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

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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

 
 

Kia is offering the Sorento SUV in a hybrid form for the 2021 model year.

Photo courtesy of Kia Motors

New car prices keep going up so it was only a matter of time before the average new car price hit the $40,000 threshold. New quarterly analysis by Edmunds showed that the average amount borrowed for a new car in the fourth quarter of 2020 was $35,373. Buyers put an average of $4,734 down on top of that, which makes the average new car price $40,107.

Paying around $40,000 is a sweet spot in the market. It gets buyers into lower cost luxury and premium models as well as most of the mass market offerings. AutomotiveMap has put together a list of the best vehicles you can get for around the $40,000 mark.

2021 Acura TLX

2021 Acura TLX Advance

Photo courtesy of Acura

Price: $37,500
The Acura TLX debuted as a completely redesigned car for the 2021 model year bringing with it a new sportiness and fresh styling outside and in. The TLX is powered by a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that generates 272 horsepower and 280 pound-feet of torque. Its cabin is quite nice - decked out in leatherette upholstery with 12-way power-adjustable and heated front seats. Dual-zone automatic climate control, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, Bluetooth, a 10-speaker audio system, satellite radio, two USB ports, a 10.2-inch infotainment touch screen, seven-inch driver information display, Wi-Fi hotspot, Apple CarPlay, and Android Auto make up just some of the items on the standard features list.

Editor's Note: Acura doesn't sell the TLX in a variety of trim levels. Instead, buyers choose the TLX then can add on packages to get what they want. The model described here has no package add-ons. Pictured: 2021 Acura TLX Advance

2021 Ram 1500 Big Horn

2021 Ram 1500 Big Horn

Photo courtesy of FCA US LLC

Price: $39,490
Configure the 2021 Ram 1500 Big Horn with two-wheel drive, a crew cab, and 5'7" box to get one of the best trucks at the price point. It comes standard with Ram's tried and true 3.6-liter V6 engine, which provides a good amount of power. Cloth seating for six passengers and a five-inch infotainment screen is standard as well.

2021 Ford Bronco Sport Badlands

2021 Ford Bronco Sport Badlands

Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

Price: $32,660
The Ford Bronco Sport Badlands trim is the most off-road capable version of the SUV, and it's no slouch. The model is powered by a 2.0-liter EcoBoost engine, off-road suspension, advanced four-wheel drive with a twin-clutch rear-drive unit, a Terrain Management System with G.O.A.T. modes, metal bash plates, Trail Control, a 180-degree front camera with washer, front tow hooks, and rubberized flooring. The SUV rides on 17-inch Carbonized Gray-painted aluminum wheels wrapped in 28.5-inch all-terrain tires.

2021 Kia Sorento Hybrid EX

2021 Kia Sorento Hybrid EX

Photo courtesy of Kia Motors

Price: $36,590
The new-for-2021 Kia Sorento Hybrid comes in just two trim levels: S and EX. The upgraded EX model gets an EPA-estimated 37 mpg and has 227 total system horsepower. The features list for the Sorento Hybrid EX is long and includes a power liftgate, fog lights, a panoramic sunroof, and wireless phone charger. It also comes with a host of safety and driver assist technologies like adaptive cruise control and forward collision avoidance assist.

2021 Genesis G70 2.0T

2021 Genesis G70 Photo courtesy of Genesis Motors

Price: $36,000
The Genesis G70 is a sports sedan you probably haven't seen that much on roads near you, but you should. They should be everywhere. For under $40,000, buyers can get their hands on a rear-wheel drive G70 2.0T with a turbocharged 2.0-liter engine that produces 252 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque. It has the buyer's choice of gray or black leatherette upholstery.

2021 Honda Ridgeline RTL

2021 Honda Ridgeline Sport

Photo courtesy of American Honda Motor Co., Inc

Price: $39,470
The Ridgeline might not be a typical truck in the looks category, but for the 2021 model year the Honda has gotten some aesthetic beef thanks to a design refresh. The truck continues to have a trunk in its bed and now comes standard with the Honda Sensing suite of safety and driver assist technologies. Power comes from the truck's 280-horsepower, 3.5-liter V6 that is paired with a nine-speed automatic transmission.The Ridgeline is most noted for its refined and comfortable interior that's more SUV-like than truck-like. For 2021, that has only improved. The RTL grade (Ridgeline Sport is shown above) is a step up from the base model.

