It has been a helluva month for Tesla Inc. and its CEO Elon Musk, especially for his nascent ‘everyman’ Model 3 electric wonder. When Consumer Reports released its initial review of the new mid-size EV in late May, the sedan rated highly in many categories, but the magazine had to deliver a “not recommended” rating due to inconsistent brakes. Notably, they tested the Model 3 as requiring an average of 152 feet to stop from 100 kmph, which is seven more feet than a Ford F-150 pickup takes.
Now, this is the Tesla way, for better or worse. In its rush to meet overly optimistic Musk-set deadlines, Tesla has skipped traditional industry production benchmarks in lieu of beta testing its vehicles in the wild. Just as tech companies do, release your product unfinished and let consumers (or in this case, Consumer Reports) figure out the bugs.
Except we’re talking about an automobile with dubious brakes unready for real-world usage. Well, Musk blew a fuse at the collective coverage and told everyone to chillax, claiming Tesla would improve the antilock braking system via OTA (over-the-air) updates. Many in the Twittersphere scoffed, saying it was a hardware, not a software issue. Musk fried another fuse, casting aspersions on the media as clickbait-chasing hypocrites, sounding more like a politician than the CEO of the most valuable automotive company in the world.
As promised, Tesla made the OTA updates without buyers having to bring their cars anywhere close to a garage or dealership, and Consumer Reports retested the Model 3 and released its revised review. Turns out, in the case of the OTA updates Musk was right; after all, they changed their rating to “recommended.”
“To see something updated that quickly is quite remarkable,” said Jake Fisher, the magazine’s Director of Auto Testing, noting the car’s braking distance improved by nearly 20 feet. “I’ve been at Consumer Reports for 19 years and tested more than 1,000 cars, and I’ve never seen a car that could improve its track performance with an over-the-air update.”
Musk and Tesla have built quite a remarkable piece of technology. The EV is such a joy to drive, and so simple to own and operate that if giving up our beloved internal combustion engines is the price to pay for the future, we may all hang up the petrol nozzle soon.
The breezy usability starts before you even enter the car. You don’t need to hold out a key fob or anything—just approach the car, and it senses the phone in your pocket and unlocks the door before you get there (you need to download and register an app at purchase, then you’re all set; the app doesn’t even need to be manually activated when you approach). The door handles don’t pop out like they do in, say, a Jaguar, but you just push in on them and the car opens up.
The liberation continues in the human/car interaction: no matter how long you look, you’ll not find an ignition slot or start button. Again, the car senses your phone and starts up silently—the gigantic centre screen lights to life and that is the only way you know the car is engaged. There’s no pressing of buttons, no turning of key and most importantly, no firing of cylinders. Everything is as quiet as when you first clicked the door closed.
Take a moment to appreciate the cabin layout. Minimalism is an understatement. The Model 3 is startling in its Spartan approach to cabin design—so clean and uncluttered. There is a board of open pore wood that runs along the width of the dashboard, a small metal bar panel underneath it and a massive 15-inch iPad-like touchscreen display. That’s the entire makeup of the dash. There’s a Tesla-badged steering wheel with two thumb-wheels, a clean sweep of piano lacquer running up the central tunnel... and that’s it!
If something can be alarming, then it is the absence of knobs, dials and buttons. Everything from navigation to phone and entertainment to even adjusting mirrors and airflow is handled via the display.
Quality of materials does not match the German top dogs, but for the price point it’s fair. If you look, you can find imperfections that you won’t find in more experienced automakers, but nothing that affected our time behind the wheel.
Pull the single stalk sprouting from the steering column down once and you’re in drive. Again, no engine kicking to life. Once you actually start driving, the first thing that strikes you is the airiness of the cabin and the overall aquarium-like feel of the greenhouse. If minimalism is the most salient quality of the interior, then glass is the second. The wide raked windshield combines with the long door windows, capped by a glass roof. Everywhere you look, you see the outside world around you.
Then you press the throttle and everything changes. All you care about is the abundance of torque available at the whim of your big toe. There is no Ludicrous mode in the Model 3 and you don’t need it. Depress the throttle by just 10 percent and the EV takes off with a thrust of a six-figure sports car. There are no gears, so the acceleration just keeps going and going. However, the acceleration is bonkers.
When you’re done driving, you don’t have to turn off anything either—just slip the stalk into ‘park’ and exit the car,
and the Model 3 will shut off and lock behind you.
We had the Model 3 before the OTA braking updates, but regardless we didn’t really test the limits of the brakes in any performance capacity. In daily driving we had no complaints, other than maybe being a bit soft for a car of this weight (about 1.7 tonnes—batteries are heavy). Now that they’ve been improved, we’ll pass judgment to Consumer Reports on this one.
We played around with its autopilot feature a couple of times, but there’s too much to unpack for a quick review. Suffice it to say that when initiated on highways, it displayed an uncanny ability to remain calmly and securely centred in lanes.
Yes, there have been several recent crashes and even a fatality, but the point of these systems as of now is to improve safety—not remove any chance of collision. No one is promising that. And, on this note, we do think Musk makes a cogent point when arguing that of the 40,000+ fatalities per year in the US, the ones in Teslas receive an inordinate and imbalanced amount of publicity and hand-wringing. And they do save lives, both common and those of superstar German DJs.