My first impression

3V Pilot

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#1
WARNING: This is a VERY long post and may contain material not suitable for non-reservation holders. Professional driver on a closed course and no animals were harmed during the…...Okay, you get the idea and the lawyers are now happy, LOL!

Spoiler alert: This is my personal opinion and write up of my first impression after getting my eyes (and hands) on a Model 3 for a brief period. There is nothing new or earth shattering here, mostly the same stuff you already know. However I will attempt to paint it in a different light and maybe this will be worth the read but no promises. I’ll give a little background on myself at first so you have an idea of where I’m coming from and then give my honest opinion of what I felt about the car. (If you don’t want the background skip the next three paragraphs).

To say that I’m an “Automotive Enthusiast” would be quite the understatement. I don’t care for any of the typical American sports and I honestly couldn’t tell you the name of a single Baseball, Basketball, or Football athlete playing today. My sport of choice is the global automotive industry and my heroes are all car designers engineers, and race car drivers. What I could tell are stories of my favorite designers, their “stats” like where they went to school, what cars they helped build and I could talk all night about famous rivalries in the industry and stories from “past seasons”. So, yeah, I’m a car nut, gear head, or whatever you want to call me. I’ve owned many high end sports cars (that I couldn't afford) even if some were only for a brief period. I’ve also owned the not so high end. A short list would be 911 turbos, Corvette, MR2 turbo, Mini Cooper S, Nissan 280ZX, Mustang, and a Lotus Elise. I’ve owned regular cars and SUV’s as well from just about every major automobile manufacturer out there.

I guess you could call me a fan of Tesla as well. I’ve been following the company since before the roadster was even a dream and the worldwide consensus was that this is just another piece of tech vaporware that will never produce a single car. Since then it seems that not a day has passed where I haven’t read some negative article or propaganda sponsored by other manufactures that talked about how Tesla is doomed to fail or will never make any lasting impression in the industry. Even with all that, I’m still a huge fan of what the company does and the products they produce. I’ve been waiting for the Model 3 since long before most people ever heard of Elon Musk or Tesla. So, does this mean that my eyes glossed over and I started to drool as soon as I saw the Model 3 in person, well, maybe a little…...okay, who am I kidding, of course they did! But I’m attempting to remain mildly objective here and give you the good and the bad.

I’ve also been a professional pilot for the better part of the past 30 years. I only mention that because I’m very picky about how a machine is designed and engineered and especially the ergonomics of the “man/machine interface”. I’m the guy that reads the owner's manual cover to cover and flips every switch, punches every button and confirms exactly how everything works. To give a minor example I have always preferred how most Japanese cars would not interrupt the radio if you pressed the preset button for the current station whereas most American cars would give you a second or two of silence as they “re-tuned” the same station. It’s something very minor that most people never notice but I do. If you're that type of person then read on, if not, you've probably already skipped this part……..

So, to the review:
Before you ask I will not be divulging my source of where or how I got my hands on a car. My host was very gracious, however I know she does not have time to accommodate everyone who might want to maul her new baby, sorry. I also will not be going over things that need to be fixed or will be updated as this car develops. I think all of us here understand that the cars in wild right now are not representative of the final version. For that matter, the first Model S ever to be sold is not representative of the final version as they continue the over the air updates. That being said we do (or should) understand that many updates will come and many features will be added in short order so no need to dwell on them.

Additionally I will try to stay away from much of what is already known unless I can clarify or add to something. In essence what this leaves you with is my personal impression of the aesthetics, materials, look, feel, and overall quality of the car. Like you’ve heard before “Your mileage may vary” and my opinion may not be that of everyone.

One of the first things I would like to address is something I’ve read quite a bit and it’s the statement of “It looks better in person”. The short version is, I absolutely agree, the long version goes like this….

