Mostly affordable Tesla Model 3 is mostly a sweet ride | Scott Sturgis
With advances in battery technology at decreasing prices, the Tesla Model 3 aims to match gasoline-powered cars on price and everyday usefulness.
2018 Tesla Model 3 Long Range RWD: A charge to your driving?
Price: $57,500 as tested (including $9,000 for 310-mile-range battery; more options below)
Marketer's pitch: Fairly understated sans tagline. Go to the website and learn all about the cars.
Conventional wisdom: Car and Driver liked the "satisfying enough driving experience, more range than any other 'affordable' EV, interior feels like the future," but not that the "most affordable model isn't available yet, disappointing real-world efficiency, some ergonomic quirks."
Reality: The Model 3 makes electrics shine brighter than before.
What's new: Tesla Motors has been all over the news lately, for former chairman Elon Musk's unusual behavior as much as its cars. The Model 3 aims to bring electric cars to the masses — with a base price of $36,000 — but only upscale models are available as the company rushes to fill orders.
Now the company has turned a profit, so this investment appears to be paying off.
Keep me going: The main drawback to electrics — beyond initial entry price — is keeping the car going. A range of 310 miles should cover one of my 115-mile Mondays (West Chester to Lincoln University to Center City and back) with miles to spare. I started with 291 miles and ended the day with 154, not too bad for night driving in rain with the AC. (For the full story, though, check back next week, with a followup on the Chevrolet Bolt EV.)
Gets you going: The Model 3 — the baby of the Tesla line — is no slouch. I enjoyed the 5.1-second 0-60 times (according to Car and Driver) frequently and used the unending torque to make passing a Hellcat-worthy endeavor. I kept up with speeds on I-95 as well, another battery drain.
Charge me up: The Tesla rep who arranged the loan casually slipped in that the car charges overnight with a standard 220-volt outlet. That means a dryer/range outlet, not quite "standard" in our garages.
A standard U.S. 110-volt outlet would take more than a full day to charge up — usually about 4 miles per hour.
On the road: Having no engine and about 800 pounds of battery beneath the floor helps keep road manners refined. The Model 3 handles like a race car, and tight curves become as fun as ever.
It's all display: I've spent almost eight years bemoaning the interface in today's modern cars and figured the high-tech Tesla test would end with fist meeting touchscreen, lawsuits, and embarrassment.
But even though Tesla puts everything on the touchscreen — including speedometer, odometer, lights, wipers — it all works beautifully.
The key to app-iness: No key fob here; download the app (although they provide a card in case you lose or break your phone).
Turning it off? Just put it in "park" and walk away. The phone app will put the car to sleep and lock the doors. (You can also lock it yourself via the app, preferable because the lock mechanism engaged a pretty good distance from the car.)
Friends and stuff: The Model 3 tested included a $5,000 charge for premium upgrades, and the interior was definitely premium. The seats were Lexus-level luxury and comfort, and all the surfaces looked quite nice.
Sturgis Kid 4.0 found the rear seat comfortable and also accommodating for his long legs. Cargo space is 15 cubic feet behind the second row, but no measurement is offered with seats folded.
Autopilot: This feature ($5,000) also had been in the news after a few crashes occurred, but the system itself is not unlike Cadillac's SuperCruise, which I'd tried in the summer. Both allow the vehicle to steer, brake and accelerate itself on limited-access highways, while driver's hands remain on the wheel.
But while Cadillac's has color-coded lights on the steering wheel, Tesla's simply has a small steering wheel icon and a beep that alerts drivers when it's turned on and off.
Also, Tesla's is either driver or car — it doesn't allow for a smooth override of the steering like SuperCruise did.
Play some tunes: Lots of internet radio-y things, but no AM, FM or Sirius here, and I'm technologically impaired, so I listened to the iPod the whole time. The sound was phenomenal.
The two (Apple and Android) built-in USBs are a nice touch, but they're positioned in such a way that I had to peel the cover off my iPhone every time, and then line up slot and port before every drive.
Where it's built: Fremont, Calif.
How it's built: Consumer Reports predicts the reliability to be a 3 out of 5.
Next week: Let's hold off final judgment until we try out the Chevrolet Bolt EV.