A simple question deserves a simple answer – but don’t expect one here.
This question was asked on social media by Matt Miller in response to news that we were heading to Amsterdam for our first European test drive of the Tesla Model 3. “Interested to see how you think it compares to the standard, uppity sports sedans. Would you own a Tesla Model 3 over an Audi A4 or BMW 3 Series?”
This article was originally published on 30 March 2019. We're revisiting some of Autocar's most popular features to provide engaging content in these challenging times.
Well, would we? After the big build-up, is this the car that could finally make the electric vehicle usable, affordable, practical and viable for people not as a replacement for a city-hopper or school-run supermini or a family’s second car, but in place of a proper, good-sized, fairly high-mileage executive saloon?
We had 36 hours to begin finding some answers, with the keys to a range-topping Model 3 Performance in one hand and those for a brand-new BMW 330i M Sport in the other. We knew before we started, of course, that this would be only the beginning of a long process, and a critical year, in establishing exactly what the state of the zero-emissions passenger car art currently is. Of establishing, too, exactly how much the Model 3 moves the game on; and whether it’s quite the transformative car that Tesla’s ever-zealous supporters so desperately hope it’ll be.
An imperfect start, you might even say. You wouldn’t chose to line this particular Model 3 up against this 3 Series if you had the pick of both full model lines, after all.
The Model 3 Performance is one of only two versions of the car that are now on sale in mainland Europe. It has twin electric motors; 444bhp of peak power; and 471lb ft of torque from zero rpm; and it is good for 62mph from rest in what, I assure you, is a 3.4sec dash that gives new meaning to the word ‘startling’. It’s also likely to cost UK buyers in excess of £60,000 at list price. Cue a swift intake of breath.
The 330i M Sport looks, in some ways, like half the car on paper, with its 255bhp, 5.8sec 0-62mph claim and narrowly sub-£40k asking price – but, for the moment, it’s the most powerful petrol-powered car in the G20-generation 3 Series model range. It’s also a car you can refuel within minutes, almost anywhere you happen to want to stop, and it will cruise for a good 400 miles between fills.