Tesla Model 3 AWD (Dual Motor) Review

While the reality of driving the Tesla Model 3 fast might look a little boring, the feeling you get from driving this car is pure joy.  I haven’t been able to conduct a true 0-60 speed test, but other AWD owners have managed to get times around 4.3 seconds, which is about 1/2 a second faster than the RWD.  But it’s over 1 second slower than the performance model.

If you watched my previous video on my delivery experience, you know that I had a rocky road getting the car, but the experience of actually owning the car has been exceptional.  

Driving with all of the default settings, the car handles like a responsive sports car.  The steering is taught, but not overly so.  You’ll find yourself feeling comfortable taking curves at a quick clip because you feel connected to the road (no real roll in the car, the wheels feel firmly planted).  And as you saw from my opening, the acceleration and power is just pure fun.  The shocks on this car aren’t as firm as the earlier builds and I have no complaints for the comfort of the ride.  It’s a nice balance between being able to feel the road to judge how you can push the car, and comfort in being able to enjoy longer road trips and not get fatigued. 

In my first two weeks I’ve been averaging about a 245 watt hour mile (Wh/mile), which is about a 95% efficiency compared to the rated range.  A few of my drives have had pretty bad efficiency because of my “energetic” driving and having fun with the quick acceleration.  I’m curious to see how that evolves over time as I get used to driving an EV and settle back into my normal driving style.  From the research I’ve done on forums like Tesla Motors Club, granted this isn’t scientific, many AWD drivers are getting around 230 to 240 watt hour miles on longer road trips.  The dual motors in Tesla’s tend to be smaller more efficient motors than the single bigger motor in RWD versions.  The problem with this reporting is that elevation, grade, temperature, tire pressure, Aero wheels or no Aero wheels, driving style, all play a big role in the efficiency you’ll get.  I’m trying to track down a RWD owner in MA that would be willing to run a few tests, so we can get an Apples to Apples comparison.  If I’m able to find a volunteer, I’ll be posting a follow up video on that.

The first thing that strikes you when you get into the car is the minimalist design, which, as a UI designer I know is difficult to pull off and not have the feel  ing of incompleteness or cheapness.  This car doesn’t feel cheap and looks thoroughly finished.  It’s quite an achievement in design, but it’s not going to be for everybody.  Some people like more ornate design with lots of levels, angles, buttons, knobs, etc.  You’re obviously not going to get that here, so if that’s your taste, look elsewhere.  For me, this is right up my alley.  The single wood panel is gorgeous and adds just the right amount of texture and warmth.  The alcantara panels on the doors look beautiful and feel high end.

I was worried how well I would take to the single screen that has your speedometer and everything else in the center console and not behind the steering wheel.  I’m not sure if it’s from all of the videos I watched on the Model 3 before getting it, but I took to the screen right away.  It felt natural to me to glance to the lower right instead of straight down, immediately ... that’s something I can’t say about the accelerator peddle and regenerative breaking.  Check out my previous delivery experience video for that. 

The Positives

There are a lot more positives of this car than negatives.  And the negatives are fairly minor.  Here’s a quick rundown of the positives:

  1. Speed and power.  This car reacts almost as quickly as I can think of what I want it to do.  I don’t advocate for aggressive, or as we call it in Massachusetts, “Masshole” driving.  That’s not my style, but the incredible torque and instant power in acceleration comes in handy when merging into traffic on the highway, or when pulling out onto a busy road from a side street.

  2. Build quality.  I know there’s been a lot of chatter online about spotty quality, but I don’t see it at all in my car.  It’s rock solid.  No more defects on this car than any other car I’ve ever purchased from Mazda, Ford, Nissan, or VW.  

