Tesla Model 3 Reviewed
The Model 3 is the first mass market electric car selling more than 100,000 units per year with a production capacity at over 250,000 per year today, and production is set to increase with completion of Shanghai Gigafactory and Berlin Gigafactory.
It is a sports sedan offering over 300 mile range (EPA) and starting at over 250 hp and offering up to nearly 600 hp. It has a modern minimalist interior design and is more technology oriented than classic luxury car.
Standard features include active safety features for insurance discounts like Automatic Emergency Braking, Lane Departure and Blind Spot Monitoring. Autopilot is included standard and is a hands on the wheel combination of lane keep assist/auto steering and adaptive cruise control.
There is an optional Full Self Driving package, that is still hands on the wheel with exception of Smart Summon that will drive the car to the user in a parking lot or private property, and Navigate on Autopilot, which adds some automation to traditional Autopilot such as lane changing.
There are 3 main trim levels offered on Tesla’s website: the Standard Range Plus RWD, Long Range AWD, and Performance AWD. Tesla offers a few models unofficially such as the Standard Range and Performance without the Performance package upgrades (Stealth/Sleeper Performance), but availability of these vehicles is limited.
This review is primarily about the Long Range AWD model that I own, but most of the comments will be applicable to all models.
Around the Car
The car is a somewhat traditional sedan. The most striking outside feature is the full glass roof panel that replaces a traditional metal panel. The glass is heavily tinted on the roof through the middle of the rear window, preventing the interior from getting overly hot while driving.
The door handles are unique but easy to get accustomed to. They press in and pivot. People figure them out fairly quickly. They do have a tendancy to ice in the winter, so try to keep them dry.
There is a single front grille low on the body for AC and power electronics cooling. The car still needs cooling, just not as much as a combustion engine vehicle.
The front trunk is easily accessible and can be opened remotely from the App or from the car. It presses closed with a firm press on either side of the Tesla logo. Note that 2020 models do not come with mat or grocery hooks.
The rear trunk is quite large and easy to access. Open slowly in rain or snow to prevent water/snow from entering the trunk. It has a large under floor compartment and fold down rear seats to expand it even more.
The mirrors are power fold and can be geo-located to fold at specific locations, each location can be set independently.
The wipers are operated either manually or automatically. They have integrated washers in the arms that minimize the amount of wiper fluid used and eliminate nozzles on the hood.
The standard 18″ wheels, which I recommend as they are the only all season option (others are summer only), come with aerodynamic covers that can be easily removed and replaced with simple small hub cap and lug nut covers if you prefer a more traditional wheel.
Buy a set off Amazon: Tesla Logo Caps (affiliate link)
The car is 185″ long, 73″ wide, and 57″ tall. This is similar to most compact cars in length, but several inches wider.
Walking up to enter the car, and it will unlock automatically from your paired smartphone (Apple or Android). The key is an RFID card, similar to what you might use for work access or any badge with built in RFID. You can also buy a Bluetooth key fob from Tesla, although the App and key cards work well enough.
The fit and finish of the car have some minor issues, where the hood isn’t perfectly flush with the bumper and a piece of interior trim is a bit out of place. However, nothing on it is terrible either. I suspect Tesla will improve these over time.
The interior of the car is striking. It is available in two colors, white (with black) or black. The white offers white seating surfaces, dash trim, and door trim, but still has a lot of black accents. The black is almost all black except for the wood dash trim.
The interior consists of the large center touchscreen and large center console between the front seats. The console design is basically a large void to dump things into. It could have better organizational dividers. The aftermarket already addresses this.
About 1/3 of the massive 15″ display on the left is dedicated to driving information and the rest dedicated to infotainment functions. A strip on the bottom is always visible shows important frequently accessed functions like temperature, volume, and other controls.
The steering wheel is power adjustable and has two multi-function wheels on it. These scroll up/down, press left or right, or press in. The purpose of these wheels depends on what you are doing, but the left usually controls volume and stereo playback and the right controls Autopilot/Cruise Control functionality. It is also used to activate voice commands.
