We have had our fair share of disappointment with Elon Musk. He is always flip-flopping, one moment promising to bring Tesla to South Africa and the next moment whining about our import duties. In the end, we have grudgingly accepted that the only way to truly experience a Tesla is by going abroad.

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By Dumi Xaba

Just over a year ago, news swirled like a whisper in the wind – a Tesla Model 3 had surfaced in KZN. The news spread like wildfire, drawing journalists from every corner of SADAC to converge upon the coveted car dealership. The scene was chaotic, reminiscent of a school of sardines swirling in a frenzy.

Unbelievably, the car was snatched up faster than a cheetah chasing its prey by those with pockets deeper than the Kimberley Hole.

The excitement surrounding the reappearance of this car at a Midrand dealership was so intense that it felt like the entire population of Gauteng had descended upon the dealership in a frenzy. Journalists were swarming around like bees to honey, causing the coffee and biscuits to disappear quicker than a magician’s trick at a children’s birthday party. It was a sight to behold – a true spectacle of enthusiasm and eagerness unmatched by anything else.

The salespeople tried their hardest to sell us on the other cars, but who could be swayed when the Tesla Model 3 is in sight? We are a united front, standing firm in our obsession with this revolutionary vehicle. This is not just a chance of a lifetime, but a once-in-a-millennium opportunity! People travelled from miles around, from as far as Gaborone and Maputo, braving all odds just for a glimpse of this marvel from the future.

The flood of journalists clamouring to test drive a Tesla at the dealership was so overwhelming that it felt like a stampede of wild buffalo. With such an extraordinary demand, the dealership decided to give in to a few lucky journalists and allow them to experience a mere fraction of the thrilling Tesla adventure, under the watchful eye of their seasoned staff, who manoeuvred the vehicles with the expertise of fighter jet pilots.

Due to the high value and rarity of the Tesla vehicle in the dealership’s inventory, none of the staff were comfortable allowing it to be handled by media personnel. The large group of eager individuals equipped with cameras, pens, and notepads posed a challenge in organizing a smooth demonstration. To address this issue, the group was divided into smaller units to ensure a successful briefing and demonstration of the coveted Tesla vehicle.

The Tesla stands out as a unique and highly coveted electric vehicle, especially considering its exclusivity in the country. Despite the presence of other competitive options like the Porsche Taycan and Audi e-Tron, Tesla has managed to capture significant attention and enthusiasm from consumers. This may be attributed to its cutting-edge technology, sleek design, and impressive performance capabilities.

I have to confess that I am not a fan of coupe-shaped vehicles, yet I arrived at the dealership earlier than most journalists who gathered at Midrand. We had promised to review this particular vehicle as soon as it landed on our shores. Upon encountering it, I noticed it was as compact as a typical Mercedes C-Class or BMW 3 Series.

Before commencing the demonstration, we were forewarned that the vehicle’s functionality might be somewhat limited compared to its performance in America or Europe due to its inability to connect directly to the Tesla network, resulting in certain features not functioning optimally. It was akin to a shark venturing into small freshwater streams.

Drawing parallels with the BYD Seal, I couldn’t help but notice several similarities, such as the sleek fighter jet-like nose at the front and the sloping roofline towards the rear. The doors were opened via a phone app, revealing a luxurious-looking leather interior. I was then informed that, like some BIAIC X55 models, the material was not genuine leather but a vegan alternative.

Following my usual practice, I always evaluate the driver’s seat and proceed to the rear passenger seat. The front seats offer a soft and comfortable experience. The infotainment system, resembling an oversized iPad, is intuitive to use but may have some delay if swiped too quickly. I was informed that this delay is attributed to our network being slower than those in Western and European regions.

The vehicle features unique styling reminiscent of Honda, which may evoke strong feelings of either admiration or dislike. Throughout the interior inspection, I did not encounter any hard plastic materials. The battery is situated beneath the seats, resulting in a slightly rigid knee position for rear passengers, a common trait in electric vehicles. Nonetheless, the back seat provides a pleasant experience for long journeys.

The boot space is ample, with a concealed compartment underneath. A simple tap on an app on your phone reveals more space in the front where a combustion engine would traditionally be located.

While white may not be the typical choice for a sports car, it truly stands out on this particular model. The sleek design and practical layout give it a stunning appearance without seeming like the designer was trying too hard. The front of the car resembles a grinning great white shark, complete with striking black eyes on the sides. The all-white interior may be a challenge for some, especially those with young passengers.

However, the Model 3 is a proper 5-seater with Isofix points in all the necessary seats. The large sunroof allows light to flow into the cabin, while the two wireless chargers in the front and charging ports in the back add convenience. The car is packed with tech features, including keyless entry, navigation, reverse camera, park assist, emergency lane departure avoidance, and more.

The road beckoned for a thrilling drive. Unlike some of the electric vehicles we have assessed, the Tesla battery is strategically positioned at the centre of gravity, allowing for nimble cornering without the cumbersome weight typically associated with such vehicles. The acceleration invoked sensations akin to the g-forces experienced during a Ferrari demonstration at Kyalami.

While the speed was impressive, the test drive was intentionally brief to preserve the pristine condition of this exceptional vehicle. Is the R2.6 million price tag truly justified, particularly considering the limited access to Tesla’s full suite of features available locally? For those seeking a distinctive driving experience, the Mercedes EQB presents a more cost-effective option without sacrificing enjoyment. Undoubtedly, the Model 3 was a visionary vehicle ahead of its time, as evidenced by its influence on the BYD Seal.

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