Tesla Model 3 review

We drive the Tesla Model 3 in the UK for the first time, as it delivers on its promise of BMW M3-beating performance

£38,900 - £56,900
Electric

Pros

  • BMW M3-beating performance
  • Great perceived interior quality
  • Easy to live with

Cons

  • Others offer better handling
  • Small rear passenger space
  • No Apple CarPlay
Car type Range Wallbox charge time Rapid charge time
Electric 258-348 miles 13 hours 30-45 mins

Few electric cars have caused as much of a furore as the Tesla Model 3. It’s been teased and talked about, previewed and – not least – scrutinised for production issues that have seen the European launch date pushed back repeatedly.

Finally, we've driven it in the UK, with our drive coinciding with news that the Model 3 will start from £39,800 for the Standard Range Plus with its WLTP range of 258 miles. The top-spec, delightfully bonkers Performance model is priced from £56,900, complete with all-wheel drive and a range of 329 miles.

We're driving the happy-medium Model 3 that's likely to be a popular choice in the line-up: the Long Range AWD. It costs £47,900 and has the longest range available in the baby Tesla, at 348 miles. It's not slow, either, with a four-wheel drive system and 362bhp streaming from its dual electric motors, delivering a 0-60mph sprint of 4.5 seconds.

Charging happens via a Type 2 or CCS cable, giving you access to the public fast charging network as well as the rapid Tesla Superchargers.

Find one of the latter Tesla-only stations in a Model 3 Long Range and you can charge from 10% to 80% in some 30 minutes, while a standard 7.2kW home wallbox charger will take you from 10% to 100% in less than 13 hours.

The Model 3 is smaller, cuter and imbued with a pertness that’s missing from the bigger, heavier-looking Tesla models. The car is unlocked with a credit card waved against the windscreen pillar – or you can set up your smartphone to work just like Tesla’s card key by unlocking the car as you approach.

Push the flush door handles – they don’t pop out as they do on the Model S - and you’ll find that space is pretty similar in the back to that in a BMW 3 Series, which ranks as one of the Model 3’s closest rivals. Knee room isn’t too generous, but there’s the added bonus of a flat floor with no transmission hump.

It certainly feels a bit pokey compared to boxier-shaped saloon rivals such as the Audi A4, but it’s comfy enough, and you’ve got a choice of front and rear boots with a combined 425 litres of storage space.

Access to the rear luggage space is via a letterbox-style saloon opening, although the boot is hinged to lift higher than most saloons so access is actually good by class standards. Meanwhile, the rear seats split and fold.

Slide into the front seats and you can see how brilliantly minimalism can work in a car. Even the vents are hidden in a single, slim crease that stretches across the Model 3 and looks like a design feature rather than a vent.

The dash is dominated by a screen, of course – in this case a slim, landscape-mounted 15-inch monitor. It controls absolutely everything, including the air-flow direction from those vents.

You may think that having everything on the screen could be problematic, and although Tesla has put the most important driver information as close to the driver as possible, you do have to look further away from the road to check your speed than you would usually.

A head-up display would be a welcome addition that’d go some way to solving this problem. Otherwise, it doesn’t take much time to become familiar with the screen’s menu layouts and how to use the two switches on the steering wheel.

In practice, it's these wheel-mounted controls that you use to control most functions, including the audio or standard Autopilot autonomous technology. Tesla says an even more advanced city-driving autonomous system (which claims to read traffic signs and respond to them automatically) is due to be made available later in 2019.​​

Much has been mentioned about Tesla quality, but we were impressed with the perceived solidity and material finish of our test car. It all felt impressively solid and classy. As good as Audi? No. But it isn't too far off, and it's an apparent improvement on the occasionally patchy fit and finish you can find in the Model X and Model S.

Even in this mid-spec Model 3, the way it fires up the road is addictive. You just can't help yourself when there's such instant response under your right foot. So instant, in fact, that it can make the throttle response feel a touch jerky, especially in reverse.

However, Chill mode helps to smooth it out a bit, and it never stops you enjoying the linear build of power and fierce acceleration that can put far more expensive machinery to shame.

We have also driven the Performance model, albeit in America last year, and while it certainly feels quicker in full-on standing starts, there is no doubt that the Model 3 Long Range driven here is more than fast enough to thrill even the most impatient or enthusiastic of drivers.

Car Price Range (WLTP) 0-60mph Top speed
Model 3 Standard Range Plus £38,900 258 miles 5.3 secs 140mph
Model 3 Long Range £47,900 348 miles 4.5 secs 145mph
Model 3 Performance £56,900 329 miles 3.2 secs 162mph

Comfort will be no bother even for those planning high mileage use or a lot of time on rough city roads. The suspension is firm enough that you're always aware of what's going on with the road surface, but it's not intrusive, making it easy to just relax on the move. The Model 3 is predictably quiet, too. There's a bit of whine from those two electric motors - one on each axle to provide four-wheel drive - but other than that and a bit of wind and road noise, it's virtually silent.

Mind you, petrol alternatives like the BMW 3 Series handle with more finesse; the Model 3 never feels delicate or playful, but it grips stoically, turns in precisely and keeps body lean ruthlessly in check. At 1,847kg, the Model 3 is a heavy car compared to petrol or diesel alternatives which are often some 200-300kg lighter, and it shows in the way it goes around corners.

Mind you, that very steadfastness matched with the brutal acceleration is arguably just as fun as the more adjustable, light-footed character of the sports cars it competes with.

Ultimately, the Tesla Model 3 is in a class of one right now, but that doesn't make it any less of an achievement. It offers something exciting and enticing – notably technology and performance - that you can’t yet get elsewhere in this price range.

With rivals like the Audi e-tronJaguar I-Pace and Mercedes EQC lining up to take a slice of the executive electric class, Tesla has never faced so much competition. And yet, despite very publicly reported company difficulties and that growing competition, the Model 3 still feels like a trailblazer. Different, but in all the right ways.

For a more detailed look at the Tesla Model 3, read on for the rest of our in-depth review.