  3. Technology.  It shouldn’t be a surprise, but this car is kind of a dream gadget for a tech enthusiast like myself.  It’s an smartphone on wheels ... depending on who you are, that may actually sound like a nightmare.  But look at it this way, how many cars can you say actually get better with age?  The way this car gets updates over the air is unheard of in the car industry.  New features getting added over time, or issues getting resolved ... for free, without need to go into a service center.  For instance, AutoPilot improvements and new features are constantly getting added and refined.  When Consumer Reports couldn’t list the Model 3 as a “recommend” because of long braking distances, Tesla figured out the problem, released an anti-lock brake update and resolved the issue.  Consumer Reports now lists the car as recommended.  That’s incredible.

  4. Autopilot and adaptive cruise control.  Yes, there are lots of news reports about Tesla’s having accidents while the driver was using autopilot, but 9 times out of 10 (more like 99% of the time) it’s driver error.  People are misusing autopilot, which is a driver assist feature, not self driving.  Someone watching a movie while using autopilot is asking for problems.  Autopilot is going to help you avoid accidents, but this isn’t covered as much in the media because it’s not as attention grabbing as a car cash.  My initial experience was a mix of wonder with a little bit of this, but after I got past that it’s been amazing, especially in rush our type traffic.  If you’re not in an area where autopilot works, adaptive cruise control is still amazing.  Not having to ride the pedal for stop and go traffic is spectacular.  This car is one of the safest cars you can buy today with autopilot helping to avoid accidents and seeing things you may have missed.  Not to mention the 5 star rating it just received in all categories from the NHTSA.

  5. Storage space.  I mean, come on, just look at how much storage space you have in this thing?  I went from a Ford Fusion Energi, which had what I could call a toy trunk to this.  These are some of the most comfortable car seats I’ve ever used.  They offer just the right shape, padding, and cushion for my tastes.  In the premium package they have adjustments for height, tilt, distance, and lumbar cushion placement and size.  And the backseat is surprisingly roomy and comfortable as well.

  6. Sound system.  I’m not sure I’d call myself an audiophile, but I have a deep appreciation for good audio, and have a background in audio design and production from my college and grad school days.  The Model 3 has one of the best sound systems that I’ve ever experienced in a car.  Granted, this has the upgraded audio system as part of the premium package, so I’m not sure what the base level system will sound like ... nobody does at this point.  The 12 speaker sound stage is immersive and it’s hard to tell exactly where the sound is coming from.  It’s also super well balanced.  There’s a healthy amount of bass without being boomy and making things sound muddy.  The high end is clear, but not harsh.  And, not that I recommend this if you value your hearing, but it doesn’t distort as you get into the upper levels of volume.  Absolutely sublime and not something I was expecting when I ordered the car.  I wish I could convey the quality of this sound over YouTube, but that’s just not possible.

  7. Voice controls.  At the moment you can only use the controls for setting navigation destinations, placing or answering calls, but Elon has said additional functionality is coming (hopefully version 9 that’s coming soon?) like controlling wipers, and more.  The system picks up your voice really well over the traffic noise, and is very quick to respond.  Unlike some other voice assistants I know (Siri says hi).  And speaking of Siri, I’ve been pleasantly surprised how well she works in the car too.  She’s able to pick up my voice very well from my phone in the phone dock, and once she starts to respond it behaves like a phone call on the entertainment system and she’ll hear you over the cars microphones, and you’ll hear her over the stereo.  It’s no CarPlay, but it’s kind of great.

The Negatives

So what about the negatives?

  1. Rear window.  It doesn’t have good sight lines.  You really can only see the drivers behind you from their head on up, which makes for a slightly unnerving experience if you’re trying to gage how close a car is behind you and if they’re paying attention.  The counter to this could be that you have a really good rear view camera that you can pull up at any time.  I find the camera display to be good enough and offers enough detail that you can be confident using it.  That’s not something I can say for my wife’s Mazda or my Ford Fusion.

  2. Technology.  Yes, I included this on my positives list, but it’s a double edged sword.  I’ve had the computer that drives the display crash once in the past two weeks, which causes the screen to black out for 5-10 seconds while it reboots.  It doesn’t affect the operation of the car, but it is a little alarming when it happens for the first time.  It’s possible that a software update could introduce a bug, or bomb out in the middle of an update, which could potentially require a service center visit to fix.  This negative is pretty minor in my book, but it is something to think about.  Technology like this can sometimes have quirks.

