Audi, BMW, Lexus, Mercedes, and Lexus should be prepped for this, since they’ve already been walloped in the large luxury sedan class. Nonetheless, what’s coming is like nothing they could truly prep for. These automakers have been trading wins with each other in various monthly and annual sales races, but Usain Bolt just came to town and is soon joining track days.
I wrote at length in recent months trying to compare the Tesla Model 3 to every BMW near it, every Audi in its arena, every Acura in its lane, every Lexus in its weight class, and every Mercedes keeping an eye on it from across the room. I may soon come back to those broad and detailed comparisons now that we have more Model 3 details and will surely accumulate extra facts and goodies in the coming months. However, still riding the enthusiasm wave of the Model 3’s final broad and official show & tell, I was drawn to take one step further back for a comparison that’s less about crunching the numbers and more about the user experience. That said, I couldn’t help glancing at the numbers again as well. So, in this article, I’m going to do two things:
1) Try to better understand and communicate how the Tesla Model 3 will compare to BMW’s, Audi’s, Daimler’s, Lexus’s, Acura’s, Jaguar’s, and other companies’ similarly priced options in the minds of generic, normal consumers.
2) Take another look at the pricing and specs of the Model 3, including the new details we got on Friday, compared to the specs of the Model 3’s prime competitors.
1) The World Is Changing
The world is changing, as it always is. Plenty of people will shudder at any thought of notable changes to the products they are used to, but others will happily jump into a smoother, more interesting, more open, better consumer option. The cell phone had its naysayers, as did computers, the internet, smartphones, flat-screen TVs, refrigerators, and sliced bread. But enough people can understand the benefits of a better product that they moved the rest of us forward.
There are a few ways in which the Tesla Model 3 is head & shoulders above the competition. Some of these are obvious and have been discussed at length, while others seem tiny on the surface … but are in fact those “little things in life” that change history. I’m sure I’m missing some factors, and maybe I’m wrong on some, but the following are specific features of the Tesla Model 3 that I think will make the mass market very quickly see competing gasoline cars from the old guard as 20th century technology.
Openness: Tesla Model S has a very open feel to it that impresses passenger after passenger. Yes, the Model S is a bigger vehicle and has more room than most cars specifically because it’s big. But there’s also an openness that comes from certain design elements, elements that sometimes strike people subtly and sometimes hit them right in the eyeball. The Model 3, even though it’s smaller than the Model S, seems to take that openness to a whole other level.
For one, there’s the supersplendulous window in the back. Even at night, this has made an impression on early passengers and makes the Model 3 feel abnormally open and spacious. Elon highlighted this in his Friday presentation as well. It may all seem odd and just a side note right now, but I have a hunch that spending 30 minutes in this car will lead to people feeling like the back seats of normal cars are excessively shut off from the world. And spending 3 weeks with a Model 3 will surely make the results more dramatic.
By the way, Tesla also added extra headroom in the Model 3 compared to the Model S. (There are benefits to the 3 not being a hot hatch.) It may be a smaller car, but don’t expect it to feel small at all.
There are other elements of the Model 3 that will provide hundreds of thousands of people with an openness they are not accustomed to … but one they will quickly and easily get accustomed to. The lack of a leg blocker in the middle of the back seat is one other example — something many Model S users (and some other electric car users) know is a huge plus of the electric-only skateboard drivetrain.
In the front, removing the conventional instrument cluster and dashboard has thrown off a lot of humans — it looks so strange to us. But imagine for a moment that the minimalist Model 3 dash was the norm we were used to and some company decided to throw all kinds of distractions onto the dash. Come on, you can’t say you would think that’s a good idea! As we move into an autonomous future, this more open layout — similar to what you get if you sit in the front seats on the second level of a double-decker coach/bus — will make 10x more sense (literally, 10x more).
A BMW 3-Series or 4-Series, Mercedes 300 or 350e, Audi A3 or A4, Lexus ES or IS, or Jaguar XE doesn’t and can’t offer these benefits. Perhaps their closed and cluttered interiors seem like comfy norms now, but I think they won’t at all once people have spent a bit of time in a Model 3 — whether it’s their own Model 3, the Model 3 of a family member, the Model 3 of a friend, or the Model 3 of a taxi or shuttle.
Torque: This is so obvious that I don’t know if I want to spend more than one line on it. The torque of an electric car offers such a useful, low-stress, and fun driving experience that gasmobiles quickly feel like tractors. The 0–60 mph times of electric cars mask how quick they really feel, and how quick they are to the more important 30 mph speed common in cities. This is an old graph showing how a Nissan LEAF’s torque curve compares to a gasmobile’s, but it’s still one of my favorites for visualizing this experience in a nerdy way:
You can see the difference in that graph, but yeah, you can’t really feel it. However, anyone who sits behind the wheel of an electric car — whether it’s a LEAF, a BMW i3, a Model 3, or a Model S P100D — can quickly tell the difference. It’s a tremendous difference. A nice gasoline-powered Mercedes or BMW immediately feels like antiquated technology. Experiencing this torque almost invariably puts a smile on the driver’s face.
