First drive: we experience the new Tesla Model 3 in California
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If there’s one place in the world to test-drive the all-new Tesla Model 3, it has to be the home of the brand, California.
The entry-level model for the Tesla range, the Model 3, joins the Model S sedan and Model X SUV. It is set to go into right-hand production soon, with the first cars arriving in New Zealand mid-year.
Tesla New Zealand says pricing is yet to be announced, but my test car, the Model 3 Performance, costs US$70,000 (approximately NZ$103,000) in California. The entry level Model 3 variants are sure to appeal to Kiwis who want to get into electric motoring for less than $100,000.
But my Model 3 Performance was ideal for a week-long test drive while based in Los Angeles for a holiday with my daughter, Grace.
The Model 3 is basically an iPad on wheels — and I loved that simplicity. To enter the car, I had a Tesla app downloaded to my iPhone at a Tesla showroom with a email and password set up to pair with the car’s VIN number.
To enter the car, I just had to have my phone on me. Easy. Inside the car, there is only one 15-inch colour touchscreen, the size of an iPad (hence my comparison). Unlike the Model S, it’s also the only visual display unit in the car so it has a clean, decluttered look.
The steering wheel has similar use and links to the main screen. It has two scrolling wheels that can click inwards, scroll up and down and flick left and right. For navigation, you use the screen, like using Google Maps and input the address, and a SIM card in the vehicle lets you request any music you want.
Instead of blind spot monitoring, the screen shows the car in the bottom left corner (see right) and lets you know what vehicles are where around you. For example, I could see if a truck was coming up in the left lane.
Based in an second-floor apartment in Mid-Wilshire, I could set the temperature of the car via my iPhone from the living room, and even move the car remotely via the phone as I did for the photos above that I shot opposite the Beverly Hills Hotel. I wanted to move the car up 2m to avoid a power line, so did it from across the road. Impressive.
The Performance model has two electric motors that produce a combined 335kW of power and 640Nm of torque. Tesla claims a range of 500km but I found it was around 480km — nothing to quibble about.
Inside the car there’s impressive leg and head room front and rear plus plenty of storage in the frunk (front trunk) and rear boot. All the better for storing shopping during the Thanksgiving Black Friday sales. In the boot there’s also sub-floor storage big enough to store a small suitcase while the second row also folds flat to offer more cargo capacity.
The power from the Performance Model 3 was needed when navigating the freeways of southern California, especially the 405 where you can have up to 10 lanes to move across.
The Model 3 works incredibly well and made driving in the chaotic SoCal roads easy. There is autopilot for the highways that does require you to have some input but it is great when you are cruising along, desperately trying to find your turnoff while following satnav instructions.
Although Model S and Model X Teslas dominate around the streets of Los Angeles and beyond, the Model 3 is not a poor relative and still turns heads. We did road trips to Malibu (albeit just after the fires), down the coast along Manhattan Beach, and around Beverly Hills and the Model 3 fitted in well with the vibe.
It stop/starts with ease in heavy traffic and the suspension does a great job, especially on some gnarly central LA pot holes. Steering has three modes — Comfort, Normal and Sport. I had it in Comfort while around the low speed roads as it was easier to manoeuvre, while I had altered between Normal and Sport on the freeway.
The Model 3 has double wishbone front setup with coil over twin-tube shock absorbers and a stabiliser bar while the rear has an independent multi-link setup with twin-tube shock absorbers and a stabiliser bar.
It’s such an easy and enjoyable vehicle to drive — and when it arrives in New Zealand, it’s set to change the EV world here.