From £39,9908
Range-topping electric saloon's two motors, fed by a 75kWh battery, send 444bhp to all four wheels, resulting in a 0-62mph time of 3.4sec and a WLTP range of 330 miles

What is it?

We're driving one of the very first examples of the Tesla Model 3 to hit European roads. Some said it would never make it here, others that it would never live up to the hype if it did. Experience teaches that you’re either with or against the ever-controversial Elon Musk and his world-leading electric car manufacturer.

And if you’re with him, you may very well be angrily shouting things at your keyboard right now, as I imagine fully paid-up members of the Teslarati habitually do when defending the company’s honour on social media. You may be shouting things about how Musk really does keep his promises and that we should know better than to question him. Hmm. About how despite early difficulties with the production volumes associated with the Model 3, Tesla has already smashed its 5000-cars-per-week factory target and is now aiming for 10,000. About how, having promised a $35,000 version of the car back at launch, Tesla has just delivered North American customers exactly that.

Let’s give the man some well-earned credit, then. Musk is, slowly but surely, realising a project considered by many so ambitious as to be way beyond his company’s abilities when it was first mooted. If the Model 3 succeeds, it will undoubtedly be the car that transforms Tesla from bit-part player to global player – although the recently announced downsizing of its global dealer network might suggest that outcome is still not guaranteed.

At any rate, the haters can clearly suck tailpipe on one score; while the Model 3 is still several months from becoming available in the UK and in right-hand drive form, deliveres have now commenced in Europe – albeit only in its richer and more expensive forms. And it’s the first Tesla to come here with a CCS charging port, so it’s compatible not only with Tesla’s own proprietary Supercharger network but also the majority of other public rapid chargers: another significant score on everyday usability.

Both versions that Europeans can now order have two electric motors and the biggest-available 75kWh battery pack. The Dual Motor Long Range is rated for a WLTP-accredited 338 miles of range, makes a combined 346bhp and will hit 62mph from rest in 4.7sec. The Performance we’re testing gives up a smidgeon of that range but counters with a combined 444bhp and a claimed 0-62mph time of 3.4sec.

The Performance, however, is likely to come to the UK pricelist with a five-figure price tag beginning in a six. But if you bought into the big sell about the everyman Tesla, don’t fear: there will be several lesser versions, the cheapest of which, the Standard Range, should be sold (50kWh battery, one motor, circa-220-mile range, sub-6.0sec 0-62mph time) in the UK at around £35,000.

But we’ll have to wait for another day to report on that. For now, it’s the range-topping Performance we’re getting acquainted with.

2 Tesla model 3 performance 2019 fd hero rear

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What's it like?

The Model 3 is smaller, rather than small, for starters, and perhaps not the most pleasing of Tesla’s cars to look at. It's taller-of-profile and a bit dumpier-looking than the Model S, with less agreeable proportions that combine a low waistline with a lot of glazed area. It’s not an objectionable shape to look at by any means, but there’s something about the front end in particular that makes it seem slightly bland and oddly characterless. Likely it’s the total absence of a radiator grille; it reminds us of those dream sequences in horror films in which somebody wakes up without a mouth.

The Model 3 has, just like its rangemates, frameless doors and a brace of cargo compartments. Space up front is good and visibility likewise, with leather chairs (you wouldn’t call them sports seats) sitting you higher at the controls than in most saloons of the size but very comfortably so.

Rear space isn’t quite at mid-sized saloon level: on head, knee and foot space, the Model 3 affords only as much room as a biggish hatchback. It's the sort of deficiency about which only a taller adult might complain, though.

Tesla claims 425 litres of boot space in total, which is comparable with what you’d get in any typical mid-sized saloon. The boot looks a little bit meagre until you realise that a good chunk of the space it appears to be missing is to be found under the bonnet. The rear seatbacks fold flat to allow you to expand the rear cargo area when you need to, but because the Model 3 has a bootlid rather than a hatchback, it doesn’t make this space as accessible as the Model S.

