Tesla is complicated, but its cars are not. A recent week in a new Model 3, the compact electric sedan, is a rethinking of car ownership. It’s as much lifestyle choice as transportation.
There is much awareness of this new car and brand — and some attitude. A driver in an Audi A4 tried a stoplight drag race and a few other drivers were not hospitable in yielding the right of way, which was quite deliberate.
The fledgling Model 3 has emerged as a tattletale of all that appears wrong with the company. Its CEO leader Elon Musk is an admitted tech nerd — part visionary, part capricious micromanaging control freak. But he has the capital to indulge his whims, which includes building big space rockets and tunnels, colonizing mars, creating home battery storage systems and a factory to build those batteries, plus a nationwide link of 11,200 “supercharging” stations for the owners of his electric cars.
To skeptics and critics, Musk has been showing mental signs of cracking from the workload. But there were no cracks in the Model 3, I tested. There were two slightly misaligned corners at the front fascia, which could be attributed to the much-reported teething problems during early production at the Fremont, Calif., factory. The rest of the car was a proud statement of perseverance from a leader who will do it his way, even if that means working the line and sleeping on the shop floor.
Pricing and range
Three versions of Model 3 are currently available in the U.S., with three levels of lithium-ion batteries and a second-motor option for all-wheel drive: Midrange rear-wheel drive, $46,200, 260 miles; long range rear-wheel, $50,200, 310 miles; long range dual-motor AWD, $56,200 and Performance AWD, $65,200, both EPA-rated for 310 miles. Pricing includes the $1,200 freight charge.
The mid-range battery option uses the long-range battery, but contains fewer cells, Tesla says. The Mid-Range model also can be upgraded with the premium black and white interior ($1,500) which had been available only with the dual-motor variants.
A single-battery option, with a 220-mile range, will be available in four to six months, Tesla says, which will drop the starting price to $37,120 for the rear-drive model.
Tesla also cut the price of the Dual-Motor All-Wheel Drive option to $5,000, from $29,000.
My top-line extended-range Performance tester was $78,200 with dual-motor AWD and performance upgrades. The EPA gives it e-mpg ratings of 120/112/116 mpg city/highway/combined. That translates to about 319 miles city, 296 miles highway and 308 miles combined.
Pricing is before a $7,500 federal tax credit and $2,500 California incentive, but time is running out. The federal tax credit (incentive) was allowed for the first 200,000 such vehicles sold by an automaker and Tesla passed that milestone in July. But buyers taking delivery by the end of the year will get the full credit, Tesla says. After that, the tax credit will be reduced by 50 percent every six months until it phases out in 2020.
Tesla’s vehicle designs are a complete rethinking of space. All ye who enter the cabin must do so with an open mind.
While the Model 3 is Tesla’s smallest sedan it is close in footprint to the midsize Mercedes-Benz C300 or Audi A4. But the Tesla’s wheelbase of 113.2 inches is at least 2 inches longer. The stretch of space allows a roomy interior but it also adds to the width of the turning circle, which I’d guess to be about 40 feet with 20-inch tires, when others in the size class can range from 36 to 40 feet.
The Tesla app turned my iPhone into the key to open the car and there also are key cards (like a hotel room card). The driver can create a profile for his or her preferences of driving.
It’s a bit of a culture shock to not use a key fob, to not push an ignition button to start or shut off the car, to not set the parking brake and then just walk away and let the car lock itself, and then remind you where it is an how much fuel remains.
The cabin design is lean and uncluttered with unique and appealing synthetic fabrics, headliner and plastics. Nearly all cabin and driving controls are made through a 15-inch, clipboard-sized iPad-like touch screen turned on its side in the center of the instrument panel. But the screen is prone to glare and reflections in sunlight and finger smudges can be annoying. The access and activation work quite well — once you learn the levels to find what you need. And some features can be voice activated.
Because there is no engine or transmission to work around, there is uncharted capacity in its center console that reaches from the base of the instrument panel to between the front seats, with a charging bin and clever connectors for an iPhone or Android, good cup holders and deep, two-level armrest storage.
Sightlines are unobstructed over the hood and over the shoulder. The roomy cabin has 40.3 inches of front headroom with the glass roof or 39.6 inches with a metal roof. The Model 3 body is made of aluminum and steel. Tesla also designs or makes many of the elements that go on or with the car, including the seat design and synthetic upholstery.
The front trunk has a usable 3 cubic feet of space with another 12 cubic feet in the rear trunk. The 60/40 back seat folds and there is a deep well under the cargo floor to corral grocery bags or other gear.
I don’t need 450-hp, but 0-60 mph in 3.5 seconds is fortifying on those occasional full-on pedal-down power plays. With that kind of power, there will be no more pink red-traffic lights and you’ll be able to scoot away from most muscle cars.
