Tesla Model 3: A Comprehensive Canadian Review

By Rosario Fortugno; Posted May 22, 2018

Last month I went to Southern California to check out the Tesla Factory in Freemont, California and attend a few meetings with potential investors for my company, InOrbis Intercity. As luck would have it, Tesla graciously allowed me to test out one of their newest cars while I was there. For 9 days, I got to test drive the all-new Tesla Model 3. Here are my thoughts on the mass-market EV of the future.

Update: Tesla has announced that the dual-motor variant of the Model 3 will add $5000 US ($6,600 Canadian) to the price. The range of the Dual-Motor variant will remain at 310 Miles (499 km). Source: Tesla


 

 

First Impressions

 


 

The car looks like a Porsche... Well no, it looks like a Tesla! The Model 3 is a super-sleek four-door car that will turn heads wherever you drive it. Maybe not as much when there are 500,000 of them on the roads, but even in California, where I drove it and there are already thousands of Teslas floating around, peoples’ heads turn when they see you pull up in the Model 3.

 

(Porche Boxter Next to Tesla Model X for Comparison)

 

The door handles are flush with the body, which is the only way to make door handles in my opinion. It just looks better. The grille- less front of the car looks cheap to some but I think it’s distinctive and gives the car that Porche-esque feel.

 

A quick trip around the vehicle will make you feel like you’re looking at a piece of the future. While the model that I test drove had the upgraded 19” rims, I feel that the 18” Aero rims that come standard with the car do not detract from its appearance and impact.

 

The inside of the car is minimalist, to say the least. There are almost no buttons to be found. There are a couple buttons for the windows, and a button to pop open the doors. That’s about it. The real centre of attention in the car is the landscape-oriented 15” touch panel that’s mounted sturdily in the middle of the car. There aren’t even any obvious air vents. The heating, cooling, and directionality of the vents is controlled through that centre-mounted touch screen. There’s literally just one long opening, and the air comes out differently depending on where you place the little dots on the touchscreen.

 

Price

 


 

The base price of the Model 3 is what everyone talks about. It’s $35,000 US or $45,000 CDN. Unfortunately, you can’t buy that one. Tesla has been unable to meet their production targets for the higher-end Model 3 and their CEO, Elon Musk, has stated that the $35,000 version of the car would bankrupt the company unless it is made in very high quantities (5000+ units per week). This is something that Tesla has been unable to do as of yet. Recently, Elon tweeted that the base Model 3 will be available in 3 to 6 months, however, his predictions and timelines have been somewhat over-optimistic in the past. So, who knows when, or if, Tesla will start selling the base model. The reality is, the cheapest Model 3 you can get right now (if you got a reservation on day 1 or are a previous Tesla owner, that is) costs about $57,000 US or nearly $70,000 Canadian. The one that I drove comes out to $76,000 CDN with all the options and accoutrements.

 

That is SUPER luxury car territory. While the Tesla Model 3 is definitely an amazing car with some incredible tech, the finishes inside do not scream luxury. Sure, they’re nice, but for about half the price, you can get a Cadillac, BMW or Benz with a far more posh interior. Does that mean the Model 3 isn’t worth its price tag? Hell no! All I’m saying is it doesn’t match up on the interior front with some of the other luxury brands in its price range.

 

Performance

 

Handling

 

Holy S***T. This car handles like a champ. While I’m no Formula-1 driver (although we have met the Formula-E World Champ), the Model 3 handles like its a sports car. It’s heavy for a car its size thanks to the rumoured 75kWh battery in the floor but when you set the steering mode to “Sport” on the 15” touch panel, it sure takes corners well. It feels like steering any modern BMW, Audi or Porsche, at least to me.

 

Acceleration

 

Push that accelerator pedal (I guess it’s no longer appropriate to call it a ‘gas pedal’) to the floor, and you’re in for a treat. Damn, this thing is fast. With a 0-60 time clocking in under 4.6 seconds, the Model 3 goes super fast off the line. Its top speed is electronically limited to only 155 MPH which is not that fast, but who drives that fast anyway?

