The Model 3 is Tesla’s long-awaited make or break car. Priced significantly lower than its Model S and Model X siblings, it is being produced in much larger numbers and aims to become the biggest-selling electric vehicle globally.
It is now finally available in the UK in right-hand drive form, but has it been worth the wait and how does it cope with our challenging British roads?
There are three versions available. The entry-level £39,490 Standard Range Plus has one 252bhp electric motor powering the rear wheels and a WLTP range of 254 miles.
The £47,990 four-wheel drive Long Range has dual electric motors producing a combined 346bhp and a range of 348 miles.
I tested the flagship £52,990 Performance model, which has bigger dual motors producing 444bhp, four-wheel drive and a range of 329 miles.
All Model 3s share a full and impressive set of standard features, the dominant one being Tesla’s unique in-car technology controlled via a huge and dominant 15-inch touchscreen.
Most aspects of the car’s controls are operated via this screen including the electric rear-view mirrors and the adjustable steering wheel, and there are no instruments, digital or otherwise, directly in front of the driver. I didn’t find this a particular problem, but a head-up display would be welcomed by some.
The standard interior is all black ‘vegan’ leather but, for an extra £1,000, you can opt for the white and black interior as on my test car. The full-length sunroof is also standard and, with the minimalist fascia, certainly gives the interior an ‘open-plan’ feel. Autopilot and Autosteer functions also feature on all models with full autonomous driving elements available in the future.
You enter the Model 3 using an electronic card, which you swipe against the B pillar of the driver’s door. Owners are encouraged to use the Tesla smart-phone App so that you can use your phone as a key instead, remotely if necessary.
The aluminium flush-fitting door handles do not extend automatically as on bigger Teslas, but hinge backward.
Because the batteries are carried so low in the chassis, you slide into the driving seat as you would in a sports saloon. The front centre console consists of three separate compartments and is pretty cavernous.
Tesla has made the most of the packaging benefits afforded by the electric drive so the interior has plenty of space for all passengers. The boot, although hampered by the lack of a hatchback, is large and the rear seats can be folded forward for larger items. The front boot is also a bonus and is easily big enough to take a couple of soft bags.
There is still something special about engaging drive and setting off in an all-electric car. The instant torque and minimal noise never fails to impress and the Model 3, because it is lighter and more compact than its bigger siblings, feels sprightlier.
The Performance model has a ‘Chill’ mode to restrict the amount of power. As this is more akin to the available performance in the lesser models, I tried it first.
Swift and silent progress from rest is impressive and you get up to speed really quickly with one, long uninterrupted stream of acceleration. The car feels solid with no squeaks or rattles, but the suspension feels firm and a little unsettled dealing with urban potholes at low speeds. The steering is very direct and contributes to an almost go-cart feel in town – welcome when threading through busy traffic.
The compact size of the Model 3 also helps in this area with Autopilot an added bonus.
Out on the open road, the Tesla continues to impress. The ride settles with increasing speed and the handling feels well sorted. This is helped by the battery-induced low centre of gravity, but also by the sophisticated double-wishbone front and five-link rear suspension.
Mid range performance is really strong and the instantaneous flow of power when needed for overtaking is immensely confidence-boosting. Remember, this was in ‘Chill’ mode – now it was time to try ‘Sport’ mode.
A quick on-screen swipe of my forefinger to engage the faster mode and the difference, although imperceptible on gentle throttle, became obvious with firmer pressure. This Model 3 Performance version is very fast!
With four-wheel drive and a silent powertrain, you don’t really realise how quick it is until you take off from traffic lights only to realise that all other traffic has disappeared in the rear-view mirror.
There is no drama apart from the theme-park ride shifting of your internal organs. Die-hard petrolheads will miss any associated combustive noise but, in its own way, I loved it.
Cross-country A and B road travel can be achieved as swiftly and as smoothly as in any sports car. Consider again that this is in a medium-sized innocuous-looking saloon car. The only other comparable car that I have driven is the Audi RS3, but the fast Audi looks more aggressive and
there is a lot more noise and theatre. The Model 3 is the ultimate Q-car.
Tempting though it is to drive the Tesla using all of its performance capability, there is an obvious downside – the range will decrease notably. Having said that, the claimed optimum range of 329 miles is plenty to play with and a real world range of 200 to 250 miles should be easily achievable.
Also, being a Tesla, it has access to the exclusive Supercharger network with 430 UK sites and 3,600 in mainland Europe. For full charging flexibility, all Model 3s come with a built-in CCS Charge Port so they can use third party fast charging networks too.
The Model 3 delivers its promise. It is priced above most existing electric cars, like the Nissan Leaf and Kia e-Niro, but is faster, has a greater range, and more of a premium feel.
It’s significantly cheaper than Jaguar’s I-Pace, Audi’s e-tron and the Mercedes EQC. It is good to drive, benefits from Tesla-only charging and, in Performance model form, is a true sports saloon and great fun. It currently heads a class of one in its price band.
Tesla Model 3 Performance
Body: Five seat saloon
Engine: Dual electric motors. All-wheel drive
Power: 444 bhp
Torque: 660 Nm
Top Speed: 162 mph
Acceleration: 0-60 mph in 3.2 secs
WLTP range: 329 miles
CO2 emissions: 0g/km
On the road price: £52,990