First Drive: Tesla Model 3
Of all the many automakers out there, Tesla is by far the most divisive. So much has been said about these cars: “This is an iPad on wheels,” “The Model 3 was totally worth the wait,”“Their cars suck, quality sucks and their interior is cheap,” “It is the BEST car I’ve ever driven.” Love it or hate it, but everyone has an opinion.
When it comes to the new Tesla Model 3, it's all of those things. It's a computer on wheels, fast, fun to drive and great for sitting in traffic. The body panels don’t fit perfectly, and I guess the interior could be considered cheap, but all that said, it’s one of the weirdest cars you can buy—in a good way.
After two years of hype, the long-awaited entry level Tesla is finally here. However, it isn't exactly offered at the originally-promised $35,000 price point, as the cheapest version you can configure comes in at $49,000.
The particular Model 3 that I drove comes in at $56,500 as configured and features the 310-mile long-range motor, which generates 271hp and 317 lb-ft of torque to the rear wheels.
Unlike Anything Else
There is nothing normal about the Model 3. There’s no engine, gauge cluster, engine sounds, nor even a key to get in/out/start the car. Instead, you get a “frunk” under the hood, and the only thing on the dashboard is a giant 15-inch screen with all your information and controls. Even the air vent direction and glove box latch are controlled through the giant screen. A phone app recognizes you upon approach, so you never have to touch a button to lock/unlock or start the car. In case the phone doesn’t work, there is a card similar to a hotel key used to enter and start the car.
The large center screen may seem jarring at first, but you'll quickly get used to it. That said, I really wish it had a heads-up display. Otherwise, I’m really relying on Autopilot to keep me from hitting the car in front of me while I see how fast I’m going.
One of its best aspects is how it's everything you don’t expect it to be. It will do 0-60 in about 5 seconds. It will overtake cars on the highway without hesitation. Set on Sport, the steering has a slight resistance, giving it a weighted, sporty feel. It’s no BMW, but point the wheel and it takes off. Take a corner hard and the Model 3 will whip around with little to no understeer. Some have compared its driving characteristics to a Porsche Cayman or Audi S4. I've never driven either of those cars, but if thats the case, I'd say the Model 3 is among good company. It reminds me of the current BMW M3 with much more linear power delivery and slightly less sporty but more controllable handling.
The Model 3 is fast, but without any noise, it feels uneventful. One moment, you’re doing 15 mph. In the blink of an eye, you will be well beyond the speed limit, and you won’t even notice it, aside from seeing how quickly you are passing things. There isn't the snap, crackle, pop and burble associated with cars that have similar performance numbers, and there’s no transmission to downshift. The instant torque never gets old, but on occasion, I catch myself making engine noises as I’m driving. There's something about the visceral feeling of hearing an engine roar that a Tesla can't ever give you.
Burnouts? Don’t even think about it. Not like you can build up the revs, nor will it even let you apply the brake and gas pedals at the same time. Since all 317 lb-ft of torque is unleashed the second you step on the pedal, you won’t really need to anyway. It'll get you where you need to go, even if you can't have the same style about it.
Why Get One?
It does a lot of things better than other cars, but as with everything in life, the Model 3 isn’t perfect. As mentioned earlier, the build quality isn’t the best. At the price range for the one we drove, $56,000, you can buy a ton of other great enthusiast cars, like the BMW M2, Audi RS3, used Porsche 997 and Civic Type R—even with dealer mark-up. So why buy one?
You buy one because the Model 3 breaks all your misconceptions about electric cars. It’s not an oversized golf kart, like many compliance EVs are. The interior is roomy and well thought out. Unlike most cars on the market today that are just plastic-clad hatchbacks calling themselves SUVs while funneling fake engine noises into the cabin, the Model 3 doesn’t pretend to be something it's not. Drive a Model 3 and everything else seems slow and out of date.
A Great All-Around Car
The Model 3 is a no bs, fantastic all-around car that drives like a sports car. Its initial acceleration will blow the doors off anything under $60,000, yet it's roomy, quiet and comfortable. It's fun when you want it to be and a smooth and quiet highway cruiser when needed. Not too many other cars can claim to do all that.
For an additional $18,000, you can step up to the Dual Motor All-Wheel Drive Performance package. That version will do 0-60 in 3.5 seconds, has a 155 mph top speed, has bigger brakes and has a track setting that will allow you to drift. It all sounds amazing, but for that big of a price difference, I would rather take that money and build a track car that makes engine sounds and bang gears, because after all, shouldn’t your daily driver be smooth and worry free while your track car is all involving?
So was it worth the wait? Despite how positive this review has been, I'm on the fence. Still, there's a lot to love. Even at $56,000, it's a bargain considering the tax benefits, low maintenance, tech, features, performance and depreciation. It's a great car, and with over-the-air updates, just like updating your cell phone, it keeps getting better.