Tesla Model 3 review

The Tesla Model 3 goes on sale in mid-2019, with prices for the long-range Dual Motor models starting at around £52,000. We drove the range-topping Performance model in America.

Pros

  • BMW M3-beating performance
  • Great perceived quality
  • Shorter-range, rear-wheel drive models will be cheaper

Cons

  • Top-end models are pricey
  • Rear passenger space is a bit pokey
  • No head-up display

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, although we went to America to do it, we’ve actually driven it.

To be more specific, we drove the range-topping Dual Motor Performance model, which is expected to retail from around £62,000 in the UK when it arrives in mid-2019, and will cover 329 miles under new WLTP tests. The Performance model tested here is the all-out nutter of the Model 3 range, complete with a 0-62mph sprint time of 3.7 seconds, but there are (or will be) cheaper options.

Long-range and short-range models will be offered, and while prices are yet to be confirmed, given how it’s shaping up in other markets it’s reasonable to speculate that the Model 3 line-up will start with a rear-wheel drive model offering around 220 miles of driving range, and a price of somewhere around £40,000. A sweet spot in the range could well be the standard, all-wheel drive, Dual Motor model with long-range battery that brings a driving range of 338 miles, a (still, hardly tardy) 0-62mph of 4.8 seconds and a price expected to come in at circa £52,000. 

Charging happens via a Type 2 or CCS cable, giving you access to the public fast charging network as well as to the rapid Tesla Superchargers. Find one of the latter Tesla-only stations in a long-range Model 3 and you can charge from 10% to 80% in some 45 minutes, while a standard 7.2kW home car charger will take you from 10% to 100% battery charge in less than 13 hours. 

In terms of the way it looks, the Model 3 is smaller, cuter and seems imbued with a pertness that’s missing from the bigger, heavier-looking Tesla models. and of course, never would Tesla expect you to use something as archaic as a key with your Model 3; you unlock the car with a credit card waved against the windscreen pillar – or more likely with your phone, which you can set up to work just like Tesla’s normal 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 that ranks as one of the Model 3’s closest rivals. So, knee room isn’t too generous but there’s the added bonus of a flat floor with no transmission hump.

It feels a bit tight compared to boxier-shaped saloon rivals such as the Audi A4, but it’s comfy enough and the door apertures are big enough to get in and out easily. You’ve got a choice of front or rear boots with a combined 425-litres of 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, and the rear seats split and fold. Slide into the rather comfy 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 car 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 more 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 that control the audio or standard autonomous tech.

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. Audi good? No. But not too far off and an apparent improvement on the occasionally patchy fit and finish you can find in the Model X and Model S. 

We opted for Sport mode rather than Chill in the drive modes, and set off to revel in the sort of brutal acceleration that makes almost any petrol car feel sluggish. This sportiest Model 3 will get from 0-62mph in 3.7 seconds but in reality the way it fires off the line – no fuss, no tyre squeal, no raucous engine noise – just vicious acceleration with no other sensory distractions, it feels more rabid than the numbers suggest and not even far off the quickest Model S for sheer shock and awe.

Even a slight tickle of the throttle from any speed will shove you back into your seat with rollercoaster-like ferocity. You’ll never tire of it. The Model 3 also has a delicious dexterity to the way it handles that the naysayers will claim only internal combustion engine-cars can have due to an EV’s battery weight.

Sure enough, the Model 3 is never as delicate and playful as a BMW M3 or Mercedes C63, but it grips stoically, turns in precisely and keeps its body ruthlessly in check. It’ll stick to its line with a neutral, steadfastness that’s no less enjoyable than what you’d get in a petrol or diesel four-wheel drive performance saloon. The Performance model also drops the ride height slightly as well as tweaking power up to around 450bhp, and the official range of 329 miles seems pretty realistic even though we did our best to dent it.  

While prices in Europe may be more of a stumbling block than initially thought given the Model 3’s American starting price of $35,000, there’s no denying that the baby Tesla still punches where it matters against conventional petrol and diesel rivals. 

In fact, among a of sea of legends, the Tesla Model 3 stacks up as one of America’s greatest cars. It’s not perfect, but it offers something exciting and enticing – notably tech and performance - that you can’t yet get elsewhere in this price range and class of car. 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 publically reported company difficulties and that growing competition, the Model 3 still feels like a trailblazer. Different, but in all the right ways.