This is the car that is supposed to take Tesla mainstream; a sub-£40,000 (after grant) electric compact exec model with high-mileage potential
On the road
On the road
The Model 3 is, appropriately, the third car in Tesla’s current line-up, and by far its most affordable. While the executive-sized Model S kicks off at £86,200 and the large SUV Model X starts from £81,200, before the £3500 Government zero emission car grant, the lowest of the three Model 3 versions starts at £42,000, opening up Tesla ownership to a much larger potential audience.
The Model 3 is sized very close to a BMW 3-Series: it’s just 15mm shorter, 22mm wider and 8mm higher than the reigning Company Car Today CCT100 Car of the Year.
1. The big central screen that houses all the functions is fairly easy to navigate, although there is a lot of information across the various menus.
2. Tesla’s app is a handy way to monitor and control the car and various functions, and works well.
3. There are giveaways that Tesla is different from other car manufacturers, such as the lack of Apple Carplay, although it has Spotify and TuneIn radio built in. But connectivity isn’t the strongest point.
The differences between the Model 3’s three models in its line-up are significant in price and range terms, although equipment levels are similar on all three of the Standard Plus, Long Range and Performance variants. With a P11D of less than £43,000, the Standard Plus, driven here, is the entry point, but still offers a range of 254 miles and a 0-60mph acceleration time of 5.3 seconds. It’s the only rear-drive Model 3, with the higher two trims both switching to a dual-motor system, one driving each axle. The Long Range has, as might be expected, the longest range at 348 miles on the official WLTP test cycle, and does the 0-60mph dash in 4.4 seconds, while the Performance model has figures of 329 miles and a phenomenal 3.2-second acceleration time. The price gaps are £8500 from Standard to Long and another £5000 to performance, or £467, £581 and £641 per month respectively with Tesla’s PCP offering on 10,000 miles a year over four years.
Equipment levels are good on all the Model 3 specs, even if the company’s website is pretty dire at explaining what is or isn’t fitted to the cars. Apart from the drivetrains, there is very little spec difference, although the Performance model gets 20-inch alloys rather than the 18-inch wheels on the other two trims. However, all models get keyless entry, the Autopilot system, sat-nav running through the 15-inch central screen and various other bits and pieces including the Tesla app that will allow the user to check charge status, control the temperature, lock and unlock the car and other functions.
Tesla owners also get access to the firm’s Supercharger network, which will be familiar to anyone who frequents motorway service stations. However, while Model S owners can use it for free, Model 3 owners have to pay, but nevertheless the network makes a huge difference in terms of being able to use an electric car as a long-distance tool, rapidly replenishing the battery in 430 locations across Europe. The firm is increasing the number of what it calls destination chargers that it operates at the likes of hotels and restaurants across the country.
The cabin is dominated by the rectangular central 15-inch screen; in the Model 3 this sits in landscape orientation rather than the portrait form of larger Teslas. Everything apart from gear selection and indication is run through the screen, including wipers and mirror adjustment. It’s mostly logical, although the cruise control speed setting is frustratingly clumsy, and the lack of Apple CarPlay or Android Auto is a weakness in terms of smartphone connectivity. To partially counter that, Spotify and TuneIn radio are both fitted.
When we say everything runs through the screen, we really mean it, because all the car’s information is shown on it, and there’s no dashboard at all in front of the driver. Mostly that’s fine, but at night in particular, having to glance at the top corner of the screen to see the speedo is a distraction that would be eliminated were a head-up display to be fitted.
The big central storage areas are handy but the door pockets could be better (at least there are some rather than the early Model S design that went without), and the stowage area under the armrest isn’t particularly easy to access.
Quality throughout is generally high, even though there were a few creaks and rattles developing in the interior, which are amplified by the lack of engine noise to drown out such imperfections.
To drive, the Model 3 has very successfully taken on board the best features of the Model S. Even the ‘slowest’ model is sparklingly fast off the line, thanks to the instant performance of an electric car, and it handles really impressively, with the chassis feeling like the tyres will give up long before the car otherwise runs out of composure. It controls body roll very well, and encourages the driver to hold on to speed into bends. The regeneration settings are minimally adjustable, but in the most severe mode there’s a decent level of deceleration, bringing the car to an almost standstill without touching the brake.
All cars get the Autopilot system as standard, but it’s not yet at the point where it can be trusted to operate under anything other than the closest supervision. Despite the name, it’s certainly not an autopilot system, and glitches too often in terms of not being able to correctly read the road ahead, braking sharply for vehicles in adjacent lanes for example. The technology is developing quickly, and in very light traffic the Model 3 will maintain its speed, hold its lane and even change lanes without steering input from the driver, but it can’t yet interpret everything going on around it, and sudden harsh braking when there’s an empty lane ahead but a lorry in the neighbouring one can annoy following vehicles.
The ride quality is on the hard side, so you feel more bumps and ripples than expected, but it’s much better over bigger thumps and speed bumps.
