Tech

Living with a Tesla Model 3 Performance: The comprehensive 1 year review

On September 30th, 2019, just over one year ago, a brand new 2019 Tesla Model 3 Performance was delivered to my door. After 12 months of ownership, I’ve now accumulated plenty of lived experience of using an electric car as my daily driver, so its time to break down what’s great and what’s not.

In October last year, I wrote my full Tesla Model 3 Performance review which before this update, was the longest and most exhaustive review I’ve ever written. 12 months on, this serves as a great basis in which to reflect on my early thoughts on the car and see how far my opinion has moved since then.

Owning a Model 3 has helped confirm what I’d suspected for a few years now, that ICE cars are living on borrowed time and in May, I announced to the world that I was done covering ICE vehicles.

Before we get into the detailed analysis, I wanted to share a quick story about my delivery day experience which was, eventful.

Let’s go back to March 2016, where I watched online as Elon Musk unveiled the Model 3 to the world. In January of 2019, I placed an order. In August 2019, I was one of the first in Australia to drive a Model 3 at the Aussie media launch, then finally at the end of September, my very own car was being delivered. This 37 years old (at the time) felt every bit like a kid on Christmas morning.

The delivery driver backed my car off the truck, it had arrived! I chose a 2019 Tesla Model 3 Performance (Stealth) in Pearl White Multi-Coat, with a black interior.

I tried to be diligent about running through my delivery day checklist, to ensure the car was right before accepting it. I have to admit, I got caught up in the moment and the list went out the window.

A quick observation didn’t reveal any big issues, so I accepted the car and the delivery driver went on his way and it was time to go for a drive.

By this stage I had already driven the Model 3, so I felt like I knew my way around it fairly well and I’d also watched every YouTube video under the sun, so my job that day was really just to enjoy the car and to calibrate autopilot.

This was the second new I’ve bought in my life, with the first being a 2005 Mitsubishi Lancer, so this was quite the upgrade.

About 80km and a couple of hours later, I received a call from a Tesla representative. They were incredibly apologetic but informed me that the wrong vehicle had been delivered.

Two of the same spec car, in the same colour, were being delivered to Wodonga on exactly the same day. The chances of that have to be 1 in a million.

Let’s be clear, this was a mistake made by the courier company, not by Tesla.

I agreed to meet the other driver at the Wodonga Supercharger and we swapped vehicles. Had I been diligent about my checklist, I would have noticed that the VIN didn’t match the delivery paperwork, so I felt partly responsible.

The other new owner was a lovely elderly gentleman, and had been busy with an electrician installing his home charger that day. This meant he really hadn’t driven the car delivered to him (mine) much at all. I felt bad that I’d already clocked up 80km+ but promoted the fact that I’d calibrated his autopilot for him.

After switching cars to our correct VINs, we were on our way and for a second time that day, repeated the process of calibrating the autopilot cameras.

There were no negative consequences to this mistake by the transport company, but it clearly wasn’t the customer experience Tesla wanted and they offered 1,500km of free Supercharging as compensation. I was thankful, but when I explained I had already amassed a decent amount of charging thanks to referrals, it was clear that was not as much of a reward as they were expecting.

Ultimately I just felt a little weird that the photos I’d taken of my brand new vehicle arriving, were not actually my car. It happened, can’t change that, time to move on. I did wonder if anyone attentive readers would pick the different number plates in my review photos, but nobody did.

With that saga done and dusted, it was time to settle into life with my new car, one that represented the successful completion of a 5+ year dream to make my next car an electric vehicle.

The best edition

I believe that I bought the best version of the Model 3, the M3P Stealth which unfortunately is no longer offered by Tesla.

Before the order page went up, I expected to be buying the Long Range variant of the Model 3, based on what was available internationally, my budget and when that wasn’t offered in Australia at launch, I had a difficult decision to make.

While there are many, very happy Standard Range+ owners, I really had my heart set on the longer range that the Performance offered – 560km (NEDC rated).

