Tesla Model 3 long-term review: life with Elon Musk’s make-or-break electric car

Tesla Model 3

This is the first of a series of reports on buying and living with a Tesla Model 3 – the compact all-electric executive car, UK-bound for 2019.

We haven’t been given the car by Tesla. Indeed, Tesla isn’t even aware we’re doing this. It belongs to a friend of Motoring Research who has bought a Model 3 with his own money. Also, he’s located in California, so we haven’t even physically seen it.

We’ll relay his experiences – positive and negative – of buying and running a Model 3. The volume and intensity of the conversation surrounding Elon Musk and Tesla is fairly steep. As such, a no-nonsense running report on this market disruptor seems timely, and hopefully useful.

Tesla Model 3

Our friend was UK-based, but emigrated to the US for work. He had a passing interest in electric cars without ever owning one, so buying brand-new is no small commitment.

Importantly, he’s not a motoring journalist, so can offer a different (dare we say more realistic?) perspective. Don’t expect stories of measuring panel gapsor calling the press office about problems – although the quality of the Model 3 is something we’ll be asking about.

This is a real consumer giving his verdict on his new car. Whatever comes of it, we hope to provide a unique insight into the love-or-loathe world of Tesla via its most important car to date – the Model 3.

Excited to take delivery

Tesla Model 3

The car was ordered on the 10th of September and delivered on the 14th, although we suspect it wasn’t built within those four days. Tesla’s US website site says typical order-to-delivery time is ‘within four weeks’ so it seems he bought an existing car.

Delivery time for the dual-motor all-wheel-drive model was quoted as three months. Our friend was a bit impatient and thus opted for rear-wheel drive. His Model 3 is the long-range version with Sport wheels in Midnight Silver.

On paper, figures for the Model 3 look impressive: a 310-mile range, 5.1 seconds to 60mph and 140mph flat-out. We’ll report back on how it fares in the real world, with a particular emphasis, we expect, on that range figure.

For now, we can confirm the feeling of anxiety upon ordering was fast replaced with excitement, especially when a box with the key inside landed in his possession. First impressions and driving updates will follow soon…

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Update 2: quality woes?

Remembering we’re trying to be impartial and stand aside from internet-wide Tesla hysteria here, the initial news isn’t good. The car arrived – brand new – with a dent in the door. Our friend accepted the car on the condition that it was repaired for free, a courtesy car was provided and that he got a year of free Supercharger access. Remember, the Model 3 doesn’t usually get free juice like the Model S and X do.

Tesla Model 3

On the one hand, you expect a new car to be of a condition and quality that can’t be questioned. On the other, the compensation seems adequate. Our friend says that, other than the dent, quality is absolutely fine. The panels all fit correctly, there’s no peeling rubber, no mismatched interior trim or any other such blunders.

What many decide to forget when ranting about Tesla is that most car manufacturers have experienced and continue to experience quality control issues. Clichés don’t materialise out of thin air – car buyers have decades-long experience of continuous mis-steps in quality from certain manufacturers.

Learning curve

Where you can legitimately critique this car is with regard to something all buyers will face: the learning curve. If the future is now, it shouldn’t be intimidating. Teslas represent the future but they’re also cars we’re being asked to buy now.

In terms of aesthetics, Tesla has nailed this. All of these cars are attractive in very contemporary sense. Generic and sleek rather than edgy and weird. Upmarket rather than prop-reject from a sci-fi film set.

Inside, however, it’s a different story. Yes, it’s very attractive, but almost everything is digitally controlled. How does this work in real life? Our friend needed a few minutes to work out how to roll down the windows and even get the passenger door open. It’s all stuff you get around within minutes. An hour of sitting in it and familiarising yourself goes a long way, as it turns out. Nevertheless, some of the more change-resistant among us might jump in one to try it and be instantly put off.

Some of the futuristic toys are, of course, absolutely superb. Checking on and controlling the car via the Tesla app is a revelation. “I just cooled the inside of my car from 100F to 75F.  Remotely,” our friend brags.

Tesla Model 3

Torquing tough

Where better to give your Tesla its first proper run than Highway One? This is an aspect of the future we’re all happy to get on board with, and our friend was bowled over by the Model 3’s performance. “The torque at 50mph feels like pulling from standstill. It’s exhilarating”. “You’re going to break my neck” was one comment he received from his passenger.

It impresses in the turns, too – a good job given this is touted as a small executive car above all else. “The centre of gravity feels low like you’d expect. Very stable in corners”. That’s the benefit of much of the drivetrain weight sitting comfortably below the door handles.

