Tesla Model 3 Performance Review: A Rare Mix of Value and Desirability
The ‘value’ play for cars usually comes at complete odds with ‘I want one’. Very rarely, the two do overlap, as in the case of the Model 3.
It’s important to remember that Tesla made a few attempts to court Singapore. During the early days, Tesla envisioned Singapore to be the first port-of-call outside of the United States. That was how much it believed its business case would work for our small island nation. Sadly, due to punitive government policies, it just didn’t work out. Tesla tried a second time a few years later to no avail, but I guess now it is third time lucky.
Of course, Tesla now arrives as a far more established company, one that has seen its market value skyrocket by multiple times in just the past 2 years. It’s now one of the 500 of the S&P 500. Much of the credit goes to the Model 3, which is essentially an entry-level Tesla that brings the price point much lower.
This is a critical point, because grey import Teslas have been available already in the last few years, but it was the pricier Model S and Model X models that were operating in high-luxury territory, due to their positioning but also due to the mark-ups by importers and the tax system back then.
The stars have aligned for the Model 3, as it is now brought in directly by Tesla and so margins are as thin as they could possibly be. There is direct manufacturer support in case things go awry, instead of needing to fly the car overseas for aftersales.
The EV Early Adopter Incentive (EEAI) now favours EVs tremendously, so the Model 3 is now in a sweet spot for pricing. It’s not the cheapest EV around, but it seems cheaper than expected for such a hyped car. The imported model also hails from China instead of the US, and the improved build quality makes a great first impression. Aside from the occasional rattle in the interior, everything’s pretty well put together. The vegan seats feel like butter, and the doors close with a Germanic thud. Some 10 years ago, I sat in a Model S and the leather stitching couldn’t even line up straight and was frayed. You won’t find this issue at all in the new Model 3.
The Supercharger network, a key component of Tesla ownership, is being expanded at a rapid clip in Singapore. I didn’t really know what the fuss was all about till I tried it. It’s near frictionless. Yes, it is free to use for now and perhaps that is why it felt so seamless, but still, I’ve never used anything simpler and faster. Just navigate (and the system tells you how many lots are available), park and plug. Watch the battery juice up like nothing out there, then unplug and off you go. No need to unlock anything or fill up a sign-up online form. It’s amazing.
When I collected the car, the Tesla staff tried to tell me the car is ‘software first, hardware second’. I didn’t really understand it until I drove the car, and found it to be absolutely true. Everything runs through and from the gigantic screen in the middle console. Seriously, it absolutely works and feels like an Apple product, down to the fonts. It’s intuitive, fast most of the time and logically laid out. What really gets to you when you first sit in the car is how you adjust the steering reach and rake, or the side mirrors. It’s all done through the same buttons on the steering wheel. It’s disarming, but also reconfigures the mind for something new and exciting.
However, it isn’t perfect. The screen buttons in general are too small, so if you are on the move, you’ll likely press the wrong thing or keep missing. Some things take quite a fair bit of time to load too, like YouTube or games. It’s not always fast. But most of the time, it will really blow your mind. Just try out the Light Show and you’d understand, or watch a movie trailer from YouTube. The car is a mobile movie theatre with one of the best sound systems in the business!
Speaking of which, you’d spend so much time fiddling on stuff in the car, you’d quite appreciate the packaging within it. Like a proper EV, no space was left to waste - there are flat floors and plenty of open plane spaces that make it feel airy and spacious. It’s brilliant packaging that for a car this small, it actually feels rather big inside. However, there is a lot of glass and no covers for them, especially for the panoramic roof. This is a big issue in Singapore as the car heats up extremely fast. No wonder owners buy aftermarket shades to put on the glass.
I guess the drive is where it could all unravel and Tesla will be recognised as a tech company but not a car manufacturer. But no, it gets it right too. There’s much to love about driving the Model 3. Its speed is actually the lowest common denominator but also something that unanimously impresses everybody - it is rapid and does it probably better than most of its peers - but speed is cheap for EVs. What’s brilliant is its tuning of the one pedal drive, which is the best I have tried in terms of acceleration and deceleration. It is so smooth and calibrated, your passengers would not be able to tell if it was you intentionally braking or not. The way the car comes to a complete stop is also measured and precise.
There are a great many parameters to adjust for driving as well, especially in Track Mode which was unavailable during the test drive. Things like torque split, amount of regenerative braking and level of ESP intervention all can be adjusted. I wish I could have tried these to see if there were more chapters to be written about its handling. But in the default setting, it is generally very stable, neutral and secure - much like an Audi with quattro, perhaps. Steering in Normal is too light, but Sport gives it a nice heft. Not much feel, mind, but it’ll do and is far better than the worst out there.
If there is one thing that the car underperforms a little, it is its suspension setup. Yes, it deals with the car’s weight extremely well and it is mostly comfortable, but you can tell it isn’t set up with sophistication. It feels like there are not many answers it can give the more you ask of it, but it does the job fairly well that most will never notice.
Ask me just a few years ago, and I have to say that I really was a Tesla sceptic. But the Model 3 has proven to me that the brand has really matured and the car is sensational for its price point. Even the lack of a home charging option has been fixed now, so there’s really precious little reason why you’d go for something else in the market right now, unless you want a more conventional driving environment that’s easier to operate. For the meme generation though, this is as good as it gets.
Credits: Text by James Wong; Photos by Horizon Drivers' Club