By Leow Ju-Len
THE Tesla Model 3 is both the easiest and hardest car in the world to review. The easy part concerns the basic car stuff, at which the Tesla is pretty fabulous, especially in dual-motor Performance guise.
I probably don’t need to tell you, but the Model 3 Performance is fast enough to make a Lamborghini (or its owner) cry. Steering wheel straight, right foot down, and it just disappears up the road with a sort of noiseless ferocity, giving the neck, abdominal and various sphincter muscles of everyone on board a solid workout in the process. I’m embarrassed to admit it made my wife groan in a way I never could.
The Tesla even corners pretty well. At 1.9 tonnes it’s a heavy car, so it asks a lot of the tyres. But even if it isn’t particularly grippy around a bend it’s beautifully balanced, meaning it feels neither nose-heavy nor tail-happy.
The battery is slung low under the body, which puts the kibosh on body roll. Low centre of gravity plus evenly distributed weight? BMW dined out on those qualities for decades.
It rides firmly over bumps, but so far all electric cars do, and things never get jarringly harsh on the go.
And as fast as the Tesla is, it’s how quickly it recharges that takes the breath away. With 65 km remaining in the battery, I plugged the test car into one of the brand’s Superchargers one night and went for a bowl of noodles. I returned to find enough juice for 508km. In just under an hour, the battery went from 15 per cent to 92 per cent, plus the Supercharger had topped it up with kilometres that would have cost S$80 in petrol. I don’t see how stopping at a gas station once a week is better than this.
As a petrolhead then, it gives me a twinge in the heart to write this, but electricity is now the superior way to power a car, as it is with most things. See if you’d buy a laptop that runs on gas if you disagree.
Mind you, everything I’ve written about the Model 3 Performance applies up to 100 km/h. Tesla limits its test cars to that speed, apparently as a matter of policy. That might have been for my own good, but is likely more about wanting to avoid headlines like “Fiery death for Tesla-driving motoring writer in mid sphincter workout”, although trust me when I say I want to see that story in the papers even less than Tesla does.
That brings me to the other qualities about the Model 3 which are harder to assess through the clouded eyes of a car reviewer. As good as it is at being a car, it’s also a rolling gadget with features that can be disorienting to anyone above the age of none-of-your-business.
With a linked smartphone on you, for example, you simply tug the door open and the car switches itself on, so it’s ready to go before you even buckle up. The opposite is true; when you’re done you put it in Park, get out and walk away. Audi’s e-tron GT and the Porsche Taycan are like that, too, but it’s obvious that Tesla led the way here.
Likewise, you can now use your phone to limit a connected Audi’s top speed if, say, you’re loaning the car to a child (or worse, a journalist), but Elon Musk apparently had that idea first.
Other intriguing features abound, mostly within the 15-inch freestanding touchscreen that controls pretty much everything in the car, wiping it clear of physical switches. It’s the reason the Model 3 looks so zen-like and minimalist inside, as if Marie Kondo designed the cabin. The clutter-free dashboard makes riding in the Tesla feel different from being in other cars, especially since the glass roof lets plenty of natural light flood the cabin. Even the space packaging is confoundingly well done, with loads of legroom in the back, and 649 litres of volume from the luggage compartments at both ends of the car.
Beyond that, there’s a certain light-heartedness to the Tesla. It can stream “Caraoke” tunes to liven up your commute, because who doesn’t like to sing in the car? Then there’s an “Emissions” app that produces fart noises (with an entire gallery of flatulence to choose from, naturally), just for the heck of it, or maybe as a subtle dig at other cars that actually do emit toxic flatus.
The one feature that probably attracts the most hype and attention is Autopilot, which at this stage is pretty so-so. The adaptive cruise control systems from the likes of Audi, BMW and Mercedes work more smoothly, especially in how they brake and accelerate.
But the one thing that sets a Tesla apart from every legacy carmaker is its software, which is entirely in-house. That results in a certain heavy-handedness – the Model 3 doesn’t work with Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, for instance – but it also lets Tesla rule a crucial domain.
It’s the reason Model 3 owners woke up one day in 2019 to find that their cars suddenly had more power and better range, courtesy of an over-the-air software update. It’s also why a Tesla you bought last month could see its Autopilot system improve with time.
That puts the 15-inch screen into some context. It places key driving data like vehicle speed in the corner of your vision, which is the sort of thing a BMW or Volvo engineer would freak out over, since it draws your eye away from the road.
But might it be that Tesla is priming people for the era of autonomous cars, when eyes are supposed to be on a screen instead of the traffic? Why else put Netflix and YouTube on the system?
I can hear the howls of derision at that idea, but tech upheaval usually draws scepticism in its early phases. Need an example? “The iPhone is nothing more than a luxury bauble that will appeal to a few gadget freaks. Apple will sell a few to its fans, but the iPhone won’t make a long-term mark on the industry,” wrote Bloomberg’s Matthew Lynn in 2007.
“The iPhone is going to be… a temporary novelty that will eventually wear off,” said CoolTechZone.com that same year. I could keep going, but just for kicks, here’s what Carriage Monthly magazine had to say about cars in 1904: “Humankind has travelled for centuries in conveyances pulled by beasts. Why would any reasonable person assume the future holds anything different?”
Tesla devotees seem to believe there is no worthy alternative to Elon Musk’s machines, but their runaway sales have undoubtedly prodded the competition awake. Direct rivals to the Model 3 aren’t here yet, but while BMW’s iX3 might be slower, pricier and more conventional, it’s a terrific car to drive, and it does offer the size and height of a sport utility vehicle, which counts for something in today’s car market.
Likewise the Mercedes-EQ EQA, which is an electric car to consider if the thought of using a touchscreen to operate your vehicle makes you want to strangle someone. Whatever you think of Teslas, however, the fact that those other electric cars even exist is the true measure of the Model 3’s success.
Tesla Model 3 Performance
Electric Motors 212 hp, 240 Nm (front), 294 hp, 420 Nm (rear)
Charge Time/Type 7-9 hours / Wallbox
Range 567 km
0-100km/h 3.3 seconds
Top speed 261 km/h
Agent Tesla Singapore
Price S$155,283 without COE