Tesla Model 3 – Four Day Test Drive Review
On my last trip to the Bay area, I was lucky enough to score a rental of a brand new Tesla Model 3 through Turo, the “Air BNB” of personal owner car sharing. Over a four day, 312 mile rental, I had the opportunity to put the Model 3 through its paces traversing the highways and byways of Silicon Valley. This review continues my first blogpost of the Model 3: Tesla Model 3 – First Look Inside & Out
The Preliminaries – Access and Controls
Card Key Access and Mastering Model 3 Door Handles
I picked up the Model 3 at the owner’s home around 7:00 PM. The owner came out to give me the ‘hotel room style’ card key which provides ‘guest’ access to the Model 3 [Owners gain access through the Tesla App] to start my 4-day rental. To unlock the Model 3, you hold the card against the driver’s side B pillar and the mirrors unfold and the side-markers blink orange. After two days in the Model 3, I relaized that I needed to tap the card against the B pillar to both lock and unlock the vehicle. While there is a setting for auto lock/unlock on the control screen, that feature to my knowledge, was not associated with the card key.
Once inside you press the brake pedal and the Model 3 powers up like her sisters Model S and Model X. BUT if you wait too long to press the brake, you get this message on the controls screen and need to tap the card key against the center of the console below the cup holders. The card key feature is a bit of a negative and most owners will not need it but for guest access it’s a nuisance.
Door Handles – Ergonmically Challenging
While sleek and cool to look at, the Model 3 door handles are not very practical nor easy to use. Once you unlock the car, you push on the right part of the handle with your thumb to release the front part of the handle to open the door. I pinched my finger on more than one occassion using them. Not intuitive and unnecessarily complicated to operate. Self-presenting door handles on the Model S and the Auto Open Doors on the Model X are neat.
The Controls Screen – Easy to Use after a Period of Adaptation
Whether you are a Tesla Model S/X owner or a Tesla newbie, the controls screen takes a bit of time behind the wheel to get used to using. Driving at night and in the Bay area rain made the first drive very challenging as I searched through the Controls Icons and screens to set the mirrors (that took about 4 drives to get right), climate controls, lighting and discover the very cool central heating/cooling vent. Per the pic below, the driving status of the Model 3 is on the left, the controls across the bottom of the screen and the navigation to the right. The most used icon is the first one to the left – short cut to driver settings. AutoPilot appears next to the speedometer and you set the speed by pressing + and – icons on the screen – a little unnerving trying to keep your eyes on the road and adjust the Auto Pilot controls (more on AP 2.5 below). Maps are clear but unlike Model S and X, the turn by turn directions are at the far right of the screen, which does not tilt toward the driver – so reading those can be a bit challenging.
So what is it like to drive the Model 3 ‘ FUN!
Where the Tesla Model 3 absolutely shines is the way it drives. Going up against the BMW 3-Series, this car is just a blast to drive. The Model 3 is a rocketship on acceleration and passing speeds (something like 5 seconds from 40-70 mph). It corners incredibly well – and I put it to the test on many light rain covered entrance ramps. It holds the road with its low center of gravity. The optional 19′ Continentals provided a ton of grip and excellent road control, the optional wheel pictured above looks fits the Model 3 better than the standard Aero 18s in my opinion.
Downside: ride quality is in line with compact sport sedans: rough. Buyer Beware: you will feel every bump, pavement groove and rough pavement quality. The Model 3 does not ride like the Model S or Model X (but closer to non-air suspension Teslas). From what I have read on the Tesla forums, the issue is the same with the 18’s. This is an issue of chassis/suspension set up not tires. For those planning long road trips, and you are used to your Model S or X, you just need to be aware of the significant difference in ride quality. It is really my only negative about the Model 3 as a long-distance road car.
The Model 3 is very easy to manuever on city streets and tight parking areas. This is a real advantage vs. Model S and X which are very large vehicles. Low steering effort for city driving and sport setting for highways gave me the best of both worlds. Turning radius is very tight and the risk of rim rash in the Model 3 is very low.
AutoPilot 2.5: Identical to AP1.
