Our First Time Behind the Wheel of the Hot Little Tesla
The Model 3 brings the Tesla magic to a smaller, more affordable package. However, the car isn’t in press fleets, so it’s been hard to get any time with one. Luckily, a friend of mine shared hers with me on a sunny Saturday morning.
The friend connection gave us a chance to experience one of the hottest new cars
The car looks a lot like its big brother, the Model S. The designers managed to capture the same flowing shape in a foot-shorter package. The grill-less nose resembles a Porsche, while the taillamps are generic-looking, lacking the chrome garnish of the S. My white Tesla Model 3 Long Range wore satin finish chrome trim and the optional 19-inch wheels.
Not a hatchback, the Model 3 has a rear trunk, but it looks roomy. The “frunk” in the nose would easily accommodate some modestly proportioned soft luggage. What you won’t see at either end is a motor or other technical component—as it rarely needs service, it’s tucked away.
The Inside Story
Stepping inside before our test drive, I was impressed by the overall quality of the car. Tesla doesn’t use animal-based leathers, so the seats and steering wheel feel good, but there is no new-car aroma. The Model 3 seats are comfortable and supportive, and felt that way from the moment I sat down in the driver’s chair.
You can adjust the seats (manual standard, electric with the Premium package), and as with pretty much everything else, the central screen becomes a storage repository for those settings. The screen is so critical that even the glovebox opens only with a virtual button on the screen.
The steering wheel contains two little balls at the thumb positions. These have multiple uses, depending on which item you’re attempting to control. You can adjust the outside mirrors and steering wheel this way, for example, as well as the typical audio volume and station selection.
The Sky Above
Covering the entire rear half of the car is a stunning glass roof. The glass over the driver and front passenger is only part of the premium package. None of the glass opens, but it certainly lets the world in.
The front seats are supportive–and the back ones seemed low
The gleaming piano black center console pops open to reveal a rubber surface that will hold two cell phones. Press them onto the charger and they connect to the car. Below this panel is a deeper storage bin. My friend says the surfaces are magnets for fingerprints.
In the rear, the seat is surprising low, with a short cushion. Despite providing sufficient legroom, is not very supportive for long distance travel. That’s likely the price you pay for the car’s low, sleek profile. It’s a sedan, not a crossover or hatchback, much lower than, for example, the Chevrolet Bolt.
A Minimalist Dash
The dash is stunningly plain, with a wood veneer strip and slim vents behind the big center panel. The vents themselves are adjustable from the center screen, and you can use your fingers to configure where the air is going, which is kind of fun. You only see the slot, so the air is distributed more subtly.
Only one big distraction here
I found that the screen’s center-mounted position means you’re less likely to consult it underway—or pay attention to speed, for example. But at 15 inches, it is big enough to show you a lot at a glance, and the UX design is state of the art.
The steering column stalks have basic functions only, with the center panel serving up most controls. The left stalk controls windshield wipers and washers, but you can configure more on the screen. Windshield cleaning is completely automatic by default. The right stalk controls the automatic transmission settings. If Autopilot is engaged, pressing D (Drive) twice initiates it. However, this car did not have Autopilot enabled, as the owner didn’t add $5,000 to get it included, and there apparently are some software updates to come to make it fully operational.
More Central Control
Audio controls, like everything else, are accessible from the center panel. The current selection appears on the lower strip of the right side, under the navigation system map. Swipe up to enlarge the panel, and you can choose from a wide variety of digital channels, as well as FM and the contents of your phone. Many blends and specialized stations appeared, although I didn’t spend time experimenting with them. The sound was excellent, although I don’t know the brand or the size/quality of the speakers, which were tucked away unobtrusively.
One screen to rule them all
The doors open electrically with a small button at the top of the grip—it would be easy to miss it. The window drops slightly first, and then you can push the door open and step out. The door panels are quite plain compared to the Model S. This is an area where mass production necessitates simple, straightforward components.
Out on the Road
I placed the gear selector into D and pressed lightly on the accelerator and off we went. Driving someone’s personal car meant I was especially careful. We drove down the street and made a right onto a residential road. I tried pressing harder on the pedal, and the car moved out vigorously. While the Model 3 doesn’t feature a “ludicrous mode” like the S and X, it is good for 5.1 to 5.6-second zero-to-60 times. The steering is taut, and you can change direction with barely a touch. The suspension is firm, so the car feels planted. A big battery below the floor keeps the center of gravity low on electric cars like these.
