How Quick Is the Tesla Model 3 Performance?
First and foremost, let’s talk acceleration and 0-60 time. After an over-the-air software update in December 2019, in which Tesla stated, “your car’s power has been increased by approximately 5 percent, improving acceleration and performance” in the firmware release note, I ran the Model 3 Performance through our usual acceleration test. It smoothly sprinted to 60 mph in 3.0 seconds and finished the quarter mile in 11.5 seconds at 117.3 mph. Comparing that result to the previous test from April 2019 (right after I got the car), the power boost significantly improved propulsion at high speed above 70 mph and knocked down 0.5 second from 0-100 mph and 0.2 second for the quarter mile. So far, Tesla is still the only automaker capable of tweaking a vehicle’s powertrain remotely through over-the-air software updates—and as an owner, I consider that a major perk.
Want to know more about the Tesla Model 3? Check out these stories for more in-depth technical reviews of the EV:
Track Time With the Tesla Model 3 Performance
When I was helping on a comparison test, the Model 3 Performance sparked—no, electrified—my interest as the first performance EV that I could take to a track day without too much compromise. Being able to have some fun on track is a requirement when I shop for a car, and I saw potential in the Model 3 Performance. Throughout the past year, I have taken the car to a couple track events, but the most interesting was REFUEL 2019 at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, my first track day after purchasing the Model 3. REFUEL is a yearly event that’s open to any full electric vehicle (from production to conversion to prototype) to compete in a time trial format. On the day I attended, most participants brought Tesla Model 3s in various trims (many with modifications); there were also a few Model S sedans, a Model X (yes, this electric SUV got on track, too), and an original Tesla Roadster. Besides Teslas, there were a couple Chevy Bolt EVs, a Fiat 500e, a Kia Soul EV, a Radical SR3 with a full electric powertrain, and a group of ZERO electric motorcycles.
So how did the Model 3 Performance do on track? It was great while it lasted, but battery drain and overheating brakes held it back (we’ll get to that in a bit). Each session only lasted five or six laps, with the last one being a much-needed cool-down lap. In an era of turbocharged engines and eight-speed gearboxes with throttle mapping tuned to squeeze out every last mpg, the Tesla’s instantaneous “throttle” response truly stands out with no lag. In a certain way, it reminded me of the direct feeling you get from a high-revving engine with a throttle cable. The absence of engine and exhaust note can take out some of the thrill for some, but I personally do like the high-pitch whine from the electric motors. It feels like something out of Star Wars—and I’ve always thought the TIE Fighter flyby noise could make a cool EV warning sound.
The lack of engine NVH made for a buttery-smooth driving experience; also, I could focus more on listening to the tires. As for visibility, I appreciated the tiny glimpse of the front fender to help me position the car on the track, a feature you typically get on a sports car, but rarely on a sedan. The absence of any form of driver-centric gauge cluster did not bother me a bit on track. While I am driving on the track, I often look so far ahead and am constantly looking for the next corner, or the next reference point. I actually rarely need to see the number on the speedometer; I can get a sense of speed by feel.
With Track Mode engaged, the system allows the car to be more playful. The car responds to lift-off oversteer to let me tighten the line in a corner. It also allows the tail to kick out (in a safe manner) when I apply too much power exiting a corner. Especially at turn 11 when I braked hard into it and then stepped back on the go-pedal a bit too early before I completely straighten the steering wheel and accelerate on the main straight. Speaking of acceleration, that is the major strength of this car, as shown by its 0-60 time. I found it worked well when I went into a turn slower than I normally would, but then picked a line that would allow me to straighten the steering wheel ASAP for maximum acceleration. Slow in, really fast out.
The Climax Needs to Last
Thanks to the enhanced cooling capability of Track Mode, I did not experience any powertrain limitation throughout the day. However, I did discover a huge letdown: the brakes, which were only able to handle two hot laps (three, if I took it slightly easy) before seriously fading and overheating. I understand Laguna Seca is hard on brakes, especially hard braking at over 110 mph approaching Turn 2. But still, only three hot laps? To me, that is unacceptable for a sport sedan with performance in its name. I was expecting at least five laps. Another drawback of tracking an EV—not limited to Tesla—is keeping the battery at its optimal state of charge, and that typically means as fully charged as possible, especially at a time attack event.
Generally, as state of charge decreases, the powertrain maximum output also decreases. In the case of the Model 3, above 90 percent would be ideal to get the quickest lap, and it would not feel significantly slower until dropping below 75 percent. At the REFUEL event, there were 200V outlets for participants to plug in; however, we had to share usage time because there were not enough for every single one. My Model 3 Performance consumed 15-18 percent for each 15-minute session, so I needed to plug in for nearly two hours after each run, but that was not possible. By the time it was my turn to do my time triall run (the whole track mostly clear for myself) the battery SOC was only at 65 percent, and I posted a 1:53.20 lap time. The car did great on the track, and it was a rather new sensation, but I wish the climax could last longer.