  3. Phone for entry.  To be clear, I actually love using my phone as my key.  It’s been rock solid and has worked 100% of the time, but I’ve heard enough stories online and from others that it’s kind of hit and miss.  It sounds like Android phone users have a tougher time than iPhone users (I’m iPhone X user myself and it works flawlessly).  So I just wanted to call that out as a potential negative.  Your mileage will vary.

  4. Keycard.  Again, I love that I have a credit card sized key tucked away in my wallet as a backup key in case my phone key doesn’t work for some reason.  However, it’s such a different and unique form of entry that I hate having to explain to someone how to use it.  In my previous job I had to use valet parking, and there were a lot of random valets that worked there, which would mean a lot of conversations for “here’s how you lock and unlock the car.”  I’m all for pushing design forward, but I’m not a fan of how crazy different this system works from a traditional key or key fob that it becomes unintuitive.  Please give me a real key fob.  It will be one less thing I have to explain to someone if I have to hand out my key.  Thankfully, a key fob is coming and I will be getting one, but I only plan to use that with valets or friends and family.  I’m going to stick with the phone as my key and backup keycard in my wallet.

  5. Door handles.  I’m not talking about the suicide style exterior handle.  That’s easy enough to show someone or let them puzzle it out themselves, but the inside door handle is not good.  If you have someone unfamiliar with the Model 3 in the car and don’t explain how to get out, they will most likely pull the emergency release.  People are used to levers for getting out of a car and when they see something they can pull, they’ll pull it.  A tiny, nondescript button that’s located at the top of the door handle isn’t the first thing you’d consider.  Often times you’ll have mirror adjustments up there, or sometimes window controls, but a button for opening a car door?  Nope.  I get why the emergency release has to be obvious in case of emergency, but the button should have been even more obvious.  What really kills me is that if you pull the emergency level the car yells at you that using the lever can damage your car.  When you open the doors on the Model 3, the windows go down slightly to clear seal.  If you use the emergency open, the windows don’t go down and it can potentially cause damage and alignment issues.  Which raises the question, maybe Tesla should have stuck with a frame around the door to avoid that issue?  Or again ... made the open button super obvious.  For people using the car on a daily basis, this won’t be an issue at all, it’s really only for new Tesla Model 3 riders.

  6. Streaming radio services.  Slacker radio sucks.  There’s no way around it.  Some of the streaming sources have a very limited bandwidth, and because of the great sound system it’s pretty easy to hear the heavy audio compression.  It’s a real shame.  From what I understand, you can get better bitrates from Slacker if you have a paid subscription, but as it is out of the box ... lackluster.  Streaming from my phone, the audio quality is much, much better.  Playing off of a USB stick sounds even better still.  However, there are some quirks with the album art you’ll see if you listen to podcasts from your phone.  For some reason, it will either show no art or random art from musical albums.  

The More You Know

I’d put all of those negatives as pretty minor issues.  They’re really nitpicking and don’t mar the overall quality and enjoyment of the Model 3.  There are a few miscellaneous items that don’t fall into the positive or negative bucket, but more of a “the more you know” kind of thing.

