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First Drive: Tesla Model 3

Tesla’s smallest and cheapest model takes away all reasons not to go electric, finds Jonathan Musk.

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SECTOR Compact Executive   PRICE £38,500-£52,000   RANGE 254-348 miles

In automotive terms, Tesla’s David has challenged the industry’s Goliath. Taking on the major players at their own game, with an electric powertrain in place of an internal combustion engine isn’t an assured way to win favour, customers or profit.

What Tesla has managed with the Model 3, however, is nothing short of remarkable. Competing against some of the most popular business cars, including the BMW 3 Series, Mercedes C-Class and Audi A4, was never going to be easy. Yet, Tesla’s engineers have cleverly and successfully deconstructed and then re-built what we’ve come to expect from a car in this segment. For instance, the Model 3’s reasonably small exterior proportions belie the cavernous interior that’s made possible from a combination of electric gubbins being stuffed under the floor, as well as headroom increases due to a glass roof as standard. Boot space is also massive, but note that access into the rear is only via a saloon-style slot because of the aforementioned roof that negates any hatchback possibility, and yes there’s also a front boot.

The result of all this ‘new’ thinking is something that looks reasonably conventional, with only subtle differences, but that is really very different to anything else you might find gracing a showroom. Mercifully, while previous Tesla models struggled with build and material quality, the Model 3 doesn’t because that back-to-basics approach has helped the firm construct its best vehicle yet.

On the road the car is easy to drive and rewardingly quiet. There’s some wind noise, but nothing obtrusive and handling is perfectly balanced thanks to the car’s exceptionally low centre of gravity and centred weight distribution. All controls except the indicators and wipers are bundled into the touchscreen, which makes it a little tricky to poke correctly when at speed, for example to change the regenerative braking level. Glancing left to read the speedo also takes some getting used to. But driving the Model 3 is a fundamentally enjoyable experience. Acceleration is neck-snappingly rapid, and range anxiety disappears into insignificance. There’s also a definite level of refinement present in Model 3, that’s absent from Model S and Model X, despite being the cheapest of the three.

Inside, the single-beam featureless dashboard only has a 15-inch touchscreen and steering wheel to liven things up – there aren’t even adjustable air vents – which aids interior quality and creates an unusual BauHaus minimalist design. It’s a very pleasant place to be sat.

Famously in “production hell” Model 3 can be ordered in various guises, with Standard Range or Long Range battery, and rear- or all-wheel drive. The base model is the key fleet choice, while the top-spec Performance option offers blistering acceleration with 0-62mph in just over 3 seconds, should you feel the need.

A major deviation from Tesla of old is the introduction of CCS rapid charging, and the car also comes with the fastest charging battery on the market (bar the Porsche Taycan). In real terms, this means less time spent charging and more places to charge, adding convenience.

Useful for fleets, the car has no physical key and instead relies on being unlocked using either a mobile phone or a key card, which should add convenient car-sharing.

The Verdict
Crucially, Model 3 lives up to expectations. It offers a successful minimal design that costs Tesla less, but hasn’t come at the expense of quality. Although relatively expensive, its running costs should more than compensate.

The Lowdown
Key Fleet Model: Model 3 Standard Range
Strengths: Smooth drive, clever design
Weaknesses: Restrictive boot, fiddly touchscreen

Star rating
4.5/5

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Jonathan Musk

Jonathan turned to motoring journalism in 2013 having founded, edited and produced Autovolt - one of the UK's leading electric car publications. He has also written and produced books on both Ferrari and Hispano-Suiza, while working as an international graphic designer for the past 15 years. As the automotive industry moves towards electrification, Jonathan brings a near-unrivalled knowledge of EVs and hybrids to Fleet World Group.

3 Comments

  • Rick Reinhard18. Dec, 2019

    Having owned both Nissan Leaf and Tesla Model 3
    It would be interesting to see an actual cost of ownership between the two companies approach to battery management.
    The Leaf is very clear cut on energy use, it only uses energy while driving.
    The Tesla uses Energy as needed to keep the battery in its optimal temperature for long battery life. It appears that this can cost as much as 30% of your daily energy consumption
    I know I will get crucified by the Tesla believes and by the way I Love my Tesla and ordering a Model Y for our second car in our 2 car family
    But would still be interested in the comparisons

    • Tim James29. Dec, 2019

      Yeah, likely to get crucified.
      Vampire drain on Teslas is about 1% per day.
      Up to 5% on older small battery Model S’.

  • Clark Mills17. Dec, 2019

    “the car also comes with the fastest charging battery on the market (bar the Porsche Taycan)”

    Good review, one comment: For the Taycan as confirmed by the recent EPA milage of 201miles, the Taycan might charge at a slightly higher rate
    but because the Taycan is only about 60% as efficient as the Tesla it effectively charges at a much slower miles/minute rate. Ie. in 15 minutes
    you get far more miles in the “tank” in a Tesla than a Taycan.