With diesels still in the firing line, Jens finally gets his hands on the Tesla Model 3.
The diesel scandal is showing no sign of abating in Germany. Now authorities are focusing on Daimler. 700,000 cars are affected Europe-wide – 280,000 in Germany. The bureaucracy is demanding a recall.
New diesel and gasoline cars are arguably clean across the entire range of driving conditions, but in the past, they were developed specifically to suit the test cycles. Carmakers say that they had little choice with the technology that was available then.
Politicians are milking the supposed sins of the past to a maximum, pretending to lose patience with carmakers. Meanwhile, German customers seem to be losing patience with politicians. A look at the sales numbers will suffice. While electrics are still virtually non-existent, diesel seems to be on the rise again. And the right-wing opposition is beginning to exploit the government’s aggressive line by positioning itself as the true friend of the auto industry and the car owners.With their hardcore line against conventionally powered cars, European governments are running an increasingly risky strategy.
Meanwhile, this autumn, we’ll see heavily contrasting product launches. The Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance is dominated, yet again, by the most extreme cars – at 5 million Euros, without taxes, the Bugatti Divo, a rebodied Chiron, certainly takes the crown. It’s tuned for even better cornering and sportier handling, while sacrificing V-max. It’s restricted to 380km/h, while the Chiron will do a full 420.
Both the Mercedes-EQC and the Audi e-tron will launch next year. Depending on what kind of regulation European politicians come up with, these cars may be crucial to the future of their parent companies.
Meanwhile, until the Germans bring their EVs to market, Tesla provides plenty of entertainment. In Elon Musk’s latest interview with the New York Times, he hints at his own substance abuse and mental instability.
On Twitter, Musk alluded to the possibility of taking Tesla off the stock market – claiming that funding for a stock price of $420 USD was secure. This, however, seems to have been entirely without merit.
I finally got my hands on a Model 3 for testing purposes, and I tried to look at it from a perspective of objectivity – not negativity. But staying short of adulation hasn’t worked so well for me in the past – my review of the Model S in 2014 effectively locked me out of test cars, which means I obtain my impressions through other means, usually through owners.
The leap from a luxury carmaker into the mass market is proving to be a gigantic challenge for Tesla, and it’s taken the company way too long to ramp up production. It’s likely still sitting on hundreds of thousands of bookings, but the problem is that many of those bookings are for the $35,000 version that Musk has long promised. Currently offered models begin at almost $50,000, as a result of which demand has fallen sharply.
I got my hands on one of those models, fitted with the still-obligatory long-range battery, the ‘premium’ package, and the assistance systems that Tesla still calls ‘Autopilot.’
How does it feel? It feels small in size, and almost frugal in its style. The driver and passengers are surrounded by a large greenhouse, similar to what cars were like in the 1990s. The cabin is airy, but seating in the rear is uncomfortable. In front of the driver, there’s a beautiful metallic air vent and a horizontal piece of wood. Virtually every function is accessible through the large central screen, with the assistance of switches on the surprisingly conventional steering wheel.
Even in single-motor configuration, the Model 3 accelerates with considerable alacrity. But for passionate drivers, it leaves quite a bit to be desired. The steering isn’t super-precise, and in corners taken too quickly, there’s noticeable understeer. Moreover, the brakes feel spongy and fail to deliver decent feedback. All told, the Model 3’s considerable heft becomes a liability when compared to conventionally powered cars.
On the plus side, the Model 3 is quiet and well-isolated – at least up to around 150km/h. One of its most interesting features, of course, is the Autopilot system, which I found to be both impressive and severely flawed. I haven’t experienced a system that enters difficult corners with such confidence. But then, occasionally, it’ll disengage with minimal warning in the middle of corners that it never should have taken on in the first place.
Driving the Model 3 was a fun experience, but it’s an unfinished product that would have benefited immensely from another 6 months of development. My strong advice – drive it first before you make a deposit.