2021 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid Touring

2021 Chrysler Pacifica Pinnacle

Photo courtesy of FCA US LLC

Price: $39,995
The Chrysler Pacifica is presently the best minivan you can buy. Its Hybrid version (shown above in the Pinnacle grade) adds plug-in electric capability to the equation offering over 30 miles of gasoline-free driving per charge and running like a typical hybrid when the battery has been depleted or the van needs some extra oomph. With the Pacifica Hybrid Touring buyers get their choice of a number of included paint colors, 17-inch machined aluminum wheels with gray pockets wrapped in all-season tires, premium cloth bucket seats in black or cognac, and a 10.1-inch infotainment touch screen.

2021 Acura RDX

2019 Acura RDX Advance

Photo courtesy of Acura

Price: $38,400
Acura sells gobs of RDXs and it's really no mystery as to why. The SUV is fun to drive, has abundant cargo space, and is easy on the eyes. Add in the comfortable seats that offer plenty of space, and the RDX turns into one of the best family haulers out there, empty nest or not. The 2021 RDX rides on standard 19-inch glitter silver wheels, gets its power from a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder that makes 272 horsepower, and has a host of infotainment features like a nine-speaker audio system, two USB ports, HD Radio, a 10.2-inch infotainment system touch screen, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, Bluetooth, and satellite radio. Buyers ca opt for all-wheel drive, which puts the vehicle just a tick over the $40,000 mark.

Editor's Note: Acura doesn't sell the RDX in a variety of trim levels. Instead, buyers choose the RDX then can add on packages to get what they want. The model described here has no package add-ons. Shown: 2019 Acura RDX Advance

2021 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid Limited

2021 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid Limited

Photo courtesy of Hyundai Motor America

Price: $35,300
Not only does the fanciest and most tech-forward Hyundai Sonata Hybrid you can buy get 47 mpg, it also has a solar roof. It also doesn't lack oomph, with 192 horsepower from its propulsion system at the ready. The car has a 12.3-inch fully-digital gauge cluster and a 10.25-inch infotainment touch screen. It also sports plenty of head- and legroom, cargo space, and forward visibility. Pricing for the sedan includes checking nearly every option box, which is standard for the Limited model.

2021 Kia Telluride EX

2020 Kia Telluride

Photo courtesy of Kia Motors

Price: $37,590
Kia is selling the Telluride like gangbusters and it's not hard to see why. The three-row SUV comes standard with a 3.8-liter V6 that supplies plenty of power. Its roster of standard features on the EX trim level includes a power liftgate, 18-inch alloy wheels, Driver Talk, Quiet Mode, a 10.25-inch infotainment touch screen, wireless smartphone charging, six USB ports, leather-trimmed seats, and more. Add all-wheel drive for just $2,000 more.

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Sony's team is testing the Vision-S on the streets of Austria.

Photo courtesy of Sony

One year ago Sony surprised the crowds at CES with the Vision -S, a concept vehicle meant to further the discussion on safety, security, and entertainment. The vehicle has moved from concept to prototype, taking to the roads of Europe for testing.

The car has been driving the roads of Austria since December 2020, according to the company, for technical evaluation. Evaluation of what? We're so glad you asked.

If the car is technologically similar to what has presented at CES last year, on-board is Sony's imaging and sensing technologies as well as software regulated using Sony's AI, telecommunication, and cloud technologies.

Sony Vision-S The Sonny Vision S is a working vehicle prototype now. Photo courtesy of Sony

The car, which was built in cooperations with Magna Steyr, features 33 sensors, including CMOS image sensors and time of flight (ToF) sensors within the vehicle. These sensors are designed to detect and recognize people and objects inside and outside the vehicle, and provide "highly advanced driving support."

Each of the two rows of seating in the vehicle features Sony's 360 Reality Audio system. Bose has similar technology built into the Nissan Kicks.

The crossover-lie car's front seats have a panoramic screen in front of them that has the ability to display rich content.

Does this mean that Sony will begin to make cars? The quick answer is no. Sony does not appear itching to get into the car business though the products that result from this testing will likely be available to automakers offering additional competition for components in a fast-paced marketplace where the technology is evolving quickly.

The real winner here could be consumers who will benefit from the stiff completion between suppliers and be on the receiving end of better technology because of it.

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