Driving the Model 3 on Romania’s mountain roads, Transfagarasan

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Sibiu was elected in 2007 as European Capital of Culture for several very good reasons. Well preserved historic buildings, medieval town squares, art and the open air Astra museum, theater, music and food festivals, very friendly people and gorgeous landscapes make any trip to Sibiu a delight.

Albota valley, as seen from the trout farm

We picked Sibiu as our own “capital for electric test drives” for all of the above reasons and the winding roads leading to the mountain resort Paltinis or crossing the Fagaras mountains, one of the most picturesque mountain road Romania can offer to its visitors.

After an amazing experience in Germany’s Black Forest mountains with our LR, RWD Model 3 and several hill climbs to Paltinis, we were ready to take on the Transfagarasan. All we had to do was to fully charge, and wait for a sunny day to tackle half of the distance, leading to Balea Cascada, the upper half of the road being closed to traffic during winter.

The opportunity arrived on Saturday, March 9th, the day after the Women’s Day celebrations, a long lasting tradition in Romania. To honor the women at Porsib, the company hosting our winter test drives with a Hyundai Ioniq EV, we invited Roxana and Luci to drive the Model 3 and provide us feedback about the differences to our beloved “Ionica”, a nickname used by followers of our weekly Electromobility project reports.

Roxana aproaching the Transfagarasan

Here is what Roxana had to say in English (she is fluent in German and Chinese too, native Romanian): “The Model 3 performs like no other car. Smooth, very quick acceleration, precise handling and a lot of cargo space. One of the best features of Tesla is their ability for over-the-air software updates, which I personally find revolutionary for cars. Tesla Model 3 is like we would say “out of this world” driving it you get the chance to experience the future at the same time. Driving the Model 3 is just relaxing and it’s an experience like no other.”

Road closed, waiting for the summer

Comfortably installed in the driver seat, Roxana took us smoothly up to about 1200 m, right to where the road was closed by piles of snow covering the Transfagarasan. The ever present torque of the Model 3 makes driving uphill very easy, no gear changes needed, no sound of punished pistons, rushing up and down their cylinder confinement and puffing CO2 in the perfectly clear mountain air.

Road closed to Balea Lac (2034 m)

What about the rear seat passengers ? … well that was not too fun for three adults. The well profiled rear seat back bolsters are pushing the outboard passengers to the center, squeezing the one in the middle. Lesson learned: no more than four people, two in front and two in the back, on future rides.

We also struggled to find the right temperature for everybody, as the sun was heating up the rear area through the huge glass roof, but too much cold air pumped in the center, was freezing the center occupant’s knees. Still some work to do here for Tesla, to better balance and regulate the air flow.

Transfagarasan, energy consumption signature

On the way down from Balea Cascada, Luci took over the driver’s seat. She gathered lots of electric driving experience on icy roads during four month of daily commuting with the Hyundai Ioniq EV and was able to provide precise feedback about the Model 3, stating: “This is something else ! … a different world of driving, but I still love the Ioniq “.

The lower half of the Transfagarasan

The easier way to adjust regen breaking with the steering wheel paddles, the wireless charging of the phone, the larger opening of the rear trunk, and especially the more comfortable suspension, kept the Ioniq as the number one on her list.

Model 3 acceleration is amazing and the stiff suspension allows for high cornering speeds, but if this is not your priority, you might be bothered by the smaller mirrors, limiting rear view visibility, especially at night (of course you can use the rear facing camera in Model 3) or the narrow opening of the rear trunk.

The rigid suspension, shaking the heavy car (over 2000 kg with five passengers) and generating squeaks, buzz and rattles , or the cold synthetic leather on a freezing morning, asking for help from the seat heaters , before being really comfortable, downgraded the Model 3 in Luci’s view, in comparison with the classic and friendlier Hyundai Ioniq interior.

On the way down the mountain, although she took us on a fast paced ride, regen breaking did all the hard work, reminding us that brakes can be used only for emergency situations in an electric car.

Albota trout farm

A well deserved stop for lunch at the local trout farm, Pastravaria Albota, provided the time for analysis, comparisons and debriefing of the entire parallel electric experience with Hyundai and Tesla, during one full week of test drives in Sibiu.

Needless to say we are watching closely when the Transfagarasn will open to public traffic, to drive the entire way from Sibiu to Curtea de Arges.

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