First Drive

First Drive: Tesla Model 3

The story:
Tesla’s third model line is potentially the most important, bringing the previously pricey technology and brand below £40,000 for the first time.
Category:Compact Executive
Key rival:N/A-yet
Tesla Model 3 Performance
MPG:329 Miles
On sale:Now

This is a big one for the progression of the electric vehicle marketplace. Tesla has long been the electric market leader for range, technology and driveability, but only for those capable of splashing out on top-end luxury models.

However, that all changes with the new Model 3, which takes Tesla down to less than £40,000 for the first time, with a new compact executive-sized car akin to a BMW 3-Series.

And becoming smaller and cheaper doesn’t impact upon the car’s range. The Model 3 comes in two forms – the rear-drive Standard Range model, which offers an official WLTP 258 miles of range along with a 5.3 second 0-62mph time, or the Dual Motor all-wheel drive Performance model, with its 329 miles and bonkers 3.2 seconds.

First Drive-July 2019-Tesla Model 3-Image 2The button-free interior Tesla has become known for is present and correct, although the large central touchscreen now sits horizontally. It looks less integrated into the car, positioned as if fastened to the dashboard. It’s still more user-friendly at a standstill than while driving, and is sometimes a little slow to depict the large screen mapping. Even the speedo and driver information are in the centre screen, which leaves a beautifully uncluttered dashboard, but the lack of information in the driver’s eyeline would be solved if a head-up display were fitted as standard. Until then, it is a distraction to check the car’s speed, sat-nav directions or information such as battery level.

Tesla is pitching the Model 3 as more of a sporty drive than its larger Model S and Model X vehicles, which are incredibly rapid but not necessarily so fulfilling from a keen driving perspective. What’s instantly noticeable with the new car is its grip and minimal body roll, which means it can handle impressive cornering speeds.

As a result, the ride is a little on the firm side, not helped by the kerb weight exceeding 1800kg (about 300kg more than a new BMW 3-Series). This does though make the performance even more impressive. It can be too much at times, but there’s a comfort setting that slightly blunts the throttle response for less intense driving. But when you want the Model 3 to really go, the acceleration can make your brain ache.

The sweeping shape doesn’t help rear visibility, which could be better both via the rear-view mirror and over the shoulder where the rear pillar is fairly thick. Rear passengers will complain more about headroom than legroom.

Boot space is pretty healthy, with 425 litres spread between a decent-sized rear luggage area and another smaller spot under the bonnet. There’s also a deep cavity beneath the rear boot floor for storing charging cables out of the way.

Paul Barker

The verdict

Another very impressive introduction. The Model 3 has the range, pricing, tech, handling and performance to bring another raft of converts into the electric vehicle fold.