There's no doubt the word-of-mouth marketing and hysteria behind the Tesla brand have helped it achieve incredible feats in the past few years.
The latest product to roll out of the US manufacturer is the brand's most affordable car, the Tesla Model 3. And, after a wait of over three years, those with local reservations will finally get their opportunity to drive one.
CarAdvice had the chance to exclusively drive the Model 3 ahead of its local launch, snagging a brand-new 2019 Model 3 Performance and covering hundreds of kilometres to find out whether it's worthy of your money.
There’s no doubt Tesla has been one of the most fascinating automotive stories of recent years. Its rise to global prominence within a decade of releasing the Tesla Roadster electric sports car in 2008 is remarkable. Yet, it’s also constantly in the headlines for its financial performance, posting year-on-year losses since the company kicked off.
Its latest Q3 loss of $408 million is on the back of delivering a record 95,200 cars in the second quarter, and also trimming its global store operations to several key stores per country and shifting the entire purchase process online.
Despite now holding over $5 billion in the bank, there are still questions around the financial stability of the company moving forward.
The Model 3 isn't without its issues either. Earlier vehicles had continuous build-quality issues while Tesla found its feet with an increasingly automated production line – some vehicles were even built in a tent outside the main building to increase production.
To Tesla's credit, these build-quality issues seem to have been resolved, which is timely given the importance of the Model 3 for the brand and its relevance to the luxury sedan segment.
Kicking off from $66,000 (plus on-road costs) in Australia, the Model 3 climbs all the way through to the vehicle tested here, the Model 3 Performance, which is priced from $91,200 (plus on-road costs).
That nets you Tesla's sportiest Model 3 variant that comes with 20-inch alloy wheels, performance brakes, a synthetic leather interior, 75kWh battery, and the ability to shoot from 0–100km/h in just 3.4 seconds.
It's often said that Tesla is a technology company that builds cars, and that much is evident as soon as you open the driver's door. Central to the car's infotainment system is a 15.0-inch colour touchscreen display that houses satellite navigation, audio streaming and vehicle data.
The screen and the functionality that surrounds it is incredibly easy to use, and is backed by an intuitive voice-recognition system that supports a variety of commands.
Satellite navigation comes in the form of Google Maps that allows both traffic information and satellite map overlays. There's also intelligent routing included that can direct you via Tesla supercharger stations if you need more juice to reach your destination.
Built into the display are also games and additional features to keep you busy if you're at a supercharger station charging your vehicle. Some of these include a drawing function, a fireplace feature that displays a fireplace while heating the cabin, or even an arcade full of games you can play directly on the screen.
Remote connectivity with the vehicle is taken care of through the Tesla phone application. Once registered, owners can remotely set climate-control temperatures, lock and unlock the car, and even allow the car to be driven by another party remotely.
But, our favourite feature is the secondary utilisation of the cameras littered around the vehicle. Their primary use is for Autopilot functionality, but they double as a dash camera and security camera. The dash camera operates while the car is driving, while security camera functionality operates when the car is stationary.
Both functions record to a USB memory device stored in the car, with Sentry mode (the stationary security camera) storing a 10-minute rolling buffer of footage from each camera. When an impact or alarm is activated, the car stores the last 10 minutes of footage, activates the alarm, increases the stereo volume to maximum and sends an alert to the driver.
The first thing you'll notice when setting off in the Model 3 Performance is the firmness of the ride. It sits on 20-inch alloy wheels with 235mm-wide Michelin Pilot Sport 4 S tyres with a 35-profile sidewall, but is also quite firmly damped yet softly sprung.
This results in noticeable ride firmness, especially when driving on corrugated or poor-quality country roads. Competitors in this segment use adaptive dampers, which allow the ride firmness to be varied depending on driver preference. This technology generally adds weight and cost, so the ride firmness is something you'll have to live with if going down the path of the Performance variant.
Earlier configurator builds allowed customers to purchase a Performance variant with the smaller 18-inch alloy wheels and smaller brakes, but that package has been taken off the table for the moment.
The other thing you'll notice is how quiet it is inside the cabin. You obviously don't have an internal combustion engine to contend with, but overall sound insulation is excellent.
Both steering and acceleration sensitivity can be adjusted through the main display. Steering can be varied through three levels of resistance, while acceleration can shift through two levels, with Sport mode offering the full internal-organ-shifting experience.
When we talk about acceleration in an electric vehicle, it's slightly different to a vehicle with an internal combustion engine. While the Model 3 Performance produces 335kW of power and 640Nm of torque, it's the way it delivers that slab of torque that sets it apart from sporty vehicles with an internal combustion engine.
Torque is available from 0rpm, which means the moment you push the accelerator pedal towards the firewall, you are shoved back into your seat. Two electric motors (one on each axle) also means that the drive system can intelligently direct torque to each wheel as required. Again, the disadvantage of an ICE vehicle and torque vectoring is that there is always a momentary lapse between a torque cut or brake intervention. The net effect is acceleration that's out of this world.
