The Model 3 hits Australian country roads. Credit: Bridie Schmidt
The Model 3 hits Australian country roads. Credit: Bridie Schmidt

Everything is faster in a Model 3. The acceleration of the Performance variant which I have driven over the past three days – 0-100km/hr in just 3.4 seconds – is outstanding, just for a start.

The lack of revolutions and engine noise does not diminish that feeling of sheer power. In fact, it enhances it as the car effortlessly zips ahead at the traffic lights, and provokes absolutely no worries when changing lanes in heavy traffic.

The software interface, which references Apple’s easy-to-use UI is precise and responsive, and easy to learn how to navigate (as a Tesla newbie, having never driven a Model S or Model X, I must admit I was a little nervous about not having all the traditional car nobs and dials at my disposal).

Even my recently acquired 5G phone charged faster off the Model 3’s USB ports than at home on a 240V socket.

But speed is not all that the Model 3 is about. It is leading the shift to clean, zero emissions transport worldwide, becoming the best selling vehicle in both US and European markets, and it has been called a game-changer.

I would posit that a more accurate term is mind-changer.

For someone who has to now had a preference to the typical Australian favourite SUV – thanks to living in a region with questionable road quality and a tendency to flood – I  have come to enjoy sitting high in a vehicle.

But after half an hour in the Model 3 (the Performance version of which sits even lower to the ground than the Long Range and Standard Range+ variants), I find myself seduced by the low ride that is further enhanced by the super low centre of gravity due to the flat battery pack.

This car, whose curved nose gives the appearance of a crouching panther, doesn’t so much purr as sneak.

model 3
Credit: Bridie Schmidt

From meandering along country roads, to silently navigating city grids, it hugs the road like a magnet with the impression that even on the fastest corners – as experienced by Giles Parkinson on the Model 3 drive day – it just will not let go.

The Performance Model 3 has 560km range on it on the NEDC cycle, which is more like 500km in the real world based on the US EPA rating, but even in an SR+ with 460km (NEDC)/ 386km (EPA), we had more than enough range to do a big day trip out of the city and back again with kilometres left to spare.

We took the Model 3 out from Sydney’s CBD to Picton, over eastward to the Hume and back up to Sydney – a 200km  or so round journey that could have easily added in a detour down the Bulli Pass and across to Sea Cliff Bridge had we had the time, with no concerns about having to stop to recharge.

The Autopilot setting which is activated via two clicks down on the right stick behind the steering wheel, makes the journey back up the Hume Highway a breeze after a couple of hours putting the Model 3 through its paces on the curves out to Picton.

Traffic returning from a weekend back into the city was easily navigated thanks to adaptive cruise control (one click on the stick), with a little circular dial on the right of the steering wheel to adjust the speed and also the preferred distance from the vehicles ahead.

Both of these features, however, were automatically deactivated upon reaching suburbs to the south of the airport; whether due to narrowing of lanes, or approaching the tunnel.

Tesla staff could only say it was because there may not have been enough information about that particular stretch of road. It was probably for the best regardless of the reason.

Inside, the car’s styling is minimalist, unassuming but ultimately just very comfortable (I can imagine the wooden strip on the dash getting a nice patina on it after some time, a reminder that old things are just as if not more beautiful than new things).

Credit: Bridie Schmidt
Credit: Bridie Schmidt

With no engine under the bonnet, Tesla has afforded the vehicle plenty of legroom (a godsend for the long legged), while a wider than average body allows for ample elbow room and an ample seat.

The back seat has a 60/40 split which allows even more room for items such as a bicycle (although I didn’t test this out, it already had plenty of room for two mid-sized luggage bags).

The panoramic glass roof, which Tesla uses to enhance the feeling of space with the car, certainly conveys that this undeniably a Tesla vehicle, as do the sleek hiplines so characteristic of “Tesla DNA”.

However, even for a warm winter day it felt hot to touch and I cant help think in the middle of summer given the choice between longer range and a cool interior, some compromises may have to be made. Maybe Rivian has the right idea with an electrochromic roof.

There is tons of room in the trunk also, although due to the design of the glass roof its access is reduced – for this reason alone I think I will be waiting for the Model Y which will have a rear hatch more akin to the Model S.

Visibility out back is also a bit limited due to the height of the rear shelf behind the back seats but the outstanding range of sensors compensate for this – the rear camera, which gives the realistic feedback (I have never felt comfortable with the rear vision display of other vehicles) automatically comes on in reverse and can be activated through the tablet interface also.

The interface inside is as with all Tesla vehicles, as mentioned very Apple-influenced, which for many people means using it is intuitive with little learning curve.

Credit: Bridie Schmidt
Credit: Bridie Schmidt

Energy use can be easily viewed with two touches, as can numerous driving options, including comfort, standard and sport for steering (I found the sport a little too tight and ended up going back to comfort which is still a huge improvement on my old Hyundai SUV).

Credit: Bridie Schmidt
Credit: Bridie Schmidt

There are also two settings for regenerative braking – standard and low – to be honest I didn’t feel a huge difference but perhaps this would be an entirely different case on the Bulli Pass.

Acceleration modes – chill and sport – differ considerably, and its hard not to want to just live in sport mode all the time, although it’s obviously not necessary in city traffic.

Some details proffered by the knowledgeable and super-friendly Tesla staff who showed me around the vehicle included tidbits such as how the vehicle auto-locks when you walk away from it, and although its handles don’t “self-present” like the Model S, the vehicle will still ready itself on your approach assuming you have your phone or valet card.

There are so many other features that can only be glossed over in an article like this, such as valet mode allows, as the name suggests, a valet to park the car for you but limits the speed and locks the glovebox. And sentry mode, dog mode and toybox (I got stuck on Mars at one stage, go figure).

Make no mistake – it is hard not to fall in love with this car.

It will be very surprising if it does not change the minds of many dubious of electric vehicles, and mark a shift in the lagging EV market in Australia.

But there are still some barriers that I can see, mainly that price-wise this vehicle, along with other long range EVs is still out of reach of many Australian budgets.

As discussed at this week’s Electric Vehicle Transition Conference, there are regulatory changes in Australia that are sorely needed to close the gap on barriers for EV uptake by a wider range of drivers.

A glut of lithium also has the potential to drive the high cost of making batteries down, but even if this does not eventuate it is expected that by 2024 the price of batteries will come down to under $US100/kWh at which time EVs will begin to reach purchase price parity with internal combustion engine vehicles.

tesla charging station
Credit: Bridie Schmidt

Will the Model 3 precipitate the price barrier and mark the upturn in EV uptake in Australia?

One other barrier to uptake – access to charging infrastructure – has already been long anticipated by Tesla, which has the broadest charging network, from AC destination charging to proprietary Superchargers, in Australia (noting that there are loud and insistent calls from certain members of the EV community for WA – Tesla has not yet made any confirmation on this despite a cursory “OK” from CEO and founder Elon Musk in March).

As The Driven has documented, many Australian drivers are making the “Tesla stretch“, spending $30,000 or more than they have ever spent on a car before to be one of the vanguard of people making the switch to environmentally and forward-looking electric mobility.

The Model 3 is certainly something different, a game-changer, a mind-changer and perhaps even a planet-changer.

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