It’s not often you need to employ slipstreaming on the road, but these are desperate times, friends. The Tesla Model 3 Long Range is currently indicating five per cent battery and displaying a warning to stay below 75km/h if we want to reach our destination.
At this point you’re probably thinking ‘oh great, another story about electric car range anxiety but no, while there is a degree of anxiety within this story it’s all the fault of the driver rather than the car.
Inspired by the Model 3’s ‘Long Range’ moniker, we thought it would be instructive to see how far we could drive Tesla’s baby on a single charge in the real world.
As part of its recent facelift, the Model 3 Long Range is now claimed to be capable of an impressive 657km; this doesn’t make it the long-distance EV king – that title belongs to its bigger brothers, the Model S Performance (704km) and Model S Long Range (722km) with their monster 100kWh batteries – but 657km puts the Model 3 LR into a solid third place, on paper at least.
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To test Tesla’s claim we devised a simple test: starting at Tesla’s Melbourne service centre in the inner-east suburb of Cremorne, we would drive to the southern-most point of mainland Australia, Tidal River in the Wilson’s Promontory National Park, then complete the return journey, a total distance of 444km according to Google Maps.
Why aren’t we trying to drive 657km? A few reasons. The first of which is we have to drive in the real world, not a laboratory, with traffic, wind and weather, corners and the need to run back and forth for photography and video (see above).
The second reason is that our intended journey doesn’t play to an electric vehicle’s strengths. Constantly traveling at relatively high speeds might be the sweet spot for an internal combustion engine but it isn’t where batteries do their best work.
However, this isn’t an effort to eke every last kilometre out of a Tesla Model 3; instead we just want to find out how far you can realistically travel on a typical drive.
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It wasn’t long ago that this journey would be fraught with potential headaches. When I first drove a Tesla in late-2014, the original Model S P85, the only option was to do a loop to and from the Tesla PR’s house; there were no chargers and the range was quite limited.
It’s taken a while but in recent months in particular the EV trickle is turning into, if not a flood, then at least a steady stream.
Chargers are popping up everywhere, whether it be Tesla destination charging, local councils or one of the ever-growing number of privately-run charge stations (Evie, ChargeFox, Linga et al) and helpful apps are regularly updated by EV adopters detailing charger speed, availability and condition.
For example, while we weren’t planning to use them on this trip, a quick check on the Plugshare app showed that the pair of 22kW Tesla chargers at Fish Creek were currently unavailable, so we knew not to rely on them.
However, as mentioned, our journey starts at the Melbourne Tesla service centre, where a Supercharger tops up the battery to 100 per cent in a matter of minutes.
Having punched in our intended destination, the sat-nav suggests we’ll reach Tidal River with 52 per cent battery. Perfect; 48 per cent there and 48 per cent back means we’ll return to Tesla with four per cent remaining.
The quoted range of this facelifted long-distance Model 3 has increased by 37km thanks to the more efficient air-conditioning system from the Model Y SUV, revised tyres from Hankook and software tweaks.
Other improvements include new wheel designs across the range – the Long Range wearing 19s – a powered boot and satin black exterior trim (side indicators, window surrounds and door handles) instead of the previous chrome.
On the inside, a number of measures have been taken to improve quality. The scroll wheels on the steering wheel are now metal instead of plastic, the sun visors have magnetic closure to help them locate, the centre storage compartment has a sliding lid and all the interior bits that were previously piano black are now a matte finish, cutting down on fingerprints and visible dust.
Small touches, but all help to lift the Model 3’s interior and make it feel more substantial. There’s extra tech, too, including a pair of inductive charging pads, two USB-C high-speed charge ports and an additional USB-A port in the glovebox intended to connect storage devices for Sentry Mode and dash cam footage. Luggage space remains 425L, that number enhanced by a small cubby in the nose, big enough for a soft bag or two.
As part of the facelift Tesla also made the unusual but welcome move of cutting prices significantly. The Model 3 Long Range starts at $81,900, though for some reason Tesla deems Luxury Car Tax an ‘on-road’ cost, so MSRP is actually $84,108.
Add $1500 for metallic paint and $6826 in on-road costs and you’re left with an as-tested price of $91,751 driveway, making it a direct competitor to premium Euros like the BMW 330e, Audi A4 45 TFSI and Volvo S60 T8 R-Design.
Once underway the Model 3 immediately impresses. It’s fundamentally a very relaxing way of getting around thanks to the smooth, effortless acceleration, low noise, excellent vision and strong regenerative braking effectively allowing for one-pedal driving.
There are a few bugbears, though, chief among which is the ride quality. It’s firm and fidgety, not helped by very high recommended tyre pressures (42psi cold), which are presumably to lower rolling resistance.
In a car that is otherwise so relaxing to drive, constantly being jostled by secondary bumps in particular is tiring – a good set of adaptive dampers would work wonders. Next on the list of complaints is the lack of a head-up display.
It’s an odd omission in such a tech-focused car, especially due to the lack of a conventional instrument display.
The speed is instead displayed in the top-right corner of the giant infotainment touchscreen, within peripheral vision (just) but it still requires removing your attention from the road, a particular problem in an EV that accelerates so quickly and without the traditional cues with which to monitor speed (revs, noise etc.).
That enormous screen is initially daunting, as it controls virtually every facet of the car, from HVAC, drive modes, opening various orifices (boot, frunk, charge port), navigation and entertainment, including Spotify, Netflix and games, including a Mario Kart-like affair in which you use the actual brake and steering wheel as controls. With some familiarisation, though, it puts virtually every other manufacturer’s infotainment to shame in its speed and ease of operation.
