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.
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 managerial 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. A psychological condition so strange that, despite months of analysis, I'm still unable to understand.
But then, everything around Tesla is strange. At least here in Spain if you chose 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...
A small annex at the very end 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 take you to your car, 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 4091 pounds: 55 more than what Tesla lists it at. But the number doesn’t matter at all since the weight (distributed 48/52 front/rear) rests very low in the car, and does not disturb the handling as much as it would on a regular car.
This Performance trim has bigger rims, brakes, and harder, non adjustable suspension. As a result it handles, to quote Vivian Ward, like it's on rails. Despite the immense mass, it corners flat and neatly, despite my best efforts I couldn't get it to lose grip at speeds where many sports cars would start to struggle. Sport cars that will not recover in the few straights on tight roads.
This affinity for B-roads is not in small part thanks to a very precise, and fast steering setup; In Sport mode it feels like an actual go-cart. The 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-carving applications. Your body winds up crashing against the center console and the door constantly, and because of the high seating position you feel disconnected from the road.
The acceleration of the dual motor setup is 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 quicker than anything. The impressive acceleration, ironically, solves most problems of every-day, slow-speed, urban driving.
The brakes on the other hand feel great at any speed, which is a relief. Usually the brakes on cars with electric motors are linked to the regen, resulting in a vague, imprecise brake application. On the Model 3 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 unlinked re-gen is aggressive enough that even at a brisk -some would say illegal- pace you’ll find yourself driving with the accelerator pedal. Though it’s worth noting some journalists found them to be underwhelming in track use.
This might be because regen is disabled when you enable the car's Track Mode. When the mode is enabled, 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.
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.}
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.
Unlike it’s Chinese or American brothers, the European Model 3 uses the standard CCS type 2 european plug (those uninitiated, the mennekes 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.
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... In our case, taking the vehicle from Madrid to rural Galicia proved to be a challenge because of the lacklustre charging infrastructure in the Northwest.
In those situations the Model 3 feels a lot more like a burden than a joy, and the array of apps you need to download, coupled with the uncertainty of the status of the charging stations those apps display might discourage owners from taking "adventurous" road trips into certain areas.
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.
Some people find the lack of an instrument display controversial, but in my opinion it would've felt redundant on the Model 3, and it makes the driving experience more comfortable, the important numbers, battery charge, and speed, are still easily accessible.
Despite the sport-oriented suspension and the low profile rims, 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.
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, it truly has a personality of its own, 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 unflinching focus 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. As a consequence, the car is only a software update away from changing it’s personality again.
Hell, if you need any proof of that, since I reviewed this car Tesla added twenty horsepower and made Netflix available. Sure, it moved us into a different insurance bracket but no one who has driven it since is complaining.
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 constraints 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.
That is, perhaps, the most addictive thing about this bundle of rare earth metals.