We jumped on the freeway, where the car took off, as you’d expect. With its optional 310-mile range, the Model 3 should be a willing long-distance traveler, although the superchargers are not free for it, as they are for the Model S and X. The standard Model 3, out later this year, will feature a 220-mile range battery, which is still good for most local travel and competes closely with the Chevrolet Bolt.
The Model 3’s efficiency is beyond reproach. The EPA gives it ratings of 136 MPGe city/123 highway/130 combined. The Greenhouse Gas and Smog numbers are perfect 10s, as expected. You can’t really do better than that today.
Big and little Tesla side-by-side
My friend also has a Model S, so I could compare the cars side by side; I even drove the Model S briefly after my Model 3 test drive. Both cars have the quick acceleration you’d expect from an all-electric vehicle, although the S is more dramatic, about a second faster zero-to-60. The swirling shapes featured in the Model S’s interior are not part of the Model 3’s more straightforward, linear inside. The Model 3’s relegation of all displays and controls to one centrally mounted panel is completely different, too, as the Model S supplements its huge vertical center screen with a traditional instrument panel display.
Dimensionally, the Model 3 measures nearly a foot shorter nose to tail than the Model S, on a wheelbase that’s just 3.3 inches shorter. It’s four inches narrower, too. Tesla weights vary depending on battery size and features, but this 3 is more than half a ton lighter. The Model S has 30 cubic feet of storage versus the Model 3’s 15, and the S’s hatchback is more practical.
The real difference is in the feel. The Model S proudly wears the mantle of a luxury sedan while the Model 3, not as much. The screen-oriented user experience creates a “car of the future” ambiance, but the layout and presentation are not as impressive. The plainness is reminiscent of a new Volvo, with less bling.
The Price & Visible Flaws
However, that’s easily attributable to price. A new Model S 75D starts at $74,500, while the Model 3 starts at just $35,000. However, you can’t order the base car now, because all of the first batch of Model 3s have the long-range battery (310 miles vs. 220) and Premium Upgrade. You can also opt for special paint (anything but black costs extra) and the gorgeous 19-in wheels. In fact, I saw another friend’s configuration screen for his Model 3, and for now, it’s basically a choice of color and wheels.
Model 3 fit-and-finish looks like a work in progress
My Tesla Model 3 Long Range test vehicle came to $52,500. With enhanced autopilot, it would be an additional $5,000.
The Model 3, however impressive, is not without flaws. If you look closely, there are some slight fit and finish alignment issues inside and out that are not expected in a car with a price above $50,000. While these are not deal breakers, they show that as the company takes on the Herculean task of building a car in larger volumes, some items are simply not getting done as perfectly as they are on a brand-new Kia.
Style–and substance–and work to do
While I only spent an hour and a half with the car, part of that time behind the wheel, I was impressed at how smooth and strong it felt, its quietness, and how enjoyable it was to drive. The styling is quite nice on the outside, while the interior proved comfortable, if subdued. With a hatchback and the smaller battery for $35,000, the Model 3 would be an impressive direct challenger to the Chevrolet Bolt, new Nissan Leaf and other EVs to come.
One thing to think about, though. My friend told me that research had shown that for many Model S buyers, their Tesla purchase was a stretch—much higher than they had ever spent before on a car. I think some Model 3 waiting list dwellers will take the plunge and go for the car, warts and all, even if it’s a bit out of their comfort zone. There’s emotion in the Model 3.
Related Stories You Might Enjoy: More Model 3 News & the Chevy Bolt Competition
News: First Tesla Model 3 Deliveries
News: Tesla Model 3 Production Starts
Road Test: 2017 Chevrolet Bolt
Personal: One Year with the Chevrolet Bolt
Because we know you’re curious, Steve’s photo collection from test drive is below:
Flash Drive: Clean Fleet Report “Flash Drives” are concise reviews of vehicles that include the major points and are easy and quick to read. A “Flash Drive” is often followed later by a comprehensive test drive review.
Welcome to 2018!
We wish all of you a very Happy New Year! We hope 2017 was as good for you as it was for us here at Clean Fleet Report. We published more articles than in any previous year, covered breaking news of new models and tested cars of all shapes and sizes. The team of John Faulkner, Larry Hall, Steve Schaefer and Nick Zatopa dug deep and brought you up close to all of the important stories this year.
