Second Impressions: The Tesla Model 3

Last week, Don, my brother-in-law picked up his metallic deep-blue  Tesla Model 3 from one the company’s showrooms –they sell their cars direct and not through a dealership–  in Fremont, California.

A year ago, he had put up a US$ 1,000 deposit for the promised US$35, 000 Model 3 unit that had just gotten off Tesla’s designers drawing boards and into production mode at that time.

The Tesla Model 3  was supposed to catapult the fledgling company into the mainstream car market.

All their previous models, the Roadster, the Model S  as well as the Model X (an SUV – sports utility vehicle) are relatively expensive that only a few middle-income American consumers could to afford it.

Tesla had been in the forefront in the rebirth of the all-electric vehicle boom that had seen the release of competing models from the big Japanese and European car makers  -notably Nissan (the ‘Leaf‘) and BMW (the i3 – with the latest release, a 2-cylinder ‘range extender’ engine is now just optional )- as well as from the top 2 American car firms — General Motors (the Chevy ‘Bolt‘) and Ford (coming up with its ‘CUV‘).

The Model 3’s simple interior and almost bare dashboard is both a boon and a bane

As it turned out, Tesla’s promised consumer-friendly price tag of US$35,000 for the Model 3 ‘base model’ ballooned to almost US$57,000 after the company failed in its promise to offer one with the ‘standard batteries‘ during the consumer rollout.

Eager to drive home with his Model 3, Don was literally compelled to buy a more expensive unit with long-range (up to 310 miles) batteries + premium exterior with rear-wheel drive.  His choice of color, deep blue metallic (extra $1500), alloy sports wheels (extra $1500) set him back another $3,000 plus all the taxes and fees.

The price would have gone even so much higher had he opted for one with an all-wheel drive (extra $6,000 for the ‘basic’ all-wheel drive and extra $15,000 for the ‘performance’ all-wheel drive) & enhanced Autopilot (extra $5,000).

After all the extras, a fully loaded, top-of-the-line Model 3 goes for about $75,500 before all the taxes and fees –and that’s not a price for the average consumer.  For all that money, you could buy four (4)  brand-new (latest model) Toyota Corollas and still have a few thousands left in your pocket.

Charging the car at home via a dedicated 240V outlet.

So for the US$57K price he shelled out -before Federal & State tax incentives- Don’s Model 3 car should, at least, be impressive.  It is but not without some drawbacks.

Most electric cars have impressive torques and the rear-wheel drive Model 3 can accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in about 5.1 seconds.  The car’s handling was also impressive as the 19″ wheels were big enough to mitigate some road imperfections.

You can’t say enough praise for all the tech goodies inside and outside the car with its gaggle of radars, sensors, cameras, software updates for the touchscreen control panel as well as the very impressive all-glass roof.   All of the Model 3’s glass parts including the windows were made by Saint-Gobain Sekurit which traces its roots all the way back to 1665 in France as the Royal Glass Works.

The Model 3’s all-glass, UV protective roof is very impressive. Those 2 micro LED pin lights provide just enough illumination for the passengers at the back

And, as this is an all-electric vehicle, you tend to rely less on the brakes to slow down the car —just release your foot on the accelerator and you accomplish two things: 1). slows the car down to halt and 2). you charge the batteries (regenerative braking).

Let’s get to the things that I didn’t like about the Model 3:

Firstly, the door handles.  Opening a door is a two-handed affair.  What???? You have the push the recessed handle with one hand and grab the handle’s end once it pops out with your other hand – just to open a door.

If you’re quick, you can grab open Tesla’s Model 3 with one hand. For most others, opening a door is a two-handed affair.

Second, there is no manual override just to open the glovebox compartment.  To open it, you to have to turn on the touchscreen tablet (which acts as the sole instrument panel and controls everything inside the car) and push the ‘open glovebox‘ button.  Too cool but also too dumb.  If a thief would really like to take something important from they will simply use a screwdriver and force it open.

Third, and as mentioned above, the car relied too much on the 15″ touchscreen tablet located right smack in the center of the dashboard.  I honestly believe that Tesla did it to cut cost in guise of the ‘cool factor’.

Truly functional or just for the 'cool factor'???
This 15″ touchscreen tablet is the only instrument panel inside the Tesla Model 3.

This is specially too distracting when driving around the city as you have to deal with all the functionalities of the car on a touchscreen panel.  As if driving and texting is not bad enough.

Fourth, for the steep price tag on any premium variants of the Tesla Model 3, real leather seats should be standard.  As it is, the ‘premium interior’ model could only boast of a faux leather in black.

Lastly, except for topping-off the windshield washer fluid, there’s nothing a Tesla Model 3 owner who’s keen on maintaining the car himself can do much.  Most of the other end-user replaceable parts & fluids are either hidden underneath the car’s chassis –where the engine sits in your typical internal combustion vehicle is now a front luggage compartment-  or, not that easily accessible.

This means that if ever the car needs even the most simple maintenance, you may have to take it back to a Tesla dealership.  Bottom line: costlier upkeep. 

There are other minor flaws that needs no mentioning and can be ignored but the ones above are just simply too obvious to be overlooked.

After all, Tesla’s mass production model cars -starting with the 2012 Model S- had only been around for just a few years.  Improvements should come in their next iterations of those models.

That is, if -with their massive debt and government subsidies in the form of tax incentives- they remain viable and, most importantly, profitable, as a company in the coming years.

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