Can You Own a Tesla Model 3 Without a Home Charger?
Outside of the racetrack, charging is not too much of a problem. And truth be told, I’m in the minority of EV owners who does not have access to charging at home. Fortunately, the EV charging infrastructure in Los Angeles works for me. Prior to having this Tesla, I had a Chevy Bolt EV for two years. It worked, and this Tesla improves the experience thanks to higher charging capability and Tesla’s Supercharger network. There are a couple Level 2 stalls within 5 minutes walking distance from where I live. Then there are a few Supercharger sites within 10 miles of MotorTrend‘s El Segundo office. On a typical week, I only need to charge twice for my 70-mile daily commute: once midweek at a Supercharger when I let the car charge to 80 percent, and once during the weekend near home when I fully charge it to 100 percent. During the first year, my Model 3 Performance covered 22,744 miles and used 6,473 kW-hr of energy; efficiency is at about 3.5 mile/kW-hr. Of that total energy, 44 percent was from AC power, and 56 percent was from DC power, such as Superchargers and other Level 3 DC Fast chargers. It does not mean much if I told you how much I paid for charging in a year because I got some free Supercharger credit from Tesla’s referral program. In a normal month, I spend about $70 on charging the Tesla. Compared to my other gasoline car, a Honda CR-Z (with supercharger), I would have paid roughly $230 for fuel to drive the same distance in a month. And the Model 3 is more than twice as powerful. Battery degradation is minimal so far. When fully charged, the car is showing 296 miles of range, which is only 3 miles fewer than the current 299-mile EPA-rated range.
How Is Tesla Service?
As we’ve already covered, I bought my Tesla Model 3 Performance at a discount, and it was not exactly new. However, during the first year of ownership I have not encountered any major problem that requires service. I also spent no money on maintenance because there was none necessary, except for tires.
If you ask Tesla owners with Performance models what they dislike about their cars, don’t be surprised when you hear some of them hate the performance wheels and tires. And I agree; those big wheels and low-profile tires can be damaged easily by potholes. I had one tire develop a sidewall bubble and a leak after hitting an unavoidable pothole at 40 mph on a local road during a morning commute.
Fortunately, the leak was slow, and there was a Tesla service center 8 miles away. I showed up to the service center without any appointment, but they were able to take my car in and replace the tire in two hours. I was back on the road after paying $435. I also had two other Tesla service experiences. Some Model 3 Performance cars built in 2018 did not have the carbon-fiber spoiler when they left the factory. In those cases, Tesla had to install it when the part became available after customers took delivery. I bought the car in April, and I never heard anything from Tesla about the spoiler, so I reached out in July to ask for it and also to fix a misaligned seal near the driver side B-pillar.
The process was rather convenient. I first submitted a service request and picked an appointment time in the Tesla app on my phone. The next day, a Tesla representative reached out through text to ask for some photos so Tesla’s mobile service could come prepared. Yes, mobile service.
Instead of having to go drop the car off and wait at a service center, Tesla sent a Tesla Ranger to my workplace. On the day of my appointment, a Tesla Ranger showed up in a Tesla Model S with tools and parts in the car. All I had to do was show her where my car was parked. She worked on the car in the office parking structure, and everything was done in 30 minutes. Two months later, I noticed both ends of the spoiler were unsticking from the trunk. According to a conversation with other early Model 3 Performance owners, there were some manufacturing inconsistencies, with some spoilers fitting better than others, and it was a lucky draw to have one that fit. Tesla covered the unsticking spoiler under warranty, so I requested mobile service again. The second one came better than the first one, but it had to be mounted half an inch off center to stay snug on the trunk—bummer. I also noticed a misaligned driver side rear wheel liner that left a sensor exposed. The Tesla Ranger looked into it and contacted a Tesla engineer, but they said the sensor is weatherproof and should not be a concern.
Do I Regret Buying a Tesla Model 3?
At this point, you might be thinking, “What about Autopilot?” That deserves its own article as it is a complicated topic. Spoiler alert: It has not killed me yet. As for the Model 3, I’m keeping it. Those fitment issues I had were so minor, and there were no major problems with the car. A $70 monthly running cost for a car that can do 0-60 in 3.0 seconds? Honestly, a comparable alternative does not exist yet. And I’m looking forward to Tesla’s response when the next M3/4 comes out. If you have any questions about the Tesla Model 3 or have a specific aspect you’d like to know about, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or leave comments on our social media channels.