The Tesla Model 3 offers impressive performance, great range and a unique take on car design. It’s an expensive EV but one of the best
The Tesla Model 3 is one of the best EVs around: practical, high-tech and boasting great performance and an impressive range. The Model 3 feels futuristic when compared to its closest rivals, most of which are conventionally powered executive saloons; understated styling hides a sophisticated electric drivetrain with a choice of one or two motors, plus a minimalist, ultra-modern interior that’s dominated by a huge touchscreen that’s both infotainment system and party piece.
The Tesla Model 3 is the smallest and cheapest car in the range but doesn’t feel too far off the larger Model S in terms of quality or practicality. The pared-back interior feels airy and is big enough for four adults to travel in comfort with plenty of head and legroom; combined with the serene refinement afforded by its electric powertrain, the Model 3 is a very relaxed car in which to spend time.
It’s not all about comfort and refinement though – the Model 3 Performance model uses an extra electric motor to push 335kW to the wheels, resulting in an 3.2-second 0-62mph time. There’s no gearbox, so power is delivered in a linear, unrelenting and very addictive manner.
If you can afford it and aren’t intimidated by the amount of cutting-edge technology, the Tesla Model 3 is one of the very best electric cars on sale today. For a few thousand pounds more than a Kia e-Niro you get a product that feels more special and luxurious – though reliability is still unproven.
10 Jul, 2019 4.8
Externally, the Tesla Model 3 looks much like a shrunken Model S thanks to simple, unfussy lines, curvy bodywork and a grille-free front end. It’s a design that manages to look upmarket without appearing overly flashy. In fact, those who don’t know cars probably won’t take a second look. The car features a short bonnet that’s facilitated by its ‘skateboard’ chassis – the drivetrain and its batteries are mounted as low as possible in the car, creating more interior space and decent storage areas both front and rear.
Step inside and the Model 3’s conservative exterior is brought into sharp contrast by a futuristically minimalist interior. It’s almost entirely dominated by a central 15-inch infotainment screen that controls all major (and minor) functions, while even the air vents are tucked away neatly behind an otherwise plain dashboard. The only physical buttons are those for the windows and on the steering wheel, with the latter two being used to control much of the functions displayed on-screen.
Limited trim options keep things simple in what seems to be a well built interior filled with decent-quality materials. Its simplicity also bodes well for longevity too – squeaks and rattles shouldn’t be an issue.
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Sat-nav, stereo and infotainment
There’s a bit of a learning curve for users of the Model 3’s all-encompassing infotainment system, especially if you’re used to more conventional cars. We found the system largely intuitive but changing some settings proved fiddly – especially those that would have separate physical controls in other cars. The climate control system takes some getting used to in this respect but we quickly got used to its unique style of operation.
The 15-inch screen is standard on all Model 3s, as are four USB ports and docking support for two mobile phones. The screen is sharp, clear and amongst the very best we’ve ever tested. Clever features include an internet browser, sophisticated car information readouts and Telsa’s tongue-in-cheek features such as games, a virtual fireplace and even a simulated whoopie cushion (yes, really).
There's no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto support, with Tesla preferring to use its own method of smartphone integration. We had no problems with Tesla's on-board system, while the sat-nav system is particularly impressive.
Tesla has built a reputation for making cars that accelerate quicker than just about anything else on the road; the Model 3 follows suit, regardless of the specific powertrain.
The entry-level, rear-drive Model 3 is lighter than its more powerful counterpart thanks to a lack of a second electric motor, so the Standard Range Plus should feel a little more agile. Performance stats are impressive and should make sure the cheapest Model 3 is still faster than most EVs of similar size.
Those looking for the ultimate driving experience will be best served by the Dual Motor All-Wheel Drive Performance version. Acceleration is breathtaking, with incredible off-the-line performance and effortless overtaking. There’s enough power on tap to make short work of some of the fastest performance saloons around in most everyday situations.
Ride and handling aren’t quite up to the same awe-inspiring standards but are still very impressive. The Model 3’s steering feels quite meaty in all its modes and is accurate if not terribly communicative. The suspension feels firm but not uncomfortable, with good damping that manages to deal well with lumps and bumps. The Model 3 can’t quite match the BMW 3 Series for ride/handling balance or outright driving fun, but it’s not too far off.
Elsewhere, the Model 3’s brakes are powerful, smooth and progressive – not overly grabby as in some other EVs – and the car’s considerable weight is kept under control thanks to low-slung batteries and well judged chassis tuning. Overall, the Model 3 is a great steer – just don’t expect the last word in sporty dynamics.
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Engines, 0-60 acceleration and top speed
We are yet to drive the entry-level Standard Range Plus model but its performance on paper puts it ahead of most EVs of this size on the market. This model can get from 0-60mph in 5.3 seconds and go on to a top speed of 140mph thanks to a single 180kW motor.
The Model 3 Performance uses two electric motors to produce 335kW of power – the equivalent of 449bhp. That’s enough for a 0-60mph dash of 3.2 seconds and a 162mph top speed – figures that compare favourably with sports cars.