While it's quick in a straight line, it can feel a little unnerving through corners. If you hit a mid-corner bump, the ride's soft spring rate causes the body to feel slightly unsettled. The grippy rubber helps keep everything in shape, but you're always aware of the car's near 1900kg mass.
Braking performance is excellent thanks to a set of four-piston Brembo brakes on the front axle that wrap around 356mm rotors, while the rear set measures in at 335mm. Despite not being slotted or cross-drilled, the added benefit of regenerative braking means that mid-corner speed adjustments are possible and allow less load to be placed on the braking system.
Steering feel is good, but not quite on par with vehicles like the BMW M3 or Mercedes-AMG C63 S. With that said, we found the best steering mode was the Comfort setting, which offered the least resistance. The Sport mode simply felt like it made the steering heavier and harder to steer with, without providing any additional feel.
Adventurous drivers that want to hit the racetrack in their electric vehicle can also access the 'Track Mode', which reduces stability-control intervention and increases the level of braking regeneration on offer to reduce brake fade.
In terms of safety and driver assistance systems, Tesla has just scored a five-star ANCAP safety rating, with the Australian testing body claiming, "Of equal note was the 94 per cent score for Safety Assist – the highest Safety Assist score achieved against current protocols". It's in addition to a near-perfect 96 per cent adult occupant protection rating. Each Model 3 model comes standard with six airbags, autonomous emergency braking (AEB) (city and highway speeds), along with protection for vulnerable road users such as pedestrians and cyclists.
The Model 3 is currently the only car in the country capable of charging at 250kW through a DC fast charger. Australian Model 3 vehicles are fitted with the increasingly common CCS Type 2 Combo plug type that facilitates both AC and DC charging. When plugged in to the fastest charging option, the Model 3 will charge from 10–80 per cent in 22 minutes.
Home charging in the form of an AC wall box at 3.7kW takes around 23 hours from empty to full. Other charging options include single-phase AC (up to 7.4kW) and three-phase AC charging (up to 11kW). Realistically, most owners will use home-charging infrastructure that tops up their vehicles supplementally, as opposed to charging continuously from empty to full.
Driving range depends entirely on the type of driving, the weather and the type of terrain – it's a slightly more complex art than average fuel consumption with a vehicle featuring an internal combustion engine. But based on our testing, a realistic driving range of around 450km is achievable, with the official test figures coming in at 560km (NEDC).
One of the big advantages with electric vehicles is the added storage capacity throughout the vehicle. There is no 'driveline hump' down the centre of the vehicle and electric motors are far more compact and space efficient.
That means there's 425L of cargo capacity (front and rear storage areas combined). The boot offers a sub-floor storage area for cables or odds and ends, while the second row folds in a 60/40 split-folding configuration for extra room. The front storage area (coined the frunk) is big enough for a duffle bag.
It's the same story in the front row, with huge storage bins in the centre of the cabin offering a built-in mobile phone holder, two cup holders and two USB points, bringing the cabin total to four USB ports. There's also a glovebox and door storage bins.
In pictures, the Model 3 looks like a fairly big vehicle, but most people we showed the car to were surprised at how compact it is. You certainly don't get that impression when sitting inside the vehicle. The fully tinted glass roof adds an element of space, while the optional white interior offers a feeling of expansiveness.
With that said, toe room is incredibly tight in the second row. The height of the floor also causes adult passengers to sit with their knees quite high due to battery cells taking up that entire floor cavity. More room is afforded if the driver or front passenger seats are elevated slightly.
Rear-seat passengers benefit from cooling vents, plus two USB ports. Each of the five seats also comes with heating – normally this is limited to just the front two seats or the front two and two outboard seats in the rear. If you're carrying little ones, the two rear outboard seats come with ISOFIX anchorage points and top-tether mounts.
The seats are soft to sit in and don't leave you feeling exhausted after a long drive. They also hug you nicely so that you don't move around too much if you find a sudden impulse to race through some corners.
Tesla offers a four-year, 80,000km warranty locally, with the battery warranted for a further four years and 80,000km. Tesla guarantees a 70 per cent battery power retention over the eight-year battery and drive unit warranty period.
After spending extensive time behind the wheel of the Model 3 in the USA last year, we're pleased to report that the right-hand-drive Model 3 performs just as well as the US product we tested. It's an exciting time for the EV industry in Australia, with the Tesla product paving the way to more affordable and sporty EV ownership.
If you do take the plunge and buy a Tesla, feel free to use my referral code to get some free supercharging. I may also give you something inexpensive from my desk.
Update (15/08): For the sake of clarity, as confirmed in the comments section below, Paul is donating $100 for each referral made through the link above to the Drive Against Depression charity he is an ambassador for.