It’s probably fair to describe the interest around Tesla, and particularly the Model 3, as a phenomenon.
Motor: AC 3 Phase Permanent Magnet Electric Motor
Output: 271 hp, 307 lb-ft of torque
Battery: 75 kWh Lithium Ion
Fuel Economy (MPGe): 131 City, 120 Highway, 126 Combined
Range: 310 miles (500 km)
Price (USD): $44,000
Price (CAD): $57,500
Price As Tested (USD): $55,000
Price As Tested (CAD): $71,100
I’ve been a fan of cars my entire life. Apart from some of my car enthusiast friends, no one asked me about cars, car companies or what I thought about them or their products. Then Tesla started to make some waves with the Model S, and suddenly everyone in my life seemed keen to indulge my interest in cars – as long as the topic of conversation stayed affixed to Tesla.
Now it’s hard not to consume any type of news media without you reading this or that about Tesla and Elon Musk. Much of it focuses on the Model 3 and whether or not Tesla can ‘ramp up’ production to a certain figure by a certain date, or how it’s being made in a temporary production ‘tent’. I think it’s important to separate the tumultuous and sometimes controversial company from its cars for a review such as this, though, because as a standalone car the Tesla Model 3 is very good. Great even. There is a caveat to the opinion written here, however. I acquired this car with the help of ride-sharing app Turo, who gave me a ride credit to acquire a car for a couple of days and give their app a try, which is essentially just Airbnb for cars. Curious about the car and company that no one can resist giving their hot take on, I acquired a Model 3 through the app-based car rental service. I was therefore only able to drive to for a total of about 185 miles (300 km) so this is my opinion on the vehicle after a very brief first drive.
A Not So Affordable EV
The owner of this Model 3 ordered the car with most of the optional extras including the long-range battery, premium interior, and Enhanced Autopilot. You also have to throw in $1,000 for any color other than black (this car is blue underneath its aftermarket matte blue wrap.) That means this car would ring in at about $55,000 in the US and $71,000 Canada without tax incentives. It’s no affordable EV, then – this is a bonafide luxury car.
While it is expensive, the long-range Model 3’s powertrain and battery live up to expectations. The single, rear-axle mounted electric motor is rated at 271 hp and, much more importantly, 307 lb-ft of torque. The robust yet refined powertrain hurls the Model 3 down the road with an incredible amount of thrust, leaving your passengers speechless and tempting you to pin it away from every stoplight you come across. It’s a truly addicting brand of speed. The five-second 0-60 mph figure Tesla claims for the Model 3, while fast, really doesn’t communicate just how quick this little compact feels. Not only is it fast, but the 75 kWh battery pack provides an extremely usable (and easily rechargeable) 308 miles (500 km) of range. There’s almost nothing to complain about in regards to the Model 3’s powertrain, although it’s worth noting that Model 3 owners don’t get free Supercharging through Tesla’s charging grid.
The steering feedback wasn’t half bad either. The Model 3’s steering actually felt crisper than a BMW 340i I sampled recently, but it isn’t as satisfying to corner with as, say, the Alfa Romeo Giulia. The handling is well sorted too, but definitely not tuned for true performance driving in this standard spec – it felt a bit too floaty with the 18-inch ‘Aero Wheels’ to make you really want to corner quickly. The suspension absorbed bumps and ruts in the road relatively well, though, and road noise was minimal. I was admittedly expecting things to get a bit noisy on rougher stretches of road, but the Model 3 rode impressively during my two days with it.
One downside to the driving experience is the regenerative braking system. You can adjust the system’s power between ‘standard’ and ‘low’, but neither allow for one-pedal driving like you can do in some other EVs. The sedan would benefit from a regen paddle like some other electric and plug-in products have so you could deploy a strong regenerative braking effect on demand. The standard brakes seemed to lack a bit of power in hard braking as well and could thus use some beefing up – and that’s after Consumer Reports critiques of the brakes forced Tesla to roll out an OTA update.
