90-Day Test Drive

2020 Tesla Model 3 SR Plus Review: 90-day, 6,000-mile test drive reveals the car's true character

Journalist Chad Kirchner traveled over 6,000 miles in 90 days in the Tesla Model 3 for a comprehensive road test.

Photo by Chad Kirchner

There is a lot that can be said of Tesla, and the company's CEO Elon Musk. Many of the criticisms lodged at the leader of the company are not only valid, but alarming. Remember, he did call a Thai cave rescuer a pedophile and claimed he had funding to take the company private when he didn't.

But that's the leader and not the product. Tesla sales have been strong and with the Model Y just now hitting dealerships, it's time to ask: Are their newer product offerings any good?

To find out, I spent three months in the 2020 Model 3 Standard Range Plus, driving over 6,000 miles to find out.

Buying Process

Ordering a Tesla couldn't be simpler. There's a custom order option right on Tesla's website, and after configuring a few options (color, interior color, wheel type and whether you want "Full Self Driving") you are asked to make a $100 non-refundable payment.

Tesla even accepts Apple Pay, so with literally just two clicks of my Apple Watch, the money is was on its way.

Shortly after ordering, Tesla sends you digital paperwork to sign. This is where you decide whether you are going to buy, lease, or get a bank loan. Should you be interested in financing, you can view Tesla's own financing offers or a sales representative can search other lenders. You can also make a cash purchase or use a check from another lender.

All of this is done before the car arrives, so you can spend as little time possible at the delivery center.

Delivery

Telsa Opens New Flagship Store In San Francisco

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This car was delivered to a local delivery center four weeks after order and I picked it up there. Since then, and due to the spread of COVID-19, all deliveries are now touchless. Tesla can also deliver the vehicle to you depending on your location.

When I arrived, I was whisked away to where my car was waiting. A few more forms need to be filled out allowing Tesla to register the car on your behalf and confirm payment has been made.

By this point, you'll need to have the Tesla app is installed on your phone. The car is added automatically to the app and then you use your phone as the key to the vehicle. Owners get two cards that can be also used as keys, in the event that your smartphone fails.

A friendly sales associate walked me through some of the features and gave me tips, but buyers have the option of just driving away from the boutique once the vehicle is loaded onto the app, if they feel comfortable doing so.

Home charging

2020 Tesla Model 3 SR Plus

Photo by Chad Kirchner

The Tesla Model 3 comes with a portable charger that can use a variety of different adapters. It comes with a 110-volt receptacle that can plug in at home. A 110-volt plug delivers a Level 1 charge, dispensing power to the car at the same rate it would to, say, your bead maker via a traditional outlet in your home. When charging this way, you can expect just a few miles per hour of charging range to accumulate.

If you have a NEMA 14-50 plug, which is traditionally used to for a washing machine and dryer, you can score an adapter for the portable charger for about $35 via Tesla's website that lets you charge the car at nearly 8 kilowatts and adds approximately 35 miles per hour of range. This NEMA 14-50 plug is a 220-volt socket and ideally would be attached to a 40amp breaker. You will commonly hear this type of charging referred to as "Level 2".

If you prefer to have a quicker charge than what the typical Level 1 charger offers, an electrician can add a Level 2 plug to your home, and you can use the portable charger to connect the Model 3 there.

You can also purchase a third-party 240-volt home charger. It can either be plugged into a NEMA 14-50 outlet or hard wired to your electrical system.

These home chargers use a non-Tesla connector (SAE J1772 style), so you'll need to use a little adapter that came with your car to convert the plug to fit into your Tesla. In most cases, this is a 32 amp connection and adds 35 miles of range per hour of charge to your vehicle, like the Tesla portable adapter.

Another option is a Tesla wall charger, which is hardwired into your home. It can support up to 48 amps of charging and charge some Teslas at 44 miles of range per hour. The Tesla Model 3 Long Range and Performance support this faster charging speed, but the Standard Range and Standard Range Plus max out 32 amps. That means that the fastest the Model 3 I tested will charge at is 35 miles of range per hour.

We still opted for the Tesla wall connector, since it is a workplace install. This allows others who need to charge to use it at the 48 amp max. Plus, our electricity is included with our rent so there's no additional cost out of pocket for the electricity.

