The Model 3 returns to Car of the Year for 2020
- Great handling
- Upgraded seats
- Thrilling performance
- Autopilot needs work
- Screen-centric controls
- Road and tire noise
The Model 3 we received back then was an early production model with the long-range battery (310 miles (499 km)) and rear-wheel-drive traction. Although we enjoyed its excellent driving dynamics, we criticized its seating position for rear passengers and were concerned that almost every control required a dive through the giant central touchscreen.
A lot has changed in two years. The long-awaited $35,000 USD base model arrived with a slight increase in its projected price, and a new Performance model is now available for those who want more sportiness. This time around, we had a chance to test both the Tesla Model 3 Standard Range Plus with 240 miles (386 km) of range and rear-wheel drive and the Model 3 Dual Motor Performance model with Track Mode, which has 310 miles (499 km) of range, all-wheel drive, and face-melting acceleration.
The new Model 3’s seats offer more bolstering, and rear passengers now enjoy a more ergonomic position, as the bench has been raised for improved comfort. The interior design continues to be modern and minimalistic, but it’s elegant in its simplicity. Tesla also improved the ease of use of the touchscreen controls, simplifying some menus and making it more intuitive. But you still have to swim through menus to change many simple settings.
In terms of driving, the Model 3 has a lot to offer. “It’s the best sport sedan on the market,” guest judge Chris Theodore said after he drove the Model 3 Standard Range Plus. With a price of $43,100 USD, our tester was cheaper than the Nissan Leaf Plus SL and the Kia Niro EV, and it offered more range than the Nissan and better looks than either. The Model 3 also drove better, was quicker, and had more personality than the Nissan and Kia. “The price really is key,” editor-in-chief Ed Loh said. “What you get for your money is on a different level from the Nissan Leaf or Kia Niro.”
The Model 3 Performance ups that experience. The car is a thrill to drive around a winding track, canyon road, or the highway. “The Track mode stability control calibration is wonderful,” technical director Frank Markus said. “Definitely a comfortable amount of oversteer allowed in every corner where I probed it. This car shouldn’t scare anyone, yet you can give the advanced driver some definite fun.”
But there’s still some work to do with NVH. Yes, electric cars are quiet, what with no engine noise. Still, some judges complained about the road and tire noise in both trims, especially during highway driving. And some buzzes and rattles came from within the car on cruddy roads.
More concerning was the erratic nature of the Autopilot with Navigation feature. Although it’s pitched as one of the most advanced semi-autonomous systems on the market, it provided differing responses for our drivers traveling the same testing loop—sometimes working well, other times shutting off randomly.
Autopilot also got nervous in situations that wouldn’t bother a human driver: Do I run across over the center line to avoid the car parked on the shoulder, or should I scare the hell out of that parked driver? Tesla’s answer: the latter. Sorry, dude.
And unless you already know Autopilot won’t bring the car to a stop (which most smart cruise systems do with ease nowadays), discovering that limitation while approaching a line of stopped cars can be an alarming experience. In regular-flowing traffic, including slowing to a stop with traffic flow, it functioned properly. But several testers, under varying conditions, had Autopilot not respond properly when approaching a line of already-stopped vehicles, including twice when Autopilot simply shut off—requiring threshold braking to avoid a rear-end collision.
Overall, the Tesla Model 3 has advanced, and given the beta-test nature of Tesla vehicles, we can assume this disruptive Model 3 will continue to improve.
|2019 Tesla Model 3||Standard Range Plus||Dual Motor Performance (Track)|
|Base Price/As Tested*||$41,100/$43,100||$61,100/$67,100|
|Power (SAE net)||283 hp||450 hp|
|Torque (SAE net)||307 lb-ft||471 lb-ft|
|Accel, 0-60 mph||5.0 sec||3.2 sec|
|Quarter Mile||13.5 sec @ 104.9 mph||11.7 sec @ 115.7 mph|
|Braking, 60-0 mph||128 ft||104 ft|
|Lateral Acceleration||0.84 g (avg)||0.93 g (avg)|
|MT Figure Eight||26.4 sec @ 0.69 g (avg)||24.2 sec @ 0.83 g (avg)|
|EPA City/Hwy/Comb||140/124/133 mpg-e||120/112/116 mpg-e|