How About the Quality?
Build quality is a hot topic of discussion regarding the Model 3. Tesla hasn’t worked out its various production kinks yet, but the car I rented seemed relatively well built to my eye. The panel gaps weren’t really anything to scoff at, there were no weird interior rattles and everything operated as it should. Right now it’s hard to say how the quality of the car will hold up over time, but there weren’t any glaring quality issues with the car I tested.
The giant 15-inch interior display also operated nicely, with a bright, clear screen and fast, responsive touch operation that leaves some other in-car displays feeling like one of those early Garmin navigation units from 2005. But considering how much the car relies on the screen to operate, saying it’s fast and responsive isn’t really a compliment – such a crucial piece of technology had better be good. I also think that many mainstream consumers will be turned off by having to go into the screen for so many of the car’s functions – everything from the wiper speeds to the exterior light controls relies on the in-car display. What do you have against buttons, Elon?
As for the rest of the interior, it’s mostly up to par with the competition. I find the airy, minimalist design a bit drab, but most of the materials seemed of good quality. The faux leather feels a bit thin and isn’t as nice as some of the genuine leather options on competing products, but the Alcantara door trim and light wood dash inlay are both high-quality touches that wouldn’t be out of place on a premium car. The steering wheel is a bit cheap-looking too and perhaps lacking some attention to detail – I think the Model 3’s interior would get a big upgrade if the weirdly styled steering wheel was redesigned.
The exterior, meanwhile, is tidy and appropriately progressive, if not anonymous. It reminds me of a standard issue car from a dystopian sci-fi novel with simplified styling and a clear focus on usability. It’s an easy to swallow design though, and a large departure from many of the overly busy cars you’ll see sitting on dealership lots right now. Cargo room is also abundant with a large trunk and ‘frunk’ making for a significant 15 cubic feet of storage.
SEE ALSO: 2018 Nissan Leaf Review
I also briefly sampled the Model 3’s enhanced Autopilot system. The ‘Beta’ version of the self-driving system worked as advertised during the 15 minutes I had it engaged, but it was a bit awkward to use. You engage it by pressing the right-side steering column stalk down twice, but thanks to the tiny and vague Autopilot icon that appears on the display screen, it wasn’t initially clear to me that the system was turned on. I’d certainly appreciate a head-up display and buttons on the steering wheel for the purposes of operating Autopilot on the fly like this, although you can use the dials on the steering wheel to adjust the Autopilot follow distance. Still, Tesla may want to pay a bit more attention to making the Autopilot UI a more user-friendly in its future products– it wouldn’t be hard to do and would enhance the experience of using it massively.
The Verdict: 2018 Tesla Model 3 Review
The Model 3 is a wonderfully engineered and very fun to drive EV, but for now, I think it’s best enjoyed how I experienced it: as a two-day rental. You’re still an ‘early adopter’ if you buy a Model 3 at this point – it can be hard to get parts for repairs, the quality between vehicles can vary and Tesla is still rolling out over-the-air-updates that seem crucial to the vehicle’s performance. The clock is still ticking on the $35,000 base model too – which was the entire reason the Model 3 was so hyped up in the first place.
If you’re looking at a Model 3 as your only vehicle and plan to rely on it for getting to and from work or making the daily school run, we’d probably wait while Tesla irons out the kinks and brings the more affordable version to market. Besides, everything is made better with a little bit of competition and that will be true for the electric car industry as well. More automakers are set to have EVs in their portfolios soon, which should drive prices down for all electric cars and eventually help bring the quality and performance up as well.
That said, I think the Model 3 will be the performance and technology benchmark for many future EVs. It’s different, daring and fun to drive – characteristics that legacy automakers haven’t yet been able to work into their many of their products. With the Model 3, Tesla deserves kudos for thinking outside the box in an industry that’s been moving much too slowly as of late.