A zom­bie shuf­fles in our di­rec­tion,

Top Gear (Malaysia) - - Life & Style -

his glazed, life­less eyes fixed on a glow­ing screen clamped to a plas­tic stick. Over­head, a man fires off rounds from his Canon, points hys­ter­i­cally and hops on the spot like a sugar-drunk fouryear-old. Stage right, a queue forms out­side a glass tem­ple marked with the sa­cred T. In front of me, an av­er­age-look­ing saloon car.

“A sys­tem of re­li­gious ven­er­a­tion and de­vo­tion di­rected to­wards a par­tic­u­lar fig­ure or ob­ject” – that’s how the Ox­ford Dic­tionary de­fines a cult. A fair as­sess­ment, I’d say, of what Tesla and its allsee­ing eye, Elon Musk, have be­come. It’s cer­tainly not a car com­pany as we know it. Car com­pa­nies don’t burn through hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars every month, con­sis­tently miss pro­duc­tion tar­gets, keep share­hold­ers at bay with a vague prog­no­sis of turn­ing a profit later this year… and still find them­selves the dar­ling of the in­dus­try.

Car-com­pany bosses don’t take con­fer­ence calls with Wall Street an­a­lysts then send stock value tum­bling by call­ing their ques­tions ‘stupid’ and ‘bor­ing’, make April fools’ jokes about the com­pany go­ing bank­rupt or tweet about Cather­ine the Great shag­ging a horse. But then again, car com­pa­nies don’t take 325,000 paid de­posits for a car within a week. Jaguar tried a sim­i­lar trick with the I-Pace... and has kept the num­bers firmly un­der wraps. Read into that what you will.

There’s a rea­son why Tesla doesn’t op­er­ate by the rules. Be­cause it doesn’t give a mon­key’s about the rules. Musk’s mis­sion isn’t to turn a juicy profit – although that’s a nec­es­sary by-prod­uct – it’s to elec­trify the world, to turn us all onto the idea that elec­tric cars can be fast and sexy and prac­ti­cal, too. If ev­ery­thing was to come crash­ing around his ears next quar­ter – a not-in­con­ceiv­able pos­si­bil­ity – then with at­trac­tive, long-range EVs from es­tab­lished man­u­fac­tur­ers about to flood in from every an­gle, it would still be mis­sion com­plete.

But there’s no sign of any towel throw­ing. Not yet. To re­cap, the Model 3 is a foot-shorter, half-price (or there­abouts) com­ple­ment to the Model S and Model X; there are well over 500,000 de­posits down; it’s the lynch­pin of Musk’s mis­sion to rid our roads of fos­sil fu­els, and it’s also the thing giv­ing him a sig­nif­i­cant pain in the arse as his com­pany tries to ramp up pro­duc­tion to 5,000 cars a week in the short term, build­ing to­wards churn­ing out 500,000 Model 3s a year. Cur­rently the pro­duc­tion num­ber hov­ers at close to 3,000 a week.

Its mis­sion? To change the world, one neatly ex­e­cuted par­al­lel park­ing ma­noeu­vre at a time

Back to the kerb out­side the Tesla deal­er­ship in Man­hat­tan’s Meat­pack­ing District. We have seven hours with the Model 3 and I’m wast­ing it wav­ing a key card in the gen­eral di­rec­tion of the B-pil­lar and wait­ing for the wing mir­rors to un­furl. Bingo. Push and pivot the han­dle with your thumb, yank it and you’re pre­sented with an in­te­rior that makes a padded cell seem dis­or­derly. The dash is noth­ing but a slab of wood across the en­tire cabin (less ap­peal­ing plas­tic on the base mod­els), a full-width air vent and a 15-inch touch­screen, land­scape-ori­en­tated, rather than the larger por­trait screen in the S. Turn the 3 on by wav­ing the key card some­where near the cuphold­ers, pull the Merc-sourced col­umn shifter down, right pedal to move, left pedal to stop, steer­ing wheel to turn. Easy.

We won’t pa­tro­n­ise you with an­other re­cap on the cor­ner­stones of the EV driv­ing ex­pe­ri­ence; in­stead, let’s fo­cus on the dif­fer­ence be­tween driv­ing a Model 3 and the Model S... begin­ning with speed. Even in base-spec 75D trim, the Model S cov­ers 0–100kph in

4.4 sec­onds, while the P100D does it in a gut-warp­ing 2.7 sec­onds. With the Model 3 you have a choice of two ver­sions at launch – the $35,000 stan­dard car (0–100kph in 5.6 sec­onds, 209kph top speed, 354-km range) and a $44,000 long-range model (0–100kph in 5.1 sec­onds, 225kph, 499-km range).

Here’s what you get as stan­dard on the Tesco Ba­sics $35,000 model: 18-inch al­loys, 15-inch screen, on-board wifi, sat­nav, 60/40 split fold­ing rear seats, LED head­lights and tail-lights and a re­vers­ing cam­era. Not bad, but you’ll have to be a staunch pen­nypincher to re­sist the al­lure of a $5,000 pre­mium bun­dle that adds elec­tri­cally ad­justable, heated seats all-round, wood trim, an

“For now, there’s no Lu­di­crous mode, but who cares?”

up­graded stereo, tinted sun­roof and fold­ing wing mir­rors. Space in the back seats is fine for any­one up to six foot, a bit cramped be­yond that, but it’s worth it for the end­less view out through the full-length sun­roof that wraps right around and be­hind your head.