It also displays the all-important range and efficiency information and the news currently isn’t great. We’ve been averaging around 150Wh/km against Tesla’s claim of 133Wh/km which isn’t surprising; just like an internal combustion engine you’re unlucky to match the claimed consumption unless in exceptional circumstances.
This isn’t too concerning; what is concerning is that the sat-nav now says we’ll reach Tidal River with 47 per cent charge. We have been doing a bit of back-and-forth for photo and video which might not be required on the way back, but it’s now very much touch-and-go whether we’ll make it back to our origin point.
The towns of Loch, Korumburra, Leongatha, Meeniyan and Fish Creek come and go. It’s a beautiful day for a drive and the sun shining strongly, which does raise questions about the Model 3’s massive glass roof.
It’s an eye-catching feature, no doubt, and allows for plenty of light to enter the cabin, but it does raise interior temperatures and cause the air-con to work harder. Tesla does offer a sunshade that it claims blocks two-thirds of the thermal load, but personally I would like a metal roof for my Model 3.
Then there’s the puritanical driver’s view of having a massive slab of glass mounted so high up in the car’s structure. Not that it really hampers the Model 3’s dynamics. The road into Wilson’s Promontory isn’t just scenic, it’s also a brilliant driving test with all manner of corners, bumps and surfaces, but the Tesla isn’t in the least bit out of its depth.
This isn’t the Performance model, so it doesn’t have Track Mode ESP, stickier tyres, bigger brakes and extra grunt, but it’s still a weapon on a twisty road.
The floor-mounted batteries keep the weight low so it feels lighter than its 1844kg kerb weight and while there’s plenty of grip, the relatively soft suspension means the car moves around and requires input from the driver.
The steering doesn’t offer much feedback but it’s light and accurate, as long as it’s kept in Comfort mode; Normal and Sport adding extra effort without added connection.
I’m trying to keep the speed as high as possible through corners, my logic being that the less I slow down the less I have to accelerate again, which is the enemy of efficiency – at least that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it.
This strategy provides scant opportunity to enjoy the Model 3’s awesome acceleration out of corners, the dual-motor all-wheel drive system ensuring not a skerrick of power is wasted.
Precise outputs are hard to come by, Tesla preferring to publish 0-100km/h figures rather than power and torque numbers, but scouring the internet suggests figures of 258kW/510Nm for the Long Range.
However that, and the 4.4sec 0-100km/h claim, feel decidedly conservative given the way you’re slammed into the seat under full acceleration.
It’s an enjoyable car to flow along a challenging road, too, as the strong regen not only washes off speed quickly but effectively trail brakes for you on the way into a corner.
Despite my best efforts to preserve momentum, the battery is showing just 40 per cent capacity as we reach the turnaround point so we’re going to need a miracle to get back to Tesla.
Apart from the obvious switch to a more economical driving style, there are a couple of measures that can be taken to extend range.
The air-con is switched off, the phone is removed from the inductive charging and I select ‘Chill’ acceleration from the central screen which dulls the throttle significantly, while still ensuring you can keep up with surrounding traffic.
Nevertheless, we’re going to fall well short of returning to Tesla’s supercharger in Cremorne but while there are a couple of slower chargers within easy reach, the hour is getting late and our destination is a newly-opened (this morning, in fact) ultra-rapid charger in Melbourne’s south-eastern suburbs.
This brings us to the opening paragraph of the story, the Model 3 tucked in the wake of the Stinger GT driven by snapper Ellen Dewar. The sat-nav says we’ll make it with two per cent battery remaining, but when that ticks down to one per cent the car advises staying below 85km/h to ensure reaching our destination, then 80km/h, then 75km/h.
As mentioned at the top, this anxiety is purely self-inflicted, but it’s interesting that as we switch to hyper-miling mode our consumption drops to an average of 133Wh/km, more or less matching Tesla’s claim, showing it is achievable in the right circumstances. Still, the relief is palpable when we pull in to the Caltex Star Mart that houses the Evie 350kW charger.
It is indeed operational but there’s a heart-stopping moment when the charger doesn’t seem to want to talk to the car, but after re-connecting the juice begins to flow.
The advent of these chargers makes long wait times a thing of the past; it takes 16 minutes to fill the battery to 64 per cent, the charge rate peaking at 1350km/hr.
The trip computer reads 465km; a long way short of the claimed 657km but definitely a respectable figure for a car that (apart from the last 25-30km) was driven without any real regard for economy.
Without the need to produce the visual assets for this feature we would’ve made the return journey to Tesla quite easily, but that’s a moot point as there were numerous opportunities to top-up our battery along the way.
The lesson? Get out and drive your EV, even if you don’t know how to slipstream.
Likes: Crushing acceleration; enjoyable handling; lower price; infotainment
Dislikes: lumpen ride; quality niggles; no head-up display
Body: 5-door, 5-seat hatch
Battery: 82kWh (gross)
Motors: AC induction (f); AC permanent magnet (r)
Consumption: 131Wh/km (claimed)
Top Speed: 233km/h
Suspension: double wishbones, coil springs, anti-roll bar (f); multi-links, coil springs (r)
Tracks: 1580mm (f/r)
Steering: electrically assisted rack-and-pinion
Brakes: 320mm ventilated discs, 4-piston calipers (f); 335mm ventilated discs, single-piston calipers (r)
Wheels: 19 x 8.5-inch (f/r)
Tyres: 235/40 R19 Hankook Ventus S1 evo
Price: $84,108 ($91,751 as-tested driveaway)