Not too long ago, we spent time behind the wheel of the hotly anticipated 2018 Tesla Model 3 Performance and it was hecking impressive. The dual-motor electric car ticked off zero-to-60 sprints in about 3.5 seconds, but was also was equipped with a Performance Upgrade package that brought stickier Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tires, Tesla-branded Brembo brakes, a sport suspension and carbon-fiber trunk lid spoiler to the performance party.
It turns out that Tesla's not done tinkering with the Performance Upgrade package. A new software update coming soon will add new Track mode software to compliment the beefed-up hardware.
I was able to get my hands on a Model 3 with a pre-release version of Track Mode on an autocross cone course near Monterey, Calif. There, I put the new software through its paces to get a feel for how trackworthy Track Mode might be.
What is Track Mode anyway?
Track mode builds on the Model 3 Performance's dual-motor acceleration and Performance Upgrade package's handling upgrades with software tweaks designed to optimize performance and engagement while driving on a race track. Basically, it makes the EV more fun.
Behind the scenes, Track mode more freely shuffles power between the front and rear motors when cornering to help the EV rotate dynamically. With the right inputs to steering and the accelerator, it's now possible to drift the electric car with surprising ease. Meanwhile, the software is constantly monitoring and can instantly add torque to the front wheels help keep your drift from becoming a spin.
Flogging the Model 3 on the track uses loads of energy, so Track Mode also increases braking regeneration to reclaim the maximum energy when slowing or cornering. The effect is dramatic and has the positive side effects of helping keep the friction brakes cool during extended sessions and aiding in cornering stability by biasing regen-braking between the front and rear ends mid-turn.
Meanwhile, the big red brakes shave massive amounts of speed during hard corner entry, improve mid-corner stability control and allow the dual motors' open differentials to operate like brake-based limited slips, granting more precise power delivery when accelerating out of that corner.
Finally, Track Mode kicks the Model 3's active powertrain cooling into overdrive, allowing the driver to make the most efficient use the battery pack's charge and the electric motors. Track Mode can even pre-cool the systems if activated before a session and continue chilling after to maximize range for the drive home.
Doing the electric slide
I was prepared for the Model 3 Performance to be quick, but I wasn't ready for how balanced and natural this 4,072-pound premium sedan felt driven around a tight cone course.
True to Tesla's promise, Track Mode feels so much more dynamic than the standard Drive. I was able to approach corners with more speed and and get back on the accelerator earlier and more aggressively. The software was more than happy to swing the tail out when I asked -- tires squealing with glee -- and to snap it back in line predictably when I pointed the wheel at the next apex.
And it felt so natural. Yes, there's software black magic shuffling electrons around to keep things moving quickly, but the Model 3's chassis engineers deserve some credit. The low center of mass, 50-50 weight distribution and great seat-of-the-pants feel create a natural perception of the car rotating perfectly around the driver's hip point that would be tough to fake with software.
Track Mode isn't a perfect "win button." Mistakes caused the EV to understeer or oversteer, but the excellent chassis feel, transparent controls and smart software helped me to quickly react and adjust. My one wish is for better steering feel. The responsive and light wheel feels nice on the road, but I prefer more fingertip feedback on track.
We weren't timing laps, so I can't attest to whether Track Mode is faster than not, but the new profile is so much more fun and left me literally shaking with adrenaline.
Tesla will be pushing the Track Mode software update over-the-air to the Model 3 Performance "soon" -- that's as specific as Tesla's representatives were willing to get -- but only if the Performance Upgrade package is also equipped. All-in, you're looking at $69,000 worth of car before adding the Autopilot features you'll probably also want for the ride to and from the track.