I first wrote about electromobility in March 2015 as part of a review of the BMW i3.
In June 2015 I drove the Tesla Model S in a long-distance test from Munich to Copenhagen, once across Denmark and back for almost 3.800 kilometers, and in June 2017 I did a long-distance road test with the Tesla Model X to see how the Model X proves itself as a “Grand Tourismo”. Despite the fact that the Tesla Superchargers at that time were considerably sparser than today, the long-distance capability of the two top models was convincing even then.
The time is ripe for electromobility
The idea of a purely battery electric powered car is old, as Ferdinand Porsche already presented the Lohner Porsche with a purely electric drive at the Paris World Exhibition in 1900. However, the availability and storage possibilities of sufficient electrical energy were simply not available at the beginning of the 20th century. Instead, it became the century of oil production and combustion, and the inventions of the gasoline and diesel engines fundamentally changed the direction of development of drive technology for passenger cars.
A good 100 years later, things look quite different: Electricity is always and everywhere available, can be stored in high density and converted highly efficiently into kinetic energy in modern electric motors. In addition, more and more electricity is being generated from renewable sources such as sun, wind and water, and there are practically no limits to the future availability of environmentally friendly electricity.
The driver and the followers
The pioneer of the new electromobility is Tesla Motors, which was founded in 2003 in Silicon Valley by an electrical engineer and a computer scientist. Shortly afterwards, based on a prototype and the visionary drive of the Canadian-US American entrepreneur Elon Musk, it was built up to what it is today: the world’s leading manufacturer of electric cars. Initially hardly noticed or taken seriously, Tesla caught conventional car manufacturers cold in the very CO2 crisis and the diesel problem and pushed the paradigm shift to electromobility.
In the meantime, almost all manufacturers are following suit and intensifying the race to catch up with Tesla’s clear lead of currently certainly two to three years. As of April 2020, a total of over one million Tesla vehicles are on the road worldwide, of which more than 525,000 are Model 3’s. As a result, the Model 3 overtook the Nissan Leaf as the world’s best-selling e-car in mid-2019. Registration figures are also rising significantly in Germany. As of May 2020, almost 25,000 Tesla cars are registered in this country, more than half of which are Model 3s, which was introduced in Germany just a year ago. Reason enough to take a closer look at this model to find out why this purely electrically powered car is selling so successfully.
So, I went on tour with the Model 3, this time along the German Alpine Road from Bad Tölz to Berchtesgaden, up into the Bavarian Forest and back. I spent spent four days and a total of 1,000 kilometers on some of the most beautiful roads of Bavaria, but also on fast freeways such as the Autobahn A92 from Deggendorf to Munich and the A95 between Munich and Garmisch-Partenkirchen. The question was: How does this spectacular and technologically advanced car drive, and what about charging and range in everyday use?
If you are interested in the detailed travel report on the route, the sights, and the selected stopovers, you will find it on Oberland.de.
About the vehicle
The Tesla Model 3 is a four-door, five-seater sedan the size of an Audi A4, BMW 3 Series or Mercedes C Class. Four adults can be comfortably seated in it, a fifth person fits in the middle of the back for shorter distances, and because of the large, full-length panoramic glass roof (with UV protection), headroom is very good both front and back. In general, the space available and the stowage volume is unusually good, because a large number of components are omitted in an e-car compared to a conventional car with an internal combustion engine: in the rear, for example, the tank and in the front, voluminous units such as the combustion engine with clutch, gearbox and radiator. In addition, there is no central tunnel running lengthwise through the interior because no exhaust system with silencer and no cardan shaft are required. Instead, there is a trunk at both the front and rear and plenty of legroom for the middle space of the rear seat. The front individual seats are very comfortable, offer good support and are electrically adjustable in all directions, including the lumbar support.
The vehicle provided by Tesla Germany was the “Dual Motor Long Range” version. This version is equipped with an electric motor each on the front axle and the rear axle for four-wheel drive with a total output of 340 kW (462 hp) and a large 75kWh battery, for a maximum range of 560 kilometres according to the WLTP test procedure introduced in the EU in 2017.
Driving style and consumption are closely related
In practice, WLTP test values are hardly ever achieved. But with a relaxed and fluid driving style, between 375 kilometres and 425 kilometres were quite achievable in everyday use, which corresponds to a consumption of 17 to 20 kWh per 100 kilometres. The decisive factor for the range is above all a forward-looking driving style, in which the energy recovery (recuperation) of the electric motors instead of the foot brake is optimally used to reduce speed. Apart from parking (P) and neutral (N), there is only one forward gear (D) and a reverse gear (R). As soon as you select “D”, you can drive off; and in fact, it is very easy and pleasant to regulate the speed of the vehicle completely with the accelerator pedal, from starting to stopping. Recuperation is noticeably variable: depending on the modulation of the accelerator pedal, the car accelerates or brakes, and if you take your foot completely off the pedal, the braking is just right for a comfortable, smooth stop. When stopping, the car is automatically held, so that it does not roll forward or backward on an incline.
For low energy consumption, low wind resistance is crucial in addition to a forward-looking driving style and optimal use of recuperation. This is where the Model 3 with its sleek, smooth body performs extremely well. At 0.23, its drag coefficient (cw value) is well below that of comparable saloons and sports cars, whose cw value is typically above 0.30.
