2017 Tesla Model 3: Monthly Update for January 2018
by Dan Edmunds, Director of Vehicle Testing
Where Did We Drive It?
We took possession of our 2017 Tesla Model 3 sedan on January 5, which left 27 days before the month ended. In that time we added 1,388 miles. That may not sound like much, but it does work out to a rate of nearly 1,600 miles per month, pretty much where it needs to be to achieve our nominal target of 20,000 miles in a year.
And we pulled it off despite a steady diet of local commuting and running around town. We haven't really gone anywhere, the lone exception my weekend drive into the local mountains to a place called Crystal Lake Cafe. You'll find it where Highway 39 dead-ends high up in the San Gabriel Mountains. Highway 39 is the sort of road that gets a lot of attention from motorcyclists and drivers of nimble-handling cars.
What Kind of 'Fuel Economy' Did It Get?
So far we've charged our Tesla 14 times. That's an average of fewer than 100 miles per charge, which is typical if you've got daily access to a charger at home or at work. With a gas-powered car, it's obviously more convenient to wait for a low fuel level before you fill up. But there's not much point in running the Tesla's charge down if you can plug in every time you park in your spot.
We've also kept the car exclusively in Normal range mode, not Max mode. Max range mode is where the car's 310-mile range comes from, but Tesla suggests saving that mode for long road trips or journeys into unfamiliar territory off the Supercharger network. Tesla recommends Normal mode for daily use because it's better for long-term battery health. This mode tops out at 90 percent of a full charge, which amounts to a working range of 279 miles. That's still impressive; even this partial charge adds more Max range than those of our recently departed P90D Model X and our old P85 Model S.
Of our 14 charges in January, 10 happened in our parking garage using our own high power wall connector (HPWC). We've hooked a meter to it, so we can record the number of kilowatt-hours (kWh) consumed during each HPWC session. Three other charges were handled with 240-volt ChargePoint Level 2 public equipment. That charge data is usually displayed on a screen when a driver unplugs, but if someone forgets to record it, we can log into our ChargePoint account to see the records after the fact.
The final charge occurred at a Tesla Supercharger. Model 3 owners must pay for Supercharger visits, and we can see the number of kWh we were charged for by logging into our Tesla account. We paid $8.20 after filling our battery with 41 kWh of electricity, which works out to 20 cents per kWh.
Here's where things stand on the consumption front. Two of the above sessions were excluded because they were tainted by high-speed track testing. As you'll see below, we've beaten the EPA rating on one occasion, but our overall average is lagging behind.
Current odometer: 1,388 miles
Average lifetime consumption: 30.2 kWh/100 miles (111.6 miles per gallon equivalent)
EPA consumption rating: 27 kWh/100 combined (126 mpge)
Best fill: 25.6 kWh/100 (131.5 mpge)
Have I told you how much I hate mpge? You're buying electricity in kWh units, so I'd suggest getting used to kWh per 100 miles. Smaller is better with this unit: Use less and pay less.
Also, Tesla vehicles are set to display consumption in a similar unit: watt-hours per mile (Wh/mi). Tesla owners are quite familiar with this measurement because it's a handy feedback metric that's prominently displayed in the car. You can zero it using the trip odometer, but they've got a "Since Last Charge" screen that automatically restarts the calculation whenever you unplug. This is so handy that I never use Trip A or Trip B meters in the Tesla as I do in gasoline cars.
I'm including the Wh/mi figures because they're displayed in the car, but these are imperfect when it comes to actual consumption because they only account for what's flowing between the battery and the electric motor. As pure onboard figures, they do not include the energy lost during the act of charging that battery, which typically ranges between 10 and 20 percent of the total, sometimes more. The kWh/100 miles figures summarized above (including the EPA ratings themselves) do account for such losses. They're based on electricity consumption at the charge station's meter, so they alone account for the amount of electricity you'll actually buy.
Average onboard consumption meter: 251.7 Wh/mi
Best meter reading: 200 Wh/mi
Worst reading (aka The Leadfoot Award): 356 Wh/mi
Right away, it is plainly obvious that the Model 3 is more efficient than the larger, heavier Model S and Model X. With those cars, readings in the high 200s were nonexistent, and we saw many "tanks" consuming Wh/mi in the 400s and 500s.
Both the Model S and the Model X had a detailed energy graph screen with a faint indicator line that showed the target value you'd need to hit to achieve their rated range. That value was 310 in the Model S and about 340 in the heavier Model X. But the Model 3 lacks that graph, so we're not sure of its nominal energy consumption target value.
Our current average consumption of 30.2 kWh/100 miles is a bit worse than the EPA consumption rating of 27 kWh/100 miles, which suggests our average consumption of 251.7 Wh/mi isn't cutting it. I'm thinking it'll take something around 220 Wh/mi to have a shot at achieving the range and consumption ratings of this car.
Our range data supports this theory. Remember, we're using Normal mode for now, so the target for purposes of this month's analysis is 279 miles. But no one runs an electric car to zero — and no driver should. That's why I like to do my analysis using what I call Projected Range, which is a sum of the Since Last Charge trip meter reading and the remaining range reading, two of the values we record each time we plug in.
Average projected range: 269.8 miles
Best projected range: 287.7 miles
90 percent of EPA-rated range (adjusted Normal mode full charge): 279 miles
As we saw with consumption, our best projected range beats the adjusted estimate, while the overall average lags a bit behind. No doubt that's because everyone is still feeling this car out. The situation may yet improve as the newness wears off and the driving becomes more routine. We haven't done any extended drives or road trips yet, either.
