Altered Reality: When is a performance model not?
All-wheel drive was once seen as dead weight in a sports car, but today we recognize it as a necessary traction enhancement on the dragstrip, especially for heavier cars. Nothing demonstrates that new reality like a Tesla. This 4,062-pound (1,842-kg) Model 3 Long Range Dual Motor hit 60 mph in just 4.0 seconds and passed the quarter-mile finish line in 12.5 seconds at 113.1 mph (182 km/h), all with only 346 hp and 376 lb-ft of torque.
The context really drives it home. The highest-performing Model 3s we’ve tested have been, naturally, Dual Motor Performance models with 450 horsepower and 471 lb-ft. The quickest of them hit 60 mph in 3.1 seconds and passed the quarter-mile finish line in 11.7 seconds at 115.1 mph (185.2), almost a second better than the regular car. The slowest, if it can be called that, was a Model 3 Long Range rear-drive car, which hit 60 mph in 4.8 seconds and the quarter in 13.4 seconds at 104.9 mph (168.8 km/h).
The acceleration data alone beautifully demonstrates the advantage of all-wheel traction: eight-tenths of a second gained getting up to freeway speeds and nine-tenths gained in the quarter, just by powering the front wheels. That puts the standard Long Range Dual Motor car just 0.9 second behind the Performance model to 60 mph and 0.8 behind at the quarter, traveling only 2 mph (3.2 km/h) slower. It’s in good company, too, ahead of an Audi S4, dead even with a BMW M6 Gran Coupe, and just behind an Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio and Cadillac CTS-V. Also hanging out right around the 4-second mark: the Camaro SS, the Mustang GT, and the Dodge Hellcat twins. The Tesla falls behind in the quarter, but then again, it has less than 350 hp.
Let’s not forget, either, that the Model 3 Long Range Dual Motor Performance is the fourth-quickest sedan we’ve ever tested behind the Model S P100D Ludicrous (2.3 seconds to 60 mph), Porsche Panamera (2.8), BMW M5, and Mercedes-AMG E 63 S (tied at 3.0), each one of which is all-wheel drive.
Put enough power and grip in the equation, and anything can go fast, but the plain-Jane Model 3 Long Range Dual Motor can corner, too. Of course, it would corner a lot better if it had the Performance model’s tires, but being the everyday car, it wore Continental all-season tires. As such, it again falls neatly between the rear-drive Model 3 Long Range and the all-wheel-drive Model 3 Long Range Dual Motor Performance. At the skidpad, it showed a pretty good 0.90 g average and put up a figure-eight lap time of 24.9 seconds at 0.78 average g. That’s comfortably ahead of the rear-drive car (0.87 g average and 25.7 seconds at 0.74 average g) and not all that far behind the Performance model (0.95 g average and 24.2 seconds at 0.83 average g).
On the performance sedan front, however, it’s more 5 Series than M5 (though it’s sized more like an M3). In fact, it’s about dead even with an M550i and actually slightly behind a Hellcat.
You wouldn’t know it behind the wheel, though. Everyone’s heard by now that batteries under the car mean a low center of gravity and a feeling of being planted on the road, but Tesla has another trick up its sleeve that doesn’t get nearly as much attention: the windshield. Not having much to cover up front, the hood and therefore the cowl height (base of the windshield) are very low. Love or hate the Model 3’s ultra-minimalist dashboard, the design keeps everything low and out of your sightlines. With such a massive windshield in front of you and the ability to see more of the pavement ahead that would otherwise be blocked by the hood and instrument cluster, Tesla has greatly enhanced the perception of speed.
Like sitting in the first car of a roller coaster, you have fewer reference points around you and a better view of the world coming at you. Rather than sitting in a midsize sedan, the view out is more akin to sitting in a McLaren even if the seating position isn’t. Combine this with a low center of gravity and linear, zero-lag acceleration, and the Model 3 feels faster than it is every time you punch the accelerator or turn the steering wheel. And again, it isn’t slow.
The steering wheel, as with most electrically assisted systems, doesn’t talk much, but it’s very precise. Although it doesn’t put up the numbers of other performance sedans, the quick steering, minimal body roll, and the always-ready power combine to make the car particularly fun to drive for a non-performance model. It sails through curves with an easy confidence and eager responses that make you want to try keeping up with a sports car even if you don’t have the tires for it.
It’s a similar case with the brakes. Stopping from 60 mph in 113 feet is fine but hardly spectacular. It’s a few feet better than the rear-drive car thanks to an increased regenerative braking effect from the front motor. (Rear motors applying too much regenerative braking can destabilize the car, so they can’t regenerate to their full potential.) The Performance model’s big brakes and sticky tires haul it down in a far more impressive 99 feet. Numbers-wise, again, the non-Performance all-wheel-drive car comes in at Hellcat performance levels. In practice, Tesla remains the benchmark in blending regenerative and mechanical braking in a way that’s not only seamless but also feels as good as a better than average pure mechanical system.
Despite its capabilities, our test car wasn’t without flaws. The most noticeable, during this unusually cool spring, was the failure of the heater to produce heat. According to Tesla, the car self-diagnosed a bad connection in the heater and deactivated it until a technician could correct the issue. A message should have been displayed to the driver but for unknown reasons was not.
The second was inconsistent behavior from the Autosteer lane-keeping feature in the Autopilot advanced cruise control system. On freeways, Autosteer insisted on riding the left-hand side of the lane, to the point of driving on the Botts’ dots, rather than centering the car in the lane like it’s supposed to. It knew what it was doing, too, at least according to the display screen, which showed the car on the left lane line. On multi-lane boulevards, though, it kept the car right in the middle of the lane. Per Tesla, the car was in the process of recalibrating its Autopilot and Autosteer systems at the time, which in our case lasted several days but was finished by the time the car was returned, preventing the automaker from recreating the issue. A customer in this scenario would be able to have the car remotely recalibrated over the air with a call to Tesla.
When a plain ol’ Model 3 with all-wheel drive and a big battery can mix it up with cars made by special divisions, hang with cars with up to twice the horsepower in a straight line and around a corner, yet still come in tens of thousands of dollars less, it’s enough to make you wonder what even counts as a “performance” model anymore. The only obvious answer is an even higher-performance model that mixes it up with supercars.
|2018 Tesla Model 3 Dual Motor Long Range|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$54,100*|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front- and rear-motor, AWD, 5-pass, 4-door sedan|
|MOTORS||2 x 3-phase internal permanent-magnet electric motor, 346 hp, 376 lb-ft (front + rear comb)|
|CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST)||4,062 lb (51/49%)|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||184.8 x 72.8 x 56.8 in|
|0-60 MPH||4.0 sec|
|QUARTER MILE||12.5 sec @ 113.1 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||113 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||0.90 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||24.9 sec @ 0.78 g (avg)|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON||120/112/116 mpg-e|
|ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY||28/30 kW-hr/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB||0.00 lb/mile (at vehicle)|
|*Before applicable tax credits|