The Model 3's driving environment is the kind that you’ll want to spend a good half-hour getting to know before you glide almost silently off into the distance. At first, it seems there isn’t much to know: a slimline dashboard entirely free of switchgear; a steering wheel hosting only a couple of unmarked scroll wheels; a steering column with an indicator stalk on one side and a gear selector lever on the other; some usefully deep storage cubbies where the transmission tunnel would otherwise be; and a 15.0in infotainment touchscreen installed centrally, loud and proud, in the middle of the fascia.

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There's no instrument panel or head-up display, with the car’s instruments instead being displayed on the nearer third of the central touchscreen. We’d certainly rather have a speedometer, a speed limit display, a gear selector instrument and some indication of battery energy consumption displayed closer to the natural line of sight, but you do get used to finding the information you need after a while.

That said, some secondary controls are needed so often that they really do merit their own button, knob or bit of dashboard real estate: electric mirror adjusters, steering column adjusters, volume control, climate control and the like.

In some cases, Tesla makes dual use of fittings to give you the one-touch control you imagine you’ve been denied; the gear selector stalk doubles as the adaptive cruise control, for example. But even so, you’d say an interior like this, undoubtedly of better perceived quality than Tesla owners might expect but slightly bare and featureless, feels a bit empty and bereft. And when that fact hurts usability, why tolerate it?

14 Tesla model 3 performance 2019 fd dashboard

Perhaps because you’re in love with the way the Model 3 drives? You might well be. Compared with wider Model 3 specification, the Performance gets lowered steel-coil suspension, 20in wheels, upgraded brakes and specially developed Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tyres. That’s on top of a powertrain with four driven wheels, 444bhp and 471lb ft of torque from the word go.

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Even in a car weighing more than 1.8 tonnes, it’s enough to make for a lasting crick in the neck when you dive deep into the accelerator pedal’s travel at low speeds. Yet it’s not that ability that leaves the most lasting impression about the Performance. In fact, you barely need to tip into the accelerator to feel what it does best.

Even if you’re used to the instantaneous way a good modern electric car responds to throttle inputs and the uncanny feeling of linearity of control they give you over the rate of forward progress, the Performance will be a step up. It has two driving modes: Sport and Chill (the second no doubt christened for the approval of the Instagram generation). And in Sport, it has the kind of throttle response that would come as a surprise even to the owner of a Porsche 918 Spyder.

From low speeds, it’s almost too responsive: you have to use your big toe gingerly to avoid inadvertently activating the stability control away from T-junctions or finding yourself executing improvised overtaking manoeuvres when all you had planned was a nip into a lull on the dual carriageway.

At urban speeds, the Performance stands ready for gaps and opportunities you probably won’t even perceive, never mind contemplate taking. Compared to a modern combustion-engined car when reacting to a green light – wasting time, turn after turn, as its engine restarts, its crankshaft spins up, its transmission locks up, its turbos spool up and then it finally delivers the thrust you asked for three or four seconds ago – it’s off like a startled greyhound barely an instant after you’ve realised that your right foot has begun to move.

Up to about 50mph, it feels quite brutal at full power: supercar-fast without question but different in its synapse-quick responsiveness and uncanny seamlessness. But from there on, as the directly driven motors drop away from peak torque, its outright potency gets easier to deploy and process. Up to everyday motorway speeds, it still feels really muscular and properly sporting under your foot. Above that, the car apparently can go on all the way to 162mph, but we're not sure there are Superchargers close enough even on German autobahn to encourage us to witness the car’s ability to drain its battery at that sort of lick.

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While we’re on the subject, the Model 3's range doesn’t seem to be quite what the WLTP tests suggest, but it’s still pretty good. The best energy efficiency we saw over a couple of days of testing was the equivalent of 3.9 miles per kWh. So, driving like a saint with an aversion to more than 45mph, you might just get 300 miles out of a charge. Driving more typically, in mixed urban and out-of-town use and enjoying a biggish lug of power every now and again, you’ll get more like 2.8 miles per kWh, giving you 210 miles between charges.