The power adjustable seats have lumbar adjustment and a long range of motion. There is plenty of rear seat legroom available for ride share passengers, or you can move it all the way back and have ample front legroom. Even with the front seat all the way back the vehicle has a usable back seat. This is due to the long wheelbase.
There are also integrated seat heaters in all the seating positions in the LR AWD version. The rear heaters have to be controlled through the App (for pre-heating) or through the climate controls on the display. The front seats have integrated buttons in the always on portion of the display. There is no steering wheel heater, although a workaround is to pre-heat the cabin.
The car has a 113″ wheelbase, which is long for the exterior dimensions. Longer than many midsize cars, but the overall length is similar to a compact. This makes the car feel larger on the inside, with space closer to a midsize car.
The side and rear view mirrors are automatically dimming. This helps darken headlights from traffic behind you. There is a small visible edge of mirror around the outside which is not dimming (maybe 3/16″ wide).
The glove box is opened through the center screen, it takes one button press on the always up portion of the display on the car icon and press the “glove box” button to open. Make sure you know how to open it so you can when you get your speed tickets because you don’t realize you are going 20 mph over the limit.
The car can have the “keys” programmed to different users that each have their own profile. This means that the seat and some other settings will follow each user.
The car starts when you have opened the door with your key or phone and sit in the driver’s seat pressing the brake pedal. You then use the shift stick to shift to Drive or Reverse.
I recommend entering and putting on your seat belt while you press the brake. The few seconds it takes the car to power up can be used for buckling your seat belt. Don’t let your kids play in the driver’s seat, they could activate the car. This is true with any car, but might be less obvious with the Tesla since it can be hard to tell if the car is “started” or not.
The car has several drive mode options including how much regenerative braking you want and what steering feel you want. There is also a mode to limit acceleration (this car has over 250 HP in all trim levels, almost 600 hp in Performance).
The drive is smooth and quiet with instant throttle response. As you get to speed, wind noise will get louder and can become intrusive at very high speeds. I haven’t noticed it as an issue at reasonable highway speeds up to 80 mph. Again, this doesn’t have luxury level of noise mitigation, but is better than an average car.
Acceleration is nearly silent and very powerful in the Long Range AWD model, with a factory claimed 0-60 mph time of 4.4 seconds, which is a realistic number that anyone should be able to match. Acceleration continues strongly even past speeds that are well beyond street legal.
Besides the noise, the main difference you will notice between a gas car and an EV for acceleration is that there is no perceptible delay from the transmission. Most automatic cars, especially some of these newer 8 and 10 speed transmissions, have a 1 or 2 second delay (no kidding) from when you press the gas pedal and the car downshifts and starts accelerating. I have had several rentals this past year and I hated driving every one of them.
The rear motor is a permanent magnet motor. The AWD model adds a front induction motor. This doesn’t matter too much to the user, but the permanent magnet motor is the more efficient motor that primarily drives the car, and the front induction motor can add traction in slippery situations or allows more power at speed, but can also turn freely if shut down to avoid unnecessary power drain.
Handling is firm and feels like a sports sedan. There is limited body roll and nice turn in response. I haven’t track driven the Model 3, but around town and on the highway it is a fun drive. The 18″ tires offer limited grip, opting instead for increased efficiency. A sportier tire could help handling, but be aware that tires can easily decrease the efficiency of a car by 10 or 15% (meaning 30 or 45 miles less EPA range on the LR AWD…).
The AWD system is competent on snow, although it is easy to overdrive the tires that are not good on snow. For any vehicle, including the Model 3, I recommend using tires appropriate for conditions. I am going to purchase snow tires for next year.
The factory calls for a very firm 42 psi in my 18″ tires. This is done for load capacity and EPA range testing. I prefer less than that for normal driving. Tesla allows you to reset the TPMS and learn the new pressures so it won’t trigger the lights if you want to drive at say 38 psi.
The speedometer/instrument cluster on the left side of the display is easy to use and get used to. The speedometer display is actually higher than it is in most cars, so it is easier to look at without having to move your eyes as far. The graphic for the surrounding cars is behind my hand and more difficult to see, as is the informational area at the bottom.