 

The real thing you notice with the acceleration is how smooth it is. Electric motors provide a linear torque curve (i.e. there’s only one gear) so you get all the power the motor has available right off the line. This translates into instant acceleration that throws you back into your seat. It’s not quite the same as a Model S - P100D which goes 0-60 in 2.1 seconds with “Ludicrous Mode” turned on, but it’s quicker to 100 kph than my 2006 Dodge Charger R/T which was the fastest car I’ve ever owned.

 

Road Noise

 

There really isn’t any. The Model 3 has great build quality and is well-isolated from road noise, at least with the summer tires on it that I tested. EVs need to isolate sound well because there is no engine noise. When you’re driving on the highway all you hear is the tires on the road, and you don’t hear much of that. What that means is that it’s possible to have a conversation at normal inside-voice levels without having to raise your voice or lip read. It’s actually kind of awesome and, in my opinion, it is one of the least talked about, but actually most valuable aspects of driving an electric vehicle.

 

Range

 


 

The advertised range on the long-range Model 3 that I tested is 310 Miles or 499 km according to Tesla’s data. The EPA actually found the range to be a little higher than that, but lowered their rating based on Tesla’s suggestion.

 

In my testing, the car lived up to its range claims. I drove from Los Angeles to the Tesla Supercharger in Gustine California. That’s a distance of nearly 270 miles (430 km), on one charge. In other words, pretty awesome.

 

Supercharging is still the same great experience as it is with the Model S and X, however now you don’t get unlimited Supercharging included in the purchase. You have to pay for it. But the method you pay for it is so painless, you wonder how gas stations didn’t come up with something like it. You literally pull up to the station, plug the car in, and that’s it. The Tesla shows how much you’ve spent to charge your car right on that 15” touch screen and Tesla charges the credit card linked to your Tesla account. It’s easy, it’s painless, and it’s cheap.

 

I never spent more than $15 to charge the car. Even at 27 cents per kWh (the supercharging rate in California) which is 2-3x higher than the electricity rate in my home province of Alberta, you could fully charge the car for less than $25. $25 for 500 km of range. Good luck finding that kind of fuel savings in a gasoline car.

 


 

Something to keep in mind for Canadian drivers, Teslas do lose a bit of range in the winter. They have some ‘phantom’ battery drain due to keeping the battery heated or cooled in very hot or very cold conditions, so your mileage may vary depending on the climate where you live.

 

In Alberta, we occasionally experience up to 50% range loss due to the cold weather in our Teslas during the winter, which is definitely a consideration if you frequently take road trips. Fortunately, most people drive only about 40km per day on average, so this wouldn’t have the same impact.

 

With the Tesla Supercharger Network set to span the entire length of the Trans-Canada Highway by the end of 2018, range anxiety -even in cold weather- is something that really isn’t a very big concern anymore. I was able to drive all the way from Calgary to Kimberley BC, a distance of nearly 450 km, in a Tesla Model X with only one charging stop in -5C conditions. That’s pretty good range. I would expect the Model 3 to perform even better, given that its a smaller car with less cabin space to keep heated.

 

Autopilot

 


 

In my opinion, Autopilot is THE reason to own a Tesla. While it’s definitely not full-self driving, it does make the driving experience an order of magnitude more enjoyable. On the Model 3, it’s a bit more difficult to engage and control because there isn’t a dedicated autopilot stalk like on the Model S and X, but it’s still really simple.

 

Just wait for the little steering wheel to show up on the dash (when the car sees lane lines) and then pull the shift lever back twice. You’ll hear a little ding and the lane lines on the dash will turn blue to indicate that the car is now following the lanes. It’s actually amazing and for highway driving and driving in stop-and-go traffic, you can leave autopilot engaged 95% of the time and the car basically drives itself.

