The metallic cream (pearlescent white) Tesla 3 was sitting in the preparation bay at Tesla's St Leonards premises when I called in for a single day's test drive. I was in Sydney on a truck gig and managed to line up the Tesla instead of taking the usual taxi.
The battery was topped up and the car sat silently as I climbed in with the credit-card security and starter fob, and switched it on. Despite Elon musk's habit of loud self aggrandisement, the Tesla dings softly to initiate the systems and let you know that it's ready for action.
At a distance, the 3 looks bland. Close up, its lines are smooth, modern and refined. Styling jewellery, such as alloy wheels and chrome highlight trim is restrained and leans to quality rather than quantity.
The door opening process hints at the tech that drives Tesla's biggest seller. I quickly got settled and listened carefully as Tesla's Lucy ran through the key points. We decided to skip the section on autonomous driving - I wouldn't have time to test it thoroughly, even though the eight surround cameras and twelve ultrasonic sensors were quite capable. I think Lucy was more keen for me to focus on the more relevant selling points.
With that in mind she fired up the detail on the 15" portrait style tablet and started highlighting the fun to be had without moving. I especially liked the ventilation/air conditioning control system. Waving my hand across the screen depiction of the dash and sliding my fingers to where I wanted the air to flow was especially 'cool.'
With the SatNav engaged it was time to "make it so." Despite driving most EVs recently, heading off in an electric car is always a little spooky. From rest an AMG is already shouting at you, but the 3 - and this was the performance version - moves away with zero hint of the rocket-ship urge that lurks in stereo under the front and rear axles. In traffic the 3 takes no prisoners, despatching everything else on the road with consummate ease, and no noise.
A big disappointment to a genuine hoon, even a full-throttle take off will be missed by your scabby mates - and the authorities - unless they have eyes on. There is no tyre squeal, no wriggling of the steering wheel, no snappy gearshifts and no engine rev cutouts. Just an unrelenting acceleration that almost hinders your breathing and keeps you pressed hard into the seat back until you lift your right foot.
On light throttle it cruises like a limo. Adjusting the suspension can tighten things up, but you really could own this car without any of your family knowing its potential.
Range on this 3 was set at 560kms, well in excess of almost everyone's daily driving. The supercharger network in Sydney is pretty well spread, and of course you don't need to remember where the stations are. The car will find one for you after calculating likely driving time and distance still in the 'tank.'
My drive was more a commute than a full test, but I did take the opportunity to go the long way everywhere. The 3 fitted me like a glove and I was surprised how well I could sense road feel. The Japanese and Korean EVs I've driven were synthetic by comparison.
I enjoyed a stopover in a parking area surrounding Botany Bay. It felt a bit like unpacking a new phone or laptop and fiddling with all the gadgets and new features.
The full length sunroof offers a solution to interior gloom that sits well with the overall light and airy interior.
As for room, everyone will be comfortable in the 3, and of course the twin luggage areas front and back allow most junk to take the ride with you.
Tesla has not done well in quality assessment recently, and there is still some work to do there. The test car was faultless though, so someone had a very close look before letting it loose.
Maintenance-wise Teslas are redefining after-sales care. You don't do service intervals - or even service as such. Just a periodic check of systems.
I'm aware of a Model S owner who had a motor problem. The service dude asked him if he had an hour or so to spare. He took a seat with his device and 75 minutes later drove away with a new motor. That's what you can do when there are basically three moving mechanical parts. I rode with an Uber guy in LA last year who'd had his 3 for six months. It had cost him US$18 in maintenance.
Teslas are expensive up front because Musk needs the cash to develop further, build up the production volumes and therefore drive down the component cost. But the 3 is a very good interpretation of a luxury small car with a character that is utterly unique.
The entire auto industry owes Tesla's design and engineering team a great deal for changing the format of world cars for ever.
Start of the Rot - for Internal Combustion Engines - June 2012 - the writing appeared on the wall for petrol and diesel engines, plus any other ignition-dependant power plant. Tesla's first major production car, the Model S hummed its way onto US streets. There had already been many electric motors in cars and commercials. As a grotty schoolboy I used to watch the milk delivery float hum its way around the council estate in England. But Tesla started with the premise that people and their goods had to be cloaked in a driveline, rather than the other way around.
A clean-sheet approach evolved into the birth of the skateboard format - a stressed bank of batteries with a wheel pretty much at each corner.
Only now are we seeing the world's biggest car builders following the same pattern. While that is the chassis design all the car companies are bound to embrace, that is what is looming as the greatest threat to Tesla's EV prominence. The likes of VW, Daimler, Toyota, Renault and Fiat Chrysler, along with the massive Chinese and Indian groups have production capacities many times Tesla's, and can look at driving down costs with volumes Tesla can only dream of. When they unleash their volume capability on global markets, there'll no doubt be some blood on the floor.
No wonder Elon Musk invested heavily in battery production giga-factories that can build battery packs in volumes many times Tesla's own production requirements, in an aim to dominate battery supply. Great move.
Models: Tesla 3 Performance, Dual motor all wheel drive
Price: $95.275, Drive away $106,415
Engine: 2 x Permanent Magnet electric motors
Power (max): 345kW
Performance: 0-100km/h 3.4 seconds
Energy: Range (est) 560km.
Safety rating: Five-star ANCAP