The extra speed provided by the Performance model was really just a bonus, but something I absolutely love now I have it. After stretching even further than planned to get a M3P, Tesla eventually did add the option to buy the Long Range variant, as well as the white interior option, but by then it was too late and changing would mean a delay.

My model has the same stunning acceleration figures of 0-100km of 3.4s, but was around $6k cheaper than the Performance+ model. Sure, it doesn’t have the larger 20″ wheels, lowered suspension, red brake callipers, aluminium pedals, and carbon fibre spoiler, but the important AWD from dual electric motors, was there.

I also love that Musk eventually honoured the lifetime premium connectivity, as there was no mention of a 12-month limitation at the time of ordering. This now costs you A$9.99pm, so over the life of the vehicle, that’s quite the saving. I really enjoy the features of Premium connectivity, like live traffic data, satellite view on maps, streaming services like Spotify and the ability to browse the web.

The HomeLink hardware module was also included in the purchase price, which I had installed after delivery (in December 2019) which required a drive from Wodonga to Melbourne. At the time, Tesla was also providing a Wall Connector that accelerates home charging times, valued at A$700. This is now an optional extra, with new Model 3’s just including the 240v charger with 10 and 15a adapters.

Finally the Model 3 Performance Stealth, also includes Track Mode and while I’ve tested some of the functionality (lap timer, data recording etc), I’m yet to take my car to the track. I was booked into a drive day earlier this year before Covid-19 happened and the event was cancelled.

Tesla recently redesigned the frunk and removed the two grocery hooks which cover the bolts to secure the inner lining. The hooks are actually incredibly useful, something I take advantage of weekly.

Now for the fun stuff, Performance.

Performance

This car is an absolute savage! There’s no other way to describe it. It feels like it shouldn’t be legal its that fast and it’ll beat almost anything on the road.

The feeling is like nothing else you’ve experienced in a car. The ability to just use two pedals to go and stop offers a simplicity that makes anything else seem archaic. You have to remember, I upgraded from a car with a 5-speed manual which I modified to have a short shifter. I used to love the manual control over the engine and deciding when I’d shift gears, but that honestly is now a completely ridiculous proposition.

The ability to stand on the accelerator and have the car launch like a rocket ship is something I do to this day, a year on and I still absolutely love it. It sounds dumb, but you almost want a red light to experience the thrill one more time.

In practical terms, the application of all that power, is great for overtaking or getting out of potential accidents. It’s also fantastic to move in and out of corners so much faster than other cars. With the right combination of performance, traction, stability and grip, the Model 3 Performance is an absolute weapon and it’s just bloody fun to have a fast car.

Ironically, this car is simultaneously the most fun and the most boring car to drive.

When you are driving, that performance is a relentless fun factory on wheels and the capability of the car, definitely feels wasted thanks to the speed signs on the side of the road.

When you let Autopilot drive, it can be the most boring car to drive as you have almost nothing to do. Just apply force to the wheel to signal to the car you’re paying attention and are ready to take over if you’re needed. Thankfully with how good Tesla’s Autopilot offering is today, that’s pretty rare on roads with white painted lines.

Unlike most powerful cars, the traction control system on a Tesla is absolutely amazing, it ensures the power deployed from your battery to the electric motors, is being delivered instantly and without loss of traction.

There are no spinning tyres, there is no loud engine or exhaust, instead, you launch perfectly, every single time. The Model 3 Performance is one of the fastest accelerating cars on the road, but also one of the easiest to drive. Given how quiet the car is, it actually provides a lot more opportunities to have safe, cheeky spurts of fun without drawing attention.

If you were serious about transforming this into a track weapon, then lowered suspension, larger brakes would definitely be on the must-have upgrade list, but I wanted this as a daily driver and for that, it’s exceptional.

Thankfully I got to experience the Model 3 Performance set free, around a closed private track at the media launch day. During that, I was able to really push the car to understand it’s capabilities and came away from the day incredibly impressed and eager to get my own. The car reached speeds of 190km/hr, but is officially rated to go as high as 233km/hr, while the Performance+ is good for 261km/hr.