It’s a great time to be focused on green cars as the number of EVs, plug-in hybrids, hybrids and high-mileage gas and diesel vehicles continues to climb. And autonomous technology and connected vehicles promise to become a part of our daily lives. This has been a great year for us, but we think 2018 promises to be even more exciting. Glad to have you along for the ride.
Look for some surprises in January!
Editor & Publisher
Clean Fleet Report
The Mode 3 is just one of the stories we’ll be covering in 2018
Tesla Moves Bigger & Back To Its Roots
Tesla has never been accused of underplaying its cards (or cars). Tonight (Nov. 16) it showed its all-electric heavy-duty truck, destined for production in late 2019. The”Semis” (there were two) have been previewed for months, but the presentation lived up to most of the hype. The truck promises to be the same kind of distrupter than Tesla cars have been in the light-duty market.
Elon wants this to be the “best truck ever”
That wasn’t all, though, as Elon Musk also revealed its next-generation “roadster.” The four-passenger performance T-top coupe was a surprise, but will be available in 2020.
The Big Truck
Tesla’s ambition to show that its electric propulsion technology has applications beyond expensive luxury sedans and SUVs came to fruition when two trucks rolled off the streets of Torrance into the Space X facility. The trucks were sleek, sporting a .36 Cd and enough batteries to claim a 500-mile range.
The Tesla Semi daycab is hyper-aero
The promises about the trucks were vintage Musk:
- “designed like a bullet” with super-aero looks
- 1 million mile “no break-down guarantee”
- sporty performance (0-60 in five seconds with the cab, 20 seconds with an 80,000-pound load
- an enhanced AutoPilot system (like the system featured in Tesla cars)
- “lowest cost of ownership” compared to current diesel trucks
- order one now for delivery in three years
Actual technical details were sparse, but what could be divined from Musk’s 20-minute introduction was that it was designed to run as an 80,000-pound rig (the maximum payload allowed on U.S. roads). What was not divulged was how much weight the huge battery packs would take away from the load capacity.
Two screens, no waiting
The power, coming from four Tesla Model 3 motors, was impressive, with the ability to accelerate a fully loaded trailer to freeway speeds in 20 seconds. Safety features–including automatic emergency braking, lane keeping and forward collision warning, are welcome additions. As are Tesla mobile apps like remote diagnostics and predictive maintenance notices.
The cab is configured as a single-seat daycab setup with the driver positioned at the center of the cab, flanked by two large Model S-like screens. It has the height to accommodate a six-footer and plenty of storage space.
Musk said the truck would “win on economics,” but until it’s really on the market, it will be hard to fully evaluate how those numbers work out in the real world.
The Surprise Roadster
I know model descriptions are in flux, but when the Tesla Roadster 2.0 rolled off the back of one of the Semis, I did a double-take. At first glance, it appeared to be a T-top (hello, bandit) Model 3 coupe. And that may be what it is, but Musk introduced it as taking the roadster Tesla started with and “making it new.” Whatever the chassis, about which little was said, the selling point of this car will be performance.
The new Roadster promises more practicality with its beyond-ludicrous speed
That’s something with which Tesla already has a track record. The new three-motor roadster (one for the front wheels, two for the rear) will be beyond “ludicrous,” as Musk put it. It aims to be the first production car to deliver 0-60 times under two seconds, 0-100 in 4.2 seconds and a quarter-mile time of 8.9 seconds. The top speed wasn’t disclosed, but was hinted to be north of 250 mph. In addition, it will have a 620-mile range from its 200 kWh battery pack. Musk’s summation was that it was the “hard-core smack-down to gasoline cars.”
Unlike some exotic supercars, Musk said this model could accommodate two small persons in its rear seat and had “real car” storage. It is promised to be on the market by 2020.
A Tesla reveal is never a straightforward event. As was predicted by some skeptics, it started on “Musk Standard Time,” i.e., a half-hour late, but wasted no time in getting the trucks on screen and then on stage. Musk breezed through his portion of the program in about 20 minutes and the Roadster took less than 10 minutes to present. It was compact, but packed with quite a bit of real information and marketing conjecture.
