If someone had told me the Model 3 was made in a tent city, managed by a pot-smoking, model-wedding, tunnel-digging South African business boy, I would’ve been dumbfounded.
and if you can forget for a moment how monumentally ridiculous Elon Musk’s Twitter timeline is, you might gather some actual respect for the rocket-launching , SEC-avoiding, tweet-storming man behind Tesla inc.
Because if BMW or Ford made the same sort of preposterous mistakes, and delivered such poorly built vehicles we’d be mad, just like fucking pulling our hair off, and then typing the sort of reviews that make r/RoastMe look mild. But we always gave Tesla the benefit of the doubt. Even when handling cars that can cost upwards of 100,000 dollars. So strange.
But then again, everything around Tesla is strange. At least here in Spain if you choose to receive your car in Madrid, you’ll find yourself lost in a Jaguar-Land Rover body shop for a few minutes until one of the employees notices you and points you to the right direction to the very edge of the industrial park.
Taking a bit of inspiration from the big man, Tesla Madrid also has a tent area where they prep Model X, S, and 3s for delivery. Also set up in a parking lot. But then they bring you to your car, and you open the door for the first time and everything feels normal again.
There is a stark contrast between Tesla’s corporate culture and their delivered products. Even with the fart machine, or the rainbow road “easter eggs” the Model 3 feels like a very serious, but human car. More of that later on.
How does it drive?
According to Spain’s General Traffic Directorate, the Tesla Model 3 Performance tips the scales at 4257 pounds: 200 more than what Tesla lists it at. But the number doesn’t really matter since the weight (distributed 48/52 front/rear) rests very low in the car.
This Performance trim has bigger rims, brakes, and harder, non adjustable suspension. It handles, to quote Vivian Ward, like it’s on rails. All the corners are handled flat and neatly: torque vectoring makes sure of it. I could not get the Michelin Pilot Sports to lose grip at speeds where many sports cars would struggle. Sport cars that will not recover in the short straights on tight roads.
Not in small part thanks to a very precise, and fast steering setup. In Sport mode it feels like an actual go-cart, its only downside is that even with the heavy-weighting it doesn’t feel very communicative. Driving the Model 3 does feel like a video game, except worse because the seats aren’t supportive enough for canyon-craving applications. Your body winds up crashing against the center console and the door.
The acceleration of the dual motor setup is ,to be mild, frantic. You will never find yourself struggling to overtake any other motorist, you will always dart into places in traffic, and you will always win duels at congested roundabouts. Under 60 mph this car is faster than anything. The impressive acceleration solves most problems of every-day urban driving.
The brakes on the other hand feel great at any speed; the pedal is firm, and inspires confidence. Not that you’ll find yourself using the brake pedal often; I’ve only touched them when setting off really. The re-gen is aggressive enough that even at a brisk -some would say illegal- pace you’ll find yourself driving with a single pedal, though it’s worth noting some journalists found them to be underwhelming in the track.
On the highway the Model 3 feels uneager to break the speed limit; losing range at uncomfortable rates beyond 60mph. The Model 3 might drive like a canyon carver, but if said canyon is too far from a supercharger even the most careless drivers will find themselves slowing down. For a car so well suited to rural environments, it feels left in the dark by the lack of infrastructure.
The Model 3 handles better than an RS4 or even an M4. That’s at least until you enable track mode. Setup that way, the car wants to understeer a bit more than what a performance car should, this might be the consequence of using a permanent magnet motor in the back and an induction motor in the front; the induction motor being capable of delivering torque more quickly.
Build quality is still WIP, but the interior is great! It’s also worth noting that the turning radius is pathetic, and a real issue in tight spaces. I’m also confused as to why this car, what with eight cameras and a huge display, doesn’t have 3d parking guidance because it could really use it.
It doesn’t feel like a normal electric car inside. As in: weird. Ergonomically it has a very welcoming and oddly familiar cabin, everything feels in the right place, and the infotainment screen is very easy to use. Unlike some, I do believe Tesla did the right thing by turning the infotainment into a landscape format.
Despite the sport-oriented suspension, the Model 3 doesn’t feel uncomfortable, perhaps only firm, and it is tall enough to handle everyday life. I’m very worried about the possible longevity of the rims given how bad the turning radius is and how wide the car is.
Unlike it’s Chinese or American brothers, the European Model 3 uses the standard CCS type 2 european plug (those uninitiated, the mennenkes and DC combo) which can be plugged into any of Europe’s fast chargers. It’s a better setup than Tesla’s proprietary charging system in the United States.
In normal, everyday life, the Model 3 is adequate, so long as you have a fast charger at home and easy access to charging infrastructure. The average cost of a kWh in Spain is 16 cents, and that is great since filling up the Model 3's “tank” is an 11 dollar ordeal at home. Superchargers and other public stations charge a lot more; some have the audacity to charge 54 cents per kWh.
Road trips under 3 hours are comfortably done with a single charge, if a supercharger stop is necessary, it almost synchronizes with how often drivers should stop to rest anyway. Only someone in a true hurry, or headed to a very remote area is going to find the drive challenging... But PHEVs exist for a reason.
How does it feel.
The model 3 feels like the vision of a single human. It feels like a computer program written by a single coder, or a song written by the actual performer. But it doesn’t feel like Elon Musk: the public figure. It doesn’t feel like a lumbering mess, or a hyperactive billionaire toddler. No, the Model 3 feels like an caring introvert.
No other cars punish you for abusing of the driver aids, but the Model 3 does; keep your hands off the steering wheel too long and it will block autopilot for the rest of the ride. The parking sensors don’t beep quicker as you come close to an object, but instead show “stop” in lowercase letters on the display. The car won’t let you drive above the speed limit with autopilot on when you’re in an urban area, but outside one it does.
There is a casual tension between the driver and the car at all times, where the car acts a bit like a parental figure. You could almost hear it say “I’m not angry, I’m just disappointed” after you cross the double yellow line five times in a row. On the highway the car seems almost too prudent around others, even with the aids in passive mode. It all adds up to form a clear personality: the space-age cabin, the quiet but sporty ride, the infinitely stubborn and complex operating system.
I’ve never driven a car that did all of this. As enthusiasts we look at engines for the character of a car, but with a Model 3 the motors are so... irrelevant... that you end up looking for the car’s personality elsewhere. It truly feels like a special car.
It doesn’t even feel overdone like a modern Jeep or a Mini; it doesn’t stink of corporate identity and attorney-approved quirks. It doesn’t feel as cold as a modern BMW, or as confused as a Kia Stinger.
It feels personal, like it truly has a personality to it, like someone poured their heart and soul into it and gave in to very little pressure from the marketing experts or the legal staff. But that doesn’t mean it’s permanently flawed; the hardware is there. The car handles like a dream and, if you’re an unsuspecting passenger, it accelerates like a nightmare. The car is only a software update away from changing it’s personality again.
I can only think of one way of summing it up. When BMW doesn’t add a feature to a car, it seems like it was on purpose, due to cost constrains or legal issues. When Tesla doesn’t add a feature it feels like they honestly forgot to add it. But it also feels like they’re working day and night to bring it to you through a software update.