Despite sparking public interest with the large Model S and even larger Model X, Tesla’s intent to democratise electric motoring charged up a notch with this executive car-sized Model 3, launched in 2019. It’s been a runaway worldwide sales success, offering all the high-tech, drama, range and modernism of the larger cars in a smaller and more affordable package.
Three flavours of Model 3 are available: Standard Range Plus, Long Range and the flagship Performance version. On the road, it’s very good, with even the entry-level, rear-wheel-drive Standard Range Plus managing 0-60mph in 6.1sec. However, the Long Range and Performance models have four-wheel drive and not one but two electric motors.
At low speeds, the two lower-spec models jostle you around quite a bit. Oddly, the Performance version on its sports suspension and massive 20in wheels is the most comfortable Model 3 on motorways.
It certainly handles well in Performance guise. The Long Range version is tidy, too, just with a bit more body lean and a little less grip. However, the Standard Range Plus feels altogether less balanced and less confidence-inspiring.
Being a pure-electric car, the Model 3 is, unsurprisingly, whisper quiet at town speeds. However, there’s quite a lot of tyre noise on faster roads, when you can also hear the wind around its frameless doors, despite double-glazed side windows.
You get essentially the same touchscreen infotainment system that features in Tesla’s larger models, although the Model 3’s screen is slightly smaller (15.0in) and a landscape rather than portrait format. The layout of the screen is intuitive, and while some of the smaller icons can be distracting to hit accurately while you’re driving, at least the system is quick and responsive once you’ve made your selection.
Front-seat occupants are unlikely to complain about space. There’s similar leg and head room in the back of the Model 3 to the BMW 3 Series – comfortably enough for a six-footer to sit behind a driver of a similar height. The boot isn’t huge, but there’s actually more space for luggage than in conventional executive rivals, thanks to a massive well under the main boot floor and the extra storage under the bonnet.
Prices for the Model 3 Standard Range Plus start at £37,000 for a 2019 car. Expect to pay more for the two higher-spec models, between £40,000 and £45,000, which is the same budget for a 2020 version of the standard car. You’ll need upwards of £45,000 for a Long Range or Performance car from 2020.
Need to know
The Standard Range Plus is WLTP-certified for 254 miles, the Long Range 348 miles and the Performance 329 miles. A 2020 facelift upped the Standard Range Plus to 267 miles, the Long Range to 360 miles and the Performance to 352 miles.
Tesla has had a poor reputation for build quality and reliability but there are signs that this is changing. The Model 3 finished in first place in the electric car class in the recent reliability survey carried out by our sibling title What Car?, with an overall score of 99.4%. Tesla as a brand finished in a disappointing 29th place out of 31 manufacturers in the same survey.