Tesla. Hero? Villain? It’s complicated and we only have ten paragraphs, so as ever the best way to deal with any Tesla product is to put the baggage to one side and take an objective look. So is the Model 3 actually any good at being a car, and how does it stack up against the mainstream competition?
The best place to start is the price. Viewed against the massive expectations of a cut price model touted by Tesla and the resulting internet speculation of prices beginning with a ‘2’, the Model 3 has missed the mark by a country mile. However take a step back and you realise that whilst the Model 3 isn’t affordable, it is very competitively priced. If you were going to take your hard earned cash and get either a Mercedes C-Class or a BMW 3 Series the reality is that you would probably have spent a similar amount.
Next comes the styling. The exterior takes a bit of getting used to thanks to the grille being conspicuously absent but fundamentally the Model 3 is well proportioned and distinctive. It is also incredibly slippery which helps with high speed efficiency. Unlike the Model S the 3 is a saloon so dog owners take note. In addition to troublesome pets you will also get grumbles from adults that try the rear seats as the seat base is far too low leading to a knees in the air like you just don’t care position.
The interior will, and indeed does, split opinion. To some it is a clever reinvention of the dashboard, to others it is too simple and lacks style.
The bit we have a big problem with is the lack of any instruments in front of the driver. We have always criticised dashboard layouts that take key driving information away from the driver for the sake of ‘style’, it isn’t big, and it isn’t clever and no amount of PR will convince us otherwise. The other issue is that to maintain the minimalist design ethos everything is controlled through a very large central touchscreen (which also displays the speedometer) which whilst slick to operate simply isn’t as convenient as bigger physical short cut buttons or iDrive style controllers particularly on bumpy or fast roads.
But the key thing is the driving experience. The Model 3 is rear-wheel drive, it’s more agile in the handling department than the larger Model S, and of course the electric powertrain has instant torque meaning rapid, linear acceleration. Then there’s the Performance model, which is winning sales from BMW M3 drivers – especially as we approach the zero percent Benefit in Kind tax change for EVs in April 2020.
Of course one thing Tesla has always excelled at is the excellent Supercharger network. However there is a curve ball with the Model 3 adopting the CCS charging standard. Tesla is retrofitting Superchargers to provide an additional CCS connector (for Tesla only) to allow the Model 3 to use the network. It also means that for the first time you can recharge at any public Rapid charger with a CCS connector without needing an adapter. On a less positive note Model 3 drivers have to pay to use the Supercharger network.
The adoption of CCS opens up access to next generation public networks that are currently faster than Tesla’s network with charging powers of up to 350 kW whilst still having the convenience of using Superchargers. The Long Range Model 3 will be able to charge at a peak 250 kW to make use of the new V3 Superchargers that are being rolled out, although Tesla tends to taper charging power early so you won’t get the full power for very long, but charging will still be impressively quick. However the Standard Range Plus variant is capped at around 145 kW again with average charging rates somewhat below this peak figure due to heavy tapering. AC charging is handled by an 11 kW onboard charger.
Of course a key question is how far you can go between charging, and here the Model 3 does OK but isn’t spectacular. The smallest battery option officially covers 254 miles which is similar to cheaper mainstream EVs. You can of course hand over more cash and get a bigger battery with more range.
So the Model 3 isn’t perfect. It hasn’t moved the game on in terms of affordability and with its smallest battery at least it also fails to pack much more range than cheaper mainstream EVs. It has a questionable interior and the rear seats are for children only. However it is a very serious rival to the likes of the BMW 3 Series and Mercedes C-Class, enables genuinely rapid charging and access to the much bigger CCS network and crucially has sold in serious numbers. The Model 3 isn’t perfect but it is good enough to make the German’s sweat and that is a major achievement.
Estimated real world range: 200 – 254 miles
Official range: 254 miles
Official electricity consumption: TBC
Battery pack: 62 kWh (gross) lithium ion; 8 year / 100,000 mile warranty >70% SoC
Recharge time: 7 kW charge approx 8 hours+; 11 kW approx 5 hours+; Supercharger 145 kW approx 1 hour (0-100%)