 

You don’t have to touch the brake or accelerator and you just have to watch the road and keep a hand touching the steering wheel. Technically you need to keep your hands on the steering wheel or else you’ll get audible warnings and eventually the car will kick you out of autopilot completely and not let you turn it back on until you restart the car if you do keep your hands off the wheel for too long. But really, the car steers itself, you’re not applying any forces to the wheel, it knows where to turn and how much. It can even change lanes for you. Just touch the turn signal when you’re on a highway and the Tesla will do a shoulder check for you and if the lane is clear, it will move over to the next lane. How cool is that?

 

This feature is awesome in a $150,000 Model X, but it’s just as exciting and maybe even more so in a car that costs half as much.

 

Some caveats: autopilot currently doesn’t stop for traffic signals or stop signs, and it has been known to not be perfect in all situations. There is some anecdotal data that shows that autopilot improves driver safety versus cars without it, however, the jury is still out on how much it improves safety. Really, it’s just a terrific feature that makes driving far more relaxing and enjoyable.

 


 

The best thing about autopilot is that it gets better as you own your car. Tesla pushes software updates over the air via the car’s built-in LTE modem.

 

What this means is that your car will literally get more new features the longer you own it. Tesla is even offering a $3000 US ($4,000 CDN) optional software upgrade that will one day allow your car to fully drive itself with zero human interaction whatsoever.

 

How long it will take Tesla to get to this point is anyone’s guess. Having spoken with experts in the self-driving car field I am skeptical that Tesla will be able to achieve full self driving without a LIDAR system. Most experts agree that LIDAR is the most critical component for a fully self-driving car because it enables real-time 3-D mapping of the surroundings of the car at a higher resolution than radar and cameras alone can provide.

 

So, take Tesla’s claims with a grain of salt, but autopilot is amazing in its current form, and it’s worth every penny of the $5000 US ($6,600 CDN) it costs to enable it. I’d say skip the $4000 ‘Full-Self Driving option, for now. You can always enable it later for $5300 CDN if and when it starts working.

 

User Experience

 

That Touch Screen Interface

 


 

Everything in the Model 3 is done using that centre-mounted 15” touchscreen to the right of the steering wheel. There is no heads-up display or even a speedometer behind the wheel. All the controls for your car from the door locks, to the backup camera, to your speed and cruise control, and even your climate controls are found on that screen.

 

It’s a breeze to use for anyone familiar with modern touch-interfaces. I’m sure if Apple had designed it, they could find a thing or two to improve on in the UX. For me, it was intuitive and extremely responsive. It’s about two times as fast and more responsive than the 17” screen in the Model X that we have (2017 model year) and the Model X’s touch screen is quite fast compared to any that I’ve seen inside an automobile.

 

 

Basically, if you’re a Millennial, if you are tech savvy at all, then it will take you about 30 seconds to get used to this way of interacting with your car. If you have never used an iPhone and you think that a Raspberry Pi sounds like a delicious dessert, it may take a few more minutes to get used to. It’s still really easy. I’m sure I could teach my 95-year-old grandfather to use it, mind you he does have an iPad.

 

Doors

 

The door handle is pretty cool, but not quite as cool as the auto-presenting door handles on the Model S. Basically you push your thumb on the fat part of the handle and out pops the main part of the handle. Then you pull the main part and voila, the door opens. Super simple. It’s a bit unintuitive to press the fat part of the handle at first, but it takes opening it one time to get used to it.

 

 

 

Trunk/Frunk

 


 

The trunk is pretty big for a small car. Apparently, it’s a bit smaller than the one on the Model S but I didn’t notice too much. It’s an actual trunk, not a hatchback unlike the Model S as well, but the opening is big enough to fit lots of stuff in. Based on my testing, the car would be excellent for a family of four as it has plenty of room inside and enough room to store the kids' strollers in the trunk.

 

The rear seats fold down in a 70-30 split configuration as well, so no issues there if you need to put more stuff in the back. I was able to fit my golf travel bag, carry on, and backpack in the trunk with room to spare for at least 2-3 more bags. The frunk is a bit smaller than the one on the Model S and X, it can hold probably 1 small carry on sized bag. But it’s still really cool to have storage space where most cars would keep their engine.