I have seen many cars that look better in person or where photos just don’t do the design justice. I have seen cars that I thought would look better in person but fall short. I’m a huge fan of exoctic sports cars but I don’t like every car that wears a prancing horse or raging bull just because of the manufacturer. Some cars are just more pleasing to the eye, some look better in certain colors than others. This car has a subtle aggression to its lines that does not come out in photographs. It has a tautness to it and the lines have a clean sweeping radius in just the right places. It is not yelling at you but it just stands there with great confidence and whispers “I’m ready, let's go, but are you ready for what I can offer?” It could easily play nice and blend in with other 4 doors with few people noticing or it may catch someone's eye if they’d glance up from their phone screen for half a second and look around. You won’t be mauled in parking lots like you drive a Lamborghini but you certainly will get lots of “what is that?” and “how much did it cost?” type of questions. Just be prepared when you say “It’s a Tesla” because I can guarantee you the next question will be “Really…...who makes that?” Certainly a few Tesla fans or automotive geeks like me will find you and want to know everything. That will subside with time once more and more of these are on the road. However if you are an early reservationist like me, be prepared…...because winter is coming! If you happen to be the first on the block or in your town to have one you may want to add a few minutes of planning time to each grocery run because you will need them, the white walkers will find you and they will want to know more. It looks great in person, better than any picture I’ve seen and it’s a nice blend of “everyday sporty” with a splash of “fresh new design” thrown in for good measure. I hope that gives a better idea of what people are talking about but you really won’t know until you see it for yourself.

The other thing I’d like to talk about is the feel of the interior and the statements about the quality of the material. Again, in short I absolutely agree that it has a premium feel but for the rest of the story continue reading below……

I would have to say that I had very high expectations of this car but the impression I have been left with from the pictures of the interior was that this was NOT going to be the same quality I’ve come to know in the Model S and X. This is another case where the pictures don’t portray the actual product. I was beyond impressed with every bit of the interior. The (non) leather felt high quality and I would never have known that it wasn’t real leather. Every bit of surface material is pleasant to the eye and touch. I love the small details like on the back side of the door handles where they have a non-slip soft rubber material that feels nice and although you will never see it, leaves you with a sense of quality design thought. I also had to “Press to test” because I was curious if the electric door release button would actuate while going down the road. Having faith in the almighty Tesla as a tech company and not an old world auto manufacturer I would of been very disappointed had the door released. Tesla did not disappoint, nothing happens if the car is underway. I know this is minor but it’s details like that where I just had to test it for myself. The wood on the dash is so much nicer in person and although I’m one of the few who really liked the way the pictures look it is much darker and richer looking in the real world. It truly does give the car a premium feel and I think many of those wanting to cover it up or change the look will be disappointed if they do. It also sits at much more of an angle than I thought. It is not vertical but slopes away, toward the windshield at quite a nice, pleasing angle.

Overall the impression I was left with from this car, believe it or not, I truly felt it was even a higher quality than the S or X. I’m sure Elon will send the hit squad and want that last bit retracted but hey, that is my honest opinion. Even the roller buttons on the wheel, which I agree look a little cheap in the pics, have a good quality feel and texture. They are not made from Titanium but they are solid, look nice, and have the perfect amount of movement per roll for whatever activity you are controlling. The touchscreen and black piano trim are really not fingerprint magnets like some video experts (LOL) would lead you to believe. I thought the center console looked a little cheap in all the pictures but the look and feel was more classy and refined than “Camry meets Tesla”. I can say that the passenger compartment of this car, for me, left me feeling like I’m getting more car for my money than I had expected. I do consider myself very picky when it comes to interior design and material. Now I don’t want to get your expectations up so high that disappointment sets in when you first lay eyes on this thing, it’s no Aston Martin or Bentley when it comes to the interior. I just had a notion of what I expected from the pictures I’ve seen online and I was very pleasantly surprised by what I found in the car.