  1. Screen controls.  A lot of people that actually haven’t driven the car complain, “I don’t want to have to control everything in the car from a touchscreen.  I can’t believe you have to tap through several menus to just pop open the glove box.  Just give me knobs and levers.”  In practice, it’s not anywhere that bad.  In fact, it’s not bad at all, it’s just different.  To open the glove box require two taps.  To adjust your wiper speed isn’t even a tap, it’s really just a swipe.  When you manually activate the wipers from the left stalk, the wiper controls will automatically show up on the lower left portion of the screen.  If you want, you can slide the control to whatever speed you want there.  So far I haven’t switched the wipers from auto, so I’ve never had to adjust it at all.  The same is true for the vents.  Yes, you have to move some little dots around the screen to adjust how you like your air direction, but I haven’t needed to adjust it since my initial setup of the car.  In fact, I don’t think I ever adjusted my vents in my Ford Fusion after my initial setup either.  I’ve found that the most common things you do are controllable through the stalks and steering wheel buttons.  For the slightly less common, but still needed controls, it’s just one tap (hit the little car icon) and they’re all on the quick controls screen.  If you’re diving in deeper than that, you starting to get into more uncommon adjustments and shouldn’t be driving while playing around with those anyway.  It may take an adjustment period for some folks, but I don’t have any issues with the “screen controls for everything” design.

  2. The center console is a finger print magnet.  The piano black glossy surface looks great, but is not forgiving when it comes to dust and finger prints.  I ended up getting a matte black vinyl wrap from Abstract Ocean, which actually blends really well with the color/texture of the vegan leather of the car.  If this isn’t your taste, you can pick up anything from brushed metal to carbon fiber.  Abstract Ocean has quite a few great looking options and they’re relatively easy to install.  It’s a pretty forgiving material to work with and just takes a little patience.  And if you screw up a piece and need a new one, Abstract Ocean will send you your first replacement piece for free.  After I installed mine, I brought my wife out to show her and she didn’t realize I had done anything to the center console.  She thought it looked like it came from the factory that way.  I actually reached out Abstract Ocean and got a discount code for anyone that’s interested.  You’ll get 15% off your order if you use my affiliate link, which also helps support the channel.  I’m planning on getting some of their replacement LED lights to increase the brightness of the glovebox and trunk.  They have a lot of great Tesla mods available.

  3. Beware of third party integrations!  I’m going to be doing a more in-depth video on integrations with things like Siri, Amazon Echo, Google, home automation routines, and other services that help you track your energy consumption, charging rates, and battery health.  There are a lot of interesting options out there, but they aren’t created equal and if you aren’t careful, some of these services can cause a lot of phantom drain (or vampire drain).  When I first started playing with some of these services like Tezlab, Home Assistant’s Tesla component, and the Remote S app, I was seeing 18-20 miles of range lost every day with my car just sitting idle.  After I reset everything I got my phantom drain back to a normal 1-2 miles a day.  So, beware.  You’ve been warned.  I’ll be making a video soon with what I’ve found as safe and useful.

  4. Wireless phone charging.  In this day and age, they should have included Qi charging in the center console for your phone, but thankfully that’s easily fixed with third party add-ons like the Jeda Wireless pad.  I have one on order and will be making a video on that later.

Final Thoughts

Was the car worth the 894 day wait?  Absolutely.  This is the best car that I’ve ever owned.  It’s hard to not get a smile on your face when you drive it.  It’s built like a tank, drives like a sports car, and is one of the safest cars on the road.  Is the AWD Model 3 worth the premium price of $50,000 - $60,000, I’d say yes.  It’s an eye popping amount of money to pay for a car, but what you’re getting for the money feels like it’s all there.  The AWD dual motor is going to come in very handy in the New England winters, and offers a nice extra boost in the speed department.  It’s cheaper to operate than a gas car and has a much smaller carbon footprint too.  Over the lifetime of the car, the cost of ownership should come more inline with a cheaper gas car.

When the $35,000 base model becomes available early next year, it’s going to be a steal.  This is a car that was designed for the mass market and will send shockwaves through the auto industry once Tesla is producing them at full speed.  Range anxiety shouldn’t be an issue with 300+ miles on the long range and AWD versions of the car.  Even the base model will get 200+ miles, which will be more than enough for commuting.  Add to that the Tesla Supercharging network, which has over 10,000 chargers around the world.  Elon Musk stated that 99% of the U.S. population is within 150 miles of a Supercharger.  Range anxiety should be a thing of the past.

The AWD Model 3 is an amazing car.