I botched my first quarter mile run in the 2020 Tesla Model 3 Performance by lifting off the accelerator too early. My 78.7 mph trap speed exposed the error of my right foot to the small crowd keeping tabs on the scoreboard at Byron Dragway in Byron, Ill. It was my first screw up of the day, but not my last. More importantly, I didn’t lose. The 450-hp electric sedan’s 12.5-second sprint bettered that of the late-model Ford Mustang GT in the opposing lane by nearly a second. Massive torque and prodigious traction, apparently, can overcome some hamfistedness at launch.
Despite spending a good portion of my early 20s working at and participating in drag racing events at Gainesville Raceway in Gainesville, Fla., my on-track abilities had seemingly dulled over the years. Maybe the humid summer air mixed with the pungency of gasoline and burning rubber conspired against my ability to concentrate. Or maybe the Tesla’s prodigious power and grip added to my sense of security. Either way, I was off my game.
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Drag racing is a deceptively difficult sport. Sure, pinning the accelerator to the floorboard (and holding it there through the entirety of the 1,320-foot long race) is tantamount to success, but equally as important, is the driver’s reaction time to the staging tree’s green light. If you pull away from the line too early, then your run gets disqualified. Take too long to leave the gates, and the car in the opposite lane might just get the jump and take the win.
Simply having a quick car is often not enough to ensure a winning performance at the strip. That said, it certainly helps. Because even as I tipped the scales against it, the Model 3 Performance’s outright acceleration and speed continued to keep it—and me—away from the jaws of defeat.
The Motor City Vs. Silicon Valley
Call it a battle of classic American muscle and modern American ingenuity. To my left loomed a 1969 Dodge Coronet R/T; its V-8 engine snorted and cackled in juxtaposition to the silent idle of the Tesla.
Unable to recall if I placed the Tesla in its more performance-minded Sport or Track settings (the latter of which provides additional cooling to the drivetrain in order to ensure prolonged and repeatable performance in a track environment), I wasn’t looking at the flashing lights of the staging tree. Instead, I was tapped through the many menus within the Model 3’s massive 15.0-inch display in search of the car’s drive mode settings. Just as I confirmed the Tesla was not in its eco-oriented Chill mode, I heard the angry roar of the old Dodge’s big bent-eight leaving the line in a fuel-rich fury. The classic Coronet commanded an almost perfect launch, netting it an initial lead of almost 0.8 second.
Yet, the near-immediate thrust of the all-wheel-drive Tesla’s two electric motors (one at each axle) more than made up for my poor reaction time. Within seconds, the Model 3 pushed past the Mopar muscle machine on its way to a quarter mile time of 11.6 seconds and a trap speed of 114.4 mph—1.4 seconds better and 23.8 mph faster than the Dodge.
Model 3 Misbehavior
I should have left Byron Dragway a loser. Instead, I was—for all intents and purposes—a winner. Albeit a winner who felt like a jabroni. Still, my behind-the-wheel mishaps only highlighted the straight-line capabilities of the Tesla. It’s no stretch to claim the Model 3 Performance is the sort of car capable of making a mediocre driver look good. Well, at least on the drag strip.
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At $56,190, the top-of-the-line Model 3 makes a case for itself as a relative performance bargain, too. That said, the Performance kit is not free of flaws. Compared to lesser trims, the Model 3 Performance suffers from a noticeably harsher ride. It’s EPA-rated 299-mile range also falls 23 miles short of the less expensive $48,190 Model 3 Long Range.
Nevertheless, the Performance’s range is plenty for most—if not all—consumers. Plus, Tesla’s Supercharger network makes it easy to quickly charge the battery pack on long drives (avoid regular Supercharger use, though, as high-speed charging systems tend to degrade the battery pack).
Ultimately, the Model 3 Performance’s quick acceleration makes it a fine tool for the amateur (or semi-professional) drag racer. Especially to ones—such as myself—prone to making the occasional blunder.
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