The Model 3 has excellent road manners, with responsive steering from the nicely weighted, thick-rim wheel, outstanding braking from the programmable regenerative braking system, plus a well-damped ride that isolates occupants from the road. Absent any mechanical engines, the cabin remains very quiet at all road speeds.
Tesla employs a direct-drive transmission that provides instantaneous motor response from the right pedal. A firm pedal push creates an equally firm push in your seatback, as the Dual Motor 3 launches forward with more accelerative authority than the vast majority of internal-combustion engined drivers have ever experienced. It is downright intoxicating; no roar, no hesitation, just a rocket-like thrust forward with outstanding grip from the AWD system. The Performance Model 3 is even quicker than a Dodge Challenger Hellcat!
With a huge rear trunk, aided by flat-folding rear seats, plus a front “frunk” where an engine would normally reside, the Tesla offers abundant touring space. All three rear seats are heated, while the entire roof is a glass panel. Access to each door is via a sleek recessed chrome handle just like the famous car customizers use. Your smartphone is your key.
The bland face, unlike the stylistic Model S stance, carries over to the Spartan-looking interior, which is dominated by the huge 15-inch touchscreen in the center of the dash. The only controls are the left-side stalk for turn signals, the right-side column shifter, two knurled-knobs on the steering wheel for AutoPilot and audio interaction, plus the power window switches on the doors. That is it; every other function is handled on the touchscreen. There is a lot going on in that space, which can be distracting.
The screen offers an excellent Google Navigation setup with programming for Tesla recharging stations, plus a wealth of operating data. A mid-trip stop at the Tesla Super Chargers in Brewer allowed us to watch YouTube videos, or Netflix if you want, as we gained an additional 170 miles of ‘fuel’ in the time that it would normally take to stop for gas, go to the bathroom and grab a snack at a gas station. Range anxiety should not be an issue for 99 percent of owners.
AutoPilot mode can “drive” the car, with the operator still tending the steering wheel. It “drove” the Tesla down the Black Woods Road in Franklin, pushed the pace and passed cars on the truck lanes on Route 9 in Beddington, as well as merged on the interstate — all while it reminds the driver to stay in touch with the wheel every 10-20 seconds. There were a few phantom braking episodes — like our recent Honda Passport — as just like the screen says, this is Beta programming, the infancy of self-driving and the operator cannot stray from minding the wheel.
The Model 3 lacks Android and Apple connectivity, and there is no satellite radio or even AM offered, yet the other entertainment options with the 14-speaker audio system should keep most owners satisfied. The Newmans’ car included the latest Summon Mode, which allows you to drive the Model 3 with your phone, bringing it to you within a 200-foot range — with no operator in the car.
The latest surveys indicate that 91 percent of Model 3 owners give their car a five-star rating. With thrilling acceleration and impressive technology (half of the car’s computer is dedicated to sending data back to Tesla for more upgrades), the future of electric driving is much more appealing than ever before. Tesla has a big head-start in a race just getting underway.