TESLA: Model 3 Review – An affordable entry to the US brand18 October 2019
If your lifestyle and work balance supports an electric car, the Tesla Model 3 is an ideal choice. Factor in a competitive leasing rate and it’s in a prime position to steal punters away from both EV and non-EV rivals.
The Tesla Model 3 is the first affordable, mass-produced model in the American manufacturer's all-electric range, offering customers something very different from conventional fossil-fuelled rivals such as the BMW 3 Series, Audi A4, Jaguar XE and Alfa Romeo Giulia.
There are myriad clever features, from the key that's actually your smartphone to a single-slot air-vent that can somehow adjust airflow and direction as if by magic.
The newest Tesla is a clear evolution from the design of the Model S but with greater emphasis on the amount of interior space that can be gained owing to the absence of a conventional combustion engine. This has resulted in a bonnet that is much shorter and a rear window that stretches almost to the tail, maximising room for passengers and their luggage.
Inside, it’s much more interesting. To open the door you use a smartphone app or hold the credit-card-like key next to an oval sensor on both B-pillars.
The cockpit is simplicity and minimalism itself. In the driver’s line of sight is a steering wheel, a couple of column stalks and that’s your lot. There aren’t any buttons on the centre console, just a pair of cup holders and some deep detritus storage bins.
Everything important is controlled by the 15in touchscreen bolted to the centre of the dashboard. Adjusting the steering wheel, checking your speed, making a call and listening to the radio are all controlled by Tesla’s bespoke software.
It’s a mix of welcome modernism and frustration all blended into one technological roly-poly. The Google Maps-based satellite navigation is reassuringly simple to use. But searching the menus to adjust, say, the windscreen wipers or direct ventilation flow is a distraction, and for the speedo to be positioned in the centre of the car – admittedly in the top right-hand corner of the display for RHD cars – is bizarre.
The air vents themselves are concealed in a slim full-width crease and looks like a design feature rather than a vent.
The rest of the cabin is more familiar. It certainly feels airy and spacious and is quite comfortable throughout and you’ve got a choice of front and rear boots with a combined 542 litres of storage space. Access to the rear luggage space is good by class standards and the boot lid is hinged to lift higher than most saloons. Meanwhile, the rear seats split and fold to reveal the surprisingly large luggage area.
Trim grades and equipment
The three available variants of Tesla Model 3 are based more on electric motor power output and battery range, than how much – or little – kit you get for the price.
In the UK, the line-up consists of the ‘Standard Plus’ (as tested) with its 254 mile range. Next is the ‘Long Range’ (348 miles) and ‘Performance’ (329 miles). The Standard Plus has just one electric motor driving the rear wheels, while the Long Range and Performance models have two motors driving all four wheels.
The equipment list is pretty much standard throughout the Model 3 range: 18- or 20-inch alloys, electric front seats, heated mirrors, heated seats, parking sensors, navigation, etc.
The audio sounds excellent and you can go digging into the menus for more information on range, where to charge, how to plan a journey – and even set up the car’s digital suite of whoopee cushions so that it farts when using the indicators. Yes dear people, this EV has a fart mode…and some are even quite tuneful.
On the road
Whether slugging through traffic, cruising at 70mph, or having a bit of fun in the countryside, the Model 3 proves a fine companion. Pootle along gently in town, or cruise on dual carriageways and motorways, and it’s docile, comfortable and easy to drive.
The motion lever is on the steering wheel, and after you select D you’ll only really need one pedal. So strong is the regenerative braking — which recoups energy to top up the battery and kicks in when you stop accelerating — that you need the left pedal only for hard stops.
Unless you stomp on the accelerator, there’s no sudden surge and little hint of quite how fast this car can be. Pull out of a junction, join the motorway from a slip road, or just head off down a main road and there’s very little drama.
But drama is something you wouldn’t want in everyday traffic anyway – that’s best kept for the Performance variant. Mind you, step things up a notch and you quickly discover how fast the Model 3 can be. It has a turn of pace that can not only easily leave others in the rear view mirror, but also feels shockingly quick.
With its linear and seamless power delivery, the 0 to 60mph experience in a fast Tesla is a truly bewildering experience. It's quite a heavy car, with a kerb weight of the Standard Range Plus weighing in at 1,645kg, but it doesn’t really feel it when you thread it along your favourite back road.
The suspension keeps the EV composed through corners, with just a little body roll when you’re really pushing hard. Despite this agility and keen handling, the Model 3 still soaks up the worst road lumps and bumps. If ride comfort is your priority, we would recommend sticking with a smaller choice of alloy wheels, however.
Being a Tesla, the Model 3 comes with Autopilot as standard, with adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping. You still have to rest a hand on the steering wheel just so the software knows you’re still conscious and breathing, but the Model 3 will accelerate, brake and steer while monitoring the vehicles around you.
Indicate left or right and Autopilot will also judge if it's safe to change lanes and complete the manoeuvre for you. It's the most intuitive semi-autonomous tech driving available right now and regularly gets better thanks to live, over-the-air updates from Tesla.
Leasing a Model 3 gives you access to Tesla’s own network of Superchargers that allow you to charge the battery (from 10-80 per cent) in as little as 30 minutes. In Tesla UK’s early days, recharging was free but now you have to pay each time, but at around £14, the price is still reasonable.
You can also charge at any public CCS charging point. This method takes longer (around 1hr 15min) for the same 10-80 per cent top-up, whereas a full 0-100 per cent charge at home using a 7kW type 2 charger takes 11hr 45min which is no big deal overnight when at home.
In recent Euro NCAP crash testing, the Model 3 scored the highest-ever figure in the safety assist category, with an impressive 94 per cent. Its overall five-star score includes excellent ratings for adult and child occupant protection, and it scored well in the vulnerable road user category too.
Thanks to its semi-autonomous Autopilot technology, the Model 3 wears a myriad of sensors and cameras that can help protect occupants by alerting them to danger and even braking or steering itself around obstacles.
If your lifestyle and work balance supports an electric car, the Tesla Model 3 is an ideal choice. It’s great to drive, packed full of tech, is fast and even quite practical. Sure, the ride is more firm than some of its rivals, but it’s never uncomfortable even over our crusty UK roads.
Factor in a competitive leasing rate, it’s in a prime position to steal punters away from both EV and non-EV rivals.
* Browse our top leasing deals on the new Tesla Model 3.