Elon Musk goes big & back to Tesla’s roots
As with all Tesla products, the story will be complete when they are in production and on the market, but the mere presence of two running heavy-duty truck prototypes should be enough to accelerate the development of competitive trucks around the world. Some have already started, like Daimler, Cummins and Chanje, but I’d expect more during the next few years. Given what happened in the electric car market, where the major car companies seemed to have underestimated Tesla and been caught off-guard by its success (albeit not financial, yet, except in the stock market), I’d predict that the truck OEMs will accelerate their competitive products. It should make for an interesting truck market during the coming decade.
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The Clean Energy Revolution Is Coming
When you read about climate change in the news these days, it’s mostly about supercharged, destructive hurricanes, melting icecaps and imminent catastrophe. Steve Westly, venture capitalist and former California State Controller, has a brighter vision. He shared it with a receptive group at an event hosted by Acterra at the Foster Foundation Gallery in Palo Alto.
Westly, a lean, animated man who reads younger than his 61 years, knows his stuff and his audience. He presented images and data to show a world in which energy production is moving towards renewable solar and wind at a much faster pace than predicted. The transportation sector is on the verge of a massive, positive change to electric and autonomous vehicles. Westly is placing his trust in the younger generation of millennials to pull off the work we need to combat the climate crisis.
Growing Up Before It Was Silicon Valley
Westly grew up in Santa Clara Valley, before it was called Silicon Valley, when it was mostly farmland, Stanford University and not much else. He witnessed the sweeping changes that transformed the valley into the place where much of the technology that can save us is now based.
Westly has been involved for years. He was a board member with Tesla when it was a few dozen people in a small warehouse and has seen much more since. He knows his numbers.
Carbon dioxide (CO2) is invisible, so it’s harder for people to get upset about it increasing, but air pollution is easy to understand. While the skies have largely cleared over the last 30 years or so, they are beginning to darken again, thanks to significant pollution wafting over from China–as much as 25 percent of what we breathe in California originates there.
That’s because to support their economic growth, in recent years China was on a massive coal plant building spree. However, that is now changing to renewable energy as the Chinese people demand an end to the choking clouds of pollution that could kill up to 83 million Chinese citizens over the next 25 years. Now, the Chinese are becoming the green energy world leaders.
The Energy Change
Per Westly, coal and nuclear are out, while solar and wind are on the way up—much more quickly than they were projected to rise. Coal is too dirty and nuclear plants are too expensive. Meanwhile, the price of wind and solar continues to drop steadily—it’s at a fraction of where it was—while natural gas, currently a popular energy source, fluctuates.
Tesla gigafactory represents step toward the future
Storage of solar and wind generated electricity has been a problem over the years, since the sun doesn’t shine at night and the wind doesn’t always blow, but the storage price is dropping quickly. Westly presented a chart showing a steeply descending line, depicting a 35 percent drop between 2016 and 2017 alone. This is in part thanks to Tesla’s huge battery gigafactory in Nevada, which when complete will be the largest building in the world. Interestingly, this American plant has pushed the Korean LG and Japanese Panasonic/Sanyo battery makers to become more competitive, all to the consumers’ benefit.
Westly predicts affordable $25,000 electric cars in the next five years as part of a boom in these clean-running models. BMW, VW, and other companies are investing big time. It’s no longer going to be a small, fringe group, as EVs take over.
Three Big Changes
Westly says three things are going to make leaps of progress happen:
- The Internet of Things, where everything is connected;
- Big Data, with the ability to provide the enormous amount of data needed to make connected cars work; and
- A sharing economy.
Big Data is coming to save us
Together, these factors will contribute to the rise of the autonomous car in just a few years. It’ll be sooner than you think, Westly promises.
Westly is counting on millennials, with their different set of values, to lead the charge. They are now the largest population group, passing the aging baby boomers. Shared values of this generation include having a small carbon footprint, wanting a choice of connections, and having clean air, food, and water.
Other countries are already moving ahead with plans to dump the gasoline-powered car in the next few decades. Norway say it’s 2025. India, with its huge population, says 2030 will be it. Even England and France are talking about 2040 to sell the last petrol-powered car. California has also broached the idea.
Westly is sanguine on the possibilities of rapid, beneficial change to help combat global warming—with answers coming from Silicon Valley. The private sector, not the U.S. government, will lead the charge. It’s a very appealing vision.