As shown in this one minute video, AP2.5 works extremely well. No issues with wobbling lanes. Lane change worked identically to my 2015 Model S AP1. I do miss the speed adjusment lever on the steering wheel stalk – which is now handled by pressing + and – icons on the control screen. Pressing the brake is the best way to disable AP2.5 as there is no ‘kill switch’ like in Model S and Model X. I used AP2.5 in stop and go traffic on 880 driving up the East Bay with no issues at all. Felt just like the Georgia 400 in my AP1.
Fit Finish and Build Quality: Very Good!
This is an early build Model 3 and I found just one flaw: wind noise at the A-pillar at highway speeds. The Model 3 fit, finish and build quality is excellent. Door panels, hood, and trunk gaps are minimal. Interior material quality and fit is very good. I did notice that the black premium interior seats tend to scuff a bit when you put light objects on then so you may want to get the seat surfaces treated.
Exterior fit and finish was very good.
Panel fit was excellent (and after my Fremont factory tour on this trip, I was reminded just how many steel and aluminum panels make up the Model 3). Doors take a little extra effort to close but the seals are tight. The trunk does close with the more typical sound of a midsized sedan: the steel deck lid makes a resounding thunk.
Trunk & Frunk
A Tesla hallmark: using space wisely for luggage. As I reported in my November post, the trunk is very large with a high ceiling, low deck and the lower storage compartment. Tesla provides all of the requisite charging cords (110/240V) and L2 adaptor in a nicely trimmed bag (nicer than my Model S). This was the first time I got to see the Frunk, which is useable for small overnight bags and groceries (throw back to the Beetles and Corvairs of the 1960s).
Tesla gets very high marks for its interior quality (note Premium interior in this Model 3). The front seats are very comfortable and well bolstered. Seating controls are on the seat frames as expected. The rear seating is fine for 2 adults on short trips (an hour or less) and three adults only to go to lunch.
Door panels are beautifully trimmed and this Model 3 got the Alcatara headliner no longer being offered. One interesting feature: two ways to open the doors: an electric button on the top of the arm reset or a latch behind the window switch gear.
The center console is the big story with multiple storage compartments and a neat way to dock your iPhone (outside the protective case though), which you may want to do since my phone fell into the larger compartment upon hard braking. I had to pull off the road to look for my phone. One niggle – the magnetic on the lid is really fussy and needs undefined by precise pressure to latch it to the console. That could use some attention.
Charging Up the Model 3
Model 3 charging is pretty simple: press the battery icon on the Control Screen, set the charge level, open the port and plug in the Tesla charger cord or adaptor/standard J1772 cord. The left quarter mounted chargeport is a bit light weight, so take care when opening and closing it. You can see on the screen the Paid Supercharging cost of $10.80. Of that total, I paid $11.40 for 237 miles of range at the Fremont Supercharger (ironically going on a Tesla Factory tour while driving a Model 3) or $.048 /mile. On public chargers, I paid $10.46 for 42kWh ($.25/kWh) providing 174 miles of range (42 kWh/75 kWh) or $.06/mile. Driving 12,000 miles/year on the Long Range battery at $.05/mile is $600.00 or about $50.00/month vs. $132.50/month if gasoline powered (600 gallons at $2.65/gallon/12 months). Even with paid public charging in high cost States like California (New York, Massachusetts), the Model 3 will save owners $1,000 a year in ‘fuel’ costs. The Monroney (Window Sticker) shows an anuual fuel cost of $500.00.
What’s the Bottom Line on the Tesla Model 3?
So what does this amazing new compact sport sedan cost out the Factory door: $56,500.00 before taxes and registration fees. Right now Tesla has only opened up the top of the line features: Long Range Battery ($9000), and Premium Interior ($5000) are fixed choices. AutoPilot ($3000), color choice (black was no cost extra color) and wheels ($1500 for 19s) are extra.
Is the Tesla Model 3 worth the money?
Yes – If you want a high performance sport sedan that is the perfect everyday driver for around town, short business trips and weekend errands. What you will save in long-term maintenance costs will more than make up for the upfront price premium vs. comparably equipped 3-Series BMWs and C/E- Class Mercedes competitors.
No – If you you take frequent long-distance road trips, and need to transport your family members (especially 3 children) and haul their gear. You may find the Model S or Model X better suits your driving needs.
Own a Model S or X already? My advice: keep it and add the Model 3 to your family!