As far as the impression from the driver's seat I’d have to say the range of seating positions in this car should fit anything between a leprechaun and a Wookiee. On top of that the steering wheel has a range of vertical and horizontal movement that would make it an ideal replacement for the Canada Arm on the international space station. If you can’t find a comfortable driving position and get the controls just where you want them, well, go see your Doctor because there is something seriously wrong with you! At 6 feet tall if I pushed the seat all the way back, stretched my legs straight out and pointed my tippy toes I wouldn’t even come close to touching the pedals. I like my seat back almost vertical and I was worried about the angle on the headrest, it was not an issue at all. The seats were also very comfortable and supportive. I did not have the chance to spend hours on end in them but what time I had led me to believe it would a great place to spend the day if you desired. One thing I did notice that I like better than the Model S was the line of sight from the driving position. The thing that stood out the most was the glass roof. In the S when I’m in a driving position the upper view of my eyes really only see the headliner of the bar above the windshield. To take advantage of the glass roof in that car I really have to look up to know it is there. In the Model 3 I get a view of the first few inches of skyline. It’s not much but it’s enough to give you that little bit of extra openness and it allows you to enjoy that glorious roof. On the other end of the visual spectrum was that hood line, and OH MY, if there were ever such a thing as car porn that hood line would be XXX rated! Just the right amount of wheel arch peeking out over each shoulder to tell you with laser precision where the car is and nothing but the road directly beneath your feet as the rest of the hood falls out of site. With no instrument cluster staring back at you the view is amazing! I was worried at first that the lack of an instrument binnacle in front of the wheel may leave a feeling of blankness or that the car lacks something. Some of the pictures left me thinking it might feel somewhat cheap, like the manufacturer couldn’t afford to “do it right” or that this was some “off brand”. It actually comes off just the opposite, like we’ve always been doing it wrong and now somebody finally got it right. With the speedometer sitting off to the right it's so much better than what we have always known. It was absolutely a NON-issue to glance at the speed and I will NEVER go back to a regular car after this! The steering wheel has just the perfect diameter and thickness to feel meaty and reassuring to the most hard core driver yet still has a quality about it that lets you know this car is special. I personally like a smaller wheel and I really think they knocked it out of the park on this one. I could see where some people who are use to larger steering wheels may find this one a bit different at first but I believe that in a short time they would more than get used to it but come to like this design. I’m not going into the user interface and all it will and will not do at this time, that has been covered fairly well. What I will say is that it looks gorgeous, exudes high quality, feels great, responds very quickly and was a pleasure to use. The air vents, which are straight out of a sci fi movie worked quietly and efficiently. My back seat passenger noticed that if I dragged the dot below the line in the middle of the screen he could feel more air on his feet. Sitting up front it didn’t even seem like any air was being diverted below and I still had plenty of air blowing from the main vent.


And now for the truly important part of all this, yes, the actual driving. I’ve been reading recently on here about people concerned over the suspension setup. Is it too hard, is it too soft, or is it just right? Well, I can tell you that Goldilocks will be very happy! At least this one was. Again to each his own and there will never be a car setup that everyone agrees on. The ride quality I felt was excellent and it handles bumps in the road without jarring any passengers around yet zips through the corners like the tires are made of super glue. Where you can feel the low center of gravity in the S and X the weight of each car is its undoing. Yes, I know they feel much better than a car of similar size and weight but that is not the point here. The Model 3 has an amazing combination of that low CG with a “light on it’s feet” feeling that really brings it alive. If you check my previously owned sports car list above you can see that I’m somewhat of a driving enthusiast and I do like a car that handles well. This was quite unlike anything I’ve ever owned or driven. It’s not a Ferrari or Lotus but it has a different feeling that is hard to explain. It’s almost a bit of mirrors and magic to anyone use to the normal CG of an ICE car. For those of you who don’t really drive in a spirited manner you’ll probably not know what I’m going on about. However for those of you that understand the fine balance of over-steer at the limit you will get it. Not that I pushed the car that hard or did any drifting competitions but it is something that you can feel, way down low in the guts of this thing, it could carve up a track like nobody’s business if it wanted to. The acceleration and re-gen braking I think have been covered enough and not much needs to be said there. I did notice that the re-gen was a bit lighter than other Tesla's but it took me all of about a 5 seconds to adjust and I was “one pedal driving” and making right turns from speed with no problem. In all this car was such a pleasure to drive, at any speed, under any conditions, that I just wanted more.


Back when Elon tweeted that the interior will feel like a spaceship and everyone went crazy with visions of HUD grandeur I really think he was more referring to the fact that this car IS the future. Yes, the same could be said about the S and the X but even they “conformed” more to the norm whereas the Model 3 is what the new norm should become. The worst part about being exposed to a Model 3 is that is makes the wait even more unbearable because you know what is coming, and it is truly a glorious piece of automotive art work and engineering like the world has never seen!
 
