Tesla Model 3 Performance

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Say and think what you like about Elon Musk and the somewhat unorthodox way he conducts himself, what he has achieved with his Tesla brand is extraordinary. And whether you think he is a man who will change the face of personal transport in the early part of this century as did Henry Ford at the beginning of the last, or an opportunistic chancer whose brand will go down as no more than a footnote in the history of the automobile as did so many dozens of others a century ago, right now his cars matter.

They matter because for some years they have pioneered the trail that, rightly or wrongly but increasingly, now represents the future of motoring. And they matter because as the European bluebloods belatedly launch their rivals, Tesla never has and probably never will be under greater scrutiny and pressure to perform. And none has mattered more than this, Tesla’s fourth car, the perversely entitled Model 3.

No, it’s not Tesla’s Model T because even the cheapest version costs £38,000, but as that’s fully £30,000 less than the least expensive Model S, it is the first to come within the range of the merely comfortably off rather than the genuinely rich.

In fact most people are spending over £56,000 to get this ‘Performance’ version of the Model 3 for reasons that will become immediately apparent when I tell you it will hit 60mph from rest in 3.2sec. Not only that, but because of the instantaneous way the front and rear electric motors deliver their power, it feels even faster. Its ability to go from parked to full thrust in a literal blink of an eye is unlike that of any conventional car. At first it is bewildering. Only after a while does it become quite exciting.

“It makes those German super saloons seem like mopeds. It doesn’t look very fast, but it is”

But first you have to figure out how to operate it, which for most people will be via an app on their phone, at least as far as entry and egress is concerned. While there is a key (a credit card actually), you don’t need it.

So you climb aboard, settle in the seat and wonder where the dashboard has gone. Other than two little thumb operated rollers on the steering wheel, there is not a button to be seen. These rollers – which have multiple functions – two column stalks and the enormous central touchscreen are all the controls you get. And, indeed need. The screen is easy to navigate, has superb definition and both displays and controls the vast majority of the car’s functions.

But I like having basic information, like how fast I’m going, in front of my eyes. So why no head-up display projected onto the screen with no need to interfere with the minimalist purity of the dash design? It’s a surprising and disappointing omission.

Nevertheless, the Model 3 is a pleasant thing in which to just bumble about, and if that’s all you do, you can expect to go over 300 miles between charges. At first I didn’t like the fact the car slows dramatically when you lift the throttle so it can harvest energy, but most will get used to it and those who do not can switch the feature off, after which it’s easy to modulate the power. It is also very, very quiet in here.

It rides well too, especially when you consider its traditional rivals will be stiffly sprung Germans like the BMW M3 and Audi RS4. But amid all that novelty value, a certain sense of occasion is missing. There’s no growling motor. The dashboard is clean to the point of sterility. For your eyes and your ears, there’s just not enough going on.

But then you find a stretch of road and launch it. Instantly all those German super saloons seem like mopeds. In a straight line they’d be eating its dust. And the fact that there’s been no drama makes its performance even more shocking. It doesn’t even look like a very fast car. But it is.

It’s fast in the corners too, despite its weight. The steering is exceptionally quick for a car such as this, but doesn’t feel nervous or hyperactive. It steers pretty faithfully, though as speeds and effort levels rise there’s little sense that the Tesla is starting to take the strain. It just does what it’s been doing.

It’s quite strange. Not bad, just strange. The Model 3 does nothing to excess: there’s no terminal understeer nor snap oversteer. In fact it’s one of the most neutral cars I’ve driven. But the sensation is not of such neutrality from the inherent balance of the car, but instead because that’s how its brains have deemed it to be. You can almost sense it thinking. ‘OK, so he’s just turned in too fast and lifted off the throttle at the same time. What an idiot. So we’d better shuttle some torque over here, dab a bit of brake over there and save this sucker from himself.’

It’s like the electronics have promoted themselves up the chain of command. It’s as if your actions are mere instructions to the computers, which they then read, redact where necessary, and send on down the line. It can be fun, but so can driving a simulator. It doesn’t feel like conventional driving.

It’s been a while since I last drove a car that was so hard to get to know, and that is part of its appeal. Owners will still be finding out more things about theirs months and years after taking delivery. I found the Tesla Model 3 usually entertaining, occasionally infuriating but always fascinating.

But to me the sound of a multi-cylinder engine and the feel of a chassis executing your instructions directly rather than giving the impression of first being approved by electronics is more appealing. Then again, I’m a 53-year-old man and those are the cars with which I have grown up. I expect more youthful generations who have already spent years of their lives driving cars on computers will find this new Tesla compelling. So I expect it will be a success, and while it will never be a car that I crave, I’d say that, on balance, that success will be deserved.


Tesla Model 3 Performance

Price £55,900
Engine Twin electric motors, 75kWh lithium ion battery pack
Power 444bhp
Weight 1730kg
Power to weight 257bhp per tonne
Transmission direct drive, four-wheel drive
0-60mph 3.2sec
Top speed 168mph
Range 330 miles
CO2 0g/km
Verdict Complicated, but rewarding


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