There are certainly cars that have higher top speeds than the Tesla, but a far more important attribute to have, is acceleration on-tap, whenever you want it. Any car on the road can get to 110km/hr, but it’s how you get there that’s the exciting part.

Handling

The amount of grip this car is fantastic, aided by the battery weight positioned low, in the floor of the car. This even distribution, combined with the car being AWD and some decent rubber (Michelin Pilot Sport 4), help the Tesla handle like it’s on rails.

Even in the rain, or after a shower where the road surface can be wet and slippery, traction has never been an issue. This is also a credit to the team who engineered the traction control software. The goal of a Tesla isn’t just performance, it’s about the deployment of that power in an intelligent way.

The adjustable steering weight also really helps complement the type of driving you’re chasing. For highway driving, you can choose a softer setting, but given you’ll likely be on Autopilot the setting really becomes redundant.

I live exclusively on sport mode which gives a heavier feeling, offering a more connected and responsive drive, while being able to feed in more precise inputs, placing the car exactly where you want it through corners.

The local council, and Australia more broadly, seem to love roundabouts. These are often great opportunities to pass slower cars. As you approach, you let off the accelerator and let regenerative braking slow you, then turn through the corner and a quick squirt of the accelerator as you leave the roundabout.

The speed at which you’re able to take successive corners like this is amazing, easily 20-30km more than an average car. This means a quick check of your rear vision mirror and you’ll be amazed at the distance behind other cars are, that just a second ago, were right beside you.

On more open roads, the advisory signs around corners, are almost laughable, obviously determined for the worst possible car on the road, not at all appropriate guidance for a new, modern, smart Tesla.

Personally, I find the handling of the car to be seriously impressive, particularly when you appreciate the extra weight of the batteries feels almost indistinguishable from behind the wheel. If you’re really hooking in through consecutive turns, you do get a hint of weight transfer, but it really surprised me just how nimble the car feels, considering it weighs 1,856 kg.

Comfort

The seats in the Model 3 are seriously comfortably, soft enough to be comfortable for long drives and provide enough adjustment in position and lumber support to be comfortable for even taller drivers (I’m 6’3′).

I do wish the angle of the headrest for the front seats was adjustable, as I felt like my ideal seating position had to be adjusted to accommodate.

While the base of the seats provides fairly good bolstering, the sides could be more substantial to hug you around the corners. Obviously not everyone who buys a Model 3 is going to drive it hard (see Chill mode) so I understand they also need to accommodate more casual drivers.

I would still love to see Tesla offer a version with Recaro’s similar to those found in the Focus RS. There seems to be a growing community of people wanting to take their cars to the track and the inclusion of Track Mode suggests Tesla is all for that.

I am incredibly impressed with the amount of headroom available in both the front and rear seats of the Model 3. I’ve been in a number of mid-sized sedans, where the back seat is just not a viable option for taller people on longer trips. With the Model 3, the space is definitely acceptable and the lack of a transmission tunnel makes the center rear seat actually usable.

In terms of ride comfort, Tesla engineers have found a nice balance between firmness for better handling, and softness for driver and passenger comfort. I ride on the 18″ tyres and find it a comfortable, but firm ride, while those on 20″ have a smaller air cushion and have reported firmer rides. The Model 3 Long Range comes with 19″ which would land somewhere in the middle, so I’d say, make sure you take ride comfort into consideration when purchasing.

Overall, I love the comfort on offer in the Model 3 and with the number of hours spent riding versus driving set to change dramatically in the future, comfort is critical.

Fast entry and exit

You won’t find this feature on the website, or in the manual, but this is one of my favourites. Tesla is deploying its software smarts, to make the entry and exit to the vehicle, a really great (and fast) experience.

Simply walk up to your car, press the handle, open the door and sit down, the car is ready to go, thanks to it’s the always-on state. You were able to enter the vehicle as the car unlocked itself, after detecting your phone key via Bluetooth. This means you walk up and get in, with your phone in your pocket, it’s like having a wireless keyfob, without having to carry something extra.

