Tesla Model 3 Test Drive

Today I test drove a Tesla Model 3 Performance and I wanted to capture my thoughts on it.

Setting up the test drive was simple. Called Tesla on Wednesday and scheduled an appointment for Saturday at 2:00PM. They just asked for my name, email and a call back number and asked me to bring my drivers license. I received a couple of emails during the week. First a confirmation, then a brief email with some additional info regarding Model S and X free supercharging and the cost of the self-driving upgrade. I also received a confirmation call this morning to confirm my appointment.

Arrived at the showroom in Nashville (technically Brentwood) about 10 minutes before my appointment. There were several dozen Teslas of various makes and models parked out front, not sure if these were cars in for service, but I was surprised. In the showroom they had a Model X, a handful of desks with computers chairs for the sales people and customers and near the Model X was one long table with two iMacs — I’ll come back to that.

So they check me in, which essentially just involves me signing a liability/damage waiver for the test drive and letting them take a photo of my driver’s license. The sales person walks me out to the black Model 3 and goes over a few things. She shows me how to use the key card to unlock and open the door. Once you buy the car this is all done via the app on your phone automatically, so the card is used for test drives but also for anyone who would need to drive your car without your phone, for example a valet. The walkthrough process is essentially her showing me how to adjust the mirrors, asking if I understand regenerative braking and a brief explanation of autopilot. That’s it, then she says have fun, come back in twenty minutes or so. No ride along, absolutely zero pressure whatsoever. Nothing like I’d ever experienced at a car dealership.

So I wave bye, put it into reverse by pulling down on the right stalk and let off the brake, slowly moving backwards. This is actually a setting that you can control as to whether or not there is an idle roll. Leaving it at this setting felt natural for me, at least as someone used to driving with two pedals.

I press up on the stalk, shifting it into drive, and away you go. What is immediately obvious is the connection between throttle input and acceleration. There’s no drive line "slack", transmission hunting, guessing at throttle input to acceleration depending on revs, no, you press it and it goes. As you let off the accelerator, the regenerative braking takes over slowing the car. In this mode I barely had to use the brake and drove with one pedal by either adding throttle or letting the braking decelerate. Once you get the hang of it the feeling is fantastic. No need to constantly move between two pedals, you just adjust the angle of the throttle and everything is taken care of.

Now, the screen. Wow, it’s huge, and it is fantastic. This is not your normal in car infotainment system. This thing is fast, REALLY fast, as in iPhone or modern high-end Android device fast. The UI is very intuitive, everything is right where you expect and the menus aren’t nested deeply at all. Lots of text and clear visual indicators to guide you with clear feedback. I was also concerned about there being no traditional speedometer in the dash, but the speed was very easily visible in my peripheral vision while driving. I was just blown away by how good the whole experience was. It’s hard to understand how every other manufacturer has done such a poor job. Oh, worth mentioning, no Carplay on the Tesla. The only thing that made my Q5 infotainment bareable was the fact that it had Carplay, but after using the Tesla’s touch screen I don’t think I’ll miss it at all. But I just use maps and Google Music, the former is replaced by Tesla’s very good mapping program and the latter I can stream via bluetooth and this time, no cable required.

One quick note as well about storage. Put simply, best in class. Because there’s no tunnel for the drive train, the center console is cavernous, and it even includes a place to dock your iPhone or USB-C device by resting it on the mat. The rear trunk is extremely spacious and class leading already, and you ALSO get the "frunk" for even more space. There’s no other car in the class that is even close in storage.

Back to the test drive. Eventually after a few blocks I run into a stoplight so here’s my chance. The Model 3 Performance is rated at 450 horsepower and 472 foot-pounds of torque. My RS5 had just as much horsepower, but I wasn’t prepared for the difference in torque or acceleration. There’s no setup, no launch mode necessary, no bringing up the revs or fiddling with paddle shifters. Pin your head against the head rest, light turns green, stand on the throttle and the acceleration is insant. It is difficult to explain the feeling, especially when it is nearly completely silent, but the Model 3 Performance is rated at a 3.2 0-60. To put that in perspective, that’s quicker than a 2019 Aston Martin Vantage or a 2019 Audi R8 or a Ferrari 458 Spider or …​ the list goes on. Suffice it to say it is very, very quick. By 50 mph I can barely keep my foot buried or hold off the laughter. It really is something you just need to experience for yourself, but I will say that it is incredibly addictive. One negative mark was that the steering in "normal" was too heavy for me. Even "comfort" mode was probably heavier than I liked, but the steering ratio is incredibly fast. The next thing I noticed was, compared to my Q5, obviously there is very little body roll, but even compared to other cars (like my RS5) this felt extremely planted with very little roll. The closest thing I could compare it to was maybe a mid engine car, something about where it feels like the polar moment of intertia is with all of the weight in the middle, underneath the car just a couple of inches off the ground. You do have the sense while driving it that it isn’t a light car, but somehow that doesn’t affect the performance.

At this point I’ve driven for about 10 minutes so I decide to turn around and head back to the dealership. On the way back I kind of settle into driving it and start looking around at the other cars on the road. Audis, BMWs, etc, and all I could think was this smug satisfaction like I knew some secret no one else had realized yet. The experience driving an electric car, to me, is superior in every way. I know some people will miss the sound, but I think that for me, that’s about the closest thing to a valid complaint someone could offer. On the way back I couldn’t help but slow down and stand on the throttle, and even at speed the performance is nothing short of shocking.

I pull into the dealership and head inside. She asks if I had any questions and I just said "how do I buy it?" So we talked for a couple minutes, she asked, wide-eyed of what I thought of the acceleration. She was clearly a big fan too and told me the story of her first time driving one. So after a couple of minutes of talking about how she and her husband had decided on the same model and were going to buy a pair of them, we walked over to the iMacs. Because the lead time is 6-8 weeks, you just use the Tesla website and reserve it online just like you would at home. I was on the fence between black or white and she convinced me to go white because the black, she explained, was only a single coat and the most delicate. Whereas the white is triple coat and presumably a little more durable. I completed the process, putting down my $100 deposit, which took all of about two or three minutes and I was ready to head home.

This was obviously, by far, the easiest, least pressure car sales I’ve ever experienced. The car really sells itself, they don’t even need to go along for the test drive. She said that sometimes the cars come become available very early. She had one customer who had a 6-8 week lead time and got his car in a week and a half. I won’t hold my breath, but it is possible I could end up with one much sooner.