Tesla Model 3 Performance Review – At 2 Years and Counting!
Are We Two Years into a Revolution?
It's hard to believe that it's been a full two years since we plunked down what seemed like just a staggering chunk of money for the first of our two Performance dual motor Model 3s in July of 2018. That first one arrived pretty quickly a matter of weeks – and I was so blown away by the car and the overall genius of it that I ordered another one for my wife the next day after delivery. . . . less than one week before the free unlimited supercharging deal was about to expire. Neither of us at that time could have appreciated how much our experience of both driving and overall car ownership was about to change. We feel we are two years into what is the front wave of a major transportation and energy revolution.
While Performance Model 3 is hardly perfect (what a piece of technology is?) – it's got an unmatched collection of strengths – it’s been the most fun to drive, most practical, and the most economical to operate and trouble-free car either of us have ever owned. It's too early to know whether or not the drivetrain reliability advantages on paper prove out over a more extended 100,000-200,000 miles of ownership and even beyond, but we're cautiously optimistic that they will, although we have some growing concerns about range loss (see Con #2).
My take-home message to folks who've never experienced this car is, first of all, go test drive one! The Performance Model 3 is essentially a four-door electric Ferrari that gets over 100 MPGe, pretty much doesn't require maintenance (windshield washer fluid and tires are about the only real items), while being perhaps the best/easiest long distance driving car ever, with one of the best navigation and infotainment/stereo systems you've ever seen or heard in a car, coupled with the best space utilization in a very compact vehicle we have ever seen. On top of all this, the Model 3 is – according to both US and European metrics – the safest vehicle on the road you can currently buy, while having performance that pretty much torches other comparable sports sedans in its price class(es). Maybe the best endorsement of all for the Model 3 comes from my technophobic wife, who previously regarded all cars as boring necessary evils, useful only to get from point A to point B. She loves driving her Model 3 and hates driving anything else – “It's the bomb” in her words. Not sure you could get a stronger endorsement.
Our cost per mile (with free unlimited supercharging and solar panels in our winter residence) is estimated at five cents per kilowatt hour over roughly 10,000 kWh of charging time to cover roughly 35,000 miles between the two cars working out to $510, which works out to 1.45 cents/mile. That's untouchable, and we appreciate that without solar panels and without the unlimited free supercharging, we'd be talking about significantly more cost per mile. But again it is a revolutionary experience to be able to simply power your car from sunlight. We expect that the cost per mile will vector gradually towards but never reach an asymptote of basically zero cents per mile as we spend less time in New England, more time in Florida, and use our supercharger benefit more liberally. We expect in the coming year to have no more than $50 worth of charging cost between now and our trip back to Florida in November. We have taken two round trips from New England to Florida with no cost for energy, due to our free supercharging benefit. Of course the real cost of ownership is heavily weighted by depreciation and insurance, but all this means that aside from those fixed costs your out-of-pocket cash outlay can be very small. Especially you have a solar system.
1) an amazing dynamic envelope of overall performance, including great handling, braking, with instant acceleration. The car has a pretty decent ride too, especially after Tesla revised the shocks and springs in early to mid 2018. The Instant acceleration is nicely linear (G force feels quite proportional to how much you depress the pedal), unlike anything you’ve ever experienced, even in comparably powerful ICE vehicles. Totally addicting – completely spoils you and makes any other type of drivetrain feel terribly unresponsive. Total absence of wheelspin or noise makes this level of performance far less likely to attract undesirable attention.
2) Easiest car ever to drive, perhaps one of the biggest surprises. Can be a low effort, relaxed cruisemobile when you want to loaf and take it easy. Autopilot for sure is part of this, but it isn’t just the EAP. Great steering, feedback from all the controls is generally excellent, and you can position the car on the road with considerable precision and little effort. It's both a drivers car –more so than its somewhat ponderous if faster older brother – and a very easy car to drive!
3) Brilliant, paradigm-shifting integration of all the car’s systems through a big, bright and beautiful 15 inch touch screen, complemented by NFC card keys and Bluetooth phone access. This effort to consolidate the entire operating system into a touchscreen was incredibly brave of Tesla, particularly given the risk that the absence of traditional speedo and gauge clusters – to say nothing of keys or even key transponders – might disorient and turn off some potential buyers. But Tesla pulled this off. And it now sets a benchmark for the industry in terms of operating system integration, ease of use, etc. We could never go back to keys, key fobs, and all that stuff now seems like working with typewriters. Again, both a giant leap forward in convenience, and virtual elimination of the punitive replacement costs around lost key fobs (vs. $20 for two NFC cards). Remote access/control via the phone is a game changer, allowing remote activation of locking/unlocking, monitoring, climate control, charging, etc.. Everyone is scrambling to equal Tesla's brilliant operating system, and it contributes significantly to overall ease-of-use. Remote activation of AC and heating are just some of the more notable pluses of the phone app functionality, but many of the car’s critical systems, esp. charging, can be monitored and controlled remotely. Game changers all around.
