Normally people don't place the words "road racing" and "electric cars" together in the same sentence...er, same planet. Typically boorish in their design, electric vehicles have a stigma for being A-to-B commuters or, at times, really fast in a straight line. That is, until 2018, when Tesla debuted the Model 3 Performance, which is specifically designed to take down its European four-door rival, the BMW M3.
Multiple media outlets have reported how well the Model 3 Performance does against similar petrol-powered vehicles in its mid-$60K price range. But what if you took things a few steps further and improved on its handling? Could the M3P+ be a formidable corner carver? Not according to social media comments...
Tesla defines the Model 3 Performance as having larger Brembo calipers with two-piece rotors, rear spoiler, 20-inch wheels with performance tires, "Track mode," and considerably faster 0-60 performance. The dual motor M3P+ works so well that it scoots from 0-60 in just 3.2 seconds and runs the quarter mile in 11.6-seconds. Well, that's all fine and dandy in a straight line; you're already aware of those numbers, but what about the twisties?
To reduce our fender gap and increase the stiffness in our 4,100-pound behemoth, we enlisted the help of Eibach in Corona, Calif., for their world-famous PRO-KIT lowering springs. Luckily, Eibach was looking for someone to test fit their new prototype sway bars and we were happy to oblige.
There's no special magic required to install suspension components on a Tesla and everything is very similar to a "normal" vehicle. The front suspension is a double A-arm design while the rear suspension uses a separated spring and shock design that places the spring inside the lower control arm. Take a 350/370Z, Honda Fit, or just about any other current model, and there's a pretty good chance they're running a similar separated shock and spring combo.
The rear springs were removed from their "spring buckets" and the complete front spring and shock assembly was removed for the spring compressor. Bump stops must be cut down slightly to accommodate for the 1-inch front and 1.4-inch rear drop. Even on the stock tires the response from our Model 3 was drastically increased while remaining quiet and comfortable for the daily commute&mdash:something we've come to expect from the suspension gurus at Eibach.
Undertrays are used to keep the car as aerodynamic as possible and are the first to come off when attacking the sway bar install.
The front bar includes new polyurethane bushings and is three-position adjustable.
Eibach's rear bar includes polyurethane bushings that are held in place with their billet mounts and feature two levels of adjustment.
Unlike many of the current chassis on the market that require you drop the entire subframe to gain access to the sway bars in order to upgrade, the Tesla Model 3 is a much easier affair and Eibach had them swapped out in no time.
Both the front and rear bars are larger in design to decrease body roll, and with years of experience and R&D testing for countless hours, Eibach's recipe never disappoints. Not surprisingly, both the front and rear bars fit perfectly.
From there we upgraded our wheel and tire package. Wanting to step down in size to 18-inch wheels, we called on Apex Race Parts for their EC-7 satin black Mustang wheels. Yeah, you read that right, these wheels were originally designed for 2005-'14 Mustangs with an ET 35 offset and 18x9.5-inch dimensions. This is extremely close to a max effort fitment on the front but must be paired with a 3MM spacer for proper A-arm clearance.
Part of the Ultimate Street Car Association's tire requirement (where we planned to test our mods) is a 200 treadwear tire, and we were excited to test Nexen's N FERA SUR4G in 275/40-18. Also designed for the rain, the SUR4G uses three wide center ribs to provide maximum vertical stiffness. Pairing with that is maximized diagonal block stiffness for the best possible cornering. At both the autocross and road course events in Fontana, the SUR4G worked extremely well and held up perfectly throughout the abuse we threw at them. Having a silent car allows us to tune our ear to what the tire is doing and we were able to confidently reach the limit of the tire's repeatable performance.
But with all this new-found grip there was a need to stay planted in the seat while on the track. While the Model 3 has comfortable leather seats, they don't provide the appropriate bolstering to stay planted. Schroth's Quickfit kits are designed for a quick installation using factory mounting locations within a chassis. The BMW E90 kit ended up working perfectly (hat tip to John Laughlin) in the Model 3 chassis and took about 30 minutes to install. The kit uses the front driver's buckle and the rear buckle as two of the four attachment points. Beyond that, a bracket is installed on the left side of the seat and another buckle is added to the lower attachment point on the rear three-point harness. The head rest is released to allow the belts to be slid onto the seat but considering that, everything can be uninstalled in about five minutes.
One torx bolt at the front of the seat and a few plastic clips later and we attach the front harness mount using a T-50 torx socket. A clip will attach onto this mount. The other side plugs into the factory buckle and keeps the car from triggering seat belt warnings.
The rear connection is very similar. The driver's side rear buckle is used then a bracket with another buckle bolts to the bottom of the factory three-point harness. The buckle will remain in the car but everything else comes out cleanly.
Our Schroth Quickfit harness looks great and worked perfectly. There's two hidden release pins on the backside of the headrest that need to be released before raising up the headrest slightly. This allows the harnesses to slide in place. After the headrest is locked back in place, there's still enough clearance to allow for the belt movement.
Our final modification that's designed specifically for aiding in the application of front downforce is Unplugged Performance's front lip spoiler.
UP was nice enough to install our front lip at their facility near Tesla/SpaceX in a matter of about 15 minutes. UP spent a considerable amount of time with computer aided wind modeling to come up with a front lip design that provides an increase of 35.4 percent front downforce while actually reducing drag by 6.6 percent. The spoiler is made from tough urethane and wrapped in satin black vinyl.
It was an interesting experience racing an electric car at the Ultimate Street Car Challenge Fontana event. Many of the street cars at the event included Camaro ZL1 1LEs, Corvettes, Mustangs, and GTRs. The Model 3 had what it took to stay competitive and finish high across the entire field, ultimately taking the win in the GTE class. Even though the 4,100-pound Model 3 is heavier than it appears, it's very nimble, especially with Eibach's help, and the all-wheel-drive system is easily manipulated to do what you need it to do in the corners.
The proof is in the pudding as our Model 3's modifications worked together in a symbiotic harmony of traction and performance. We swept the field at the Ultimate Street Car Association Fontana event in the GTE class and earned an invitation to compete in the Optima Street Car Invitational in Las Vegas!