The Model 3 is so new that it’s very difficult to predict what owners will experience in the reliability department. Tesla has had a patchy reliability record in the past but its owners are famously enthusiastic and keen to extol the virtues of their cars. Tesla did not feature in our 2019 Driver Power owner satisfaction survey, so we’ll reserve judgement until the Model 3 has been on sale for a little longer. We can say, however, that our test car felt solidly put together.
Euro NCAP crash-tested the Model 3 and awarded it five stars, along with the all-time highest rating of 94% in the safety assist category. Tesla’s ingenious semi-autonomous Autopilot technology did not contribute to this rating, but the system incorporates autonomous emergency braking and sophisticated adaptive cruise control, amongst other systems. An optional ‘Full Self-Driving Capability’ pack can do just that (with active driver supervision) – the Model 3 can effectively drive automatically on the motorway, including changing lanes and overtaking. This system also includes automatic parking.
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A four-year, 50,000-mile warranty is standard on the Model 3. This beats key rivals on outright length but can’t match the mileage allowances of other premium manufacturers. The car’s batteries are subject to a separate eight-year, 100,000-mile warranty.
There are no set servicing intervals for the Tesla Model 3, with the car itself alerting the driver as and when a service is required. Over-the-air updates and remote diagnostics help make some smaller maintenance jobs more convenient, as do Tesla’s Mobile Service technicians. Fixed-price Tesla Maintenance Plans are available and can be transferred from owner to owner when required.
The Tesla Model 3 is intended to tempt buyers away from three-box saloons like the BMW 3 Series, Mercedes C-Class and Audi A4, so it makes sense that it also takes a similar approach to housing its occupants and luggage. It’s a four-door saloon with an ample boot, plus a separate storage area under the ‘bonnet’ – one of the benefits of doing without a traditional internal combustion engine.
The Tesla Model 3 is pretty spacious inside and its minimal design helps add a sense of airiness. It’s easy to get comfortable in the driving seat thanks to plenty of adjustment options and visibility is excellent; big windows all round and an unobstructed view forward add to the car’s easy-to-drive nature.
Measuring in at 4,690mm long and 2,080mm wide including mirrors, the Model 3 is slightly shorter and wider than a BMW 3 Series. It feels far better suited to British roads than its Model S and Model X siblings as a result.
Leg room, head room & passenger space
The Model 3 is designed to carry four adults in comfort and it manages that task well: there’s loads of space in the front, while rear-seat passengers get enough head and legroom to enjoy a longer journey – though foot space is lacking slightly.
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The Model 3 boasts a total of 425 litres of boot space when both front and rear storage areas are added together – shy of the BMW 3 Series’ storage space by around 55 litres. The rear boot seems large but a relatively small opening limits its flexibility when compared to hatchback EVs. The front boot is big enough for two small soft bags but can’t quite swallow suitcases like one on the Model S.
Flexibility is enhanced by split-folding rear seats and an extra storage compartment under the rear boot floor.
Most electric cars aren’t rated for towing but Tesla sells the Model 3 with the option to add a two-hitch for around £970 pounds. Tesla states that this cannot be added to the car retrospectively, however. Tesla claims that the Model 3 can tow ‘up to 910kg’.
Electric cars traditionally offer lower running costs than their internal combustion counterparts and the Model 3 won’t be an exception. You’ll need to pay to access Tesla’s network of Superchargers to enjoy the fastest charging times, but for the first time on a Tesla you’ll be able to use standard public chargers too.
Road tax is free thanks to the Model 3’s lack of emissions, while company-car users will also benefit from very low Benefit-in-Kind charges – 16% in 2019/20 and 0% in 2020/21. The Model 3 is also exempt from the London Congestion Charge and London Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) charge.
Electric range, battery life and charge time
We are yet to test the Model 3’s range in our own real-world tests but Tesla claims impressive ranges for both models. Its 60kWh battery is good for a range of 254 miles in the Standard Range car, while the 88kWh battery in the Performance version manages a claimed 329 miles on a charge.
Owners can pay for access to Tesla’s own Supercharger network, which affords the fastest possible charging options, but the Model 3 gets extra flexibility thanks to the inclusion of Type 2 and CCS ports to allow the use of generic public chargers. The charging port is located just next to one of the car’s rear lights and opens with the push of a button on the charging cable.
Charging your Model 3 should take around 107 minutes via a Type 2 cable for a full charge, or just 36 minutes from zero to 80 per cent via a Tesla Supercharger.
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Exact insurance information is not available at the time of writing, but we expect the Tesla Model 3 will occupy a higher insurance group than some of its more affordable alternatives. For reference, the cheaper Kia e-Niro sits in group 28 and the pricier Jaguar I-Pace occupies group 50.
Electric cars can suffer worse depreciation than some internal combustion cars, but the Tesla Model 3’s combination of desirability, high demand and relatively future-proof design mean it bucks the trend.
Our experts expect that the Standard Range model will retain just over 66 per cent of its value after three years and 36,000 miles, with the Performance model expected to hold on to an impressive 72.8 per cent of its value over the same period.