Owner Review

2019 Tesla Model 3 Performance review

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I've just taken delivery of my second electric car. The first one was quite a bit smaller, as I recall made by Scalextric. Flooring that car's throttle was guaranteed to catapult the tiny vehicle off its track, to then get airborne and tumble end over end. So much fun!

What would now would be seen by many as an early EV "safety glitch", things have since been vastly improved, and blissfully the "fun catapult" bit has not been lost. However a few other aspects of owning a Tesla need explaining first.

Tesla have simply the worst sales experience on the planet. Bar none. Living in the antipodes, I put my name and $A1500 down about three years before taking delivery of the (then) newly announced Model 3. I waited. And then some. I'd literally retired, grown a beard and become a grandfather in the interim. Seriously.

The day finally arrived, and the challenged learners in marketing at Tesla Australia announced we could only have: a not so cheap low range version with butt-ugly wheels, or a rather prettier and vastly more expensive, seriously go-fast version. I actually wanted neither.

If I was going to drop six figures on an EV, I wanted a long range version with pretty wheels. Plus maybe a little Range Rover, Benz or BMW smoozing along the way (cappuccino, one sugar thanks) while we decided what shade of Connolly leather to go for.

No such joy at Tesla. Just an annoying web page with the Little Britain-like computer that "says no". Frankly, had I not also been presented with a freshly minted grandson, nor been concerned over recent climate change events: Australian bushfires burning in winter, with no water left to put out the fires. Seriously people? Wake up. This is happening now. Sorry, I digress.

So, I would have normally said, "No thanks" and waited for the marketing people to kick their crack habit and offer the same choices in Oz as in the USA market. But, anyway, I still booked a go-fast Model 3 for a test drive. Jessussweppped! I paid the confirmation deposit promptly after we got back.

The Model 3 is a new paradigm (I've always wanted to write a BS phrase like that). Nah, yeah, nah, it really is "Out There."

It's a scaled-up Scalextric psycho with Kubrick's HAL-9000 artificial intelligence running everything. Gone are the car keys, clutch, dials, tachometer, pressure and temperature gauges. There is no suck-squeeze-bang-whoosh of the Otto cycle (you might want to Google that). This car has no radiator to cool the combustion fires that makes Internal Combustion Engines move. It's all electric. Serious amperage controlled by a 15-inch all-knowing touchscreen.

Electric motors deliver maximum torque at minimum RPM. Put to pedal to the metal and there is no lag. There are no fuel pumps, injectors or turbines that need to spin up to deliver fuel. No flywheels, clutches or gears to get spinning. Electric current will flow at just under the speed of light (read: ludicrously fast) and energise the coils of the motors, which are effectively coupled directly to the wheels. BAM!

This sort of G-force is usually reserved for fighter-pilots, top-fuel racers, supercar owners and now Tesla owners doing a quick shopping run. The acceleration, while predicated by the laws of physics, is insane!

Doof-doofing WRX fan-boys will still be crossing the traffic light intersection while the Tesla is a mere dot on the horizon. Well, not really, but I'm sure you get the point. As will anyone who is not in say a Ferrari 458 (or better) wanting to challenge a performance Model 3 at the lights. Disclaimer: street racing is illegal in Australia, and if caught, Nanny's hoon legislation will smite thee with a most serious fine and likely confiscate your license and Scalextric for not playing nicely.

At the top-end of the speedometer envelope, electric motors experience "break down torque", a consequence of the back-EMF you get from spinning electric motors (might want to Google that too): the point at which putting more current into the motor will make no difference to how fast it will spin. If you really push the argument and pump in even more amps, they start to slow, then, well, combust. Fortunately the HAL-9000 says, "I'm sorry I can't do that Dave..." long before that point.

Torque at high RPM are where internal combustion engines still out-perform EV's, but given Australia doesn't have Autobahns (or high speed trains, or any leaders who can see the approaching EV Tsunami...sigh....I digress again) you will likely be arrested for driving on the Hume as if we did, so the point is a little moot. But, if you really want to know, north of around 200km/h is when that C63 AMG Benz will finally have you.

