Tesla Model 3: The things 'big name reviewers' don't talk about
By Roger Pressman*
Lots of reviews discuss Model 3—its performance and driving attributes, its interior and exterior design, the basic functionality achieved through the landscape display and a myriad of other features. In fact, here at EVANNEX, we’ve done one of those with a very early vehicle.
Above: There it is... my midnight silver Model 3 delivery at Tesla's service center in Dania Beach, Florida (Photo: EVANNEX)
I’ve now been driving my Model 3, one of the first in South Florida, for about a week, and I’d like to share some of my observations about the car, without repeating what those of you who follow the vehicle already know from earlier reviews.
First, the big picture—Model 3 is a truly transformational vehicle. It provides high performance, long range, and a premium aesthetic at a broadly affordable price. But you already knew that. Let me talk about what you may not know—the good things and the things that might need some improvement.
Now, full disclosure—many of the early owners of Model 3 have been past owners of Model S or Model X. I’m one of those people. I’ve had over five years of driving experience with Model S and almost two with Model X. Many of my observations naturally lead to comparisons between S, X and 3. I’ll save most of that for another post.
So, let’s begin …
Charging Speed. The first time I tried to charge Model 3 in my garage, I was surprised to learn that Model 3 charging using the new Tesla Universal Mobile Charging Cable (UMC) is limited to a maximum of 32 amps. That means that charging on a 240V 40-amp, NEMA 14-50 outlet will get you about 22 – 24 miles of range per hour of charging. That’s not great, but it’ll be absolutely fine for overnight charging.
Above: Charging the Model 3 (Photo: EVANNEX)
Because I also own a Model X with an old UMC, I immediately swapped out the new UMC for the old one and achieved a full 40-amps and a charging rate of between 32 and 38 miles of range per hour (actually more efficient than either Model S or X). The difference between the old UMC and the new UMC is pretty significant!
If you’re the owner of an older Model S or X, hold on to your old UMC and use it instead of the cable that comes with Model 3. And if you’re a first time Tesla owner and you want faster charging at home, you might want to consider buying an old UMC through the used components marketplace.
Information Placement and Ergonomics. Every reviewer mentions the lack of a binnacle—the place directly in front of the driver where a conventional speedometer and other instrumentation appears. You get over this in about 5 minutes.
Above: Sitting in the Model 3, I find the UI easy to learn (Photo: EVANNEX)
The placement of the speedometer and other critical driving information and functions on the left-hand side of the landscape display works well. It can be scanned with no more eye movement that that required to scan the binnacle.
However, because this critical information takes up some of the screen real estate, all other functionality is pushed right on the display. In general, it’s not a big problem, but it can be annoying and possibly even distracting if you must reach or look to the far right side of the display (say, for example, to see turn-by-turn directions from the nav system). There are a number of ways this can be remedied through a software update, and I suspect Tesla will do so in the near future.
Audio. I’m not an audiophile, but the sound system in Model 3 is really, really good—crisp with clearly defined high frequencies and solid bass. The “immersive sound” option makes all the difference—be sure you turn it on. In my opinion, the Model 3 sound system is better than the standard sound system in Model S or Model X. The user interface is servicable, but I suspect that it will evolve over the coming months.
Interior Features. The Model 3 interior design language is minimalist and sleek. Visually, there is little design ‘noise’ to break the smooth flow of the interior geometry. It is, in my view, groundbreaking.
Above: The simplicity of the Model 3 interior is groundbreaking (Photo: EVANNEX)
One reviewer from CNN lamented the fact that there were no buttons and knobs in the driver compartment, a clear indication that he completely misunderstands the design intent and has no clue about the future of automobiles. But I digress.
Although Model 3 has a collection of typical interior features including lighted visor mirrors (an inside joke for Model S owners), the primary focus is the center console. As the guy who designed the very first center console for Model S—EVANNEX’s critically acclaimed Center Console Insert (the CCI)—I’d like to commend Tesla for a well-executed center console for Model 3. It contains everything you’ll need to store your stuff, charge and view your smartphone display, and easy access your USB and 12V ports. It provides closed storage with smoothly operating covers and doors.
1. The standard gloss black surface of the center console shows every finger print, every spec of dust and every droplet of liquid that might inadvertantly spill. Therefore, the surface becomes messy very quickly.
2. The center console surface is smooth and quite attractive, but its smoothness is also a minor liability. The center console is where the driver puts stuff—keys, ID cards, a pencil, even a smart phone when it’s not in its own compartment. As I mentioned, Model 3 is nimble, and during a quick turn everything the driver places on the center console surface goes flying. It’s happened to me a few times already.