Regenerative braking, where the car runs the motors as generators taking energy from the car’s motion and storing it back in the battery, has several adjustments. It can be set to creep, roll or hold mode. It is important to note that the car will automatically light the brake lights as necessary when using regenerative braking.
Hold mode is the default and allows 1 pedal driving operation. In this mode the car Go Pedal can be used to slow the car to a stop. If you let all the way off the car will use maximum regeneration and slow, or you can let off partway and the car will slow less quickly. Once it gets slow enough it will actually come to a stop and engage the brakes. Modulating the pedal this way one can come to a complete stop. Have your foot ready to use the brake pedal if necessary.
In the roll mode, the car will use regenerative braking down to 5 mph or so then it will coast. In creep mode, the car will actually creep forward like a normal car when you let off the brake. Some people prefer this to match their previous car.
My only note about regenerative braking is it depends heavily on the conditions. In the winter it won’t see much use as the battery will be too cold to use it safely. It will also turn off if it senses that the wheels are slipping on ice or poor traction surfaces.
Autopilot is a hands on the wheel system that requires full supervision. It uses Autosteer to adjust the steering and Adaptive Cruise Control to adjust the speed of the car. It is designed for highway and freeway use. Autopilot is not intended for city use.
The shift lever doubles as the cruise control and autopilot engagement lever. One press up on the lever (R) cancels Autopilot and Adaptive Cruise Control. One press down on the lever (D) engages Adaptive Cruise Control. Two presses down engages Autopilot (if possible). The right control wheel can be scrolled up and down to change speed or pressed left and right to change follow distance.
Once engaged, as the car approaches another car in the lane Adaptive Cruise Control will slow to match speed and set follow distance and continue following the car. Autosteer will attempt to steer the car within the lane, using the painted lane markings and it also attempts to follow the lead car unless they change lanes.
The basic Autopilot (without Full Self Driving upgrade) is limited to a single lane, if you wish to change lanes Autosteer needs to be disabled and engaged again in the new lane. If you wish to pass a car you engage your turn signal (cancelling Autosteer, but leaves adaptive cruise control active).
A drive with basic Autopilot might be like:
- Drive to freeway on surface streets
- Accelerate onto freeway using on ramp
- Safely move to desired lane
- Engage Autopilot by pressing down twice quickly on shift lever
- Confirm Autopilot is engaged using confirmation tones and steering wheel icon changes to blue
- Use blinker to cancel Autopilot
- Manually steer car safely into adjacent lane
- Pass car and move back into lane
- Engage Autopilot again
- Take exit ramp off freeway
- Cancel Autopilot by pressing up on shift stick
The Full Self Driving package will try to automate portions of steps 2 through 11 (how much is adjustable) with the Navigate on Autopilot feature. I haven’t used that feature yet.
Autosteer is a hands on the wheel system, however, I find it annoying as such. The Tesla steers for you in the US (other countries have limited torque it can use to steer). This means if you fight the steering too much the car will cancel Autosteer. Your hands on the wheel need to provide enough resistance to make the car know your hands are there, but not enough resistance to steer the car and cancel Autosteer.
With other lane keep assist systems, you can override the steering and the car will continue using the lane keep assist. It feels more like those cars are helping you steer, as the name implies, instead of steering for you as in the Tesla.
I find Tesla’s requirement to have hands on the wheel incompatible with how the system operates. A sharp disconcerting jerk is required to take control of the vehicle (in the absence of turn signals) and it won’t restart automatically. If you are in a turn and grip the wheel too tightly it will sometimes cancel accidentally. This means you have to be diligent ensuring the system is active when you think it is.
The system has several limitations, and that is it assumes the road is free and clear of obstacles. On freeways this is mostly the case, but there can be obstacles such as stopped emergency vehicles and other cars, blown tires, animals, construction, and other hazards.
How the system works is it has to use the cameras to detect these as the radar sees everything as stopped as noise. It is only useful for determining speed of moving objects relative to the Tesla. This means they have had to program the car to visually recognize objects. It isn’t going to have a 100% success rate at this yet. The driver needs to keep an active eye out for emergencies.