Acterra is a nonprofit whose mission is to bring people together to create local solutions for a healthy planet
The Foster Foundation’s is a nonprofit whose mission is to share artist-explorer Tony Foster’s powerful watercolor journeys to inspire reflection, discussion, and education about art, wilderness, and the natural world.
Nothing Like It, Anywhere
One thing Elon Musk does not do is run from an idea, plan or a strategy. Whether it’s designing and launching rockets (SpaceX), building a massive battery manufacturing plant (Gigafactory) or starting an all-new car company from scratch, he has not been deterred. This can-do entrepreneurial spirit of innovation and technology extended to how he wanted to sell cars: direct to the public, as in–no dealerships. He claims this process allows buyers to fully understand the benefits of an all-electric car without a competing message about gasoline-powered cars. So what could go wrong? As it turns out, plenty.
Just another store at the mall
In the 1950s, dealer franchise laws were established to protect independent car dealers from being undercut by a manufacturer selling direct to consumers. But since the Tesla Models S and X (and now the Model 3) are on the road, did Musk get his way? Not exactly and not everywhere. There are several states where Tesla is not allowed to sell cars and a few where they are restricted to only a handful of retail stores. For those of you who live in one of those states, you’re out of luck. However, if you do live in a state where you can buy a Tesla, then you are in for an unique shopping experience.
Just a side note: In those states without a Tesla store or limited stores, you can always chose to use the online ordering process, which is quite simple. Of course, the online ordering is open to all. (Most automakers allow you to configure a car to your tastes online, but actually ordering it to be built is left to dealers.)
Walk In or Make an Appointment
While it’s not necessary to do so, as walk-ins are welcome, I made an online appointment and a week later at the appointed time visited my local mall-based Tesla retail store. Located amid Nordstroms, Steve Madden, Lululemon and Apple, this mall’s upper middle class clientele are far-forward thinking consumers looking for fashion and technology in their next car.
The Design Studio has all the details
The Tesla store is bright, calm and genteel. Two, sometimes three, cars are on display along with video screens and a Design Center, showing interior and exterior colors and fabrics. Upon arrival I was immediately greeted and introduced to an “Owner Advisor”. Sorry, no “car salesmen” allowed at Tesla. I first drove the Model S 75 that, as configured, had an $82,000 price tag, before any applicable state or federal tax credits. After being walked through the exterior features and the interior technology, we took about a 20-minute drive on city streets, a long freeway onramp and then a few freeway miles. The power was instant and the ride was smooth and quiet. I was instructed how to use the Autopilot where, once set, I took my hands off the wheel and pedals and was cruising along in moderately heavy traffic at 65 mph. This technology is amazing and an industry leader for what will become available from all car manufacturers in the not too distant future.
Next was the Model X 75D sport utility vehicle, at $99,000 as tested, featuring the unique Falcon Wing doors that open with less clearance than a sliding door on a minivan. Taking a similar test drive route, I was able to compare the two vehicle’s driving attributes. Both rear-wheel drive cars had impressive acceleration and excellent braking, with the Model S being a bit more nimble due to a lower center of gravity and less weight.
After the Drive
My visit ended with the Owner Advisor walking me through a car configurator: a computer program that is graphic-centric and uses touchscreen and haptic controls. Since the advisor was not working on commission, I was never upsold any features or pressured into making a purchase decision. Conversely, the advisor actually suggested omitting a few of the more expensive features. Refreshing.
There are cars in this store–but you can’t buy them
Since I did not buy a Tesla on this visit, I can only relate my shopping experience, which was unlike anything I have ever gone through. Talk with anyone you know about their car-buying experience, and you may hear tales of high-pressure tactics and even, in the most severe cases, bait and switch. Remember Clark Griswold ordering the Antarctic Blue Sportwagon and being switched to the hideous Metallic Pea Wagon Queen Family Truckster?
Since Tesla prides itself on the professionalism, knowledge and training of their staff, I can only extrapolate that taking the next steps would also be equally low stress. Tesla builds each car to owner specifications, so you will choose options and packages, colors, and financing choices of lease versus purchase. Price? Don’t bother asking for a discount as Tesla has fixed pricing. Tesla does sell pre-owned models that come with warranties if you are interested in going this route (and they can be shipped to where you are).
Since the Tesla stores are really where you order a car, once you have made your decision pick a delivery date and catch a movie at the mall.
Simple, and you are treated like an adult. The auto industry should take notice.
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