Tesla Model 3 review – an enthusiast's guide to the popular electric car
Can the Tesla Model 3 really be a willing alternative to a typical executive car? It makes a great go at it, but there are compromises.
It’s fair to say that the Tesla Model 3 has now officially embedded itself into the British motoring landscape, with sales eclipsing not just other electric cars, but many key compact executive rivals. While it’s sometimes impossible to ignore the controversy around Tesla and the way it operates, the impact it’s had in integrating electric cars into the psyche of modern everyday motorists has been profound, whether you’re a fan of electric cars or not.
So three-or-so years after its successful launch here in the UK, and with a whole brethren of rivals coming from all sides, Tesla has given the Model 3 a mild update. Instead of a traditional facelift, the 2021 Model 3 features a spread of tiny detail changes to the styling and tech.
We’re also here to decipher if the Model 3’s infamous build quality has been attended to, and whether it really is now a realistic alternative to traditional executive cars for those, who like us, are rightly critical of electric cars and the benefits they offer.
Tesla Model 3 – in detail
- Engine, transmission and technical details – Rather, ‘engine’ should be ‘motor’. Both single- and dual-motor versions are available.
- Performance and 0-60 time – Performance models are incredibly rapid, reaching 60mph in 3.1sec, but all variants are faster than IC rivals.
- Ride and handling – The Model 3 is heavy, but counters it with an impressive chassis and handling characteristics well suited to its character.
- MPG and running costs – The cost of running an EV is almost entirely dependant on circumstances, but remains low compared to gas-powered rivals.
- Interior and tech – An example of extreme minimalism, it will work for some and not for others, but it’s interesting nonetheless.
- Design – The exterior is less resolved and looks quite awkward from some, or many angles.
Prices, specs and rivals
The Tesla Model 3 range is essentially straightforward and easy to define. There are three models available, made up of a price-leading single-motor base car, and two dual-motor variants that also have a larger battery capacity and range. The basic Standard Range Plus Model 3 starts at £42,990 after the UK government electric car grant. The WLTP estimated range is currently rated at 317 miles on the smaller wheel option, which is impressive given the relatively small battery pack – although Tesla won't release precise capacity figures. The Long Range model, which includes a second electric motor on the front axle, is a chunkier £49,990, but also expands on the estimated range to 374 miles thanks to the larger battery pack. Topping the range is the Model 3 Performance, costing from £59,990. Its range is down slightly at 340 miles, but its performance is considerably more potent.
Specifications are high across the range, with a 15-inch touchscreen standard on all models and which includes the Model 3’s impressive user interface system that controls essentially every element of the car. More traditional car-like features include electric seats with faux leather trim, a glazed roof, auto-dimming and folding mirrors and climate control, are also standard fit. Long Range and Performance models upgrade to a ‘Premium Interior’, satellite mapping on the infotainment screen, an updated hi-fi, and heated front and rear seats.
Performance models then build on the Model 3’s technical components with a new set of 20-inch wheels, bigger brakes, lowered suspension, a carbonfibre lip spoiler and higher 162mph top speed. For the full ‘Tesla’ feel, all models are able to be fitted with a white interior, turning the already airy cabin into a sci-fi movie set.
Fully electric rivals such as the new Polestar 2 match the Long Range models in terms of pricing and performance. Otherwise the Tesla seems to sit in a middle-market vacuum, priced above mainstream electric hatchbacks such as the Volkswagen ID.3 and Renault Zoe, but still substantially below bigger premium electric SUVs such as the Audi E-tron and Jaguar I-Pace. BMW's new i4 goes some way to compete, and Merc's new EQE is just around the corner, but for now the Tesla's position remains tenable, and not at immediate risk of being out-played.
Veer back into the dangerous world of the fuel pump and all the compact executive offerings such as a BMW 320d M Sport and its rivals match the entry-level Model 3 on price. For the Performance’s, erm... performance, there is literally nothing out there to match it – an Audi TT RS will set you back around the same money, but takes another 0.7sec to get to 62mph and doesn't have the practical aspect to compensate. An Alpine A110 is much more entertaining more of the time, but could not be considered a rival aside from those who wish to spend around £50k on anything fast and fun. Consider a like-for-like rival such as an Audi RS5 Sportback or Mercedes-AMG C63 S and they’ll set you back a more substantial £70-80k, and be slower and far more expensive to run. You can understand now why, on paper, Teslas can be so appealing.