The bigger shock, however, is when you go back to a gas car. Again, I recommend just checking out this piece for context and more verbose commentary: “Our Tractor Keeps Shaking Violently … & Has A Sore Throat.”
A Model 3 may be a level down from a quick Model S, but it is two levels above its gas counterparts.
Serenity: I highlight the fun and convenience of electric cars in article after article and speech after speech. After presenting on this at an EV conference in Amsterdam a few months ago (see video above), Thierry Lepercq — Executive Vice President of Engie in charge of Research, Technology and Innovation — was giving his own presentation about rEVolution. He started out by referencing my comments and saying that the biggest benefit of driving an EV is neither fun nor convenience — it’s the peaceful, serene, smooth, quiet drive of an electric car. He may be right.
The torque is awesome and fun, but the silence is even more powerful. The silky smooth ride of an electric car — especially a Tesla — is another level of premium. No amount of insulation or noise reduction technology in a gasmobile can replace that experience. Your foot can feel it, your body can feel it, and your mind can sense it.
Imagine instead of walking on a still floor like normal, the ground was always shaking. As you walked around, you had to feel and navigate the rumbles. Imagine it was rumbling even when you were sitting on your couch. Get the point?
The Model 3 is in a different league from its BMW, Audi, Mercedes, and Lexus gas counterparts because of this. Consumers will notice. Think I’m just an EV enthusiast? Well, I recently had an older gentlemen with a brand new Jaguar XJ jump into our Tesla Model S for a quick test ride. He was blown away at how much nicer it felt than his more expensive XJ. A few days later, an accomplished Polish tech CEO with a Lexus SUV/CUV drove the Model S. He emphasized how much smoother, quieter, and more luxurious it felt than his Lexus SUV/CUV.
To push you in that direction for a third time, I recommend this article for a longer monologue on this topic: “Our Tractor Keeps Shaking Violently … & Has A Sore Throat.”
21st Century Controls: This is again a controversial topic at the moment. Some observers feel like the Model 3 is robbing them of the opportunity to turn the normal knobs and flick the normal switched in an automobile. there are countless claims that the advanced touchscreen and steering wheel controls of the Model 3 are just a cheap workaround to cut costs. I think the streamlined yet sophisticated system Tesla has put in place for the Model 3 will, again, make other options look like old technology — even, in some cases, what the Model S offers!
Look at how Motor Trend is already raving about the options to carefully control the air vents. Look at how others are gasping at the ability to control the mirrors in a fun & convenient new way. And check out how the same slick system gives you a more intuitive ability to adjust the steering wheel. Navigation, music, A/C, vehicle driving options — they’re all evolving in Model 3. In the old class of “premium” gasmobiles? Not so much.
Yes, we have entered a new era. Yes, Tesla has brought us into it. Sure, call me a fanboy. I just like better consumer goods.
2) Tesla Model 3 Specs vs Gasoline Competitors
Now, regarding the specs, I really think I should explore these in closer detail on another day (it’s freakin’ 3:15 am here!), but a quick snapshot of the Model 3 versus its “closest” competitors should give a good overview of how the boring practicalities (and acceleration) of a Model 3 stack up against cars that together sell in the millions each year.
|Price (without extra features)||Price after US Federal Tax Credit||0–60 mph (seconds)||Trunk+Frunk Space (cu. ft.)||Length||Width|
|Tesla Model 3 Standard||$35,000||$27,500||5.6||15||185||82|
|Tesla Model 3 Long Range||$44,000||$36,500||5.1||15||185||82|
|Audi A3 e-tron||$39,000||$34,400||7.6||14||170||70|
|Lexus ES Hybrid||$42,000||$42,000||8.1||12||193||72|
|BMW 2 Series||$33,150||$33,150||4||14||185||70|
|BMW 3 Series||$33,450||$33,450||4.6||13||179||71.5|
|BMW 4 Series||$42,400||$42,400||4.6||16||183||72|
Basically, the gas car competition in the same price range is almost entirely slower (BMW has models that are quicker, but I guarantee you they won’t feel quicker and they probably aren’t quicker to 30 mph). They also have less storage space and are smaller (only the Jaguar XE and perhaps Acura RLX are a comparable size and price). The Tesla Model 3 is a quicker, bigger, better car for the price category it’s in.
How long till the masses that are in the market for a $30,000–50,000 car discover this? Well, ~500,000 consumers seem to have already discovered it, but there are millions more in this market. How long till those additional millions get a chance to see, ride in, and drive the first 500,000 Model 3 super-sedans to hit the roads?
I’ll further explore comparisons between the Model 3 and other cars in coming days and weeks, but the first look at the numbers above combined with the Model 3’s more subjective benefits strongly reinforce the points I made in September 2016, earlier at an institutional investment conference in India in March 2016, even earlier at an EV conference in Cocoa, Florida, in October 2015; and more recently in Amsterdam, Berlin, Wrocław, and on CleanTechnica in dozens of articles.
The story seems clear, but it’s still fun as heck to follow, watch, write about, and drive.