Maintenance and Upkeep
It's too early for any scheduled service, but we've had some issues. Our car was delivered with three flaws, two of which we didn't notice on delivery because neither is the sort of thing you'd think to check. First, the driver's side vanity mirror is cracked. Second, the trim panel that covers the back of the driver's side front seat is loose at the bottom. Finally, one of the frunk hood seams is under-flush by about three-sixteenths of an inch where it runs along the right front fender.
Beyond that, I've experienced odd Bluetooth phone inconsistencies, in which the audio connection failed but the phone connection continued working. A screen reboot was required to get that back on track. On another occasion I saw a "regenerative braking limited" warning for reasons I do not understand. This normally occurs when the battery is 100 percent full, but we've never recharged it past 90 percent, and the battery was lower than that because it happened one morning with 20.1 miles on the trip meter already.
I'm embarrassed to report the final issue because it's my fault. With the door wide open, I crouched onto the passenger doorsill while leaning in to point out some features to a colleague. When I stood up, a belt loop snagged on the passenger-seat recline adjuster and snapped off. At least I think that's what happened. I only heard it let go as I stood up. It'd be easy for me to weasel out of responsibility by saying the controls are flimsy, but I have not examined enough others up close to have an opinion.
Our local Tesla service center knows about all of this, and it has ordered the necessary parts. Who knows how long that'll take in the face of the overall "production hell" build delays Tesla is trying to work through. All we know is we're not handing over the car until the parts arrive.
"Highway 39 is tight and sinuous, and there's a fair bit of climbing through several switchbacks. Up here this chassis feels really sorted and well-balanced, and I really like the way the steering reacts, as well as the feel of the wheel in my hands. The electric motor delivers plenty of thrust, too. I actually caught up to a pair of sport bikes on the way up and walked away from an Alfa Romeo Giulia." — Dan Edmunds, director of vehicle testing
"The brakes felt smooth and easy to regulate on the way down the mountain from Crystal Lake. But even though I had the regenerative braking set to high, I did find myself using the brake pedal more often than I had when driving the Bolt EV down the same mountain at a similar clip. I suppose it's because the Model 3 is a rear-wheel-drive machine and the Bolt is a front-driver. Stability demands that the bulk of your braking be done on the front end, and that means Tesla can't set the Model 3's regen level quite as high. You'll find yourself using the brake pedal instead of lift-throttle braking more often in situations like this. The end result is an overall loss of harvesting efficiency because some energy that might otherwise be recoverable in a front-wheel-drive EV will be lost as heat in the Model 3's front brake pads and rotors." — Dan Edmunds
"Wow! The driving position is fantastic. And the view out is immense. Seat, wheel, pedals: They're all in perfect agreement. And so far I don't hate the glass roof at all. Unlike in the X, the 3's windshield, sun visors and rearview mirror are utterly normal, and the sun can't beat down on my forehead any more than it can in any normal car. Ask me again in the heat of summer, but I'm optimistic." — Dan Edmunds
"I really like how I can use my smartphone to function as the key that unlocks the car and allows me to start it without doing anything. But the exterior sensors of the Bluetooth-based system are too sensitive to the point of annoyance. The other day I was standing in the driveway talking with a neighbor after I climbed out of the car. As we spoke, the Model 3's lights flashed and the mirrors folded as it locked and unlocked itself over and over. We moved off a couple of steps, but the distance necessary to keep it from happening was ridiculous.
"Later I was sitting on the couch watching an NFL playoff game. The Model 3 was outside in the driveway about 25 feet away, with a wall and double-pane glass window in between. You guessed it: The mirrors and lights flashed every few minutes. It's currently unlocked. No, wait. There it goes again. Locked now.
"This is ridiculous. I can overcome this by shutting down the Tesla app on the phone. That's fine if you're in for the night, but what if you want to monitor the charge while it's parked in the driveway? What about talkative neighbors who ambush you when you climb out of your car? Any switch you have to flip or app you have to shut off each time you approach or depart the machine erodes the purpose of this otherwise cool hands-free feature." — Dan Edmunds
"The premium audio stereo that comes with the Premium Upgrades package puts out some very crisp, clear, full-throated sound, and I feel zero need to mess with the EQ settings. Sounds great in the default mode. And the sound doesn't distort when you crank it way up. Granted, full volume isn't quite robust enough to satisfy some headbangers I know, but it's more than loud enough for me." — Dan Edmunds
"The Model 3 wiper controls will someday inspire an entire stand-alone post, but for now let's focus on the Auto setting. It has one, but the sensitivity is not adjustable. This would be fine if the system was perfectly tuned, but it's not even close. The windshield gets quite wet before it decides to wipe. I find myself taking matters into my own hands by pushing the one-wipe button on the end of the headlight stalk on a regular basis.
"I've heard rumors of a wiper change in an upcoming Model 3 over-the-air (OTA) software update, but I have no idea if it'll have anything to do with this. But the very existence of OTA updates does mean that certain issues may get fixed. This wiper issue, the Bluetooth stability I've experienced, the odd regenerative braking limitation: All of these could theoretically go away after an OTA update." — Dan Edmunds
"You've probably already seen how my XL-size 29er mountain bike fits in the trunk. There's not much else I need to say." — Dan Edmunds