The building is older, and the current commercial building code states that 208 volts is the max from the electrical system. When we first installed the wall charger, that meant we could only get 29 miles compared to 35 miles per hour that the charger is capable of handling. Our landlord then provided the electrician with a transformer that could make it a solid 240-volt setup.

Out situation was surely unique, and a competent home installer will know exactly what to do to get you the max power safely. The wall charger itself was $499, but with the special work we needed done we spent over $3,000 in labor. Many home installs come in around $1,500, but it's based on many factors.

Exterior design

2020 Tesla Model 3 SR Plus

Photo by Chad Kirchner

Some would describe the Model 3 (and the new brand-new Model Y) as looking like an egg. When the grille-less design first came out, it looked weird. But there's no need to have a grille, which traditionally functions as a way to enable cool air to flow around the car's guts, for a car that doesn't have an engine. It's more aerodynamic to design without it.

I think the car looks handsome, even if the wind tunnel dictated how the car looks. There are no jagged edges in the design, and everything seems to flow pretty well. It's not ugly, but if there was a criticism for a car that is as technologically advanced as it is, is that it doesn't look special either.

Tesla has been criticized in the past for poor build quality, but their cars seem to be getting better. Upon close inspection of the tester, most of the panels lined up well, with the chrome strips along the bottom of the side windows being the most obvious failure.

Tesla doesn't charge for the white paint job like it does other colors, which is why you see many white Teslas. The tester car will eventually be wrapped with a company logo, so we chose white. The other colors, aside from red, add $1,000 to the total cost of the vehicle. The red tri-coat paint adds $2,000.

The stock 18-inch wheels are lightweight and have plastic hubcaps on them designed to channel the air around the wheels. Some owners remove them, but there is an efficiency penalty doing so. I'm so-so on the looks of the wheels but won't sacrifice range to pop them off.

Interior design

2020 Tesla Model 3 SR Plus

Photo by Chad Kirchner

Volvo describes their minimalistic interior as a "Scandinavian Sanctuary". Tesla takes that approach even further by removing nearly every single button in the cabin. There isn't even a physical button to open the glovebox. The only physical button I can find is the government-mandated hazard indicator button up by the mirrors.

The base interior is black "vegan leather", including the steering wheel, but there is some soft-touch Alcantara-like material on the door panels. Gloss black lines feature on the center console and storage area. There is a fake wood trim piece that lines the dash. It looks nice, but it's not convincing anyone that it's not real wood.

The storage area has two USB ports. Wireless phone charging isn't standard on the Model 3 but can be added by either Tesla or can be implemented using a third-party charging mat.

On our particular Model 3, the interior and exterior mirrors automatically dim at night, but the exterior dimming mirrors were removed on cars built after January.

The seats are powered and heated in the front, and on models like ours, for a $300 surcharge, the rear three seats can have heating enabled. Rear seat heating is standard on higher-spec models.

Visibility is great out all the windows, though I'd like to see the blind spot monitoring indicators built into the mirrors instead of flashing red on the infotainment display.

Infotainment

2020 Tesla Model 3 SR Plus

Photo by Chad Kirchner

It's not an overstatement to say that nearly everything is controlled through the centrally located 15-inch touch screen display. It houses the speedometer, driver information displays, as well as all the infotainment functionality.

It's powered by an Intel Atom processor and is as quick, or quicker, than many tablets and smartphones when it comes to responsiveness.

The navigation system uses Google Maps and features real-time traffic information. The car also has Bluetooth connectivity for your phone (it's also required for the phone-as-a-key functionality) but doesn't feature Android Auto or Apple CarPlay.

Base models have a base stereo with no subwoofer, and it sounds okay but is nothing great. A nicer stereo is one reason to consider the higher-spec models. Podcasts and spoken word sound great, but music leaves a lot to be desired.

Driver assistance technology

Autopilot comes standard on every Tesla (except the off-menu base special). It includes automatic adaptive cruise control, lane centering, autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian detection, blind spot monitoring and accident avoidance steering.

Don't let its product name deceive you. None of the features in the base Autopilot suite are anything more special than what some other automakers offer as advanced safety and driver assistance technology, but the integration with the vehicle is better than what others are doing.

For $7,000 in extras, buyers can opt for the "Full Self Driving" suite. It is not worth the money at this point, because it only adds automatic parallel and perpendicular parking, automatic lane changes on the highway, automatic stopping for red lights and stop signs, and parking lot summon.