 

Charging

 

As mentioned before, charging is just as easy as plugging in an iPhone, maybe easier because the cable is bigger. The only difference between a Model X and a Model 3 with respect to charging is that the charge port door on the Model 3 is much bigger, and it doesn’t open automatically, you have to touch it to make it open.

 


 

Design

 

Interior

 


 

There’s not much to be said about the interior of the Model 3. It’s not that it’s not nice, it’s just ridiculously simple. Spartan, really. But it’s well designed and functional.

 

The car is designed to be controlled by a computer. It’s built to be the first car that drives itself, and so, all the controls are on that centre touchscreen. There’s still a steering wheel but it is very minimalist. All the other controls (for the seats and windows) will be familiar to anyone who’s driven a modern car with power seats and windows in the last 20 years.

 

The panoramic sunroof is actually pretty awesome. Although it doesn’t have the panoramic front window like the Tesla Model X. The sunroof covers the entire roof with only a small pillar in the middle. This means that you’ll always have plenty of light in the car.

 

Luckily, the roof is tinted so you won’t be blinded by the sun when there’s lots of light. What this translates to is a great experience for the passengers and a feeling of roominess and luxury even in the simplistic interior.

 

Exterior

 


 

It’s a friggin’ Tesla! What more do you need to know? It is easy to tell from the door handles that are flush to the body to the T-logo on the front. One thing that’s different about the Model 3 is that there are no badges on the rear of the car to tell you that it’s a Model 3.

 

I actually love this, but your mileage may vary. I think that badges make the cars look uglier, and if you don’t know what kind of car it is then you probably have had your head buried in the sand for the last two years, or trapped somewhere else without an internet connection.

 

In my opinion the car looks great and I actually like the look of the Model 3 as much or even more than the Model S. It looks a bit sportier and definitely has that little bit of S3X that other EVs and hybrids have been severely lacking (looking at you Nissan Leaf, Toyota Prius and Chevy Bolt). It’s sleek, it’s fun, and the right height is such that it can go over a curb without totalling the underside of the car, which is definitely a plus. Overall, the outside of this car gets an A from me.

 


 

Conclusions

 


 

Is the car I drove worth your $75,000? Yes, definitely. Are there still issues? Yup. Teslas are the best cars on the road, in my opinion, but they still have issues.

 

I wish charging time was equivalent to filling up a tank of gas, but it’s still a bit slower. For 99% of users this won’t be an issue at all, but if you’re frequently travelling more than 400km at a time, it can slow you down a little bit.

 

Another issue is the winter range. Losing 50% of range in cold temperatures (below -20 degrees) is unacceptable in my opinion. There’s got to be something that Tesla can do about this. But they’re a California company, so obviously they are not likely to make these issues as high of a priority.

 

Overall, the experience of driving and owning a Model 3 is exceptional. Outside of those two edge-case scenarios, the car is an absolute dream.

 

Some people have complained about the fit and finish of the car (misaligned panels mostly) but the one I drove was immaculate and had no visible issues to speak of.

 

As long as the battery holds up like the ones in the Model S and X seem to (up to 800,000 km, with 80% capacity remaining), this car is probably the best buy on the road. Autopilot is freaking awesome, the experience of being in an EV on the highway is second to none; it’s fast, it looks good on the outside, and it’s about half the price of a Model X.

 

If you’re in the market for an awesome car, and you can get a spot in the reservation line (or don’t mind waiting until the end of 2019), then the Model 3 is a definitive yes in my books.

 

MORE FROM OUR BLOG

New Year, New World, Same Goal - Welcome to the Future of Transportation

InOrbis means 'One World' in Latin. From the beginning, my goal for InOrbis was to help change the way people travel, making it a better experience not just for...

Why Are Electric Vehicles Good for the Environment?

Political activism, increased scientific awareness and government intervention have sped up the thinking for consumers looking at upgrading their current vehicle to all-electric. With the growing interest...

Thinking Sustainably While Traveling in Alberta

A factor that few people consider when planning a trip is the environmental impact of different methods of travel. As an exercise, I thought I would see ...

TRAVEL THE SMARTER WAY, RIDE ALONG WITH INORBIS