Driving Impressions: Tesla Model 3

As we pulled in front of our friends’ house on Christmas evening, arriving for a multi-family, multi-generational feast, I was surprised to see a new Tesla Model 3 in the driveway. Neither our hosts, nor any of the other guests I could think of, are “car people”. Then it clicked. Our friends’ son had a Model 3 on order, but it had been so long I had forgotten all about it.

Sure enough, it was his, just 5 days old, and within minutes I had been offered a test drive. It was dark, I was eager to socialize, and it was someone else’s $45,000 car, so my drive was brief. But there’s been enough Tesla discussion here that Paul suggested that I share my experience and impressions.

What I perhaps love most about CC is not so much reading about and seeing pictures of interesting vehicles, as the affirmation that you can be a car buff without necessarily being interested in Lamborghinis, or Challengers, or even old Packards (though I like those too). Every car, and car owner, has a story. While I filled my childhood and youth with automotive obsession and automotive history and technology trivia, my actual car ownership over the past 40+ years has been pretty mundane. I’ve never driven a Lexus or an Audi, nor a Mercedes newer than about 1983 (except for an A-Class rental in the late ’90s). So a lot of my takeaway from this car may have nothing to do with its Tesla-ness, just the fact that I was driving a modern luxury car for the first time since I drove a friend’s E39 BMW 540i. As for electrics, I’ve driven a Leaf and a BMW i3, and even a Corbin Sparrow years ago.

But first, I had to get in the Tesla. You may be wondering why I chose a picture of the door handle for the lead. Unlike the Model S, which has motorized door handles which reach out and invite you in, the Model 3 was a bit more mysterious. Manual door handles, which you have to push in at the rear, to pivot out and allow you to grasp them. I needed some coaching from the owner before I got it. Once inside though, it felt quite normal. The large touch screen was actually fairly easy to read, and there are steering wheel buttons to make adjustments that you’ve selected on the screen, for example the mirrors. On the other hand, I had no idea how the car actually unlocked or powered on … I assume it had something to do with the proximity of the owner’s phone.

Getting it moving was easy. CC’ers will appreciate that it has a column shifter, and you pull it down from Park into Drive. Just like my grandfather’s 1972 Dart Swinger that I learned to drive on. Once in Drive, no creep though. I touched the go pedal and it eased forward in the driveway quite smoothly; off the pedal and it stopped immediately. Once out on the narrow, parked up street I experimented with the pedal cautiously; “throttle” response was very smooth, but lifting off the pedal and engaging regenerative braking was like pressing a brake pedal. For my entire drive, I only needed the brake pedal to insure a stop at stop signs and traffic lights, and when re-parking the car.

Once out of the tighter residential street and onto a major four lane arterial, with absolutely no traffic around at 6PM on Christmas, I nailed the throttle. Now I have driven a few (very few) fast cars in my life, a friend’s Ferrari 360 and a 911, a couple of BMW M3’s, and a few V8 pony cars, not to mention some very high performance motorcycles. but nothing prepared me for the instant, silent, visceral thrust of the Tesla. Now this car was a dual motor (AWD) long range version, not the performance version. 0-60 mph is 4.5 seconds, not 3.3. But still, instant acceleration that pushed me back in the seat like nothing I’ve felt.

After that, the rest of the drive back was uneventful. The ride and seat comfort felt good, the fit and finish was nice, the big center touch screen was surprisingly unobtrusive. Backing into the narrow driveway in the dark, with garbage cans and plants on either side, was easy with a good rearview camera and guiding lines.

Do I see one in my future? At first, I thought probably not. I’m no more likely to buy anything from Tesla’s current lineup than I am to buy an ICE Audi, BMW, Mercedes, or in fact any sedan or CUV. But I fully expect that there will be an EV in our driveway within the next decade, though I may need to add a few more solar panels on our roof. And when I drove our manual transmission turbocharged Golf over the curvy mountain pass towards home at the end of the evening, I enjoyed the connection with the car and the road. Weeks later though, I started wondering again. As I age, a safe, comfortable car would make the kind of long road trips I enjoy less tiring. Reducing carbon emissions, especially with renewable energy sources, is a good thing in our current world. And though it’s been almost 25 years since I’ve owned an American branded vehicle, owning a car manufactured in the country and county of my birth, in fact a city I used to live and work in, would feel good too. We’ll see …

(images from the web)