The front boot is a handy extra place to stash the charging cable when not in use, rather than in the under-floor area in the boot, which means moving luggage to access. The rear boot has plenty of space, but be aware that it can only be accessed via a narrow saloon hatch. There aren’t any boot hooks or other cleverness, and that’s replicated inside, where there’s an absence of grab handles. Still, there are retractable jacket hooks on either side of the cabin.
Picking rivals for the Model 3 is tough because none of the premium brands is close to bringing out a full electric compact exec saloon, so it’s an eclectic mix of full electric models that are close in price, size or branding. We’ve plumped for the BMW i3 S, new DS 3 Crossback E-Tense and Nissan’s longer-range Leaf that launched last year. There are reasons why each of them would or wouldn’t be a rival, depending on your perspective, but very few people pick a new car without at least considering an alternative, and this is as near as it gets at the moment, given all four are covered by a £4000 range, little more than the Government’s grant level.
The Model 3 is a raging success in terms of bringing a practical, high-class premium electric vehicle with a long range and excellent driving dynamics to a much wider market, thanks to its comparatively low price tag. The Government’s grant takes this Standard Range Plus model below £40,000, which is well into the territory of a decently specced compact executive diesel, and that’s before you start adding up the company car Benefit-in-Kind savings. Don’t forget full electric cars are all zero BiK for the tax year that starts in April, rising to 1% and then 2% over the next two tax years. Take a Tesla Model 3 over a £40,000 160hp diesel Mercedes-Benz C-Class in April 2020 and the saving over three years will be more than £14,000 in company car tax alone, plus the fuel, VED and company National Insurance benefits.
Electric car demand is going to accelerate as rapidly as the cars themselves do, and company car drivers need to get on board with the savings. When the car itself is as good, and comparatively low-sacrifice, as the Model 3, which has its flaws and frustrations but nothing to put off the purchase decision, then it’s a financial no-brainer. It would be a sensible choice, even without the massive financial incentives to cement the decision.
Formed in 2003 and bankrolled by current chief executive and face of the company Elon Musk, Tesla was named after the Serbian-American electrical engineer and inventor Nikola Tesla and set out as a technology company seeking to progress the market for electric cars.
Its first car, the Roadster, was based on the Lotus Elise and sold between 2008 and 2012, but the bigger breakthrough came with the Model S executive saloon, which has been on the market since 2012. That was joined in 2015 by the Model X, an SUV complete with dramatic falcon wing rear doors. The Model 3 was unveiled in 2014, with first deliveries taking place in America in 2017 and the car finally getting to the UK in the second half of 2019.
The company claimed over half a million reservations in the three months following the Model 3’s 2014 unveiling, and it helped propel Tesla to the top of the worldwide EV sales chart in 2018.
Tesla is taking deposits on four other future models – the 250mph 2020 Roadster, Model Y smaller SUV, the Tesla Semi truck and the Cybertruck pick-up (pictured) revealed late last year and due for production in 2021, with a claimed 250,000 pre-orders by the end of November 2019.
What they said
What They Said
"The Model 3 is a smaller, simpler and more affordable electric car. Designed and built as the worlds first mass-market electric vehicle, it is a critical step in Tesla's mission to accelerate the world's transition to sustainable energy."
"Like every Tesla vehicle, Model 3 combines range, performance, safety and technology. Intelligent design maximises interior space to comfortably fit five adults and all of their gear. The high-efficiency powertrain provides zero to 60 mph acceleration in as little as 3.2 seconds."
Need to know
Three things we like...
The front boot is a handy extra bit of load space to store cables
Various hidden features are childishly endearing – such as Fart Mode
Tesla’s supercharger network offers fast-charging reliability for customers
...And one we don't
The Autopilot/adaptive cruise control system isn’t yet ready for use on UK roads
Even the ‘slowest’ Model 3 has plenty of punch, and the handling is really impressive in terms of body control and cornering ability.
Standard Range Plus models have a shorter range than some other EVs can offer, although more expensive Model 3s lead the way across the industry.
Main boot is a decent size, aided by additional front stowage area. Rear headroom is slightly tight but otherwise good space for four.
There are few optional extras in the traditional sense, but the Model 3 is pretty well kitted and innovative.
It’s not exactly a stand-out design, and has shades of various other brands, as well as sharing cues
with the larger Model S.
Comfort and refinement 7/10
Ride quality isn’t the softest, especially over minor road ripples, but the Model 3 navigates speed bumps and larger thumps better.
There are a couple of hefty stowage areas and the material use and design are classy. But there were some creaks and rattles.
Everything runs through the big screen, although smartphone connectivity is below par because there’s no Apple CarPlay or substitute. Everything is fairly navigable and easy to find.
Whole life costs 8/10
The biggest downside among the costs is the very high insurance group. But RVs are at premium level and BiK is zero from April 2020.
CCT opinion 9/10
Very impressive for the money, and it’s a car to bring new people to EVs.
The Model 3 takes EVs into new ground in terms of a compact exec saloon with a competitive price and serious range. It’s not perfect, but does plenty very well.