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Skione65

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#4
@Mike Land,

Great.....now I CAN’T sleep!!!:rolleyes: Lol.... incredible write up! Amazing perspective and exactly what I’m anticipating the first time I get the opportunity to experience one in person. And true.....makes the wait for my Model 3 even more difficult. Anticipation. Thank you for taking the time and kudos for the amazing write up!:)

Ski
 

garsh

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Excellent write up! Thank you for that. I have a question.
I like my seat back almost vertical and I was worried about the angle on the headrest, it was not an issue at all.
I'm worried about this. I have herniated disks in my back, so for the last 10-15 years, I've been cognizant of my posture when driving. I try to sit up nice and straight. I find that it helps to prevent aggravating those old injured disks.

Unfortunately for me, the NHTSA decided to implement new headrest requirements to help prevent whiplash injuries. Basically, it required headrests to be moved forward. If I try to sit upright in any modern car, the headrest pushes my head forward, chin down. It's quite uncomfortable.

I found a simple solution for this in my current vehicles. I bend the headrest posts to a more upright angle (click the link for details). But the Model 3 doesn't have removable headrests, so I think I'm out of luck here. So my question is - when you say that you sit almost vertical, do you actually hold your head upright so that headrests also bother you on most modern vehicles?

I often look forward to renting a vehicle on a trip just to try out a car I haven't driven before, but then I get in and remember what a pain the headrest is for me. I'm thinking that I'll have to get some sort of seat-back pad for my Model 3 just to keep the headrest from pushing forward on my head all the time.
 
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MelindaV

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Excellent write up! Thank you for that. I have a question.
I'm worried about this. I have herniated disks in my back, so for the last 10-15 years, I've been cognizant of my posture when driving. I try to sit up nice and straight. I find that it helps to prevent aggravating those old injured disks.

Unfortunately for me, the NHTSA decided to implement new headrest requirements to help prevent whiplash injuries. Basically, it required headrests to be moved forward. If I try to sit upright in any modern car, the headrest pushes my head forward, chin down. It's quite uncomfortable.

I found a simple solution for this in my current vehicles. I bend the headrest posts to a more upright angle (click the link for details). But the Model 3 doesn't have removable headrests, so I think I'm out of luck here. So my question is - when you say that you sit almost vertical, do you actually hold your head upright so that headrests also bother you on most modern vehicles?

I often look forward to renting a vehicle on a trip just to try out a car I haven't driven before, but then I get in and remember what a pain the headrest is for me. I'm thinking that I'll have to get some sort of seat-back pad for my Model 3 just to keep the headrest from pushing forward on my head all the time.
I also was/am wondering about this. Add to preferring an upright seat back with a ponytail and the forward leaning headrests are rediculous.
 

SoFlaModel3

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#8
Excellent write up! Thank you for that. I have a question.
I'm worried about this. I have herniated disks in my back, so for the last 10-15 years, I've been cognizant of my posture when driving. I try to sit up nice and straight. I find that it helps to prevent aggravating those old injured disks.

Unfortunately for me, the NHTSA decided to implement new headrest requirements to help prevent whiplash injuries. Basically, it required headrests to be moved forward. If I try to sit upright in any modern car, the headrest pushes my head forward, chin down. It's quite uncomfortable.

I found a simple solution for this in my current vehicles. I bend the headrest posts to a more upright angle (click the link for details). But the Model 3 doesn't have removable headrests, so I think I'm out of luck here. So my question is - when you say that you sit almost vertical, do you actually hold your head upright so that headrests also bother you on most modern vehicles?

I often look forward to renting a vehicle on a trip just to try out a car I haven't driven before, but then I get in and remember what a pain the headrest is for me. I'm thinking that I'll have to get some sort of seat-back pad for my Model 3 just to keep the headrest from pushing forward on my head all the time.
Apparently a moderator thing as I too have herniated disks and struggle with the happy medium between comfort and annoyance from seating positions.
 

3V Pilot

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#9
Excellent write up! Thank you for that. I have a question.
I'm worried about this. I have herniated disks in my back, so for the last 10-15 years, I've been cognizant of my posture when driving. I try to sit up nice and straight. I find that it helps to prevent aggravating those old injured disks.

