BMW 3-Series, is that you?
With the seat and steering wheel adjusted correctly, I closed my eyes and cleared my mind. The way I fit into the seat, the way the bolsters hugged my ribs, and the way my arms fell to the steering wheel, I swore it could’ve been an early 2000s 3-Series (E46). I opened my eyes and it wasn’t. It was a Tesla.
I slid the Model 3’s wing-like column-mounted drive selector into drive and pulled onto the street. The power was instant. Electric cars and their instant torque is a helluva drug.
As the Model 3 lunged forward, I’m pushed back into the driver seat without drama. Despite the rapid acceleration, the tires were silently confident, not even a chirp from the optional 19-inch 235/40 Continental ProContact tires. There wasn’t even a whir from the electric motors, just the minimal rush of air as it flowed around the mirrors as speed built.
2018 Tesla Model 3 Long-Range RWD
The Midnight Silver Model 3 I borrowed was a Long Range all-wheel-drive model, but recently I drove a Pearl White Long Range rear-wheel-drive model (which is no longer in production). The front of the rear-wheel-drive Model 3 was noticeably lighter while the all-wheel-drive model felt more confident both around corners and under hard acceleration.
The steering doesn’t have a bunch of modes or gimmicks, it’s nicely weighted with a good on-center feel. It communicated what was going on at the wheels far better than a lot of modern cars, but it wasn’t as telepathic as Porsche’s electric power steering setup in a 911.
For the first few minutes it was weird not having a gauge cluster directly in front of me; rather the speedometer is offset to the top left of the 15-inch screen, which means it’s to the right of me. After about 10 minutes on the road the entire setup felt normal, though a head-up display would be welcomed. Nearly all vehicle functions being controlled via the touchscreen is fine in most situations, but going to a particular page on the screen and then tapping a virtual button to turn on the windshield wipers at the beginning of a downpour isn’t ideal.
Forward vision was terrific with a low dashboard, front cowl, and hood, but there’s a large blind spot created by the upward sweeping beltline and thick C-pillar.
2018 Tesla Model 3
The Model 3 is a good car. It’s well-designed, seems well-engineered, and its dynamics can satisfy both enthusiasts and those just in need of an efficient, all-electric daily driver.
But to date, its build quality has been mixed at best. Both the cars I recently tested were mostly well-built, but the long-range all-wheel-drive model (which was a recent build) had a piece of weather stripping that wasn’t properly seated and two pieces of plastic trim under the front hood that weren’t fully seated from the factory. Both were fixed in 10 seconds by me, but the Mercedes-Benz C-Class or Audi A4 don’t have the same problems.
Priced from $52,000, the Model 3 isn’t a $35,000 car, even after tax credits. The long-range all-wheel-drive model I tested had a price of $61,000 before tax credits. Far from cheap, but right in line with a very well-equipped BMW 3-Series.
The Model 3 is proof that Tesla has figured out how to design and engineer a car for the masses. Now it just needs to learn how to build it consistently and scale to meet demand without sacrificing quality.
Jaguar and Audi are launching electric cars, Chevrolet’s already launched an electric car, and Volkswagen, Porsche, and Mercedes-Benz are all coming. The first crop, the Chevrolet Bolt EV, Jaguar I-Pace, and Audi e-tron, all seem to be electric cars built like yesterday’s cars. The Porsche Taycan and VW’s I.D. family all show great promise, but are yet to be fully defined and detailed.
Most of the competition’s efforts remain years away. Tesla’s building the car everyone seems to be promising tomorrow, today.