Since owning a Tesla I now don’t have to carry keys on me and if Victoria would just add a digital license, I wouldn’t carry a wallet either. This feels a lot like living in the future.

To start driving, simply place your foot on the brake, select drive and accelerate away. This happens literally in a few seconds.

The same slick experience is also there when you arrive at your destination.

Brake until you come to a complete stop, then unbuckle your seatbelt, open the door and just get out.

The car detects the vehicle is stopped and there’s no reading from the driver’s seat pressure sensor, so automatically shifts into Park for you. As you leave the proximity to the car, your car will recognise that, and lock your car.

When arriving or leaving a location, you’ll find you’re able to do that much faster than friends in ICE vehicles. They are likely still manually shifting into park, engaging the handbrake, turn off the ignition, then locking their vehicle. All of that happens for free with Model 3 and I just never think about it anymore.

Over-the-air updates

The Model 3 was a great the day I got it, but I knew that wasn’t the end of the story and since then has improved significantly. Tesla has not only committed to ongoing over-the-air updates but actually delivers regularly.

On average, I’d say we’ve received at least 1 per month, sometimes more and they vary in scale, some are big new features, others are just bug fixes. Combined though the car today is a much more capable, enjoyable vehicle than it was when I bought it.

The process of updating the car is really slick and a model others are now following. The mobile app pushes a notification to you, to let you know a new version of the software is available. You have a choice to install now, or schedule for later.

If you confirm the installation, it’ll take around 25 minutes and we really haven’t seen Tesla use a delta update model, it seems like an entire OS rebuild each time.

Once the updated is complete, you are again notified and the next time you enter the car, you’ll see release notes to see what’s changed in the latest build. Often there are instructions relating to new settings you can go and enable. This definitely could be improved, with a quick access link to the page where that setting lives.

Obviously having a car unavailable while it updates for almost half an hour could be really inconvenient during the day, so Tesla allows you to schedule the installation overnight.

I have never once scheduled the update, as I’m always looking forward to seeing and experiencing the new functionality. With the Tesla community being so connected, we have usually seen the release notes before it arrives in the car.

Below is a list of the improvements in the last 12 months. It’s hard to say what value this adds to the car, but by adding new features and functionality, Tesla are able to continue driving new customers to buy.

  • Performance upgrade – ~5% improvement to acceleration
  • Automatic navigation – Detects common routes and automatically enters them into the nav for you.
  • Sentry Mode and Dashcam viewer (will now format USB drive and overwrite when full).
  • Voice Commands – moved to natural language
  • Text-to-voice Text Messages
  • Entertainment apps – Cuphead, TRAX, Fallout Shelter, Spotify, Careoke, Browser
  • Dog Mode (ensures your pets stay cool in the car)
  • Camp Mode (ensures you stay warm and romanced)
  • Track Mode V2 (adjustable power distribution and record runs)
  • Joe Mode (reduces the notification volume)
  • Charging – 3rd party chargers and out of order Superchargers are now shown on the map
  • Reverse camera – now shows side repeater cameras
  • Smart Summon (FSD required)
  • Driving Visualisation improvements (FSD required)
  • Traffic Light and Stop Sign Control (FSD required)

I think we can agree, that this rate of improvement is amazing in just 12 months and continues to raise consumer expectations that the competition will have to match.

Tesla uses possibly the most direct communication channel to add these new features – Twitter. Love it or hate it, Twitter creates a direct line of communication with people and brands and their audience. Many of the features listed above arrived as a result of Twitter suggestions, made by owners and agreed to by Elon Musk on Twitter.

After Musk commits, it can take months to appear, but one by one, these features are arriving as promised and the latest is a birds-eye view of the car, created from aggregating the cameras around the car. I also love the community at Tesla Ideas which offer up some great suggestions and track which are implemented.

The Tesla community are amazing in their ability to come up with creative use cases for the connected computer on wheels and having a community volunteer ideas serves is a really great resource for Tesla to tap into.



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