Unfortunately for me, the NHTSA decided to implement new headrest requirements to help prevent whiplash injuries. Basically, it required headrests to be moved forward. If I try to sit upright in any modern car, the headrest pushes my head forward, chin down. It's quite uncomfortable.

I found a simple solution for this in my current vehicles. I bend the headrest posts to a more upright angle (click the link for details). But the Model 3 doesn't have removable headrests, so I think I'm out of luck here. So my question is - when you say that you sit almost vertical, do you actually hold your head upright so that headrests also bother you on most modern vehicles?

I often look forward to renting a vehicle on a trip just to try out a car I haven't driven before, but then I get in and remember what a pain the headrest is for me. I'm thinking that I'll have to get some sort of seat-back pad for my Model 3 just to keep the headrest from pushing forward on my head all the time.

I thought the headrest might be a problem from looking at the pictures but it was just right for me. My back is also rather “jacked-up” from many years of flying helicopters and not being very gentle on it. All 5 of the disks in my lower back have issues and I have an inversion table at home to relieve the pain. I don’t know of any modern cars that I have had an issue with the headrest being a problem, so it’s very hard to give an exact answer. If you give me a make and model of something that has been a problem for you I will try to test drive one and see what kind of seating position I have. I know how difficult it is to make a decision on a $60K car from pictures alone and that was my main motivation to write such a novel. I don’t have regular access to the car, it was a “one time deal” but if I can help out by trying to compare it with something else I certainly will.
 
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John Slaby

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#10
What are you, a writer for Seeking Alpha? Another Tesla shorter? Oh, wait, different post. Never mind. Seriously, when I read all of your caveats at the beginning, I was a bit worried you had found some critical flaws that you were about to reveal to the faithful. Instead, I found the kind of confirmation (from someone with some serious cred) that makes me all the more excited for my Model 3. Thanks for the thoughtful post! :D
 

3V Pilot

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Oh, one thing I forgot to mention and I guess it’s about the only “negative” thing I could come up with. This car is built SO solid that the doors close with a distinctive “OOMPH”.....well, that is if you put enough oomp behind it. The owner mentioned it and at the end I thought I had closed the drivers door but it was pointed out that it did not close all the way. Now, for me I appreciate that kind of build quality and design, however it will take people a tiny bit of getting use to pushing harder than you would on most of the cheap cars that are out there nowadays. It’s not much but if there were anything close to negative that I found then this would be it.
 

garsh

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If you give me a make and model of something that has been a problem for you I will try to test drive one
Nah, not worth your time. If necessary, I'll just put a pad of some sort on the seatback to move the seatback forward away from the headrest.
 

danzgator

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Oh, one thing I forgot to mention and I guess it’s about the only “negative” thing I could come up with. This car is built SO solid that the doors close with a distinctive “OOMPH”.....well, that is if you put enough oomp behind it. The owner mentioned it and at the end I thought I had closed the drivers door but it was pointed out that it did not close all the way. Now, for me I appreciate that kind of build quality and design, however it will take people a tiny bit of getting use to pushing harder than you would on most of the cheap cars that are out there nowadays. It’s not much but if there were anything close to negative that I found then this would be it.
I don't know that this is too different from the MS. I still think me and the fam don't close the door completely on the first try +/-15% of the time. It's a heavy door and you have to put a little muscle into it. If you're used to a Toyota (as we were), you're going to under slam it a little.
 

Petra

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Oh, one thing I forgot to mention and I guess it’s about the only “negative” thing I could come up with. This car is built SO solid that the doors close with a distinctive “OOMPH”.....well, that is if you put enough oomp behind it. The owner mentioned it and at the end I thought I had closed the drivers door but it was pointed out that it did not close all the way. Now, for me I appreciate that kind of build quality and design, however it will take people a tiny bit of getting use to pushing harder than you would on most of the cheap cars that are out there nowadays. It’s not much but if there were anything close to negative that I found then this would be it.
On that front, I'd say give the door/window seals time... I had to slam the doors on my Model S when I first got it, but that stopped being necessary after a while. The doors now close easily, with a moderate click and a bit of a thud (just went out and played with the doors to be sure... all it takes is a tiny push and the doors pretty much close themselves). Most of the older loaners I've had close similarly easily, with the newer loaners often requiring more force.

