New Car Reviews

Quick Drive: Tesla Model 3 Performance AWD

Are you ready for this?

Forget the Twitter headlines, the stock market rap, all of it. Yes, it’s relevant, but not right now. What matters is that there’s a killer American-made sport sedan that’s not a Cadillac (and no, the Model S doesn’t count—it’s a rocket, but turning is not its forte). Oh, and it’s electric. And quick doesn’t even begin to cover it. It’s the dual-motor Tesla Model 3 Performance AWD.

You know the numbers, but for those who need a refresher: 450 hp, 471 lb-ft of torque, 0-60 mph in 3.5 sec, 155 mph top speed, 310-mile range, $78,000 plus goodies. If those figures look a lot like some German sport sedans you’re familiar with, well, they are. But the driving experience is anything but.

There’s no launch mode, no Ludicrous mode (yet?), just a single forward gear. Select it, mash the throttle, and laugh until your passengers manage to unpin themselves from the seats and smack you in the back of the head. If there’s one thing the Model 3 Performance AWD does exceedingly well, it’s accelerate. That 3.5-second-to-60 number feels conservative.

Turn a corner and you’ll be surprised, too: this Tesla controls its roll well, and seems reasonably sprung and damped for spirited driving. It’s also somewhere between 5-10 mm lower than a standard Model 3 (Tesla wouldn’t give a firm number). That said, it’s certainly not fully sorted out yet, and it feels it. The front end feels somewhat out of sync with the rear end, probably a result of seeking to control roll while also managing power application (especially at the rear, for dynamic benefit). Tesla says the suspension on the Model 3 Performance shares spring rate and damping with the standard car, but engages the bump stops earlier to help maintain ride quality at the lower height, which could also contribute to the sync issue. The result is that the front end responds to the very quick steering ratio nearly instantaneously upon turn-in, but the rear lags just a touch, continuing to roll.

Go to the throttle smoothly on a fast corner exit and you’ll feel the lack of a true limited-slip differential as the inside rear tire lights up momentarily, before the new in-house Vehicle Dynamics Control (VDC—previously a supplier-sourced component) kicks in, grabs the brake, and forces the power to the outside wheel. Tesla says there’s an upgrade coming that will enhance this behavior by using active torque vectoring rather than the brakes to improve spirited (or track) driving performance. This new unofficial track mode is in development now, and not yet scheduled for release, but Tesla hopes to offer it to customers in the coming months.

Wait, track driving? In an EV? Isn’t that mostly an exercise in masochism? Previously, for the most part, yes. But with the Model 3, Tesla aims to make it much more accessible and much more fun—and at first blush it looks like this Model 3 has the goods to do it. New brakes (sourced from Brembo) increase thermal capacity for the types of loads a 4,000-lb car that can accelerate like a Caterham will see, there’s the aforementioned enhanced track-capable VDC, new Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tires, and, of course, that supernatural acceleration mean all that’s left to sort for a killer daily driver/track rat is the suspension, and, from my limited seat time, that feels like the weakest link in the equation. Even the all-wheel-drive system doesn’t feel like a hindrance, like it can on some cars; though I didn’t have many opportunities, I didn’t manage to provoke any on-power understeer. Of course, I won’t be able to tell you for sure how it all shakes out in the heat of a fast lap until I’m able to track one—and I hope that day comes soon.

Otherwise, and this is perhaps the best part, the dual-motor Model 3 Performance AWD drives just like a normal electric car. It’s quiet, reasonably smooth, and simple to operate. There’s no putting up with that exhaust you fitted for a few more horses climbing the hill at Laguna Seca five days a week, no pain at the pump for the tune that ekes out another percent or two. When you’re driving for duty rather than fun, it’s just a comfortable, reasonably well-equipped, electric sedan—in other words, a perfect daily driver for an enthusiast.