My First Drive of Model 3

John

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#1
I had a chance to take a leisurely test drive last night of You You Xue's Model 3. His Model 3 is white with 18" wheels (though he replaced the Aeros with aftermarket rims) and performance tires. His VIN is 20XX. Other than that, he still has the original suspension and electronics; nothing functional has been recalled or replaced. I drove it for about 30 minutes on city streets and the highway. Did fast starts and autopilot driving, you know the routine.

I've read many drive reviews, as I'm sure you have, too. So I'll just pass along the impressions that I think might be useful additions or amplifications of what you might have already read.

To calibrate, I am not a Maclaren or Porsche driver; my frame of reference is based on Japanese and German sedans. Mostly what I drive these days is a 2009 Prius, the last year it had a very spartan dash. I miss driving German cars, since they are not sprung as softly as American and Japanese cars. If you'd like to read more about my feelings of most car interiors, you can read the humorous post I did here.

There are just a few main observations I would pass along.

Suspension

From reading a fair amount of criticism for Model 3's "stiff, harsh ride," I was ready for it to bang along the roads like a track car. Here's my impression. There is some body roll—just not much of it. You feel bumps—but they are no big deal. In fact, by the end of the ride I was wishing it was a little MORE tightly sprung, if anything. That's a taste thing, sure. But I'll just pass along that at least one vanilla car guy drove it and thought it would be fine, maybe better, with 19" wheels. I didn't think, "Oh, I hope they recall this unit and put softer shocks in it." Not even close.

The main impression I had of the ride was that it was glued to the road. To explain, both my Prius and a Corvette I drove recently—two cars you don't often hear mentioned in the same sentence, right?—share a common trait: a sense that if your inputs are too extreme (hard braking, hard acceleration, a tight turn, or any combination of these) that the car will start sliding. I know the Corvette rates awesome on the skid pad, but trust me—shifting into 2nd on a curve and flooring it is NOT a good idea. I'll just say that me and that engine cannot be trusted in all situations, and leave it at that.

But in the Model 3, it's like you are riding on giant grippy erasers. I'm sure you could get them to break loose, if you tried really hard. But you'd have to try really hard. It's a very reassuring and safe feeling that I'm not used to. And it's quite tangible. People remark, "Oh, it's a sporty ride." My impression is a little different: it's a ground-coupled, grippy ride.

Verdict: I like it. Super reassuring.

Acceleration

People talk about the launch, and yes it's quick. But the most impressive part, the part that startled me, was the part of the curve between 30 and 80. The car jumps off the start, but then it's surprisingly unrelenting as the speed climbs. The lack of let-off made a stronger impression than the start. It keeps going much longer than you expect it to. It's like seeing someone make a basketball shot from half court (wow, that's cool), then doing it two more times in a row. You're like, "Oh. OH. Holy crap!" This comes into good use on an on-ramp, and when you want to pass. If you want to pass, you pass. Your choice.

Verdict: did not disappoint.

Controls

The speedometer. It took maybe two blocks to get used to glancing at the screen for speed. Complete non-issue.

My main impression of the controls are that they were designed by folks who are very used to driving a Tesla and have optimized things for what will work well once you have adapted to the car, not what will make the best first impression. I should explain that a little more.

If you wanted to make it easy for someone to transition to a new control setup like this, it might be helpful to have a beginner mode where certain things were more obvious and other things were tucked away. For instance, you'd make the warning tones and announcements and turn signal sounds much louder and more obvious. You'd hide a lot of stuff on the screen so that things like speed, autopilot status, surrounding cars, and turn signals were super-obvious.

But those things would drive you crazy once you were used to the car. "I need more space for the radio and the map," you'd say.

So I'm not surprised that people jump in the car and say, "This UI has to change." I think they are neglecting to appreciate that a beginner's perceptions and their own perceptions after growing familiar with the car will predictably not be the same. And in this case it's more glaring because of the shift from a distributed layout (buttons and gauges and lights all over the place) to a centralized screen with things that can appear and disappear. That is a big shift.

As an analogy, smartphones have big screens and no longer have a dedicated button to check messages. "They need a button I can hit to check my messages!" But think: we now have a bunch of different types of messages we receive, and we couldn't have foreseen them ahead of time, and we don't need a hard button for each of them.

Verdict: Very different, expect an adjustment period, and that's okay. Does your smartphone seem hard to use? You'll be fine. In terms of how it makes a newby feel, it's a little like when you have your first baby and they put it in your arms and tell you to go home. You're like, "Holy ****. Really? I'm not ready for this." Not everybody will get that analogy, but it's rare to be in a situation in life where you are in such a well-discussed situation yet feel on such unfamiliar ground. You're an adult, you've driven plenty of cars, but suddenly you're clumsy with controls. That feeling will cause many an adult—especially those who write car reviews and tend to take themselves very seriously—to lash out a bit. To this I would say that sometimes you give things up (instant familiarity) to gain other things (a car which can get cool new features that a traditional control layout could never keep up with).

That's about it. I knew how to work all of the controls. But at times I fumbled simple things like pushing the turn signal stalk hard enough or soft enough. Sometimes I have gotten in sporty Japanese sedans when I rent them for business and have been actually angry at how awful they are. But I was delighted by Model 3, and how reassuring driving the car felt. And there was no part of it that made me think "I could never get used to this."

I could get used to this.
 
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Frank99

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#2
Thanks, John. Great post.

>>> have your first baby and they put it in your arms and tell you to go home
Damn, I thought I was the only one that felt that way. More disorienting than I could have imagined.
 

Runt8

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#3
Thanks, John. Great post.

>>> have your first baby and they put it in your arms and tell you to go home
Damn, I thought I was the only one that felt that way. More disorienting than I could have imagined.
I have a hard time imaging any new parent doesn't feel the same thing. I know for my first it was exactly that feeling (and my second was more like, wow, I don't remember what I'm doing...).

John - love the review! I'm very excited for the UI for all the reasons you mentioned. OTA updates are a complete game changer.
 

John

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#4
I should have mentioned that several times Model 3 yelled at me for two-footed driving.
My current car doesn't care (it just ignores the accelerator when the brake is pushed), but Model 3 pitches a fit.
 

Dr. J

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#6
John, do you think part of the magic of You You's suspension is that it has been driven a few (thousand) miles and is well broken in? I think there's a possibility the complaints of a hard ride will disappear over time/miles. Hard to say, right?
 

3V Pilot

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#8
Great write up! You really seemed to capture what most journalist fail to realize when they are exposed to this new way of doing things. I really like the way you explained the design and how it would be annoying if it were meant to appease a beginner, I totally agree with that! When I got a chance to drive an early Model 3 I really didn't see any issue with having a center display or the lack of buttons, gauges, and having to look just slightly off to the right for any info I needed. I also agree on the ride and confident feeling the car gives, guess it's a little like Goldilocks though, for some it may be too hard for others too soft, but for me....it was just right!

So nice to see a very competent, well thought out review after seeing so many down right inaccurate, misleading, and just plain false ones. So many people only give first impressions and since people are naturally resistant to change they don't bother thinking "what will this be like after I give it a minute and get used to it".

Thanks for taking the time to put down your thoughts so clearly, I think this will help anyone who might be worried about issues that really are not issues.....
 

John

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#9
John, do you think part of the magic of You You's suspension is that it has been driven a few (thousand) miles and is well broken in? I think there's a possibility the complaints of a hard ride will disappear over time/miles. Hard to say, right?
Yeah, dunno. I suppose that could be a factor. But there's not even 1 year's worth of miles on it. I've never sensed that effect on past cars I've owned, for instance, at least not tangibly. Dunno.