Tesla Model 3 review – an enthusiast's guide to the groundbreaking electric car
The Tesla Model 3 is finally here, but away from the hype we debunk what is, electric or not, one of the most fascinating cars in decades
It was the motoring equivalent of a new Star Wars trilogy. Tesla’s mainstream push that became the most widely anticipated new car for decades. But internal politics, missed deadlines and manufacturing issues plagued Tesla, while cynics gleefully revelled in their foresight. That was then, but this is now, and the Tesla Model 3 is on the road, selling in vast numbers, and whether industry and infrastructure are ready or not, it’s about to proverbially ‘F’ sh*t up.
So, here we’ve got a right-hand-drive, UK-market Model 3. One that yields little excuse for poor build quality, reliability or untoward behaviour. It’s a car that in the month of August 2019 was third outright on the UK sales chart behind only the Ford Fiesta and Volkswagen Golf, so it’s time for it to be judged to the same standard as any other compact premium executive car.
The stakes are high for Tesla too, as for every step it takes to becoming a serious mass-market manufacturer, so too do the existing players advance. Soon it will no longer have the luxury of complete market share, nor will it be able to rest on the image it’s worked so hard to build – and destroy. So the question is… is the Tesla Model 3 a good car? The answer is yes. And no.
Tesla Model 3 – in detail
- Engine, transmission and technical details – Rather, ‘engine’ should be ‘motor’ as it’s not an engine. Both single- and dual-motor versions are available.
- Performance and 0-60 time – Performance models are incredibly rapid, reaching 60mph in 3.1sec. Other variants are also properly fast.
- Ride and handling – The Model 3 is heavy, but counters it with an impressive chassis and handling characteristics well suited to its demeanor.
- MPG and running costs – The cost of running an EV is almost entirely dependant on circumstances, but remains a boon with electric cars.
- Interior and tech – An example of extreme minimalism, it will work for some and not for others, but it’s definitely interesting.
- Design – The exterior is less resolved and looks quite awkward from some, or many angles.
Prices, specs and rivals
For now, the Tesla Model 3 range is simple and easy to grasp. 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 £40,490 after the UK government electric car grant. The WLTP estimated range is currently rated at 267 miles, which is impressive given the relatively small 46kWh battery pack. The Long Range model, which also includes a second electric motor on the front axle, is a chunkier £46,990, but also expands on the estimated range to 360 miles thanks to the larger 74kWh battery. Topping the range is the Model 3 Performance, costing from £56,490. Its range is down slightly at 352 miles, but its performance is considerably more potent.
Specification is strong across the range, with that 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 cloth trim, a lovely glazed roof, auto-dimming and folding mirrors and climate control, all as standard fit. Long Range and Performance models upgrade to a ‘Premium Interior’, which includes leather trim, 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 set of 20-inch wheels, bigger brakes, lowered suspension, a carbonfibre lip spoiler and higher top speed. For the full ‘Tesla’ feel, both Long Range and Performance models are also able to be fitted with a full white interior, turning the already airy cabin into a sci-fi movie set. As for rivals, direct battery electric rivals such as the new Polestar 2 match the mid-spec 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 Nissan Leaf and Renault Zoe, but still substantially below bigger premium electric SUVs such as the Audi E-tron and Jaguar I-Pace.
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, uhh... 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 is less able in the corners. An Alpine A110 is 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, less practical and far more expensive to run. You can understand now why, on paper, Teslas can be so appealing.