From the longer-range derivatives, you might do 10-20% better. Even so, that’s similar to what you get from the Jaguar I-Pace and slightly less than from the Hyundai Kona Electric and Kia e-Niro. Not quite market-leading stuff, then, and certainly not paradigm-shifting in the way the Model S once was.

It’s also perhaps not the sort of electric autonomy that would have you disappearing in search of great driving roads at the weekend or taking the long way home. But if you did, you would find the Model 3 Performance handles well. It rides comfortably and handles keenly, in both cases better than either Model S or Model X manage, even if it feels rather like a heavy car doing an impression of a light one.

It doesn’t roll too much, but you sit higher in it than you’d like to, at greater altitude above the roll axis, and are therefore more aware of every degree of lateral lean. The car tries to cover for its weight with quick steering (two turns between locks) and by limiting torque at an axle that’s running short of grip, thereby helping to rotate itself in corners. It works well enough up to a point, and the car feels grippy, accurate and well-contained on a smooth surface.

The dynamic picture deteriorates a bit when the suspension has to deal with bumps as well as bends, though, when outright body control becomes poorer. It’s also a shame the steering isn’t more naturally weighted and doesn’t better connect you with the front contact patches. As it is, it feels anodyne and lifeless. 

These are the reasons the Performance eventually comes up short as a driver’s car – those, at least, combined with an electric powertrain that excites at first like an intravenous drug but might be less absorbing than a great combustion engine in a more lasting and meaningful sense. Assuming that comparison is an any way relevant, of course, and it may very well not be to someone who wants an electric car for what they consider to be altruistic reasons.

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22 Tesla model 3 performance 2019 fd otr nose

Should I buy one?

We dare say you’re either definitely buying a Model 3 or definitely not; either way, the outcome might not be up for debate. It's a polarising kind of car, if you’ll forgive the unintended pun. A proper Tesla, then.

All sorts of other questions ought to be answered before we get near to answering the big one. Is this now the market’s best electric car? Does it restore Tesla’s place at the vanguard of the zero-emissions market as carved out by the Model S in 2012? Is it a better driver’s car than any other electric offering? Is it the car many are hoping it might be? Is it good enough to deliver the electric car to a place where it’s a genuinely viable alternative to a big-selling, £40,000, combustion-engined compact executive saloon?

Some of those questions would clearly depend on a thorough test of a £40,000 Model 3 for an answer, and we haven’t driven one of those yet, but we’ll be getting as close as possible to a meaningful answer or two in an upcoming comparison test.

The initial impression is that this is certainly a better Tesla, a more viable everyday prospect and a better driver’s car than we’ve yet seen from the company. But it also has a much tougher life than the Model S seven years ago and still plenty to prove before we can call it the best of its kind. Audi, Mercedes-Benz, Volkswagen, Volvo and others will all have credible alternatives by the start of next year.

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On this evidence, the Model 3 will be well placed in the mix. It has the powertrain and the performance to stand out, technology that really distinguishes it, an interesting and fairly practical interior, access to charging infrastructure that should be the envy of most electric car drivers and a good enough range to compete - although we'll have to wait a while to be sure on that last front.

It also drives well, much as Musk might prefer Tesla owners not to be imposed upon to actually drive their cars at all, as he strives forward with development of the company’s autonomous driving technology with the kind of disruptive commitment that suggests he’ll be ahead of the curve of industry technology progress again before very long.

Until then, and with this car in particular, he’ll have to settle for a place somewhere near the front of the pack rather than being the leader of it. Luckily for the Teslarati, of course, he's not really one for settling.

