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Tesla Model 3 Long Range Dismisses Automotive Norms

by Debra B. Guffey

We’re embarking on a 40,000-mile long-term test of this uniquely deviant electric vehicle.

Introduction

One of the most interesting things about the Model 3, and Teslas in general, is just how much it deviates from the norms of autodom. Unlike other automakers, which often wind up creating very similar entries by carefully tracking and matching features and equipment relative to the competition, it’s refreshing—and occasionally annoying—how Tesla simply does its own thing.

As we’re embarking on a 40,000-mile evaluation of a 2019 Model 3 Long Range, our second long-term Tesla after a 2015 Model S P85D, it’s impossible not to notice this electric vehicle’s vast differences compared with other compact-luxury sedans that exist at a similar size and price. There’s no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto here, although the feature has become nearly ubiquitous among its luxury-sedan peers, nor even a gauge-cluster display in front of the driver. However, there are lots of wowing tricks up the Model 3’s sleeve to win over people coming into contact with a Tesla for the first time, such as Emissions Testing mode, with six different fart-noise options, and Dog mode to keep our furry friends comfortable. And its phone-as-key feature works completely seamlessly, unlike more recent attempts by traditional automakers, such as Hyundai, that require awkwardly getting out a phone and holding it to the door handle. Plus, there’s the very capable suite of Autopilot driver-assist features, which is now standard and generally works impressively to reduce the amount of steering, braking, and accelerating the driver needs to control.

Quick and Enjoyable

Especially when viewed from the front, we wouldn’t call the Model 3 attractive, but the low cowl and large glass area make for an expansive forward view. And that is one of a flurry of positive comments about driving the Model 3; it’s extremely quick, with direct steering and even a willingness of our all-wheel-drive model to rotate under power. We’re suckers for its instant response and forceful acceleration—at 4.1 seconds to 60 mph, this latest 3 is 0.9 second quicker than the initial Model 3 Long Range we tested, which only had a rear motor, and it’s also just 0.3 second off the pace of the swift BMW M340i. What’s more, the Tesla’s power delivery sets itself apart by its instantaneousness, which is demonstrated by our 5-to-60-mph rolling-start test. The Model 3 nails it in 4.2 seconds, whereas today’s highly boosted gas engines often have a significant gap between their standing-start and rolling-start metrics (the difference on the M340i, for example, is 0.9 second).

The Model 3 stacks up less well in other areas against the usual luxury players—BMW 3-series, Audi A4, Mercedes C-class—where its plasticky seat material, fixed and narrow headrests, and ultracheap, cardboard-like cover for the large bin under the trunk floor don’t live up to its luxury price point. The Model 3 also isn’t as hushed over the road as the traditional players; there’s a lot of wind noise at 70 mph, and at 70 decibels, it measures one to two decibels louder at that speed than the segment norms. And that’s not including the way it clomps loudly over lateral pavement seams, which is partly a result of its high, 42-psi tire pressures that help manage the Model 3’s 4038-pound curb weight (that’s 141 pounds heavier than the rear-drive Model 3 we tested in 2018) and boost its range.

Among the oft-discussed issues on early Model 3s were panel gaps and overall build quality, and in that area, this latest car is far better than our earlier example. However, the hood wasn’t quite level on our car when it arrived, so we adjusted the hood grommets to make it so. We’re already noticing some squeaks and rattles emanating from the instrument panel, particularly in the cold weather that has descended on our Michigan HQ.

Data Tracking

We’re using third-party software called TeslaFi to corral a staggering amount of data streaming from our car, including its whereabouts, mileage, charging and charge efficiency, temperatures outside and inside the vehicle, and climate-control usage. In our first two months, we’ve spent 85.5 hours behind the wheel of our Model 3 over 280 drives and a total of 3867 miles. However, partly due to an average outside temperature of 43 degrees, we’ve used nearly 50 percent more rated range than miles actually driven. That has led to complaints that the main range readout does not adjust downward when using up the battery at a quicker rate than its EPA rating suggests. However, there is a running average figure based on recent driving, found on the Energy screen. We’ve also noted that the battery’s state of charge can drop by 5 percent or so when the Model 3 sits outside overnight in 40-degree temperatures without being plugged in.

The only options on our test car are its $1000 Midnight Silver Metallic paint and the $6000 Full Self-Driving Capability, bringing our total sticker price to $57,690. While the latter feature—currently priced at $7000—promises at some point in the future to actually fulfill its name, for now it enables advanced Autopilot moves such as Smart Summon, where the Model 3 will drive itself to the location of the owner’s smartphone in a parking lot, and automatic lane changes around slower traffic on the highway. Our car has the base 18-inch wheels with all-season tires and the aero wheel covers. In the near future, we’ll be testing just how much slipperier those covers are through the passing air than the better-looking aluminum wheels hiding beneath. 

What has become a Tesla trademark is continual upgrades, and in the two short months we’ve had our car, we’ve downloaded Version 10 software, which added Smart Summon, and built-in Netflix, YouTube, Hulu, and Spotify streaming. Very recently, we updated to 10.1, which promises a 5 percent bump in horsepower. We’ll be headed back to the test track to see how much that improves the already very quick acceleration numbers. No doubt there will be lots to talk about.

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