NeyWatch: Somehow, This Has Gotten Even More Ludicrous


Tesla makes very effective drag-racing cars. The fastest Model S sedan — the P100D — in Ludicrous Mode can blast from 0-60 mph in under 2.3 seconds. 

That's good enough to outrun many of the world's most exotic supercars. The forthcoming new Roadster from Tesla, the successor to the company's original all-electric vehicle, is supposed to be able to hit 60 mph in less than two seconds, which is Formula One racer velocity.

In announcing a new high-performance version of the Model 3, priced at $78,000, Tesla CEO took a crack at what's regarded by many auto enthusiasts as the finest sports sedan on the planet, the BMW M3. Musk didn't offer a designation for the up-spec Model 3, but I'll call it the P3D, emulating Tesla's nomenclature.

The P3D, according to Musk, will do 0-60 in 3.5 seconds and top out at 155 mph.

A similarly priced BMW M3 takes half a second longer. It will also max out at 155 mph.

Musk touted the P3D's racetrack potential, but I think he meant dragstrip — although he did celebrate the P3D's potential handing (for the record, the Model 3 does handle nicely). 

Tesla and the company's fans love the performance numbers and relish comparisons with very fast cars propelled by internal-combustion engines. And about year now, as the actual pricing of the Model 3 has become apparent and the true $35,000 mass-market vehicle has yet to arrive, the BMW 3-Series matchup has been a frequent sight.

BMW M3The BMW M3.Matthew DeBord/BI

But just as putting the Model S P100D next to a Ferrari 488 GTB and saying "Choose!" is ridiculous, so is pitting the Model P3D against the BMW M3. Really, it's a bridge too far.

Electric cars, while impressive in a straight line, aren't very good for motorsports that require turning more than a few laps or going around corners. People have tracked Teslas, to varying degrees of success and failure. Tesla itself doesn't formally participate in any type of organized racing.

The M3, on the other hand, was born from racing — the "M" once stood for "Motorsport." It first arrived in the mid-1980s and has competed many, many times in numerous types of go-fast events (as it turns out, I've sampled both the M3 four-door and the M4 two-door in the past few years, but not on a racetrack). Even if you don't think the M3 is the finest sporting vehicle ever created, you likely recognize its versatility: a beast of a car — with a back seat and two extra doors!

The latest M3 makes 425 horsepower from a twin-turbocharged, inline six-cylinder motor and is designed to serve up track performance to align with your driving skills. You can take this thing out and run it against Porsches and Audis and Mercedes and have a proper race. 

Not something you could throw a Tesla P3D into. You could try, with say a 10-lap sprint so that the Model 3 wouldn't run out of charge or overheat. But that wouldn't be much in the way of racing. 

Ferrari Race Watkins GlenNo Model 3's allowed.Ferrari

You could also take a shot at "Top Gear"-style hot laps, and the P3D could turn a good one. 

But that wouldn't be racing, either.

And therein lies the problem with comparing Tesla to other performance brands but not competing with those brands. It's an abstract exercise.

Another factor is that much of the fun in tracking, say, an M3 isn't strictly speaking going fast or winning — it's savoring the glorious engineering and the visceral thrill of the machine. Even if a P3D could somehow overcome the laws of physics and give a Bimmer a proper race, it might not be as pleasurable. 

This is absolutely the case in my experience with Tesla's vehicles. They're cool, and my favorite remains the rudimentary original Roadster. But I'd rather drive fast in a BMW, or a Porsche, or a Ferrari, or Lamborghini, or Corvette, or a Mustang, or any other old-school speed sled. I really don't even think about the comparison. And I wish Tesla would stop pushing it out there.

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