A door that always needs to be slammed is a door that could have been designed better.
 
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3V Pilot

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#15
On that front, I'd say give the door/window seals time... I had to slam the doors on my Model S when I first got it, but that stopped being necessary after a while. The doors now close easily, with a moderate click and a bit of a thud (just went out and played with the doors to be sure... all it takes is a tiny push and the doors pretty much close themselves). Most of the older loaners I've had close similarly easily, with the newer loaners often requiring more force.

A door that always needs to be slammed is a door that could have been designed better.
That is a great point and I hadn’t considered the new door seals needing a bit of a break in period. I agree that the door should not need to be slammed or it was not desinged correctly in the first place. I don’t know that I’d say these needed to be slammed but they did take a bit more force than expected. More of a solid push to close all the way than a slam. Great point though and thanks for the info, sounds like it will be a minor thing that is really not an issue once the seals break in.
 

danzgator

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That is a great point and I hadn’t considered the new door seals needing a bit of a break in period. I agree that the door should not need to be slammed or it was not desinged correctly in the first place. I don’t know that I’d say these needed to be slammed but they did take a bit more force than expected. More of a solid push to close all the way than a slam. Great point though and thanks for the info, sounds like it will be a minor thing that is really not an issue once the seals break in.
Yes, slam may have been an exaggeration on my part as well. A stronger push than you'd be used to on a cheap/light door.
 

ahagge

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#17
@Mike Land - when you mentioned the force involved in closing the door, was this with all windows up, or with one or more down? I've been in a number of cars where the force to get the door to close completely is quite a bit higher when the windows are all up (no place for the air to go). I know the windows auto-crack, but I don't think this is enough to overcome the effect.
 

mkg3

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#18
@MikeLand, so couple of quick questions regarding the vehicle dynamics.

As you know, when there is a steering input, on a good sports car, you'll feel the directional change fraction of the second prior to the body roll that follows as the vehicle is turning, per sa. (I realize there is a bit of a difference also due to various tire performances too but that aside....)

In the particular case to TM3, I assume that's the case based on your writing. The question is did you noticed how it behaved in change of directions sequentially? in other words, say, if you steer left initially and then to right immediately thereafter once the directional change takes effect, how well is the body weight transfer controlled?

In my example, one would feel the TM3 transitioning to left just before the body roll is felt, then the question is how well is the body roll settled as you turn back right? If the vehicle does not control the weight transfer well, the shift between left and right (body would go right then left) will be noticeably a large total angle relative to the vertical. I gather that with low CG, the body roll itself is kept to minimum and that transfer itself is less due to much smaller moment arm between the CG and wheel axle line.

The other question is the weight distribution as it relates to overall handling of the vehicle. Since you've owned and driven several front, mid and rear engine vehicles, what type does TM3's driving/handling characteristics come close to?

Since the motor is in the rear axle, but with the batteries along the floor of the vehicle, I would guess the weight distribution of TM3 to be 45/55-ish empty. With the driver and a front passenger, perhaps it gets to be very close to 50/50 or worse 50+/50-.

You probably didn't get to drive with all of these things on your mind but given that you've described the experience with fair amount of details and your affinity towards driving and autos in general, thought to ask....

Thanks in advance.
 

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#19
Mike - really great review. As a fellow enthusiast (prone to my own lengthy reviews), I REALLY appreciate the details, so here is a request for a few more:

- How long (distance or time) were you able to drive the car?

- With regard to the ride quality, can I get a little more color? More specifically:
- - What kind of road surfaces were you able to drive on? Smooth asphalt? Grooved concrete freeway? Rough side street? etc.
- - Were impacts well muted (or not) both in terms of noise level and transfer of the impact to occupants?

How were noise levels in terms of wind noise and road noise (note: the Model S tends to perform much worse that comparably priced rivals in this category)?

Overall, since the car is priced like a higher end BMW 3 series or Audi A4, have you had any experience with those rides as a comparison? I have to admit the current 3 series is nothing to write home about, but the Audi seems pretty dang nice.