The Tesla Model 3 is an assault on your senses

Sitting in the driver’s seat of the Tesla Model 3 for the first time was very discombobulating for my brain. Gone is essentially everything you expect to see; driver’s dash, traditional air vents and buttons on the centre console. In their place is just one 15” horizontal screen at the centre of the dash and suffice to say I needed a run-through before I got on my way.

To be honest my brain was a bit flustered even before I got in thanks to the Model 3 key, or rather key card. To open the Model 3 you touch the key card on the B-pillar and the car unlocks and then when you want to start moving you place the key card near the cup holders. You can set your phone up as key to open and start the Model 3 and most owners do this and leave their key card in their wallet as a backup. The Model 3 comes with two key cards and you can pair up to 10 phones (great for car sharing!) to be used as keys. In addition you can open/start the car remotely using the app so if an owner was to lose both key cards, they could still open/start the car using the app and they could also order a replacement key card (no different than replacing a lost car key). The app cannot be used to summon the Model 3 though, like you can on the Model S.

The Model S and Model X I have previously driven were somewhat futuristic in their design, but the Model 3 takes this to another level. The majority of the controls for the car are accessed via the touch screen and when you press the car-shaped button it opens the quick controls for things that you need to use most frequently like external lights, mirror adjustment, steering adjustment and display brightness. You even open the glovebox from a button on the screen. There is voice control also and this works well for making calls, setting a sat nav destination and some other controls of the car.

There are only two roller switch/toggles on the steering wheel and a stalk on each side. The roller switch on the left hand side is for volume or to skip through media by pushing it sideways and the right hand side is for setting the cruise control speed and distance from the car in front of you. The indicator stalk with a windscreen washer button and high beam (also has auto high beam) is on the left of the steering wheel and the gear selector is on the right. You also use the gear selector to engage adaptive cruise control with one push down and two taps down engages the Autopilot, which is only for use on motorways.

All Tesla vehicles come standard with advanced hardware capable of providing driver’s assistance features today, and full self-driving capabilities in the future through software updates. But after experiencing this level of autonomy in various other cars I would say the Tesla system is not the best currently on the market. I have never felt fully comfortable with the Tesla Autopilot; although it doesn’t hug the left hand side of the lane anymore, like it did in the Model S I drove in early 2019, it still disengages too easily for my liking. The Autopilot doesn’t automatically reengage after you change lanes and the Model 3 I drove did not have ‘Full self-driving Capability’ and so did not have auto lane change functionality.

Although the dash design is stark, once you get over the initial shock of the lack of features it’s actually very pleasant to look at. The air vents in the Model 3 run along the slot in the dash and are controlled via the screen for temperature and direction of airflow. You get dual front climate control and dog mode for when you leave your dog in the car and set a temperature so they remain comfortable. Plus you can set the temperature of your car via the app, so it is toasty warm on a winter’s morn and cool on a summer’s afternoon.

The feature I disliked the most about the Model 3 was the glass roof; even though I only drove it on a day with a maximum temperature of 30o Celsius it felt like my head was being cooked and I started to feel like I was getting a headache. To counteract the heat coming through the glass I had position the air con so that it was blowing up above my head. For Australia I feel this is a very bad design flaw in the Model 3 and a blind really needs to be installed.

Like the Model S I have previously driven there are plenty of things in the ‘Toy box’ for you to play with and fart mode is still hilarious. Under your entertainment options you can now log into your Netflix account, access YouTube or view Tesla tutorials while you are charging your car or you can just browse the internet as the Model 3 has a built-in SIM. There are even more arcade games to play as well and now you use the steering wheel to play Beach Buggy Racing 2 and the buttons on the steering wheel to shoot/move when playing Centipede.

Media options include radio, phone, Spotify, TuneIn and new for me in-car Karaoke. It’s only meant to be used by the driver while you are parked, but if you press the ‘I’m a passenger’ button the words are shown while you are driving also. My daughter really appreciated this because she could sing along to ‘Let it Go’ on the way to school and it really annoyed her brother. Like other Teslas you can view your live energy use graph and when you enter a destination into the satellite navigation the Model 3 will automatically schedule in charging stops as required along the route. One thing I did miss though was the screen option which showed you how much energy you used for each trip.

The lack of a transmission tunnel in the Model 3 means that you have multiple storage cubbies to choose from in the cabin. Under the arm rest is a storage tray that can be removed to reveal a deep storage area. In front of the cup holders is another deep storage cubby that is large enough for a small handbag. Here you have a ledge for your smartphone to be stored and two USB ports for charging. For the storage of a large drink bottle you can use the door cubby.

Model 3 comes as standard with all black premium ‘vegan’ leather interior or $1,500 for with the white and black premium ‘vegan’ interior option. All seats in the Model 3 are heated and the front seats are comfortable. The rear seats have enough head and leg room for two adults and having no transmission tunnel really opens up the space in the back. Rear occupants get air vents in the back of the centre console only, these cannot be shut off, and here you will also find two USB ports. Like most five seat cars there are two ISOFIX/three rear tether child seat restraint points in the back, but in reality you would only fit in two car seats in. The centre seat folds down so you get an arm rest with two drink holders and there are large storage cubbies in the doors.

