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Much ballyhooed ‘affordable’ electric saloon will be in showrooms later this year, making the question of its suitability for Britain’s awful roads look all the more urgent. We take it to some favourite ‘ride’ roads to discover the truth

Our Verdict

Tesla Model 3 2018 road test review hero front

Lowest-price, largest-volume Tesla yet has wooed the buying public in the US. Should UK buyers join the queue for a Model 3?

  • First Drive

    Tesla Model 3 Performance 2019 UK review

    Much ballyhooed ‘affordable’ electric saloon will be in showrooms later this year, making the question of its suitability for Britain’s awful roads look all the
  • First Drive

    Tesla Model 3 Performance 2019 review

    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

What is it?

There can’t be many people this side of the moon who would still wonder about the identity of the Tesla Model 3 if they saw one parked in the street.

Most people already know a lot from the papers and TV about Elon Musk’s electric marque, and especially about the BMW 3 Series-sized Model 3 that has generated a six-figure waiting list on world markets and which, after delays, will start bringing affordable Tesla motoring to the UK masses later this year.

We’ve already driven enough pre-production Model 3s in foreign parts to know about the car’s all-round strengths – torque, acceleration, smoothness and quietness – and also about the special driving techniques it encourages in its driver: smoothness with torque, minimal wheel twirling and a consciousness that when it coasts or brakes, it regenerates power.

However, this was our first chance to drive a Tesla Model 3 on UK roads, which raised questions we haven’t faced before. The biggest: how would the car cope with our uniquely uneven, lumpy and potholed roads? Would our noisy surfaces be a bother? Would the steering have the accuracy and feel needed for brisk progress on kerb-lined country roads? In short, could the Tesla Model 3 fit comfortably into the UK motoring scene when it arrives in numbers?

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What's it like?

The Model 3 line-up begins with the £38,900 Standard Range Plus, with its single motor and 258-mile range. The Long Range variant adds a second motor and starts at £47,900, but it's the £56,900 Model 3 Performance we're driving here, complete with sporty suspension rates, 75kWh battery, and its twin motors (one front, one rear) producing 444bhp and 471lb ft of torque to all four wheels.

It’s a version we’d tried before, though it must be admitted that another chance to drive a car as smooth as a gas turbine that generates practically no powertrain noise while it sprints from 0-62mph in 3.4sec (and can reach 167mph) is hardly second prize.

We drove on roads just outside London’s orbital M25 that we often use for ride comfort testing. It was instantly clear the Model 3, sportily suspended though it was, felt very good. Flat, firm, controlled. The car has a long wheelbase so its primary ride is very good indeed. Its damping is a little less sophisticated, so there was quite a bit of surface noise on the worst of our test route, but it was by no means as bad as the worst.

You sit maybe 50mm higher than in most saloons (there’s a battery beneath) so you notice body roll in very hard corners, but the car grips extremely well, at least on the bone-dry roads we encountered, and corners neutrally. Better, the suspension is entirely free from wheel fight in corners under power (a fault of cheaper electric rivals) and the car seems to have immaculate suspension geometry so the steering wheel stays rock-steady in your hands – thus the car always feels brilliantly stable – even when you’re really pressing it. Brake feel, a fault of earlier models, is powerful and intuitive.

The steering is very accurate if a shade lifeless against the best. There are three choices of rim effort (the lightest Comfort mode allows most subtle control, we found) but the car is always easy to manoeuvre. The front screen pillars are tree-trunk thick, but there’s a simplicity about the fascia (all functions, even glovebox opening, are touch-selected from the huge central screen), which leaves a feeling of airiness and driving simplicity.

Should I buy one?

You can’t summarise a car as different as this in an hour or so, which is what we had. But this is indisputably a fascinating, very capable car.

The Model 3 Performance easily answers that question about suiting British drivers and roads – it’s made for them. And the softer-suspended Long Range will likely do better still.

Tesla Model 3 Performance specification

Where Surrey, UK Price £56,900 On sale Now 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

Join the debate

Comments
49

1 May 2019

That interior is an absolute ergonomic nightmare. How do you check your speed? Take your eyes off the road and look at the massive iPad. How do you change the climate controls? Take your eyes off the road, look at the ipad to find out where the buttons have gone, change the primary function of the display by trying to tap a button that has no physical touch response or guidelines as to where it is and then work out where the button is now to change the temperature.

 

Touch screens in cars are a bad idea for usability. Trying to change podcasts while driving in my Mondeo is an aboslute no-no, even when using the supposedly driving focussed UI of Android Auto. The car doesn't even have a sub-display for my climate controls either, the temperatures for each zones being displayed in the status bar of the main touch screen, which isn't visible when using Android Auto or CarPlay. 

1 May 2019
tkemp22 wrote:

That interior is an absolute ergonomic nightmare. How do you check your speed? Take your eyes off the road and look at the massive iPad. How do you change the climate controls? Take your eyes off the road, look at the ipad to find out where the buttons have gone, change the primary function of the display by trying to tap a button that has no physical touch response or guidelines as to where it is and then work out where the button is now to change the temperature.

 

Touch screens in cars are a bad idea for usability. Trying to change podcasts while driving in my Mondeo is an aboslute no-no, even when using the supposedly driving focussed UI of Android Auto. The car doesn't even have a sub-display for my climate controls either, the temperatures for each zones being displayed in the status bar of the main touch screen, which isn't visible when using Android Auto or CarPlay. 

Absolutely spot on cmment.

Touchscreens have their place for 'some' functions, e.g GPS etc. But surely not for almost everything, as in Tesla Model 3.

In addition to what you said, there is the distracting glare of such a large screen, the muliple menus and sub-menus just to get to a particular, which require you to take your eveys of the road either repeatedly for a longer period than it is safe and the finger print smudge all over the place.