Tesla Model 3 Performance specification

Where Amsterdam, Netherlands Price £62,000 (est) On sale Q2 2019 Engine Two AC electric motors Power 444bhp Torque 471lb ft Gearbox Direct drive Kerb weight 1847kg Top speed 162mph 0-62mph 3.4sec Range 330 miles (WLTP) CO2, tax band 0g/km, 16% Rivals Jaguar I-Pace, Audi E-tron

21 Tesla model 3 performance 2019 fd otr side

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Matt Saunders

Matt Saunders Autocar
Title: Road test editor

As Autocar’s chief car tester and reviewer, it’s Matt’s job to ensure the quality, objectivity, relevance and rigour of the entirety of Autocar’s reviews output, as well contributing a great many detailed road tests, group tests and drive reviews himself.

Matt has been an Autocar staffer since the autumn of 2003, and has been lucky enough to work alongside some of the magazine’s best-known writers and contributors over that time. He served as staff writer, features editor, assistant editor and digital editor, before joining the road test desk in 2011.

Since then he’s driven, measured, lap-timed, figured, and reported on cars as varied as the Bugatti Veyron, Rolls-Royce PhantomTesla RoadsterAriel Hipercar, Tata Nano, McLaren SennaRenault Twizy and Toyota Mirai. Among his wider personal highlights of the job have been covering Sebastien Loeb’s record-breaking run at Pikes Peak in 2013; doing 190mph on derestricted German autobahn in a Brabus Rocket; and driving McLaren’s legendary ‘XP5’ F1 prototype. His own car is a trusty Mazda CX-5.

Join the debate

Add a comment…
keithcsinclair 15 March 2019

TESLA Model 3 i

As a UK reservation holder for the Model 3 (or maybe the new Y) and keen to get behind a comparable BEV I recently took an albeit short test drive of a Jaguar I Pace. The I Pace is the looker but at £60k plus only available as a single model option. Once inside either as driver or passenger first impressions are of a traditional up to date premium offering however it falls terribly short on the tech front compared to what I have experienced with a Tesla (extended test of a Tesla Model S). There is a lot of talk from “legacy” car makers and some eg. Jaguar are making a effort and some still have to fulfill promises eg. Audi, Polestar (Geely/ Volvo), Porsche. My feeling is that Tesla are way ahead of the game; dominating their chosen market sectors in the USA particularly with the Model S and Model 3 - with only 3 models including the Model X they are outselling the ranges of each of MB, BMW and Audi who have been in the market for over 50 years. With assistance from China there are expected to open Gigafactory3 at the end of this year - the largest market in the world. I am looking forward to owning a Tesla and would not bet against the company. They will succeed one way or another. They are setting the Pace not Jaguar. Everyone else is playing catch up and they will be for sometime yet.

Kathulhu 14 March 2019

TESLA Model 3

 I am in my 60s and after an hour of adjustment to the high tech world, I feel that this is the most exhilirating car I have ever owned. Totally unmentioned is the fact that this car gets new features, free, by downloads to the car multiple times a year. AFTER I purchased the car Long Range all wheel drive, NON- performance, I received a dash cam-gratis. Next I received a number of fun silly features such as the car "farting" playing sleigh bells with the use of indicators at Christmas and now I received SENTRY MODE- 8 camera 360 degree recordeing as well as audible alarm and notification system if someone harms me car! I also received DOG MODE which maintains the climate hot or cold and notifies passersby of the function with a huge electronic sign on the dashbstating that the pet is comfortable etc. All free. Everytime Elon gets a suggestion or new idea-we get it zapped to us over the airwaves for free in our cars.It's like Christmas. The car drives amazingly and the acceleration is bonkers!I have NEVER been excited in 45 years driving until this car.

4foxtrot 14 March 2019

Bye-Bye Brum-Brum

Autocar enjoys Tesla / Musk / EV sneers.Maybe because Tesla dont advertise, dont follow trad-auto 'Stag'-Launch-bonding sessions ;-) eg Fly journos to nice places, get them p*ssed, with trad auto exec's, and let them crash cars with their mates :-) Looking forward to trying track mode - in near silence (and not from an armchair)