While many of the features are intriguing, having demoed them in various cars, I'd call it an early beta product and something I wouldn't trust in any capacity at this point.

Driving impressions

The Model 3 drives like a normal car. But a normal, fast car. Since there's no transmission, there's no kickdown and power is instantaneous the moment your foot presses on the accelerator. There is seemingly no gap in traffic you cannot exploit.

Even the base Model 3 does a Tesla-claimed 0-60 mph in 5.2 seconds. Tesla doesn't rate their cars for horsepower and torque, but reports put the numbers around 201 hp and 258 pound-feet, respectively.

Under normal driving, the Model 3 is quick and comfortable. The ride is a bit harsher than I'd like, thanks to tires that require 45 psi of pressure and a suspension that needs to support the weight of the 3,627-pound automobile. Think of it as being similar to the current-generation Ford Mustang, sans MagneRide.

Tesla claims the Model 3 is a sports sedan that drives like a 3 Series BMW. That is not accurate. It's more like driving a Toyota Camry or Honda Accord.

The brakes are an on/off switch and do not inspire a lot of confidence during a spirited drive down a twisty road. The rear-drive setup is nice, but the steering feel, brakes and suspension setup don't add to the car's sportiness. You'll want to keep your sports car for weekend fun.

As a daily driver, though, the Model 3 is hard to beat. You don't have to stop at gas stations and the car is super quiet because there's no gas motor. Plus, the Supercharger network makes road trips a breeze.

Supercharging

2020 Tesla Model 3 SR Plus

Photo by Chad Kirchner

If you're out and about and need to charge the Model 3 (or any other Tesla model), Tesla has a network of over 3000 Superchargers in the United States you can use. These chargers are DC Fast Chargers that rapidly charge the car. Charge rates can vary by a lot depending on circumstances, but most chargers peak at 150 kilowatts and there are 250-kilowatt chargers being installed regularly.

At a 150-kilowatt peak charge rate, that's adding over 600 miles per hour of range to the car.

Supercharging couldn't be any simpler. As long as there is a credit card linked to your Tesla account, you simply plug your car in, and it takes care of the rest. There are no codes to enter or accounts to have. Just plug in and go.

If you're planning a road trip, simply put the destination in the car's navigation system, and it'll route you there using as many charging stations as it needs to get there. The trip planner will show you where you'll charge and how long you'll be there charging. The arrival time indicated includes the amount of time spent charging. It's a no-brainer and makes road trips second nature. No other electric car maker is integrating at this level yet, though Audi and Ford are close.

Issues

While most of the fit and finish issues are mostly cosmetic, I experienced a major issue with the trunk. Recently, during a freak snowstorm, snow managed to get into the closed truck and turned to liquid, dripping onto the items in the trunk. While the lack of a rain channel from the rear window is annoying, wet snow sitting in the trunk for an extended period of time is a problem. If it happens again, a service appointment will need to be scheduled.

I am not alone. A quick browse of Tesla forms shows that this trunk issue is a frequent problem for owners.

Having tested the car in winter and springtime conditions, I also noticed that it is below freezing, the car sometimes doesn't close the windows all the way when the door is shut. Since the doors are frameless around the window, the windows drop a bit when you open and close them to protect the weather stripping- this is common in many modern cars, especially luxury models. When the windows don't close completely, though they look closed to the naked eye, the Tesla smartphone app reports that the windows are open.

Phantom braking hasn't caused an issue yet, but I expect the time will come. Since there is only one radar system on the car, the rest of the driver assist systems rely on the cameras. Sometimes those cameras get confused. That causes the car to slam on the brakes thinking that the car is about to crash. It's not. No other cars are around.

Additionally, the car doesn't use the cameras to determine speed limits. It also slows down when cruise control is engaged for some corners. Adjusting the set speed, seemingly randomly, doesn't instill the driver with confidence and can be an issue in heavier traffic.

Speaking of those cameras, the car doesn't have a rain sensor. It uses the front camera. That means in the daytime it's okay, but at nighttime sometimes the camera doesn't see the rain and the wipers don't run. Then, when passing under a streetlight, the camera briefly sees the rain and turns on the fastest speed. Early Tesla models had a rain sensor from Bosch, but there is no such one on the Model 3.