The enhanced autopilot will be good to have when the system can be upgraded to Level 3, which will include city-safe driving features. But the current Level 2 semi-autonomous system, in which drivers much keep a finger’s weight on the wheel, still requires much driver vigilance. It is most helpful in bumper-to-bumper traffic as an omniscient guardian on 360-degree watch.
The Performance model’s 450-hp is compelling, but at 4,072 pounds the weight is felt at high speed. It is not overly sporty to drive, but it didn’t unravel when pushed. Around town, the acceleration is moderate and the ride quality settled and well soundproofed. But there is road harshness at Interstate speeds, which might be from the high tire pressure of 42 psi.
Model 3 achieved a perfect 5-star safety rating in every category and sub-category, and NHTSA’s tests also show that it has the lowest probability of injury of all cars the safety agency has ever tested.
With 300 miles of range, I had no range anxiety. Charging at home on the 240-volt system (which requires buying the charger and installation costs for around $3,000) is good for 37 miles of range an hour. Visiting a supercharger station will add 170 miles of range per 30 minutes. Or figure 24 hours on household current; Tesla provides a 20-foot charging cable for home and 240-volt charging.
Tesla’ Supercharger system is available pretty much nationwide and the stations are often positioned in shopping areas. But just a bare charging station is a far more pleasant experience than plugging in at public charging station in parking lots of Walmart, grocery stores and urban attractions. Tesla says it is adding six charging stations a week.
There is nothing traditional about the marketing or maintenance of a Tesla, either. Cars are ordered online or sourced through the closest boutique (often in shopping malls) and then picked up at a delivery center. When a Tesla needs maintenance, the problem can be diagnosed remotely and then a service truck can be dispatched to make repairs wherever. Scheduled maintenance does not mean time off work — the technician can unlock and lock your car electronically. The new-vehicle warranty is for 4-years/50,000-miles with battery coverage of 8-years/100,000-miles (120,000 mile with long range battery).
Buying a Tesla isn’t just owning a car, it’s buying into a lifestyle. It’s not a lifestyle for everybody, but it will make many converts.
BY THE NUMBERS
Three long-range versions of the Model 3 are on sale now, with the standard-range model due in three to six months. Pricing includes the $1,200 freight charge from Fremont, Calif.
Model 3 Long Range Rear-Wheel Drive
- Power: 271 hp with 307 ft.-lb. torque
- Top Speed: 140
- 0-60 time: 5.1 seconds
- Range: 310 miles EPA
- Price: $50,200
Model 3 Long Range Dual-Motor
- Power: 346 hp with 376 ft.-lb. torque
- Top Speed: 145
- 0-60 time: 4.5 seconds
- Range: 310 miles EPA
- Price: $56,200
Model 3 Performance
- Power: 450 hp with 471 ft.-lb. torque
- Top Speed: 155
- 0-60 time: 3.5 seconds
- Range: 310 miles EPA
- Price: $64,000
Model 3 Mid Range Rear-Wheel Drive
- Range: 260 miles (EPA estimate)
- 0-60 mph: 5.6 seconds
- Top Speed: 125 mph
- Choice of Premium Black Interior or Premium Black and White Interior
- Price: $45,000 before incentives (as low as $30,700 after incentives)
2018 Tesla Model 3 Performance
- Body style: compact-midsize, 5-passenger sedan
- Motors: 450-hp with 471 ft.-lb. torque, total power; permanent magnet motor front, induction AC motor rear
- Batteries: 50 and 75 kWh lithium-ion
- Driving range: 310 miles
- E-Fuel economy: 120/112/116 mpg-e
- 0-60 acceleration: 3.5 seconds; top speed 155 mph
- Transmission: 1-speed automatic
- Drag coefficient: 0.23
- Trunk space: 12 cu. ft. rear, 3 cu. ft. front
- Front head/leg room: 40.3*/42.7 in. *39.6 w/metal roof
- Rear head/leg room: 37.7/35.2 in.
- Length/wheelbase: 184.8/113.2 in.
- Curb weight: 4,072 lbs. *3,549 lbs.
- Turning circle: NA ft.
- Standard equipment includes: 15-inch capacitive touch screen, maps and navigation, W-Fi and mobile connectivity, streaming audio and phone, voice-activated controls, high-definition camera system, 2 USBs nd12-volt plug, full LED lighting, 20-foot charging cable (for 120, 220-volt),
- Safety features include: 8 air bags, stability and traction controls, seven cameras, forward radar and 12 ultrasonic sensors
- Base price: $65,200, including $1,200 freight charge; price as tested $78,200
- Options on test vehicle: Performance dual motor AWD $29,000; silver metallic paint $1,500; white upholstery $1,500; enhanced autopilot $5,000; Performance upgrade $5,000
- Where assembled: Fremont, Calif.
- Warranty: 4-years/50,000-miles bumper to bumper; battery 8-years/100,000-miles (120,000 mile with long range battery)