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.
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.