From £41,9908
Subtle updates don’t address any of the 3’s fundamental shortcomings, but this remains arguably the most compelling EV on sale

What is it?

Cast your mind back to summer 2019, when the Tesla Model 3 arrived in Britain and sightings of its globular form had us pressing our noses up against the glass of our own, suddenly quite archaic-feeling combustion cars. 

Tesla’s most affordable offering has, in the short time since then, gone from being almost non-existent on our roads to feeling commonplace, especially in London. And this despite it being considerably more expensive than EV hatchback stalwarts such as the Nissan Leaf. In fact, so strong is the brand and capable the product that Tesla’s junior saloon regularly tops monthly EV sales charts in Europe, with only Renault’s Zoe able to keep up. True, at this precise moment, Volkswagen’s box-fresh ID3 – the car ‘seeking forgiveness for Dieselgate’, as Jim Holder accurately put it – is the EV that European buyers want most, but with vital statistics inferior to the American car in almost every way, don’t bank on the novelty factor lasting.

To help its cause, Tesla has given the Model 3 an early facelift, though one less comprehensive than those traditionally applied to cars four or five years into the model-cycle. Call it a refresh. The range still consists of three variants, our test car being the entry-level, rear-driven Standard Range model, while both the Long Range and Performance use two electric motors to give them four-wheel drive and larger battery packs that push range from 254 to more than 350 miles.

Performance is brisk whichever powertrain you have, and the 283bhp motor in the Standard Range not only propels the car to 60mph in 5.3sec but does so in a manner that feels considerably quicker those numbers suggest.

What's it like?

The most significant addition to the car is the heat-pump from the Tesla Model Y mid-size SUV. I’ll admit, it’s hardly the most exciting upgrade, but is important because powertrain efficiency, rather than brute battery size, is what helps Tesla’s achieve its class-leading driving ranges, and this new pump improves matters in cold weather.

The trade-off is that some space in the ‘frunk’ has been sacrificed, but nose-to-tail this remains an impressively spacious car. The other side of the coin is that Tesla is now fitting Michelin’s excellent Pilot Sport 4S tyres, which don’t exactly scream ‘low rolling resistance’. Quite the opposite. 

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Aesthetically, you can tell the updated car by its satin-black door handles, and the subtly updated design for the aero-covers that clip onto the 18in or 19in alloy wheels. The same satin-black finish is dotted about the interior, where you’ll also find two new USB-C ports and a useful two-phone charging pad below the 15in touchscreen, which is unchanged and continues to control almost everything that the steering wheel and pedals do not. The place feels smarter, no question, and all cars are now fitted with an electric tailgate.   

And to drive? Well, the Model 3 gives off the same exciting and largely intuitive but slightly misconceived vibes it always has. The car is agile and responsive, and superbly airy on the move, with its full-length panoramic roof and barely anything to corrupt the simplicity of the wooden trim that runs along the dashboard top.

It’s a shame, then, that the spring rates are so high. This is undoubtedly to make the car feel sporty, but it has the side-effect that ride-quality is unnecessarily reactive both about town and at speed. The steering is also accurate but dumb, which is disappointing because the rear-driven Model 3 is not only well balanced but also throttle-adjustable. Lift while cornering and the nose darts inwards like you'd expect for any mid-engined sports car worth its salt. Nobody would expect Porsche Taycan-grade steering from a car half the price and whose engineers are less experienced at that kind of tuning, but so long as the potential for genuine driving satisfaction remains this clear, it’s frustrating to see it go unfulfilled.

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Should I buy one?

Overall the Model 3 is, as ever, difficult if not impossible to look past at this price-point.

Kia’s excellent e-Niro is perhaps a more rational choice at £33,000, being similarly spacious and with 282 miles of range, but the Tesla is out of sight in terms of performance and general fizz, before you consider the Supercharger network. Expect to see even more on the road.

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Add a comment…
teddygranty 11 April 2021
I bought tesla 3 sr+ in oct 2019 with blue metallic and white interior for 39240 sterling. Only issue was condensation not clearing from rear light cluster but was replaced at local tesla centre under warranty no questions asked. I was given a Tesla S as courtesy car for a few days.
I have a drive so no issues with charging at home. Im a moderate driver doing mainly B road and city driving with occassional motorway drive (70-75mph). overall efficiency for me for 17000miles is 230Wh/mile. Note I dont use aircon much, heater only. mainly myself only in car and a good full boot of surveying instruments(probably the weight of say a passenger)
HiPo 289 7 December 2020

It's not just a car either.  An EV is more than just a vehicle, a status symbol and an object of interest.  It's also a component of an entirely new model of energy and transportation.  With an EV, you can generate your own fuel, for free, at home, using solar panels.  You can power your EV with renewable energy from the grid.  You can help balance power on the grid by charging in the middle of the night when rates are low and even get paid for doing it.  In time, vehicle to grid technology will even help you power your house, or charge up with cheap electricity and then export it back to the grid when prices are high, earning you money.  An EV opens up a whole world of possibilities than an ICE vehicle can't hope to compete with.  I like classic cars as much as the next old bloke, but an EV is a revolution that hasn't even started to have an impact yet.  As a gearhead, you've got to love that. Plus, frankly, it doesn't fill your garage full of fumes when you start it.  That's quite nice too.  

runnerbean 5 December 2020

I concur with the positive comments below, although the Model 3 Long Range Dual Motor is a much more useable proposition than the Standard Range Plus.  It may be at least £10K more, but the residuals are better so the whole life cost is very little different.