Competitors

Tesla To Release Fourth Quarter Earnings

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Other automakers claim to have a competitor to the Tesla Model 3. Vehicles like the Nissan Leaf and the Hyundai Kona EV are fine vehicles, but they just don't have the special sauce that the Model 3 has.

That special sauce is the Supercharger network. The ability to consistently fast charge is great, but the ease in which charging happens is a step above the competition. You just plug the car in and go. Plus, each Supercharger location has multiple chargers, so outside of certain times of the year or extremely busy locations, you never have to wait.

With the ability to peak charge at 120 or 150 kilowatts (up to 250 kilowatts on some new installs), you're on your way sooner than the competition every time.

Final verdict

The Tesla Model 3 has flaws. It appears that with each new model the company introduces, the flaws eventually get fewer and fewer. Despite some build quality concerns and inconsistency with some of the safety tech, the Model 3 still impresses.

For the $39,990 asking price, the Model 3 Standard Range Plus is a bit more expensive than other compact sedans out there. The federal tax credit is also gone for Tesla vehicles. That being said, I'd purchase a Model 3 over a Camry or Accord every day of the week.

The interior feels more modern, even if it is minimalist. Nobody matches the screen quality and infotainment performance speed. Frequent updates add features that no other automaker has implemented yet. Additionally, the built-in trip planner and ease of Supercharger use means you never actually end up with range anxiety.

I wish it was perfect, but the Model 3 is good enough to purchase and live with everyday. Plus, it's one of the least expensive cars you can buy that will generate as much attention and recognition as some supercars.

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Nuts & Bolts

 
 

Alfa Romeo and the Italian police have a 70-year history, which includes this model, the Giulietta.

Photo courtesy of Alfa Romeo

In the fifth episode of "Storie Alda Romeo", the company reveals how, for over 70 years, police officers in Italy have used the company's cars to perform essential job functions. Starting in the 1950s, Alfas were used as call-out vehicles, patrol models in U.S. terms, and became known as the "volanti".

Cars used by the State Police were nicknamed "Panthers" and those of the Carabinieri (military police) earned the nickname "Gazelles". Both terms were flattering and served as metaphors for the vehicles' power and agility.

The first Panther

1900, Police

Photo courtesy of Alfa Romeo

Built in 1952, the first Panther was an Alfa Romeo 1900. The Gazelles began production a few years later.

The Alfa Romeo 1900 marked a lot of firsts for its maker. It was the first Alfa to have a self-supporting body and the first left-hand drive model. The car came with a four-cylinder engine, abandoning the six- and eight-cylinder power plants that had proved popular with buyers. The engine was powered by a single carburetor and delivered 80 horsepower (that was a good amount back then).

The 1900 was the first Alfa to be produced on an assembly line, which dropped the production time of one vehicle from 240 hours to 100. Many modern factories have been able to cut this time down to 48 to 72 hours.

It was agile and fast. The car was launched to the public with the slogan "The family car that wins races". It proved popular with buyers. Alfa sold more 1900s alone than the total number of Alfa Romeos it had sold up until the 1900 was produced.

Success in variety

Portello factory, 1900 production

Photo courtesy of Alfa Romeo

Alfa Romeo attributes much of the 1900's success to product cycle management that is replicated time and time again in the modern market by companies worldwide. Alfa introduced several high-performance variants of the 1900 including the 1900 TI, 1900 C Sprint and Super Sprint, and the 1900 Super, winning important international competitions within their category.

Continued coachbuilder collaboration

BAT  Berlinetta Aerodinamica Tecnica

Photo courtesy of Alfa Romeo

Even as the 1900 grew in popularity with the average buyer, the Alfa Romeo continued working with coach builders to launch concept cars, like the Berlinetta Aerodinamica Tecnica (BAT) on 1900 mechanics. The BAT was created by Bertone and designed by Franco Scaglione.

The Matta

Photo courtesy of Alfa Romeo

The same engine as the one used in the 1900 was also adopted by the Alfa Romeo 1900 M, which is better known as the "Matta". Alfa made two different versions of the Matta from 1951 to 1954, one for civilians and one for military personnel.

It was a 4x4 that achieved 64 horsepower from its four-cylinder engine, which was paired with a four-speed manual gearbox.