4) Over the air updates that regularly and significantly improve functionality of multiple systems. Only car on the market that is significantly better after two years then when new. This first included the early and now infamous antilock braking fix over the air, but the last two years significant horsepower increases, improvements in the screen layout, cold weather behavior, enhanced supercharging, Sentry mode, Dog mode, viewing of Sentry and dashcam video in car, etc.. Too many improvements to list! Again, total game changer.
5) Speaking of supercharging, the best charging network hands down. Not even close. Version 3 superchargers and the enhancement of Version 2 charging rates to 150 kW will continue to cut down on trip travel time. We are glad we got the unlimited free supercharging – even if for a lot of people that's not a great value at an estimated $5000 price tag. We expect to get more than our money's worth.
6) One of if not simply the best navigation system, with excellent speech to text input in terms of destinations. This prevents tedious and what could be on the road potentially distracting typing of destinations. Excellent integration of potential supercharger destinations and their current level of availability into the nav system, with battery conditioning now whenever you have a supercharger as a destination.
7) Enhanced autopilot. Yes, we know all about its quirky and even occasionally frankly unsafe behavior, the occasional strange phantom braking and other gaffes, but it's simply a brain-saving and stress-reducing Godsend on long drives, the only trade-off being that you have to monitor the car versus do the tiring grunt work of driving it. We'll take that trade-off any day of the week and twice on Sundays on any long drive, even just 15-30 miles. It removes the most cognitively fatiguing aspects of driving – lane centering and speed matching (although all radar-guided cruise controls on many newer cars take care of the second of these challenges), and trades those for a simpler and perhaps wider angle monitoring of your environment. We believe that this ability to take your attention off the minutia of driving actually enhances traffic awareness and safety. While we find it sometimes too conservative due to an ultra safety-conscious set of paradigms in heavy traffic especially around lane changing, I vastly prefer it to the stress of squeezing out a few more miles per hour by relentless tailgating and lane surfing (what almost everybody else on the road is doing most of the time).
8) Excellent infotainment and sound system.
9) Best front seats I've ever experienced (version2). Excellent and highly customizable driving position, savable across multiple drivers which is hugely convenient (and reduces family squabbling!)
10) Track Mode 2.0 and recently 3.0 with a track G meter with ‘sliders’ (adjustable max torque front and rear)! Excellent car for the track junkie, at least in shorter sprint type races.
11) Speaking of tracking and tweaking, there are excellent options for aftermarket tuning, particularly from Mountain Pass Performance (our personal fav and one of the all time great vendors!), but multiple vendors are getting heavily into the Tesla mod after-market. Excellent coilover kits are available, along with a wide range of wider and lighter alloy wheels, a great front spoiler from UP, etc. Warning: Tesla Tuning can be addicting!
12) Mobile service can fix a lot of issues without your having to bring the car in (but see cons).
1) ‘Range anxiety’ – no question about it you have to work with this one and be willing to live with a certain amount of it on trips. However, we find that the three-hour functional range of highway driving at 70-75 mph is about concordant with how long either of us wants to sit in the car. While in my 20s I could drive for 5 hours without getting out of the car, I just can't do that, so the restrictions on range and the need for more frequent refueling, with longer stops, are fine by me. As a trade-off, who knew that we hated going into gas stations? I don't miss them!
2) Range loss anxiety – this is a new concern, associated with the inevitable degradation of lithium-ion batteries over time. We've experienced some range loss, although it has not yet reached the point where it is changing our trip charging habits or forcing additional charging stops. But we are concerned about that possibility emerging, particularly given news of some Model S cars that have had their charging rates cut significantly to preserve battery life. We've gone from 310 miles to about 295 miles in one car and 294 miles in the other (~5% in both cars). We know this is nonlinear and tending to be greater in the first year or so and then more modest in rate from there. This is about average for the fleet for cars two years old and with 15-20k mileage), and is way under the 30% battery loss warrantee, but we hope it does not progress much from here. A 30% range loss is functionally punitive for folks who use their cars for long distance driving. Tesla has not announced any kind of plan for what option owners might have at the end of warranty to purchase a new battery pack, if people want to restore the original range of the car, or perhaps purchase the latest technology which might potentially include a range boost. This uncertainty about what happens to battery packs as they near the end of their service life remains a source of some concern. Tesla's silence on the subject does not help, nor do their conflicting statements about range loss. Finally, their apparent eagerness to avoid any form of battery replacement under warrantee, including replacing deteriorated battery packs with used packs with often above-fleet-average range loss, makes customers feel that Tesla is, if not dodging their responsibility to provide some version of stable range, then at least not embracing any commitment to truly insuring stable range. We are aware that Tesla is about to announce a million mile battery pack (probably at the upcoming Battery Investor Day in Sept 2020), but this doesn’t help current customers or clarify a path for those with range loss still less then the 30% but functionally disruptive.
