When Martin Eberhard and Marc Tarpenning established Tesla Motors in 2003, with Elon Musk joining as chairman shortly after, the subject of this week’s road test was their ultimate goal. Namely, a low-cost, high-volume electric car with the kind of appeal that could wean us all off internal combustion for good. Perhaps it seemed like a distant vision at the time, but 15 years isn’t such a long time for such lofty ambitions to be realised, even in the automotive industry, and here we have the Tesla Model 3.
Musk would go on to oversee the design and development of the Lotus Elise-based Roadster (an example of which was recently used as a dummy payload for one of the Falcon Heavy test flights into space) and bring Tesla to the attention of the public.
Deliveries for the Model S saloon then started in 2012 before the Model X SUV arrived a few years later. Both electric cars were characterised by sleek, understated curves, a performance potential on a par with the quickest supercars from Italy and Germany and a driving range in excess of anything else found in the slowly unfolding market for zero-emission cars.
Such rapid, exciting growth with fledgling technology has come at a cost, though. Tesla has variously weathered a level of debt, production bottlenecks and quality control issues that have at times felt like existential threats.
But profitability is now on the cards, thanks to the Model 3. As a solitary offering, in the first half of 2019, it outsold Alfa Romeo’s entire efforts in Europe and is the sub-£40,000 Tesla for the marque’s legions of fan so far priced out of a Model S or X. If Tesla’s Fremont plant in California can turn these cars out quickly enough, it could prove a game-changer in the truest sense, temping not only those fans but also the wider buying public into EV ownership.
Whether those buyers can expect an ownership experience of sufficient calibre to match the vast hype is what we’ll discover today.
The Model 3 range at a glance
Three flavours of Model 3 are available in the UK: our Standard Range Plus test car; the Long Range; and the slightly more insane, flagship Performance.
The Standard Range Plus is WLTP-certified for 254 miles of claimed range and the Long Range steps that up to 348 miles. The Performance, meanwhile, has a claimed range of 329 miles but will also hit 60mph from a standstill in just 3.2sec. That’s very nearly supercar-baiting levels of accelerative performance.