2019 Tesla Model 3 Review
Paul Horrell’s 2019 Tesla Model 3 Review with Specs, Interior, Practicality, Performance, Ride and Handling, Ownership, Safety, Verdict and Score.
In a nutshell: A great idea if you can charge it. It’s cheap to run, fast and quiet. Single-screen dashboard takes practice, but it symbolises the alternative nature. In room and dynamics it matches conventionally fuelled rivals.
2019 Tesla Model 3 Dual Motor Long Range Specifications (Europe)
Price N/A Warranty 4 years/80,000 km (battery and drive unit 8 years/160,000km) Engine Two electric motors Power 258kW Torque 500Nm Transmission single speed Drive all-wheel drive Body 4694mm (l); 1849mm (w exc mirrors); 2080mm (w inc mirrors); 1443mm (h) Turning circle NAm Towing weight 910kg (braked) Kerb weight 1847kg Seats 5 Battery capacity 80.5kWh (78kWh useable) Spare No Range 560km WLTP
Almost 200,000 people put down their money on a Tesla Model 3 in the first 24 hours after it had been revealed. They knew very little about it other than its size – close to a BMW 3-series – but the enthusiasm has hardly tailed off since.
Tesla always said it would make a cheaper, smaller saloon than the Model S, but also that there won’t be a cheaper car than the Model 3. That’s because Tesla promises within a year or two self-driving cars will be legal, and the Model 3 is already ready for that. So owners will be able to rent out their Model 3 as a robotaxi on an app called Tesla Network. That’s supposed to defray the cost of owning one. And they insist it isn’t science fiction, despite claims by Mercedes-Benz that autonomous driving is still a decade away. Back to the present.
What is the Tesla Model 3?
Tucked low down between the rear wheels is the drive motor. The top models have a second motor between the front wheels, for all-wheel drive. In both cases, the motors run through their own single-speed transmission unit.
Under the floor is a rectangular-shaped battery pack, in two capacities. We tested the long-range Dual Motor version, but it now appears it won’t be coming to Oz (this was after Tesla had assured us it would be and then advised three days after this test that it wouldn’t be. Grrrr).
Australia will get two versions. Entry is the smaller-battery rear-drive Standard Range Plus, which does 397km WLTP. Its 0-100km/h time is 5.6 seconds. Think of it as a rival to the BMW 330i. It’s orderable at $66k plus ORCs.
The $85,000 plus ORCs Performance model has a similar layout to the one we drove (big battery, AWD) but more poke. Massively more – the Performance is rated at 0-100km/h in 3.4sec, so it’s a rival to the forthcoming AWD BMW M4. It does 526km WLTP.
The one we tested was a Euro-spec car with rather less drive power than the Performance. All three versions share the same brakes and suspension. But a $6200 optional pack for the Performance improves the brakes and tyres and lowers the suspension, and includes ‘track mode’.
The Model 3 is made mostly of steel, rather than the all-aluminium build of the Model S. The Model 3 has steel coil suspension, not (yet) the air suspension available on the Model S. Another clear difference is that the Model 3 has a single fascia screen, not two.
Its styling isn’t revolutionary. But from the front it does say “I’m electric” by its grille-less dolphin styling. Drag coefficient is just 0.23, which matters for cruising range. The charge port is on the left-rear side by the tail-light.
Let’s talk about charging…
It’s probably a bad idea to get an EV right now unless you have a driveway at home where you can install a charging wallbox. Hooking up to one of those overnight will gain you several hundred km of range.
Imagine if your petrol car started each day with half a tank or more. You wouldn’t often go to a filling station would you. And electricity is cheaper than petrol per mile driven even if the whole debate about their green credentials is murky.
Then there are faster AC outlets at shopping centres, hotels and even some council buildings and motoring clubs. Possibly even at your place of work. So you can keep the car topped up while you do other things.
Finally there’s rapid DC charging, which puts current direct into the battery, bypassing the car’s onboard AC-DC converter. Tesla’s network is famously called superchargers and can blast energy into a Model 3 at a huge rate. A half-hour stop could add about 250km range. I can’t be more specific because DC charging speed tapers off as the battery nears full charge, to preserve cell life. It’s fastest when the battery is empty, but you’re highly unlikely to arrive at the charger with the battery close to zero.
Early Teslas offered free supercharging, but now it’s 42 cents a kWh. Think of it as about six cents a km. Home charging is cheaper, and many shopping centres give free AC charging to encourage you to shop there.
It is worth saying that in our experience, Tesla superchargers are much more reliable and straightforward than using other charger networks in other electric cars. That’s because you are dealing direct with Tesla, rather than a series of suppliers with their own payment apps and membership schemes. Better still, unlike other Teslas, the Model 3 has a CCS port for its DC charging, which means it can use other networks as a backup.