3) Interior materials simply do not match up with or even get close to best-in-class from the Germans and Japanese. This includes carpets, trim pieces, door panels, etc. This makes the cars look and feel cheap at their price point.
4) While were on the subject of the interior, the back seats are just set too low – I'm sure this was in the service of preserving headroom for the rear passengers, but it would be nice if this could be adjusted.
5) Long wait times for service, and although service has been generally excellent, Tesla in our case did not agree that a structural issue with the glass roof is a factory quality control problem versus some kind of rock or other impact problem, despite the absence of evidence for clear impact. Cracked roof glass has been one of the Model 3s bugaboos. Service centers are typically a long way away. This can mean a three-hour drive just to get an issue taken care of that mobile service can fix.
6) Tesla communication, across products, (energy and cars), needs work. Sometimes it is responsive, but people seem to disappear from time to time. Too much turnover? Other issues?
7) Quality control still is not up to snuff, although in general our cars were delivered in good shape excepting a funky computer board in my wife's car, and a too tight trunk latch in mine. Getting better, by all accounts, but paint quality, panel alignment, and a host of other theoretically minor but ultimately annoying QC issues still seem to find their way into delivered vehicles.
8) Wind and some road noise as you get above 65 miles an hour. We've mitigated this with the RPM Tesla noise kit, plus additional door seals, plus extensive door and trunk dynamatting. We doubt most users are willing to put this kind of time and energy into mitigating something that Tesla should have taken care of, especially in the pricier dual motor cars. We've gotten an estimated 5 db of noise reduction, but again better noise mitigation should have been part of the standard equipment of the car. This problem of wind and road noise is of course amplified by the total absence of drivetrain noise – one of the vehicles great charms.
9) Lack of support for both Apple Car Play and Android Auto. While we personally don't especially miss them, we know that a lot of people do.
10) Vulnerability of performance wheels and tires to damage and even failure from road impacts – this is not really a knock on the car, and as everybody knows, just an intrinsic trade-off of radical low-profile wheels and tires. But it might be nice to have performance versions with 19 inch wheels and tires, or even 18's if the buyer so desired (it appears that newer cars allow this).
11) Lack of an RS version – this could include an upgraded and lowered suspension with cockpit adjustable shocks, 265 or 275 series tires, forged lightweight wheels, upgraded inverter with extra ~50-75 hp, and a taller drive ratio to put horsepower peak higher than 45 mph along with enhanced motor and battery cooling that would allow full power output until running out of juice. Obviously all this is fantasy wish list stuff. Currently some of this is available as do-it-yourself aftermarket mods, except of course the extra 50 hp which is complete vaporware but might become available in firmware at some point, while the enhanced cooling and the taller drive ratio would have to be factory redesign. We keep hearing rumors about upgrade to a ‘ludicrous mode’ or something like that but nothing looks remotely guaranteed on this.
12) Lack of an LS version – this could include extra sound dampening materials, upgraded interior leather choices, upgraded interior materials, etc. More fantasy wish list stuff obviously. Probably will never happen, but who knows. In any case Tesla should consider that they're making the best car in its class with only two interior color choices – black and white!
Realistically most of the Cons are fairly minor (excepting #2), although someone getting a car delivered with poor paint and other quality control issues is not going to feel good about their Tesla experience as it gets started. But on balance, these cars are the best cars we've ever owned, and even the best cars either of us have ever driven, price no object. That includes many expensive sports sedans, Porsches, and even an occasional Ferrari. Indeed our Model 3 Performance has taken the Ferrari Italia 458 off my bucket list. Overall, great work Tesla!
But Tesla cannot remotely afford to sit on their achievements and needs to keep improving in multiple areas, perhaps most especially in terms of their communication with a loyal customer base which they cannot afford to take for granted. This is my biggest concern, and although we love both our Model 3s and our two home solar systems, we see some trends that concern us around Tesla’s customer service and communication. Under ‘corporate arrogance’, see what happened to GM. I'm cautiously optimistic Tesla's not going down that road, but let’s hope the collective genius on display in this car and in the Model Y, and hopefully energizing upcoming products, keeps Tesla moving forward into a sustainable future. But the most critical part of this revolution is not the technology, but Tesla’s relationships with customers. I am increasingly worried that Tesla may not get this.