In a similar vein as the Willys-Overland MB cum CJ-2A, several variants were produced for the agriculture, firefighting, and road maintenance industries.

The first Gazelle

Giulietta ti, Police

Photo courtesy of Alfa Romeo

The Alfa Romeo Giulietta was the first Gazelle, which was designed as a patrol vehicle. It came equipped with a radio system so officers could stay in touch with headquarters. Even in most modern police vehicles, radios are a aftermarket accessory.

The Giulietta was shorter, narrower, and lighter than the 1900 and offered buyers a modern exterior that gave owners high levels of comfortability in the cabin. Its aluminum engine delivered 65 horsepower and the car had a maximum speed of 102.5 mph.

The car was a near instant success. It became known as "Italy's sweetheart" and sold over 177,000 units.

At the 1954 Turin Motorshow, a coupe version of the Giulietta debuted. Called the Giulietta Sprint, the model was designed by Bertone to be a low-lying, compact, agile car.

Enter: Giulia

Giulia, Police

Photo courtesy of Alfa Romeo

As popular as Giulietta was, the Giulia was even more so.

The reasons for its popularity started at the front and rear, where, instead of beg but for style, they were designed to be shock-absorbent. This combined with a rigid passenger compartment to give drivers the comfort of knowing that they were in a safe (for its time) car. Many of these innovations were not yet compulsory.

Under the car's hood was a 1.6-litre twin cam engine. It had one one of the lowest coefficients of drag of its time, only 0.34. Alfa Romeo's marketing department capitalized on this, promoting the car as being "designed by the wind".

Sales of the vehicle were beyond expetation. The company sold over 570,000 sales, more than triple those of Giulietta.

Famous police cars

Giulia, "Carabinieri"

Photo courtesy of Alfa Romeo

The Alfa Romeo Giulia Super was one of the most popular Alfas ever produced and one of the most famous Italian police cars ever produced. Other police cars from the Alfa lineup include the Alfasud, Alfa 75, and Alfetta Alfasud, Alfa 75156. Today, first responders drive the modern Giulia.

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Yamaha Grand National Cross Country University gives drivers the opportunity to hone their skills.

Photo courtesy of Yamaha

Registration for the Yamaha Grand National Cross Country (GNCC) University is now open. The unique school allows off-road racers and riders to hone their skills with some of the best off-road racers of all time. Each master class highlights off-road racing fundamentals including sportsmanship, training, proper nutrition, and race preparation, along with hands-on technical riding instruction.

The event will return to Snowshoe Mountain Resort in West Virginia and be followed by a full weekend of racing. Dates for the event are September 23-25, 2020. Reservations are on a first-come, first-serve basis with 80 openings evenly split between ATV and motorcycle disciplines.

Photo courtesy of Yamaha

"Racing is back, Yamaha GNCC University registration is open, and the resilience of the Powersports industry was on display this past weekend as many appreciated the opportunity to get back outdoors and enjoy the sport we love while still respecting the space and wishes of fellow race fans," said Steve Nessl, Yamaha's Motorsports group marketing manager. "We celebrate podiums and championships at the end of a race day, but it is the time spent at the races on the whole that we take away as precious memories. That's why Yamaha GNCC University is such a special event, as it offers the next-generation of racers the opportunity to build not only memories, but also their race skill-set alongside past champions and legends of the sport."

ATV Classes will be led by:

  • Johnny Gallagher, XC1 Pro ATV rider celebrating 26 years racing at a pro-level.
  • Walker Fowler, five-time GNCC XC1 Pro ATV champion, and current undefeated series leader.
  • Traci Pickens, 12-time WXC ATV champion.
  • Mark Notman, retired Pro ATV racer and elite Walker Fowler Racing mechanic.
  • Josh Merritt, XC1 Pro ATV racer.

Motorcycle classes will be led by:

  • Randy Hawkins, seven-time AMA National Enduro champion and AmPro Yamaha Racing team owner.
  • Jason Raines, five-time AMA National Hare Scramble champion.
  • Layne Michael, XC1 Open Pro motorcycle rider.
  • Michael Witkowski, XC2 250 Pro motorcycle rider.
  • Becca Sheets, WXC motorcycle and undefeated class leader.
  • Rachael Archer, WXC motorcycle rider.

Rider can register by calling the resort at 877-441-4386 or find more information online at GNCCRacing.com.

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