So if your long trips take you past DC chargers, or your destination has charging (lots of hotels do), then you can get a long way surprisingly easily. Otherwise, you can’t.
Explore more here https://www.tesla.com/en_AU/charging
What’s the interior like?
It’s strikingly sparse, but mostly in a good way. The whole design is pared back and free of ornament. It’s been shorn of nearly all switchgear. Even the dash vents aren’t immediately obvious, as they’re diffusers and their general direction of aim is controlled by an option within a screen menu. Same routine with adjusting the mirrors and steering column and wiper speed, by the way.
The front seats have multi-way power adjustment. It’s fairly easy to get a comfy driving position, though after a time on a straight road it feels lacking in somewhere to rest your elbows for a good grip on the wheel.
In the back everyone sits knees-up, because of the underfloor battery. They get USB ports, unsurprisingly, and vents and lights and seat-back pockets.
It’s all-glass above the rear seat. A single pane runs uninterrupted from midway back the roof all the way down to the boot lid. Tesla says it improves rear headroom and airiness, but it’s not the wow you might think. It’s heat-blocking glass, of course, else you’d have a backseat barbie.
The boot is pretty big at 425 litres, part of which is a deep underfloor compartment. The seatbacks fold forward for extra space in a 60:40 split. A small extra ‘frunk’ hides under the bonnet. The centre console is mostly hidden storage, a vast amount of it, thanks to the absence of a transmission tunnel underneath. A wireless charge plate folds down when you need it. Overall Tesla claims 542 litres for the boot, front boot and cabin storage.
What are the controls and screen like to use?
Window switches, steering wheel and pedals and left-hand stalk (dip, indicators, wipers) are conventional. That’s all you’ll recogise.
The only other visible controls are the right-hand stalk, plus two unlabelled controller balls on the steering wheel spokes. Those balls have multiple functions in the menus, but in their default state the left one is stereo volume and track/tune, while the right one is for cruise control speed.
The right-hand stalk is the equivalent of a transmission/park brake lever. Pull up for reverse, down for forwards, and press the end for park. Pulling down twice engages the driving assistance.
The screen graphics are superbly responsive and rather beautiful. You access functions with various swipes and touch gestures, all pretty intuitive. But the screen still drove me slightly mad. It’s wonderful to use at a standstill, or when the autopilot is operating. But bumping down a normal road, it’s stupidly difficult to accurately touch the small screen buttons with your finger because there’s no wrist rest. The screen’s simply too big, and mounted too far off the dash, and the graphics are sometimes too small.
On the driver’s side of the screen is the speedo, digital only, and the projected range. The other functions, even common ones, several touches, taking your eyes off the road too long. Sometimes Silicon Valley ought to admit the old car industry had one or two good ideas. One of those good ideas is a moderate smattering of actual hardware buttons for common functions.
What’s the infotainment system like?
The standard speakers are good if a little metallic at high volumes. The Performance version has an upgrade. Voice control or a screen keyboard will stream any music off spotify. Tesla cheerleaders say this is magical, but I’ve been doing it via Siri on most cars for many years.
Talking of which, there’s no CarPlay or Android Auto, so you don’t have say an SMS app or podcasts or Whatsapp. But of course you are linked to your phone for voice via Bluetooth. Playing music via Bluetooth or USB is OK but again the menus aren’t helpful for finding tunes that reside in your device.
Map connectivity is superb, at least if you’re anywhere near cell reception. It uses Google maps traffic, and the huge screen does give you a sense of place. On the Premium Plus pack you get satellite view maps (not as clear as, y’know, map maps). And a full web browser. Again, a super-distracting temptation.
What’s the performance like?
If you’ve driven any other EV you’ll be familiar with the Tesla experience. It’s smooth, instant and near-silent acceleration, controllable with wonderful precision. There are no delays to your acceleration requests, and it doesn’t have the steps in delivery brought about by a multi-ratio transmission.
The one I tested was a mid-spec unavailable here. It’s supposed to do 0-100 in 4.6 seconds, and it can do that on most surfaces because it’s AWD. To launch the thing from a junction, just press the pedal, and it thumps you back in the seat. There’s no need to balance a clutch, or bind engine revs against an auto transmission. No launch control buttons to press. Just mash your foot and the world goes backwards.
Mind you the ‘basic’ Oz version is claimed to do the 0-100 run in 5.6sec so it’s still pretty perky. It should be able to get decent traction most of the time because it’s RWD, whereas some EVs have traction-deficient FWD.
Because the acceleration is so easily delivered, it doesn’t stimulate the senses in the same way as a combustion car. There’s no thump of gearshifts or audible rising of revs towards the red-line in each ratio. So you might not realise how quickly you’re going. That’s both a good thing and a bad thing: pay attention to the speedo.
