Last updated on July 26th, 2020 at 07:01 pm
Whichever Tesla Model 3 you choose, you get a car with the potential to humiliate hot hatches and many high-spec executive saloons. Even the Standard Range Plus can hit 62mph in 5.6 seconds (or 60 in 5.3 seconds), so even a BMW 330i would be given something to think about in a straight line. The Long Range drops this down to 4.6 seconds (4.4 seconds to 60), which is M3 territory, and the Performance will hit 62mph in 3.4 seconds (60 in 3.2 seconds), which will make Lamborghini drivers jealous.
Whilst most EVs and plug-in hybrids lose out in handling due to having 100-200kg more than the equivalent fossil fuel car, the Model 3 manages its weight well, thanks to most of it being low down. The Standard Range Plus is quite a bit lighter than the other two models, at 1,645kg versus 1,847kg. However, the use of all-wheel drive in the other two means that they cope with accelerating out of corners with surprising proficiency. If you’re used to a hard and focused dynamic such as you get from BMW M-car, Mercedes AMG or Audi RS, you might not quite enjoy the same flat sporty cornering from the Model 3, but having more acceleration available makes for a slightly Porsche 911-like driving style, where you scrub off speed before the corner knowing you can put it right back on with ease past the apex.
If you choose the cheapest power options, the Model 3 is only a little more expensive to run than a much more average EV, with a cost of 3.19p per mile for the Performance edition (calculated at 14p per kWh). But once you start to make full use of the Supercharging facilities, you will be paying around 80 per cent more, and as our test driving showed you can halve the range or more with spirited driving.
Unsurprisingly, the Model 3 sits in very high insurance groups, too. The Long Range and Performance are in Group 50, whilst the Standard Range Plus is just a couple of notches lower in Group 48. Putting that in perspective, a BMW M3 is only in Group 45, as is a Mercedes C63. The warranty varies with the model. The basic cover is four years or 50,000 miles, whichever comes first, but the battery and drive unit have a longer warranty of eight years, with a 100,000-mile limit for the Standard Range Plus and 120,000 miles for the Long Range or Performance. Best of all, this includes a minimum 70 per cent retention of battery capacity over the warranty period. These are all passed onto the next owner when sold second hand, too.
Of course, you would gain all of this back and more from tax benefits from zero benifit-in-kind (BiK) as a company car like any EV. When we discussed this in detail, we used the Standard Range Plus as our example, but even the much more expensive Performance would only cost £702 in tax for a 40% taxpayer over three years of usage as a company car. If your company was willing to buy this car for you to use, you'd be a very happy driver indeed.
The Standard Range Plus comes with a 54kWh battery, whereas the Long Range and Performance use 75kWh units. The end results are quite different in each case. The Standard Range Plus has a reasonable but not amazing WLTP distance of 254 miles, but the Long Range offers a much more impressive 348 miles, and the Performance a slightly reduced 329 miles. However, it’s worth noting that you will really need to take the lead weighting out of your accelerator foot to achieve this. We had a spirited 26-mile motorway drive and managed to take nearly 20 per cent out of our Performance test vehicle’s battery, so you’re likely to manage less than half the WLTP range if you drive it like you stole it. For a longer journey, you will really need to engage Chill mode and keep to the meaning of that word. It’s nice to know that you can hit 60mph in 3.2 seconds, but in everyday situations we’d recommend behaving more like a Prius owner if you want to travel a long way. Then you could just about get from London to Newcastle, perhaps with a short stop along the route.
That said, recent Teslas have further increased the lead the company has for rapid charging if you use their own Superchargers. The Standard Range Plus supports 170kW V3 Supercharging, whilst the other two versions can use 250kW Superchargers, if you can find one. This means you could get back to 80 per cent capacity in 20 minutes – just enough for a quick coffee and slice of cake while you wait. Even with regular public 50kW chargers, you can get to 80 per cent in under an hour, making the service station meal a viable break option.
These are all very practical, making a journey of many hundreds of miles entirely viable, so long as you take a charging break every few hours and don’t drive like a lunatic. The Standard Range Plus’s shorter range is mitigated by the smaller battery, which takes less time to charge. The Model 3 doesn’t qualify for free Supercharger usage, however – that’s still reserved for the S and X.
There has been a lot of discussion around the safety regarding Tesla’s aims to make its cars self-driving, but the technologies involved with enabling this capability actually help make the Model 3 a very safe car. It’s packed with sensors that do some very clever things. There’s a forward-looking radar, eight cameras, 360-degree sonar, and (of course) GPS. One natty ability is that you can see all the cars around you as detected vehicle types, so the car will tell you if you’re close on every side. In traffic it’s very cool to see all the other road users depicted on the LCD screen. If any of them get a bit close you’re notified.
The cruise control has an adaptive mode that senses the car in front and keeps you a safe distance behind but matches speed – great for average speed zones. There’s a further option to keep the car in its lane, although you’re not supposed to go to sleep or eat a pot noodle with this turned on. You’re meant to keep your hands on the wheel just in case. But this is a sure-fire winner to take some of the stress out of commuting in heavy traffic. The Model 3 also received five stars in every Euro NCAP category, so will keep its occupants and pedestrians as safe as possible in an accident.