From Los Angeles to Auckland: how does the Tesla Model 3 perform?
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Tesla’s Model 3 is being acclaimed for its tech savvy simplicity where basically you are driving an iPad on wheels and using your iPhone as a key; but with such equipment there is always one issue: user error.
We’d tested the Model 3 late last year in California and loved the simplicity of it and such cool features as summon mode, where I could move the car via my cellphone “key” from my second floor apartment, or from across the road during a photo shoot.
So I was excited when the Tesla Model 3 arrived in New Zealand.
The Model 3 sedan prices start at $73,900 (plus on-road costs and delivery) for the Standard Range Plus model with a range of 460km per charge.
The Performance model has dual motors and all-wheel-drive and costs from $101,100. With the addition of the delivery fee of $185, the total price was $103,760 for our test model.
The Performance has 20in wheels, a carbon fibre spoiler, plus heated seats.
The Model 3 has autopilot, a function that lets the car drive itself at a set speed and distance from vehicles in front.
I picked up the Model 3 for four-day test, but then came some technical issues: me.
In Los Angeles I had a Tesla app downloaded onto my iPhone at a Tesla showroom with an email and password set up go pair with the VIN number of the car.
To enter the car, I just had to have my phone on me. Easy.
But fast-forward nearly eight months and at the Tesla store in Auckland, and we couldn’t get the car to pair with my phone. Quite a few minutes past. No connection, so instead I had the Model 3’s credit card-size key.
Returning to the Tesla store later that day, a technician quickly determined what the issue was; I hadn’t updated the app. Doh! App updated and I was connected.
But then came user error two. I accidentally applied valet mode when setting up all the functions on the app.
Valet mode is an American function for when you valet park your Model 3 at restaurants. It limits the functions of the Tesla; including speed and wifi (so you can’t stream music).
On the Saturday, I took three friends who had ordered the Model 3 for test drives so they could get a taste of what they had ordered. Co-incidentally, all three had ordered the same Model 3: a Performance with black exterior and white seats.
For two of my friends, valet was off so they could experience the instant torque and rocket ship—like speed.
For unluckily friend three, valet was engaged and all he got was a lacklustre and below average ride especially when we tried to accelerator onto the motorway onramp and all we got was a paltry 80km/h. Sorry Tesla is my friend cancelled his order after the drive around the block with me!
Of course I didn’t know that valet mode was the issue and instead thought someone at the Tesla factory was having an off day when they built my test car.
But heading back to the Tesla store, a sales assistant quickly picked up the issue, and valet mode was banned.
That’s when the fun started.
As in LA, I liked the simplicity of the interior of the Model 3 with the horizontally-placed 15in colour touchscreen.
The steering wheel features two scrolling wheels that can click inwards, scroll up and down and flick left and right. Using the main infotainment display, the driver selects their function.
To use navigation, you used the screen similar to Google maps whilst a SIM card in the vehicle let us request any music you wanted.
Instead of blind spot monitoring on the side mirrors, the screen shows the car in the bottom left corner and let you know what vehicles and their sizes where around you. For example, I could see if a truck was coming up on the left lane.
It takes a while to get used to this as blind spot monitoring via side mirrors catches your peripheral vision, whereas you have to glance down at the screen.
The Model 3 also had “dog mode” that allows you to keep your pet unattended in the car at a comfortable temperature but letting passers-by know that the pooch is okay via a message on the Model 3’s infotainment screen.
Via the air conditioning’s fan mode, you turn on “dog” setting, adjust the temperature and a large message on the screen says, “My owner will be back soon. Don’t worry! The A/C is on and it’s [temperature]”.
Another new function, thanks to customer feedback, is the introduction of two hooks in the front trunk (known as the frunk) to store you takeaways without them spilling in the storage area.
The Model 3’s software also includes sentry mode that uses the car’s sensors and cameras to deter potential car thieves. If the car’s camera detects someone leaning on the car, the infotainment screen with display a large message to say that the cameras are recording. If a window breaks, the car’s alarm is activated, lights flash, and the owner is notified via the Tesla phone app.
The dual motor all-wheel-drive Performance has a 75kWh battery, a range of 560km, sits on 20in wheels and goes from 0-100km/h in 3.4 seconds (unless valet mode is applied!). That range means you can drive it all week without charging.
I took it for a drive to the country then spent the weekend around Auckland – with the only issue a drop in temperature saw a drop in the battery life and it warned me I needed to charge the car.
Satellite navigation can direct you via Tesla supercharger stations and while you charge the display has a toy box function that includes fart mode (you can dictate which seat farts or the car farts as you used the indicator). Yes my son laughed every time I did that. The screen can display a fireplace while heating the cabin, or even an arcade full of games you can play directly on the screen.
Back on the road the Model 3 has a firm ride, especially on undulating surfaces, but it holds its place on the motorway and suburban streets.
Both steering and acceleration sensitivity can be adjusted through the main display, with comfort and sport modes available. I preferred the Comfort setting around the city and the Sport mode at speed as steering was heavier and I felt more confident with smaller movements.
But the joy – like all EVs – is that instant torque. With the Model 3, it’s easy to hit 100km/h and quite a few kms more, so I had to watch my speed.
There were a couple of niggles with the Model 3.
You can activate the wipers by pushing a button on the end of the indicator stork, but to increase or decrease the wiper action, you have to go onto the display screen and push one of three icons.
In sunny California you won’t use the wipers much. In Auckland in winter, you need it a lot. It’s annoying and potential owner three was unimpressed.
Then there were the door handles inside and out. The exterior ones are flushed so to open the car you have to push the large part of it for the handle to pop out. Inside, there is a tiny button to push to open it All three of the potential Model 3 owners struggled with the handles inside and out so I told them, “If you can’t open it, you can’t buy it”.
Hopefully they didn’t take me seriously.