You can choose two levels of behaviour when you lift off the accelerator. One allows the car to coast. The other brings in a high level of regenerative braking to slow the car down by recharging the battery. After a time many EV drivers find they prefer this one-pedal style, and hardly ever need to bring their foot onto the brake.
Even using the brake pedal, the system balances regeneration against the discs. It aims only to bring in energy-wasting friction when it gets to the limit of regeneration power. This means an unsatisfying (but not dangerous) unprogressive action under middle-force stops, but to a degree you get used to it.
What’s it like on the road?
It’s certainly got the chassis smarts to cope with the extraordinary performance. If you’re asking, it’s not quite so involving to steer around a series of interesting corners as a BMW 3-Series is, especially if the road is undulating. But very few saloons are. The Tesla is as good in its chassis as say an Audi or Lexus or Volvo.
The steering is always precise and nicely geared, but it lacks feedback. The car hardly rolls or pitches because the centre of gravity is low. Its damping is generally pretty decorous, but it can’t always cope with the car’s 1847kg kerbweight over big dips and crests, especially if you’re braking or turning at the time.
Arrive at a level corner too fast (easy given the deceptive acceleration and the mushy brakes) and it’s understeer. But get the entry speed right, notice how little it rolls, nail the accelerator and you might get a rewarding little tailslide before the ESP reins it in. It is a sporty saloon by that definition. Mostly though it just points and goes, in absolute safety and security.
But let’s face it most ‘sports saloons’ spend very few of their kilometres doing that. Mostly life is about their other qualities: comfort, refinement, ease of driving. And the Tesla does well here.
The ride’s taut but mostly satisfyingly level, until it comes to a sharp pothole or a length of coarsely corrugated surface when it will shudder. At a cruise you hear the rustle of air from around the pillars, especially in crosswinds. Tyre noise isn’t bad and there’s no sound from the powertrain.
So it’s relaxing and easygoing in town, out through the suburbs onto motorway stretches.
What about the self-steering functionality?
Engage the ‘autosteer’ driver assist and the radar cruise and it’ll do similar lane-following active cruise as other luxury cars. That includes changing speed in response to limit signs. Tesla’s system has been improved by successive updates and now operates competently on dual-carriageways and main roads, and can cope with broad corners even if there are poor road markings where other cars lose their touch.
Every Model 3 also has what’s called full self-driving hardware, but you have to pay $8500 extra to get its features switched on. This hardware includes cameras all round the car, ultrasonic for close-distance detection and radar for distant forward perception. A hugely powerful double-redundant processor system in the car is continually updated as Tesla’s visual-interpretation software, using neural net technology, becomes better trained.
On the dash screen is a graphic depicting the car and a live feed of what the self-driving system sees of the vehicles around. This is amazing: the cameras and processor can distinguish cars, vans, trucks, cycles, motorcycles and pedestrians, speed limit signs, and road markings, and it shows their position accurately. Which is hypnotically distracting if you don’t have the assistance systems engaged.
Tesla’s system is very different from other manufacturers, which rely on lidar and high-definition maps. The Model 3 can recognise not just different road users accurately, but in my experience the edge of a road and even predict its steering path when there are no visible markings. That’s because it uses a visual processing system modelled on our own, but using more cameras than we have eyes.
A ‘navigate on autopilot’ system enables the car to carry itself from a motorway on-ramp to the correct off-ramp for your destination. It’ll make lane changes when safe (warning you or not, as you choose), and negotiate cloverleafs. I didn’t have the chance to test it but it’s a widely used feature in the US.
Tesla claims its system will soon be capable of drives in pretty well all conditions, town and country. Then that capability could be switched on with simply an over-the-air activation. No need even to visit a dealer. But of course it can’t happen right then because the legal framework isn’t approved. Tesla is confident that won’t take many years.
Good grief that’s actual autonomous driving. A staggering promise. But as Musk says, although all his promises have been delivered, they have sometimes been late.
What safety features does it get?
These driver assist features do contribute to safety if you use them as a back-up. They pick up hazards you might have missed, and the lane and speed keeping systems reduce your workload on long trips. But they do not drive the car – yet – and you shouldn’t ask them to.
Besides, the Model 3 has some unusual ergonomics. For instance, it’s sometimes possible to knock it into neutral when you meant to tun off the autopilot, because they’re on the same stalk. That and the one-screen system can can all be a bit disorienting. Beware.
The Model 3 hasn’t yet been tested by EuroNCAP/ANCAP, so we can’t see how it does on our usual protocol. But the US NHTSA shows five-star results in all its tests: front crash for driver and passenger side, side barrier and pole in both front and rear seats, and rollover resistance. NHTSA also verified the working of the lane departure and collision warning/braking systems.