A couple months ago, I happened to be perusing the inventory of Williston Economy Motors — a small, independent dealer in the Burlington, Vermont, area. Among the usual cars one would expect a small, independent dealer in Vermont to have was an unexpected surprise: a 2018 Tesla Model 3! The next time I bumped into the dealership’s owner, I asked if I could check it out, and he promptly agreed!
Three days later, on a slow Saturday morning before a big snow storm was due to pass through, we dusted the snow off the car and I took a few minutes to familiarize myself with the interior. Since this is my first electric car experience, I don’t have much context in which to compare. That’s okay, though, as there are plenty of Model 3 reviews out there from folks who have driven a much larger range of cars than I. Both Doug and Tyler have had the opportunities to spend more time with these cars and offer their thoughts. Because of that, what I’ll focus on today are the things that are most strikingly different when you’ve spent your entire life around cars with internal combustion engines — and suddenly find yourself in something with none.
To start, I want to talk about the first thing you notice. "Starting the car" is a totally different experience. In the Tesla, at least, instead of jumping through lots of painstaking hoops like "put your foot on the brake and push a button" or "put a key in a slot and turn it," all you do is "enter the car." Once inside it just comes to life, ready for the day’s journey. While this is cool and makes things nice and easy, that tingle of anticipation you get when you press the start button on your McLaren 600LT isn’t there.
Obviously, with no engine comes no engine noise. And with no traditional transmission, there’s no shifting either. Granted, you can "shift" from reverse to forward and back again if you wanted to, but, that’s about it. There’s no rowing through the gears, no sense of occasion when you put your foot down on the gas, err, accelerator. However, even though there’s no wailing exhaust note as the speed climbs, the acceleration is still impressive. The model I drove was a long-range, rear-wheel-drive car. Everyone that drives an electric car speaks of the immediate response of the motor. It likely won’t surprise you to know that they aren’t lying. You put your foot down, and it just shoves you back until you let up. I mean, presumably there’s an upper limit to it, but, it was a cold winter day, so, I wasn’t pushing anything too hard. But, that upper limit is definitely well above highway speeds.
That is, however, after the battery had warmed up. The day I drove the car it was above zero, but below freezing, and the battery needed to warm up before allowing its full potential. It took a good 20 to 25 minutes for it to do its thing. In that time, the performance was greatly reduced. I was still able to keep up with traffic for the most part and I never felt like I was holding anyone up, but, the difference between when the battery pack is cold and when it was warm was impressive. It was like the difference between a standard issue Ford Focus and an RS.
What you do hear from outside the car, though, is wind and tire noise. Because there is no noise from an engine to drown it out, obviously, more sound insulation is needed to combat the sound of the tires against the road and the wind against the bodywork. The Tesla was reasonably quiet. Not silent like a luxury car, but, certainly quieter than my Mazda3!
I spent about an hour with this Model 3. I took a nice drive with it, then stopped by my place of employment where everyone wanted to take it for a drive and feel the performance as well. In total, we probably drove the car a little less than 20 miles. The indicator for miles remaining on this charge went down about 30 miles. But, bear in mind that this was a very cold day — and, plus, I spent a good 15 minutes of my time with the car just sitting around playing with the screen. I probably also did a dozen or so pulls from low speed to, err, the speed limit. Not bad, if you ask me.
Overall, the Model 3 is a really nice car. I found the seats comfortable, and the driving position and visibility were great. The fun of putting down your foot would take a while to get old — and while the AutoPilot tech was disconcerting at first, as someone who spends a fair amount of time on highways, I can see the appeal, and would even welcome it as we get into the next generations of the technology. Find a Tesla Model 3 for sale