The Model 3 has a big rear boot with an additional storage area under the boot floor where you would normally find a petrol tank. In the front where you would normally find an engine there is a ‘frunk’ big enough for a carry on sized piece of luggage.

Some design elements I liked on the Model 3 included the driver’s mat which actually covered the foot rest on the left hand side, I think this is a first for any car I have ever driven and something I have always thought was needed in cars that do not have a plate here. The rear mat was also very easy to remove for cleaning. A feature I didn’t like was the very basic trim on the rear doors, it looked like no care was taken to design it a way that it was finished off nicely near the B-pillar and I think this was exaggerated by the fact that the black area on the B-pillar doesn’t extend up to the bottom of the window.

The Model 3 Performance I drove is the pick of the Model 3s in my opinion, not just because of the claimed performance figures of 0-100km/h in 3.4 seconds and a top speed of 261km/h. But also because of the way it looks with the 20” performance wheels and the carbon fibre rear spoiler. Like so many other cars the Model 3 looks a lot better in person than how it does in pictures and I think this is to do with the number plate breaking up the area where the grill would normally be so the Model 3 looks less like it has gaffer tape across its mouth.

Thrills are not only had in a straight line, its Dual Motor All-Wheel Drive system also offers plenty of enjoyment when pushing through the corners; something I never thought I would say about a Tesla. What I did miss though was changing down gears using wheel-mounted paddle shifters as I was approaching a corner. Just another way the Model 3 messes with your senses really. The Performance variant comes with Track Mode, but I didn’t give this a go as you have to accept a disclaimer that it is only to be used on a race track. The ride comfort of the Model 3 is good and like other Teslas you get a normal amount of road noise that disguises the lack of engine noise at highway speeds.

Safety features on the Model 3 include adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning, lane departure avoidance, emergency lane departure avoidance, blind spot collision warning chime and automatic emergency braking. The Model 3 has dual frontal, side chest-protecting and side head-protecting (curtain) airbags and achieved 5-star ANCAP safety rating with adult occupant protection rated at 36.7 out of 38 (96%) and child occupant rated at 42.9 out of 49 (87%).

Even though it has eight surround cameras the Model 3 does not come with a 360o view reversing camera only a standard reversing camera. It does however have 360o ultrasonic sensors that provide detection of surrounding objects and display the distance to that object of the screen when you are reversing the car.

The Model 3 Performance has a range of up to 560 kilometres (NEDC), but for me this was more like 18kW/100km or a real world range of around 400km. One change to the Tesla drive experience is now when you take your foot off the accelerator of the Model 3, as you approach the traffic lights for instance, the car will regen brake and then come to a complete stop.

I only used the 240V lead to charge the Model 3 while I had it and this charges at a rate of 2kW/hour, but your wall charger included in the purchase price of the Model 3 will charge at a maximum rate of 22kW/hour, so enough to easily recharge your batteries overnight. For long distance travel, the Supercharger network allows Tesla owners to conveniently charge on major routes across Australia connecting Brisbane to Adelaide. All Model 3 customers have pay-per-use access to our Supercharger network, which is reserved specifically for Tesla owners (current cost is $0.42 per kWh); there are currently 33 Supercharger sites in Australia and growing constantly. Plus, with the Destination Charging program, Tesla owners have access to an additional network of chargers at business, travel and leisure destinations. In Australia, Model 3 also comes with a built-in CCS Charge Port for compatibility with third party fast charging networks, giving our customers the most charging flexibility compared to any EV on the market.

All Teslas come with a four year/80,000 km vehicle warranty and an eight year/160,000 km Battery/Drive Unit Warranty. Roadside assistance is included with your four year vehicle warranty. With over-the-air software updates, remote diagnostics and the support of our Mobile Service technicians, the need to visit a Service Centre is reduced, but Tesla does recommend items such as brake fluid and tyre rotation/balance should still be completed at regular intervals.

The Model 3 Performance starts from $93,900 excluding Government charges and has five colour options with Pearl White Multi-Coat included as standard. Solid Black, Midnight Silver and Deep Blue are available for $1,500 and Red Multi-Coat Red is available at $2,900. As tested including on-road costs my Model 3 Performance was $106,415.

Designed to be a mass market EV, the entry level Model 3 starts at $67,900 excluding Government charges. It’s sure to be a popular now and in the future and the reason why I am so certain of this is because I enjoyed driving it and my children, the next generation car purchasers, loved it! To purchase your Model 3, you don’t even need to visit a showroom simply configure and order it online.

Pros Cons
EV acceleration paired with an enjoyable drive The glass roof
Tesla charging network and CCS Charge Port included to access other charging networks The finishing off of the interior could have been done better
Multiple storage options Having to learn how to ‘drive’ again

Photographs by Driven Women Magazine.