As examples, the car usually reacts to cross traffic pulling out in front of the Tesla, but not always. If the car is a long ways off it will usually see it and unnecessarily slow down. A car crossing the road right in front of me required emergency evasive action on my part. The Tesla didn’t slow at all and I had to slam the brakes and swerve. I have also had to swerve away from deer that were not recognized. Usually the car will see stopped traffic ahead, as long as it is in the lane and straight ahead so the car has plenty of time to process the scene. If it is around a turn it might not detect it in time or if the vehicle is partially out of the lane.
I used Autopilot on my nearly 2000 mile round trip to Georgia and found it incredibly helpful. Even though it is a hands on the wheel system, I generally had my hands on my legs right below the wheel ready to take control. I would steer the wheel slightly every 10 seconds or so or adjust volume/speed up/down to indicate my hands were on the wheel. I also took control to change lanes hundreds of times. The car did very well on the drive. I was able to pay better attention to the road than usual because of Autosteer reducing the fatigue on my arms and the car only did the wrong thing once or twice, where there were no lane markings or a construction zone.
The system is not [yet] designed to be used in the city, and that is evident after using it there. It will often have difficult deciding what to do at complicated intersections (wide intersections with limited markings, turning intersections, roundabouts, etc). I have to adjust continuously and regularly have to prevent it from steering me into something it shouldn’t.
In adverse weather the system only does as well as it can see. I find it works pretty well in rain, but as long as it is heavy enough to keep cameras clear. If it is mist it might obscure the cameras and cancel the operation for a period of time.
If you speed excessively with Autopilot engaged (over 90 mph) you will be put in Autopilot Jail, meaning you can’t engage Autopilot until you park the car. Be sure to grab the steering wheel and cancel Autopilot by pressing up on the shift lever before driving that fast.
After using Autopilot over the 6,000 miles on my Tesla I feel handicapped driving older cars now. Especially on highways and freeways where your attention can drift accidentally because of fatigue or other distractions.
The Model 3 LR AWD supports overnight charging at rates up to 48 amp (11 kW) on 240 V power and also offers Supercharging up to 250 kW. This means you can charge in maybe 7-10 hours on 240 V or charge enough to drive 2 to 3 hours at highway speeds in about 30 minutes (15 minutes on a 250 kW charger) using a Supercharger.
For locations of Tesla Superchargers check out their website: https://www.tesla.com/supercharger
I also suggest the site https://abetterrouteplanner.com/ for planning travel with a Tesla or other EV.
Tesla supports Over the Air updates of all software systems. This is one of my primary reasons for looking at a Tesla. I was tired of taking my Honda in for service to get software updates, and even then only if my car exhibited the problem and was under warranty. In 3 months of owning my Tesla I have already had 4 updates, several adding new features to the car such as 1 pedal driving.
Some updates require payment, such as Full Self Driving or the recent Acceleration Upgrade that adds about 50 hp to the LR AWD model. At this time, these upgrades stick with the car if it is sold and can also be added to your insurance policy (might require contacting them after adding the feature).
The App for Android or Apple is an integral part of the experience of owning a Tesla. It can be used to preheat the car, find its location, check the charge level, schedule service or roadside assistance, purchase upgrades, lock and unlock the car as well as open trunk, front trunk, and charge port. It can also set Valet mode, Sentry mode, and more.
Tesla also offers an integrated dash camera that records events while the car is parked and can also be used to save video footage while driving. The only warning about Sentry mode is it draws extra power while the car is parked, so will cause some battery drain.
The EPA rated range is 310 miles. It is easy to achieve this if you drive slower in mild weather. However, in real speeds on the highway at 75 mph with light heater use I find closer to 200 miles the limit. Be aware that the Long Range model has a reliable real world highway range closer to 200 mph unless under ideal conditions.
The Tesla Model 3 is a superb car. It is a great no compromise EV that offers performance, range, features, and style at a good price. The driving dynamics are excellent and I get a smile every time I drive the car. If you are on the fence with a Model 3, schedule a test drive today. https://www.tesla.com/drive
There is far too much to write in a single post about the Model 3, so I will follow up with more detailed reviews of some features, tips, and how to articles to cover the car in more depth. Please use my referral code if you decide to buy: https://ts.la/eric35018 so we both get free Supercharger miles.
Leave a Reply