In terms of braking, our friend was oddly comfortable with the idea of simply letting off the throttle. The Tesla Model 3, like many EVs and hybrids, has regenerative braking. Off-throttle, the motion of the car is translated back into electrical energy via the motors, with a side-effect of the car slowing down.

Home on the range

With a good part of a day spent driving and, shall we say, ‘testing’ the car, you might have expected the range to take a significant hit. Our friend charged the car to 90 percent the day before, with a view to taking it for a good run, after which it went from 90 percent to 66 percent charge. Apparently, the estimations of remaining range hold true, too: a solid 270 miles to a charge. What range anxiety?

Charging is something of another story. Unless you’re Supercharging, you need to commit extended periods of time to juicing up. “The phone app shows the time to charge 90 percent. It arrived with 40 percent charge and will take six hours to refuel,” was one comment.

There’s more to come soon on the day-to-day of running a new Tesla Model 3. We don’t think the honeymoon period will pass for a while yet…

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Update 3: A year in the life

A belated welcome back to our long-term Tesla Model 3 review. We planned semi-regular updates but, truth be told, there wasn’t a lot to report. We concluded our last entry by saying that we suspected the honeymoon period wouldn’t pass for a while yet. Nine months in, and it still hasn’t.

Now the Model 3 is finally available in the UK, so we thought we’d catch up with our American friend. Here are his latest thoughts on life with one.

Tesla Model 3 long term update

Range-extended

Horror stories be damned, our friend’s Model 3 has put in a near-flawless shift over the 5,000 miles he’s driven it so far. Expected range is down from 290 miles to 280 when it’s fully juiced, although he suggests that’s due to his exuberant driving.

What’s more, that’s still 10 miles more than when he bought it, thanks to an over-the-air update that improved range. He’s also had the enjoyable experience of gaining 10 miles of range after a long period of coasting, using the regenerative brakes to pick up power.

The worst issue experienced is a charger that sometimes doesn’t automatically unlatch. All Teslas are supposed to automatically release at the end of the charge cycle. This means he’s had to go through menus in the car to ‘manually’ release the charger. In that process, the flap automatically closes on the adapter.

He’s had a nail in the tyre, too, although that’s no fault of the car. But he was rather shocked with the $400 cost of a replacement.

Tesla Model 3 long term update

California love

Our friend is based in one of the most EV-friendly localities on Earth; California tends to treat electric car drivers quite well. He also has charging facilities at his office.

“I’ve only had to depend on charging infrastructure on two occasions since I bought it. One of those was really just an excuse not to park next to bangers in the Target car park,” (think broken glass, trolleys left next to cars).

As such, the car’s powertrain has almost never made him think twice about taking a journey, save for a few weeks ago: “Last weekend I forgot to charge it – I had 100 miles range left so I didn’t go. But it was more an excuse. A Tesla Supercharger would have sorted me if I’d really wanted to travel.”

“I’ve had my car for about 9 months. In total, I have paid about a quid for charging.”

It’s alright for some…

Tesla Model 3 long term update

Overall, his experience has been overwhelmingly positive, but there are a couple of things that have really stood out:

  • “The instant torque never gets old and the continuous acceleration (no gear changes) from standstill to 70mph is amazing. It still gives me a rush.”
  • “The updates are brilliant. Imagine computer operating systems without updates; that is the car industry at the moment. I’ve received a range upgrade, power upgrade and a two-month trial of autonomous driving. Fun, too, are the games and ‘Easter eggs’. Fart noises that can be played from any speaker, for instance….”
  • “One of the updates resulted in the car cameras always recording, which means if you crash you have video evidence. And if the car is vandalised you get the ******* who did it.

“I think it may have saved me from a crash”

A final anecdote, regarding a near-miss: “So, I’m driving on the motorway and a person changes lanes without warning, dropping into my lane. I was very aware that I didn’t have time to check if there was anyone in the lane below me and the steering went hard and pushed me into the lower lane!”

A nice change in the narrative, then, to see Tesla’s autonomous functions preventing a crash rather than causing one.

Tesla Model 3 long term update

Tesla Model 3: verdict so far

So far, we like what we’re hearing. We’re conscious that our friend is ‘testing’ in a very different environment. If temperature degradation is a worry for us, for example, it surely isn’t in Oakland CA. Nonetheless, the UK certainly has some catching up to do when it comes to infrastructure.

As for the car, it seems like a good ownership experience. Say what you like about Tesla, and about Elon Musk, but some of the ideas he and his cars have introduced are undeniably excellent, making long-standing rivals look a little archaic. It’s caused a fair amount of head-scratching in many car manufacturers’ boardrooms.

As for what Tesla will bring to the party once the car industry has fully caught up, we shall have to see.

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