While walking around my local Cars and Coffee this past weekend, I stumbled across a large group of people crowded around some vehicles. There were so many people, it was hard to make out what they were looking at. As I peeked through I caught a glimpse of something I had only seen briefly before. No it wasn’t the Superperformance Ford GT40, the mid 50s DeSoto, or the absolute mint Mark 2 Celica Supra. The vehicles at the center of this horde were a Model S and, more importantly, a pair of the brand new Tesla Model 3s. Both Model 3s were fresh off the truck, still sporting Tennessee temporary tags.
Since Model 3s are only available to those who have ordered them, I told the owners, Kelly and her husband, that I would love to get in and see what all the fuss is about. Before I knew it, I was in the driver’s seat and taking the most talked about car of 2018 out on the road.
So what did I think?
Getting into the Model 3 is interesting. It almost forces use of the left hand as the door handles require you to use your thumb to push the right side in. This allows the rest of the handle to swing out to be grabbed. While making the body lines cleaner, this could be an issue for those who primarily use their left hand or may have their hands full while getting in the car.
Immediately upon sitting down, the seats are welcoming and soft, if it a bit unsupportive in the Sport department (much like my Lexus LS). The interior is pleasant and of course, simple. The wood reaching across the dash is a nice touch and the lack of individual air vents is easy to miss. Turning on the car is, well, not a thing, as the vehicle automatically becomes ready when the “key”(an app downloaded on your phone) is present. If your phone is dead, a Near Field Communication Card is provided that will also allow the vehicle to move.
The materials all look very nice but the 15.0’ screen is almost intimidating in size. Much complaining in the media and general public has been done about the screen, but for the most part, it was one of the easiest I have had the pleasure of using. It felt solid and the glass was nice to the touch compared to the plastic used by some manufacturers. It was also very responsive, closer to a phone than a traditional navigation unit. I also much preferred the touch unit to the “mouse” controls of others. Since everything is controlled through the screen, quickly accessing some features could be an issue, but with practice it could easily become second nature.
Pulling out of the parking lot, the electric style torque is already apparent. It is extremely smooth at parking lot speeds with the regenerative braking set to normal, it pulls the car to a stop without touching the brake. As I pulled onto the main road the rate of acceleration really stood out. Not because it was violently fast like a P100D, but because i thought it was the absolute perfect amount. At what Tesla claims is 5.1 seconds, and what other journalists are finding to be closer to 4.7, it is definitely enough. Personally, it felt much slower than 5 seconds, as the electric motors provide such a non-chaotic experience. Combine that with the lack of noise and lack of gears and going fast is very easy. This is definitely a car that will work its way through traffic as needed.
The most talked about aspect of the Model 3, since day one, has been the lack of a traditional instrument cluster directly in front of you. Even I have been skeptical in the past, but after the first 30 seconds, I forgot it was even missing. When I remembered something was missing, I wondered why 90% of cars needed the cluster in the first place. I started appreciating that I could just drive without information being pushed to me all the time right in front of my face, There was no focus on going exactly the speed limit, but instead, just keeping up with traffic. If I wanted to go faster, I went faster and if I wanted to go slower, I went slower. It made life simple, and in an age where sensory overload is becoming more and more common, more cars should be simple like this.
Now I may have been jaded when it comes to ride quality, as I had just been driving my 2011 Lexus ISF, but I felt the Model 3 rode smooth. Possibly equal to the comfort level of a Lexus GS or BMW 5-Series. It did handle much better than both, no doubt a product of the lower center of gravity provided by the battery pack. It held my driving lines very well and felt very confident in everything I wanted to it do. Even though it may not feel like it due to weight and the non-chaotic acceleration, this is a legitimately fast car.
The low battery pack also provides endless storage as all seats will fold flat and long furniture could easily be moved; or a grown man could more than likely lay down in it if needed. The rest of the interior is surprisingly spacious with the back seat. At 5’11” I noticed no knee or headroom issues. The greenhouse of the car is also extremely large, the windows seem gigantic and blind spots are very limited.
After merging onto the interstate, I activated Autopilot and with my utmost supervision, it worked great. It seemed to hang exactly in the middle of the lane, alerting me to the tendency that I’ve never noticed that I normally don’t drive right in the middle, but towards the left line naturally. Autopilot also has the option to use the indicator to tell the car you would like to change lanes. With the exception of the car not wanting to perform the change the first time, it was very neat and was one of the more smooth lane changes I have experienced.
When coming back into the parking lot at Cars & Coffee, Kelly mentioned that I should let the car autopark. Naturally I said yes as I had actually forgot that was an available feature. I pulled just in front of, and perpendicular to, the spot we wanted the car in. Then I pressed the little steering wheel icon that popped up on the screen. The car showed us where it thought we wanted it to park, then after pressing the go button, the car proceeded. While the parking job landed the Model 3 slightly close to the truck next to us, and a bit crooked, it was still a rather impressive gimmick. I pressed the park button on the end of the shifter and got out of the car. Again, no start/stop button needed.
One of the most complicated parts of this car has been the production. I did not notice significant panel gaps or anything else that would show me the car was poorly built. Everything seemed as it should for a luxury car at this price point. Both Model 3 owners told me they were on the reservation list for about 2 years, but once they were able to configure their car, it only took roughly 4 weeks to receive it at the local Tesla dealer.
So what is my verdict? It’s not hard to compare it to my ISF, which I drove that day. With its screaming naturally aspirated V8, tight suspension and beefy attitude, it is a much more of a fun car. But there is a reason why you won’t see me in my ISF every day. The Model 3 embodies what I consider to be one of the best daily driving vehicles you can buy today. The car is quiet, relaxing, smooth, and the automation features make traffic a breeze. It provides all the features you want, while not overloading you. It brings the the complexity of driving everyday back to earth.
If you can get one, do it. It’s as simple as that.
Special thank you to Kelly and her husband for bringing out the Model 3 and allowing me to experience it!