There is a reason why buttons, switches, knobs and controllers have been used for so many years, it's because they are easy to use, tactile and they work well. It's sad that this obssession with touchscreens everywhere means physical controllers have started to disappear from many cars.  And that's not to mention how utterly dull and charactless the deashboard of the Model 3 looks. It looks like windowsill with tablet on top!

1 May 2019
Overdrive wrote:

tkemp22 wrote:

Touch screens in cars are a bad idea for usability. Trying to change podcasts while driving in my Mondeo is an aboslute no-no, even when using the supposedly driving focussed UI of Android Auto. The car doesn't even have a sub-display for my climate controls either, the temperatures for each zones being displayed in the status bar of the main touch screen, which isn't visible when using Android Auto or CarPlay. 

Absolutely spot on cmment.

Touchscreens have their place for 'some' functions, e.g GPS etc. But surely not for almost everything, as in Tesla Model 3.

There is a reason why buttons, switches, knobs and controllers have been used for so many years, it's because they are easy to use, tactile and they work well. It's sad that this obssession with touchscreens everywhere means physical controllers have started to disappear from many cars. 

And agreed again - using touch screens for basic controls is a bad idea. 

Heating / fan are much better and quicker as discrete controls.

Even for things like radio favourite stations, having six push buttons that you can select by feel rather than several stabs while looking at a touch screen is much better.

 

 

David W

1 May 2019
Overdrive wrote:

Absolutely spot on cmment.

Touchscreens have their place for 'some' functions, e.g GPS etc. But surely not for almost everything, as in Tesla Model 3.

In addition to what you said, there is the distracting glare of such a large screen, the muliple menus and sub-menus just to get to a particular, which require you to take your eveys of the road either repeatedly for a longer period than it is safe and the finger print smudge all over the place.

There is a reason why buttons, switches, knobs and controllers have been used for so many years, it's because they are easy to use, tactile and they work well. It's sad that this obssession with touchscreens everywhere means physical controllers have started to disappear from many cars.  And that's not to mention how utterly dull and charactless the deashboard of the Model 3 looks. It looks like windowsill with tablet on top!

I have never noticed any glare when looking at the screen. Also, the background changes from white to black in night mode.

Fingerprints can be annoying, so I keep a lint-free cloth in the door pocket and clean the screen whenever it needs it. The screen also has a "cleaning mode" which turns the screen black to make finderprints easier to see when cleaning. Once done, you simply touch anywhere on the screen for five seconds and the screen turns back on.

Coming from the Chevy Volt, I find the simpler control interface rather Zen-like. Instead of 50+ buttons, dials, switches, etc, I have two light switches, emergency flasher switch, two scroll wheels, and two control stalks on the steering wheel.

The car uses my phone as the key, detects me approaching, unlocks the car, turns on my tunes and A/C, and is ready to go.

1 May 2019

I have been driving one for 9 months now, and it took me about five minues to adapt to the interface.

1) The speed is diplayed in the upper left of the screen. It is in a large font and you can see it with a quick glance, or out of the corner of your eye. It is in no way distracting.

2) Climate controls are pretty automatic. You can turn them on remotely before you get in the car, of they simply come on when you get in. Temp is set to 70°. If it is hotter than that, the car turns on the A/C, If it is 5° cooler the heat.

3) Controls in the steering control cruise control setting and the volume on the stereo. The car remembers what you were doing last (Bluetooth, streaming, USB drive) and restarts that.

4) The major functions are accessible from the "Quick Controls" screen allowing you to adjust most eveything you want. It will then save those setting (including seat/steering wheel position) under a profile so you only have to adjust it once. If you share the car with other drivers then you can set up a profile for each, and select yours when you get in the car. Most of the control preferences are "set and forget".

5) Music streaming is voice command. Say "Play 'Make Your Mind Up' by Buck's Fizz", gets the song playing after about 5 seconds. It then continues streaming other songs in the same genre.

6) You can also call people by voice command, or set the GPS destination.

If anything, the lack of instrumentation/guages directly in front of my field of vision means I pay more attention to the road. Traffic Aware Cruise Control and Autopiot are invoked with the stalk on the right of steering wheel (left is turn signal, and wipers). Speaking of wipers, they come on automatically when it rains, but can be manually overridden for a car wash.

I find the car a joy to drive, and I've been driving electric since 2014, in a Leaf, a Volt, and now the M3. I will never go back to gas-powered driving.

1 May 2019

 Based on your short appraisal, the only stumbling block might be the starting price, unless the base model comes with a lot of tech, which we’re told is a must, this Car ain’t going to be cheap to buy, what would a PCP be for ?

Peter Cavellini.

1 May 2019
Peter Cavellini wrote:

 Based on your short appraisal, the only stumbling block might be the starting price, unless the base model comes with a lot of tech, which we’re told is a must, this Car ain’t going to be cheap to buy, what would a PCP be for ?

There aren't that many optional extras on the car to be fair, at least not on the base model. Metallic paint, different wheels and autopilot (at £5k) are the only things you can add.

So after a quick browse on their configurator, the base model looks like It's going to be around £550-£600 a month. Tesla don't seem to offer a PCP option, only Cash or traditional Hire Purchase. 

 

Definitely not the affordable EV for the masses it was touted as. 

1 May 2019

I think they use the terms incorrectly. The finance agreement I have on my Tesla is really a PCP with a very generous (i.e. high) minimum future guaranteed value that spreads payments on the basis of the car losing just 50% of its value over 4 years. I would then have the option to buy, but feel the chances of wanting to take up that offer are very low indeed (I'd be able to buy used much cheaper, or get a new model - perhaps Tesla Y).

1 May 2019

Apparently proper PCP is coming soon.

1 May 2019

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