3. In my opinion, the physical height of center console violates the interior design language. It’s unnecessarily high. Hopefully, a future iteration will place the top of the center console at the same height as the seat cushion, allowing this important element to better blend with the interior. Sure, you’ll lose a little vertical storage space, but you’ll gain a better aesthetic.
Exterior Features. I love Model 3’s exterior—clean, simple, and efficient. For sticklers, the panel gaps on my vehicle were consistently good at approximately 4 to 5 mm throughout, indicating a solid manufacturing process. The trunk opening is much larger than many feared it would be and with the rear sets folded down, you can load a 72” L x 36” wide x 16 “H box into the car. That’s a big box! The trunk hatch requires a bit of a push to close.
Above: A look at my Model 3 with the 18" aero caps (Photo: EVANNEX)
The doors open wide for easy entry. Their signature feature are the J-handles that rotate outward for opening. I have two minor quibbles with the doors.
1. The J-handles are very cool, rotating outward with a push on the ‘fat’ part of the handle. The problem is that gripping the handle to pull the door open can be a challenge if you use the wrong hand. On the driver side, your left hand is the one you want to use, but if you’re carrying, say, a grocery bag in your left hand, opening the driver door with your right hand can require a little bit of arm twisting/rotating the hand at the wrist by 180 degrees. When you approach the driver door, try to remember to have your left hand free. The opposite applies on the passenger side. From a design perspective, a future improvement might be to have the door handle spring open and stay that way until a pull on the thin end occurs. It would then return to the closed position.
2. You have to be conscious of making sure that your door closes properly. In many cases, a seemingly proper push of the door will leave it slightly ajar. The problem is that the window remains slightly lowered during closing, and if you don’t notice the problem and walk away, its possible for rain to enter your passenger compartment. Be careful with this and check your doors for full closure during your early weeks of ownership.
Suspension and Ride. Most big name reviewers agree that Model 3 is a driver’s car with a tight suspension, very little roll, and nimble response. Its spring suspension allows you to feel the road, and it’s likely that some owners’ will accuse Model 3 of a harsh ride. I would characterize the ride as typical of a true sports sedan.
Above: In order to improve the 18" wheel aesthetics, I removed the aero caps, and installed Model S silver center caps (which also fit Model 3), chrome gorilla lug nuts, and black track/red insert wheel bands (Photo: EVANNEX)
But here’s something that you should know. The body sits relatively high above the ground. With standard 18 or 19-inch wheels, there’s a lot of space between the outer perimeter of the tire and the wheel well fender cut out. Those owners who want a closer-to-the-ground look will undoubtedly remedy this with special suspension packages in the aftermarket.
Wheels and Tires. The OEM tire and wheel packages for Model 3 are pretty pedestrian. They get the job done and look okay, but if you’re like me and believe that wheels are probably the most important element, other than body design, to a vehicle’s overall exterior aesthetic, there’s a lot of opportunity for you to improve the look of your Model 3. I moved immediately to make a wheel change.
Above: My Model 3 with new 20" AG M580 wheels installed (Photo: EVANNEX)
It is true that there are considerations you must address before you buy aftermarket wheels—additional cost and the possibility of poor fit or tire interference. It also worth noting that they're frowned upon by Tesla, but that won’t stop tens of thousand of Model 3 owners from making a switch. My advice:
Order your Model 3 with standard 18-inch wheels and tires, then, if you’re so inclined, upgrade to aftermarket 19s or 20s to improve the exterior aesthetic. The EVANNEX-AG staggered wheels on my Model 3 are 20s, fit the Model 3 perfectly with no interference, and I think, give the car a very cool premium look with a muscular feel. They’ve already gotten a lot of very positive comments. This approach is somewhat more expensive than opting for the OEM 19s provided by Tesla for a $1600 premium, but I think the result is worth it.
For those that are curious, my wheels are AG M580, 20x8.5 front and 20x10 rear. I opted for Michelin PilotSport 4S tires, 245/35/20 front and 274/30/20 rear. There are other less expensive tire options. By the way, the rolling diameter for the AG 20s and tires is within one percent of OEM 19s, so there is virtually no impact on speedometer or other driving functions.
Summary. I waited almost two years for my Model 3. Overall, it’s exceeded my expectations in almost every category. But like every car, it’s not perfect. I’m confident that Tesla will remedy almost all of the quibbles and minor issues I mention in this post quickly. And for other things, we at EVANNEX will try our best to provide those of you Model 3 owners (or reservation holders) with the ability to make this near perfect car perfect for you.
Above: Loving the new look (Photo: EVANNEX)
Bottom line—the Model 3 was definitely worth the wait!
*Review by Roger Pressman, author of Getting Ready for Model 3, and, founder of Electric Vehicle University. Note: If you're located in South Florida, feel free to view this Model 3 in-person at a special event (just be sure to RSVP) this Sunday.