Tesla Model 3 review
|Car type||Driving range||Wallbox charge time||Rapid charge time|
|Electric||254-348 miles||8hrs-11hrs 45mins (0-100%, 7.4kW)||22mins (10-80%, 250kW)|
Tesla arrived in Europe with the pricey Model S, an impressively accomplished but expensive electric car. It then launched the big-selling Model X, which satisfied those after a bit of extra space in a desirable SUV body. Its third and arguably most important model is this: the Model 3; a more affordable electric car with much of the same technology as its flashier siblings in a cheaper and better-value body.
The Model 3 is priced from well under £40,000 for the entry-level Standard Range Plus, with its official range of 254 miles and rear-wheel-drive setup. The other options in the range are both four-wheel-drive cars.
The Long Range AWD offers the best range at an official 348 miles, while the Performance sacrifices a little of that for its mad-but-brilliant BMW M3-slaying pace, yet it'll still cover 329 miles – notably better than other big-battery electric cars such as the Jaguar I-Pace.
Find one of the latter Tesla-only stations in a Model 3 Long Range and you can charge from 10% to 80% in a little over 20 minutes, while a standard home wallbox charger will take you to 100% in less than 12 hours.
The Model 3 is smaller, cuter and imbued with a style pertness that’s missing from the bigger, heavier-looking Teslas. The car is unlocked with a credit card waved against the windscreen pillar – or you can set up your smartphone to unlock the car as you approach.
Push the flush doorhandles – 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. There’s the added bonus of a flat floor with no transmission hump, but headroom is a little tight for taller adults who could brush the sloped, full-length glass roof that the Model 3 gets as standard.
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 dashboard 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, the windscreen wipers and more.
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, which is also a bit plasticky-feeling and too chunky for our tastes.
In practice, it's these wheel-mounted controls that you use to control most functions, including the audio and cruise control. While the Model 3 does get an impressive array of safety aids as standard and fared extremely well in Euro NCAP crash-tests, the semi-autonomous driving mode that Tesla is famous for is a £5,800 option.
If you do add it, Tesla says an even more advanced city-driving autonomous system (which claims to read traffic signs and respond to them automatically) will be available soon.
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 the mid-range 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 feel a touch jerky, especially in reverse. However, Chill mode helps to smooth it out a bit, and it never stops you enjoying the build of power and fierce acceleration that puts more expensive machinery to shame.
The same can be said of the Standard Range Plus, which has a lot less power at 245bhp, but still feels enthusiastic and willing on UK roads and will give almost any hot hatchback or junior sports car a run for its money, despite its 'entry-level' place in the Model 3 range.
That rear-wheel-drive layout doesn't hurt its potential, either. It feels grippy and confident even in quite enthusiastic use, and even with some faster running we managed around 230 miles in real-world driving.
While the Performance model is intensely quick in a white-eyed, sweaty-palmed way that nothing else at the price can come close to, there's no doubt that the Long Range and even the Standard Range Plus is more than fast enough to satisfy enthusiastic drivers.
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 Tesla 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. 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, 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-tron, Jaguar 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.