I’ve been considering placing a deposit on the upcoming Model 3, but haven’t had the opportunity to get behind the wheel of a Tesla. Tesla will begin accepting deposits on March 31, and only the earliest adopters of the Model 3 will have a chance at scoring the full $7500 federal tax credit, so I dragged my fiancee out to the store in Raleigh for a look. I searched the web for a test-drive write-up and didn’t find anything too encompassing, so thought I would write up my experience.
Making an appointment is very easy - from Tesla’s website, pick your store and then pick a time. You’ll get an email confirmation and they will send you a text reminder the day before and the morning of your appointment.
When we arrived for our appointment, my fiancee was concerned that we were in the wrong place! Their Raleigh store is tucked back in an industrial office complex, very nondescript. Walking in, it resembled an Apple store, if Apple sold cars, and we were immediately greeted by a couple employees who took down our information and made copies of our licenses. A minute or two later, we were headed out the door and introduced to our demo Model S 90D, which looked identical to this one:
Dark blue exterior, anthracite turbine wheels, tan interior and black alcantara headliner. It looked very nice in this color combination and standing next to it, you really get the sense of how large a car it actually is. The Model S is pretty massive. It’s only about 8" shorter than a Tahoe. The Tesla associate showed us around the vehicle and I was honestly impressed, though a few things stood out to me as resembling something from a “cottage industry” vehicle. Just odd placement of a few things, not as tidy fit and finish, wasted space, etc. The retractable door handles are neat, but are not something I would want. On the demo, they seemed a little fussy, but that could have been because we kept walking around the car with the fob in hand.
Hopping behind the wheel, it was easy to get comfortable. The demonstrator was pretty much loaded, and I was easily able to get my seat, mirrors and the steering wheel adjusted to my liking. I didn’t bother trying to spend time configuring the driver’s display, so I left that alone showing the basic information (speed, range, etc). The huge screen in the center stack is overkill, in my opinion. It was nice to have a map that’s, well, the size of an actual paper map, but sort of unnecessary. It’s large enough that you can have a backup camera on and a full-size map on at the same time. Neat, but not really necessary, at least to me.
The gear selector is a little stalk on the right side of the steering column. A couple taps down and the car was in Drive. There’s no perceptible change to making this selection, aside from the car hunkering down (it must’ve had the air suspension option). The parking brake disengages as soon as you begin to accelerate and silently, we were off.
Initially, aside from the silence, the first thing that surprised me about the Model S was the regenerative braking. The product specialist told me to be aware of it, because as soon as you lift off the throttle, you’re essentially braking. It’s not a hard form of braking or disconcerting, but when you’re used to coasting in an automatic transmission vehicle, it feels much more similar to dropping a gear and using engine braking in a manual.
Once we got out of the office complex, a straight section of road opened up and the specialist told me that this was a good opportunity to feel the Model S acceleration, and it’s very impressive to say the least. No noise, no fuss, just pinned to your seat as the car accelerates faster than you think it has any business doing. I think we went from about 20mph to 60mph in 2-3 seconds.
After that, we hopped on the interstate for a few miles, and the Model S is really an excellent cruiser. Just whisper quiet, the only noise you hear is a faint hum of the tires and a little wind noise. As I appreciated the silence, the specialist asked if I’d like to try autopilot. If you’re unaware, this is Tesla’s cruise control and lane-keeping software. I was both nervous and excited to give it a try, and with two quick flicks back on the cruise stalk, autopilot was engaged. The initial feeling is freaky to feel the car take control. I wouldn’t lift my hands more than an inch off the wheel to start, but after the Model S showed its chops, I sat back and let it do the work. It holds the lane and speed perfectly. Someone pulled in front of us and the car slowed on its own. If you turn on the blinker, if the lane is unoccupied the car will change lanes on its own. Autopilot would be an extremely nice feature on a long trip. Disengaging autopilot is as easy as making an input on the wheel and/or hitting the brake pedal.
We pulled off the highway and swapped drivers and my fiancee hopped behind the wheel and got comfortable. Her impressions were basically the same as mine - amazingly quiet, unbelievable power, deceptively nimble for its size/weight and just an extremely nice and easy car to drive. Overall, my honest opinion is that its a technological masterpiece. I know the Model 3 won’t have all the bells and whistles that the Model S does, but I wouldn’t be surprised if any (or all) of them are on the option sheet.
I’m 99% sure we are going to place a deposit on a Model 3, even with the knowledge that we likely will not have it until early to mid 2018. As with deposits on the Model S and Model X, it is fully refundable in case circumstances change according to the specialist. If anybody else is intrigued by a Tesla, I would very much recommend scheduling a test drive at your local store.