Being an electric car, one needs electrons to feed it. The standard mains supply of 240 volts is a definite plus for EV charging in Australia. In Oz you can charge the Model 3 at home from flat to full in about 10 hours. Tesla Australia provide both a wall charger and wall cables with each car to make that happen. The charger is conveniently shipped in the boot of each new Tesla, so thoughts of you having a Sparkie actually install a charger in your garage prior to taking delivery of your new Tesla are foolish.

The concept of letting you install the required charger yourself before acquiring electric wheels is yet another Tesla Australia forward thinking (not). Admittedly the Supercharger network on the east coast is already good and getting better all the time. But, the less said about the west coast (non-network), the better...

You will also need the Tesla App. It will allow you to unlock the car, open the boot/trunk and frunk (front-trunk), make it go and remember your preferred seating, steering wheel and side mirror configurations. If you don't have one or lose your phone, there is also a pair of electronic Keycards - AKA car keys.

Fit and finish and materials are bad, good and odd respectively. There are no artisans deftly applying pinstripe by hand or polishing the unique rosewood for your Rolls Royce-like dashboard. Being assembled in Freemont, despite the odd panel gaps and trim mismatch, I've heard the factory canteen guacamole is excellent. The finish is not bad; it's simply vanilla. Tesla's red metallic paint and front-to-rear glass roof is very seductive, however. The car's lines do echo Aston Martin by having that understated elegance.

Then there are the materials. Tesla don't offer real leather. The fake stuff seems okay and is apparently more environmentally friendly. As I'm not a vegan, and think it profligate to waste any part of what nature has already provided. I prefer steak and if we can use natural leather as a consequence of that, so be it.

By the way, have you seen the cows altering billboards on the 405 freeway in Los Angeles? A promotion to "Eat mor Chikin". Very funny. And cows are lousy spellers. Sorry...I digress again.

The ultra-glossy piano black interior trim and external door pillars look superb when new, but will scuff with the lightest of use or hoof mark. There are a lot of plastic tabs for holding and hooking stuff onto, which I predict will snap off within a few years of modest use. I prefer the strength and longevity of metal for tabs and fiddly bits.

The interior is minimalist. The arty-types who run the Tate Modern would likely go bonkers over it. There are virtually no switches or dials. Nada. Zip. Well, okay I lie. There are about three.

Almost everything is controlled via the centre touchscreen, which being fifteen inches wide, also provides the best reversing camera view on the planet. One could go on, but hey, it's very much like an iPad had simply been roger'ed by an Aston Martin. After the initial, somewhat annoying multi menu entries, the automatics run many things, in fact almost all things, including adaptive cruise control, which keeps a constant distance from the vehicle ahead as well as attending to minor details such as the steering (actually keeping you in the desired lane if you don't feel up to steering). It's so good you can cruise blissfully down the freeway while actually being asleep at the wheel! But this hardly new. Self-appointed pace car drivers and crawlers in the right lane have been doing that in Oz for years...

But assuming you actually want to drive your Model 3, steering is responsive and precise but oddly does not have a particularly tight turning circle. Handling is good, but to be objective, the Germans still do it a bit better. The cabin is roomy and eerily quiet; there is no subtle engine vibration or howling exhaust to mask the road or wind noise as you clip along. Under heavy and sustained acceleration the dual electric motors make a noise rather like a muted Pratt & Whitney spinning up.

It's quite cool. Thinking of which, being so new, you do tend get stares and looks from pedestrians and other drivers as you silently glide by in a Model 3. Or not so silently: Warp factor 3, engage! Yes, it's electric. It's not cheap, but costs bugger-all to run (PV panels on our roof provide the required electrons for free). Your grandkids will thank you for doing your bit to save their planet. With the Model 3, EV's have finally arrived and like the Fonz, are way cool and here to stay.