What's it like?
In a word, startling. I drove the Model 3 Performance just after experiencing the Dodge Challenger Hellcat Redeye for the first time and can honestly report that the acceleration of the Tesla is only fractionally less impressive than that of a supercharged 800-horsepower muscle car. But while the Dodge does its thing to a furious soundtrack, the 3 delivers its organ sloshing longitudinal G-forces without drama or apparent effort. The chassis can digest even stamped throttle starts without squeaking or slithering, and with no more noise than the whine of the electric motors.
Full bore starts are huge fun – it is impossible to experience one for the first time without muttering expletives – but they are far from the Model 3 Performance’s only trick. As we discovered when we drove the regular car for the first time earlier this year, the quality of engineering in the 3’s powertrain and chassis runs much deeper than the brand’s detractors would have you believe. The Performance is as impressive being driven gently as it is giving it all.
The speed of response is outstanding, illustrating the biggest difference between a brawny EV and an internal combustion performance car. The Model 3’s throttle response is effectively instantaneous and the lack of a gearbox means there’s no delay in the drivetrain: every throttle input is translated into immediate effect, acceleration arriving as quickly as your toe can move. Even a conventional car capable of matching the Performance’s 0-60mph time would never keep up on real-world acceleration.
On Michigan backroads, the Model 3 stayed impressively flat under hard cornering, although tighter sequences do make its considerable mass feel obvious: 1850kg on Tesla’s US numbers. Yet it always feels a measure more agile than the staid Model S when asked to change direction quickly, with some active torque management helping it to turn and hold a line effectively, if with little sense of driver involvement. The only thing that seemed to unsettle it was the combination of a big bump and a loaded-up bend, with a brief moment of indiscipline as the wheels unloaded. It was certainly the first time I’ve encountered power-on oversteer in a Tesla.
The rest of the Model 3 remains true to the brand's established values. Arrive in the cabin straight from a similarly sized upmarket model and the interior will feel minimalistic to the point of being empty. It certainly takes a while to get used to the delegation of almost all functions to the vast central touchscreen, even the glovebox needs to be opened via it. The more traditionally minded would probably appreciate a few more conventional buttons, not least of all for the heating and ventilation functions. But this is Tesla's way and – in the manner of the deliberate distinction that used to be made between Apple and Window operating systems – customers seem to like it.