We drove the long-range – the only model Tesla is cur­rently build­ing be­fore rolling out the lower-spec car, and faster, dual­mo­tor ver­sions, later in 2018. For now, there is no ad­justable air sus­pen­sion, no four-wheel drive and no Lu­di­crous mode, but who cares? As we turn our back on the sky­scrapers, glide onto the Hud­son Park­way and point to­wards Bear Moun­tain, 80km north, the Model 3 never feels any­thing less than en­thu­si­as­ti­cally fast. The rush of ac­cel­er­a­tion is more 340i than M3, but be­cause it’s per­fectly lin­ear, no gearchanges are re­quired and you’re never caught off-boost, it feels more lively than a 340i, more of the time.

Rear-wheel-drive it may be, but there will be no skids here. In fact, the only man­ual ad­just­ment to the trac­tion con­trol you can make is a slip start – de­signed to get you creep­ing from a stand­still on low-fric­tion sur­faces. Be­yond that, you can choose three weights for the steer­ing (we tried all three in the first five min­utes, then left it in the mid­dle set­ting for the rest of the day)... and that’s your lot.

“On quick, sweep­ing cor­ners, you can hus­tle it at quite hi­lar­i­ous speeds” Tesla waits pa­tiently as its triple mac­chi­ato is lov­ingly pre­pared

Un­sur­pris­ingly, the steer­ing doesn’t of­fer the last word in feed­back but, like so many mod­ern racks, it coun­ters with a quick ra­tio and zero slack, so the whole car feels tight, alert and moves as a solid unit. Add to this the fact the bat­tery pack is in the floor­pan, which gives the 3 an un­usu­ally low cen­tre of grav­ity, and there’s (whis­per it) ac­tual fun to be had here.

The Model S has long been crit­i­cised for hav­ing a vom­itin­duc­ing turn of speed in a straight line, but lack­ing any real emo­tion. The 3 moves things on. Push it too hard and physics will take over, but it’s a whole league nim­bler than the Model S. On quick, sweep­ing cor­ners, keep your in­puts smooth, your foot away from the brake and you can hus­tle it at quite hi­lar­i­ous speeds. Al­ter­na­tively, sim­ply en­joy its 0–48kph point-and-squirt po­ten­tial around town.

The ride is firmer than in a Model S, but rarely crashy – and this is on the crum­bling, weather-beaten tar­mac in and around Man­hat­tan. Chances are it’ll cope well in the UK, too. The sen­sa­tion is firm­ness, but well-damped firm­ness, much like the sporty Ger­man sa­loons it’s look­ing to erad­i­cate.

So, the Au­topi­lot sys­tem – a $5k op­tion, $8k if you want to pre­pare the car with all the sen­sors and cam­eras it’ll need for ad­vanced au­ton­o­mous func­tions down the line. Wait for a small, grey steer­ing wheel to ap­pear on the top left hand cor­ner of the screen. One tap down on the gear se­lec­tor ac­ti­vates the ac­tive-cruise con­trol, a sec­ond tap lets the car steer for you be­tween a set of de­fined white lines.

On the right road, it works fine and lets you go hands-free for much longer than a BMW or Audi does be­fore bong­ing. How­ever, ap­ply too much pres­sure to the steer­ing wheel with your fin­ger and it’ll de­ac­ti­vate the auto-steer­ing func­tion, pos­si­bly mid cor­ner. Not ideal. The graphic for set­ting your max­i­mum speed on the cruise is also on the small side, tucked away in the cor­ner of the screen – why not use the scroll wheels on the steer­ing wheel? An over-the-air up­date will sort that soon, says Tesla.

A word on range: we spent the day crawl­ing around Man­hat­tan, cruis­ing on the free­way to Bear Moun­tain, hav­ing some fun once there, then head­ing back into the city. A to­tal of 225km of very mixed driv­ing, and there was still 160km in the ‘tank’. At no point did the range sweats kick in. With­out get­ting too car­ried away... it works.

So, after spend­ing a day in its com­pany, do I want one?

Does it have the de­sir­abil­ity to drag not just tree-hump­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists out of their petrol- or diesel-fu­elled cars, but the wider pub­lic too? The an­swer is an em­phatic yes, and that’s be­cause be­yond the hype is a truly well-en­gi­neered car. The way it drives is gen­uinely sat­is­fy­ing, more so than the Model S de­spite be­ing sev­eral yards slower, which el­e­vates it from an ap­pli­ance to some­thing worth in­ves­ti­gat­ing for the likes of you and me. There’s a re­fresh­ingly sim­plic­ity to the propo­si­tion and a rip­ple of ex­cite­ment wher­ever it goes.

But it’s not per­fect. Tesla’s pro­duc­tion woes are well doc­u­mented, re­ports of shoddy build qual­ity are hard to ig­nore (our test car was per­fectly well screwed to­gether), the 18-months-plus wait­ing list is daunt­ing, the Au­topi­lot func­tion is a work in progress, and, while slick, the de­ci­sion to put ev­ery­thing on one touch­screen is just as dis­tract­ing as check­ing your phone. We ad­mit, cov­er­age of Tesla can get a bit fren­zied, but credit where it’s due, the Model 3 is an elec­tric car you’ll want to own and can prob­a­bly af­ford. Here’s to Musk claw­ing his way out of pro­duc­tion hell. If he does, it’s mis­sion com­plete.

Jack takes a break to check Twit­ter. Yep, the Tesla fan­boys are still an­gry about stuff TESLA MODEL 3 (LONG RANGE) Price: $44,000 OTR/$57,000 as tested En­gine: Sin­gle elec­tric mo­tor, 70kWh lithium-ion bat­tery Trans­mis­sion: sin­glespeed, RWD Per­for­mance: 0–100kph in 5.1secs, 250kph Range: 499km Weight: 1610kg

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