Driving the Tesla Model 3

By Allen Penticoff
Columnist

Dreams do sometimes come true.

It has long been a dream of my sailing friend Marc Holdwick to own an electric car. Marc is an electrical engineer from Arlington Heights, Illinois, so that desire should come as no surprise. When the Rockford Yacht Club recently met for a Cinco de Mayo gathering at a Rockford Mexican restaurant, I overheard Marc say he just got a new car. Knowing Marc, I assumed he got a Tesla – and I was correct. He had just picked up his brand new Tesla Model 3 and driven it straight from the Tesla store to the gathering. Literally, it had 50 miles on it.

We went out to oogle it after dinner, but I did not drive or even sit in this rare new car then. I insisted one of our senior members go for a quick ride since he’d never ridden in an electric car before. Marc promised me a full test drive for Mr. Green Car in the near future. That took place a few weeks later.

Marc was one of the first people to put down money to get on the list for buying a Model 3. He went straight to the store on the first day that you could make a deposit – thereby beating those who made an online deposit by several hours. He then waited two years for the car to arrive.

And what he got was a fabulous machine. In pearl white (all colors other than black are a $1000 up charge) Premium package (better audio system, leather seats and more “trinkets” as Marc calls them) – the whole thing set him back about $50,000, which is typical, as Tesla is not yet building the base standard models. Having an early serial number (20,500) car, he can take the full Federal tax credit of $7,500. Tesla has 400,000 prepaid deposits for the Model 3 and is building about 4,000 per month. Some later owners won’t get the full credit after production passes 200,000 units.

For the promised test drive Marc drove his car to our home in New Milford. The first thing we did, with Marc driving and my wife in the passenger seat, was to go to the Tesla Supercharger at CherryVale Mall. The car had about 120 miles of range left at the time, and the supercharger added a 100 miles and topped the battery at 220 miles in about 15 minutes (and automatically billing Marc for it – Supercharging is not free on the Model 3). One can adjust how full you want the battery, and Marc has his Model 3 set to only fi ll to 80 percent capacity (100 percent is 75 kW or 310 miles). In plugging in the car, Marc showed us you press a button on the charge plug and the charge door on the car opens. The door will also close on its own if you forget to do so.

The Model 3 is festooned with cameras and sensors all over the place. Each Model 3 comes equipped with all the hardware that can be expected if you want to have autopilot and all the other technology – but you can pay for the upgrades (options) later by buying just the software although it costs a bit more this way than buying it with the car. Marc’s car does not have autopilot or adaptive cruise control – and he tones down the forward collision alert.

The interior is sumptuous and simple. Like Bang and Olufsen audio equipment. There are no switches on the dashboard. No shifter sticking up from the center console. No pod above the steering wheel. Just a big fl at screen and a wood fi nish strip across the dashboard. The very comfortable leather steering wheel has two discreet multi-function switches/knobs that control things like the cruise control. A turn signal stalk (with nice clicking reminder sound) sprouts in the usual place, and a shifter stalk sprouts from the right side. An interesting feature of the latter is a button on the end of the stalk to put the Tesla in park – it will also go into park if you open the door while stopped. A button on the inside door handle releases the door – but you need to provide a push to open it. It should be clearer what it does – it could be a safety issue.

The seats are quite comfortable – the rear fold down to increase the already generous rear trunk capacity. Four golf bags at once would be no problem. Then there is the front trunk “frunk” where Marc stores the charge cord and its several adapters. Marc says he’d like to have Recaro racing seats – and I would agree. After blasting around a parking lot – pulling nearly 1G in the turns, the seats are not quite as snug as one would need to accommodate the kind of seriously spirited driving the Model 3 can provide. The suspension is quite taught – making it VERY spirited – 0-60 mph is 4.7 thrilling seconds. I would undoubtedly say it was the best handling car I’ve ever driven. Although, accordingly, the car does feel every bump in the road. The instant and exceptional power is addictive and adds tremendously to its ability to handle like a true sports car. In this regard, it is sportier than the heavier and more powerful model S, which the Model 3 is like an 80 percent scale version of. Marc says if the Tesla S and the Model 3 where the same price – he’d still chose the Model 3. I would agree.

I’ve previously tested the Chevy Bolt and was quite enthused. Still am. I thought I could live with its spirited nature too and not need to wait for a Model 3. But the design, quality, fi t and fi nish, features, handling and great look of the Model 3 simply blow the dowdy looking Bolt away.
The Model 3 is clearly worth the wait (Tesla’s website pushes buying a Model S now versus waiting for a Model 3). In my next column, I’ll get into “numbers” and features of the Model 3.

With a little more waiting, electric car shoppers can get the less expensive $35,000 standard version, or wait for the new performance and AWD versions of the Model 3 to come out. Marc very reluctantly gave up on his much beloved Toyota Camry Hybrid when his new Tesla arrived. But it was his long held dream come true and it was his turn to be the envy of all.

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