Ultimately, however, the decisive intelligence that ensures low consumption is in the driver’s seat.
Tesla operates 72 of its own fast charging stations, so-called Superchargers, along the motorway network in Germany with a total of 666 charging spots. Here, the Model 3 can charge an almost empty battery to a range of 270 kilometres in 15 minutes. If you want to fully recharge, it will take just under an hour. However, the optimum charge is about 80% of the battery capacity, and this is reached in 30 to 45 minutes with a nearly empty battery, depending on the specific performance of the Supercharger.
Further Tesla charging stations can be found at so-called Destination Chargers at hotels, restaurants, supermarkets and shopping centres, which are available to their customers. Destination Chargers are currently available at around 500 locations in Germany, typically offering two charging spots each. In Austria and Switzerland, the density of Tesla charging stations is significantly higher than in Germany, so you can travel there with your Tesla with peace of mind.
In addition, there are currently around 19,500 independent charging stations in Germany with almost 64,000 charging spots, where a Model 3 can also be charged using a standard TYPE 2 or CCS connection – around 4,000 more than a year ago. By way of comparison, there are currently 14,400 filling stations for petrol and diesel in Germany (as of April 2020).
However, a separate wall charging station (“wall box”) at home is the ideal solution: most private homes allow a maximum charging rate of 11 kW, which corresponds to a range of up to 65 kilometers per charging hour. This is more than sufficient for charging overnight. This means that you usually drive from home with a full battery and only need to charge on the road if you drive more than 400 kilometers per day or are on the road for more than a day.
What about autonomous driving?
Model 3 is equipped with comprehensive driver assistance systems, such as proximity cruise control, lane departure warning, lane change assistant, light assistant, emergency brake assistant, parking assistant and more. The hardware for fully autonomous driving (SAE level 5) is already installed in Model 3, so that the functionality can be upgraded in future via software updates over the air. This includes a radar sensor in the front bumper and eight cameras all around. At present, Level 3 of autonomous driving has been implemented, and anyone who likes to be driven by the car instead of driving themselves can look forward to future software upgrades. In any case, the currently active assistance systems will contribute to increased road safety.
Those who (still) prefer to drive themselves and have fun doing so can enjoy the excellent sporty driving characteristics and the amazing dynamics and performance of the Model 3. In a test review from November 2019, the ADAC rated the Model 3s electric drive system “outstanding”, and the test engineers certified the Model 3’s exceptional driving performance, running characteristics and power delivery. ADAC quote: “The handling of the Model 3 also meets the highest demands. The advantage of the all-wheel-drive version: depending on where more drive power is needed, the electric motors on the front or rear axle can react variably and at lightning speed. Both versions master the evasion test by slightly understeering, but sliding over the front axle in a well-controlled manner. The suspension is sporty and taut here and there. Small deficits in suspension comfort are gladly forgiven. The steering convinces with a harmonious feel, good precision and clear centering. Drive influences are not an issue despite the enormous torque. The Model 3 does not show any weakness when braking either. 34.1 or 34.4 metres of braking distance are sufficient to decelerate from 100 km/h to a standstill.”
I can absolutely agree with this assessment by the ADAC. The Model 3 accelerates from a standstill like an arrow launched from a spanned bow – continuing to well beyond speed limits. Handling is very precise and, with its wide track and wide sports tyres, its low centre of gravity and balanced weight distribution, fast cornering is both fun and safe. On a straight it is stable as a maglev train.
The operating concept
For many people, the “driver interface” of the Model 3 will initially take some getting used to, because there is no conventional instrument panel. Instead, virtually all displays and functions are provided by a single, centrally located, iPad-like 15-inch display. Even the glove compartment is opened via this touch display. There are just two levers on the steering column – one on the left for the indicators and wipers, one on the right for the gears (R, N, D and P) and the cruise control. On the steering wheel itself there is a spherical scroll wheel to the left and right of the horn. The left-hand scroll wheel is used for volume control and for adjusting the side mirrors. The right scroll wheel is used to set the desired speed of the cruise control or, when the vehicle is stationary, the height and angle of the steering wheel. The large display is very easy to use because the menus are logically structured and the symbols are intuitively understandable. Important and frequently used functions are easy to reach, only the variety of functions and settings seem overwhelming at first glance. Ultimately, the clear visual presentation of the functions on the display simplifies operation in comparison to the large number of scattered mechanical rotary, pushbutton and toggle switches that are usually found in modern cars.
However, a head-up display that projects the most important driving information, such as speed and remaining range, onto the windshield in the driver’s field of vision would be a desirable feature.
An interesting feature made possible by the cameras installed all around the car is the so-called Sentry Mode. When this is activated, the cameras and sensors monitor the vehicle’s surroundings while it is parked and locked. If a threat is detected, a warning or alarm is triggered depending on the type of threat, and the cameras record videos of the vehicle’s surroundings.
The Tesla Model 3 is a fascinating and trendsetting premium electric car that guarantees a lot of driving pleasure. As a four-door mid-size sedan, it is very comfortable, practical and absolutely suitable for everyday use for all journeys, short and long, including holiday trips and long-distance trips on the motorway. Often criticized shortcomings in the workmanship of the Model 3 could not be reproduced in the vehicle provided. The paintwork and the gap dimensions were flawless, nothing rattled, and the interior was also perfectly finished.