We drive smallest, most affordable Tesla in the UK as prices for the Model 3 are announcedVerdict5The Model 3 is in a class of one at the moment, but that shouldn’t detract from Tesla’s achievement with its first ‘more affordable’ model. Yes, it’s still pricey, but it’s a car that drives brilliantly, looks great seems to be built just as well as other cars at the price and is full of the most advanced tech. That all adds up to make it just about the coolest car you can buy right now.
It’s fair to say we’ve got a bit of history with the Tesla Model 3. Five years ago, Elon Musk exclusively revealed to Auto Express the name of his company’s new, small model, so we were first to tell the world of the Model 3’s imminent arrival.
Now, after longer than we’d all hoped, we’ve driven it in the UK for the first time ahead of the cars reaching eager customers in a couple of months.
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Our drive coincides with the UK Model 3 configurator going live on Tesla’s website, along with the announcement of prices. The three-strong range starts at £39,800 for the Standard Range Plus with rear-wheel drive and a range of 258 miles tested under WLTP standards, going up to £56,900 for the Performance model with its 0-60mph time of 3.2 seconds and a range of 329 miles.
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Sitting in the middle is the car we’re driving, the snappily-named Long Range AWD – in this case a left-hand drive model, which is otherwise mechanically identical to UK cars.
It costs £47,900 and stretches the claimed range to 348 miles and is still pretty swift with its 362bhp from its dual motors giving a 0-60mph time of 4.5 seconds.
We drove the Model 3 in the US last year and were hugely impressed, but it’s a different challenge on UK roads and – in no time at all – the EV market has moved on with new models to challenge Tesla.
The Model 3 could only be a Tesla – its slippery shape is much like a Model S that shrunk in the wash, but cuter. You’ll be surprised how compact it looks in the metal, although at 4,690mm long it’s actually 57mm longer than a BMW 3-Series. The large side glass area helps to hide the car’s size, as do the short front and rear overhangs that are positively stubby.
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There’s no traditional front grille – as is the case in the latest Model S and Model X – with air intakes under the number plate and some nice detailing within the headlights that are narrower than the 3’s bigger siblings. It’s certainly a head-turner.
But it’s the inside with the real wow factor – not least because of the brave bright white leather seats of our test car, with matching inset across the width of the dash and on the door panels.
If that’s striking, it’s nowhere near as eye-opening as what stares back at you from the dash – just two things: a slim, crystal clear 15-inch touchscreen in the centre of the dash and a steering wheel with just two buttons on it and a couple of stalks behind. That’s it. No other buttons, switches, vents, displays – nothing.
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It takes minimalism to a new level; hot or cool air comes through what looks like a slim slot also running the full width of the dash above the white panel and behind the screen, while even sockets for smartphones (four in total) and storage space is hidden behind gloss black panels on the centre console.
Pretty much everything is controlled by the touchscreen with a series of main menu items along the bottom. The two buttons on the steering wheel will help out with audio and standard Autopilot functions, and activate the voice control, too.
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As we’ve come to expect from Tesla, that’s not where the innovation stops. Your smartphone is the key (at last!), although there’s a credit card-sized alternative, too. And no start button – the car knows when your phone or that card is inside and will just let you click the right stalk down to select drive and away you go.
That’s where the fun continues – you just can’t help yourself when there’s such instant force available every time you touch the throttle pedal. It can make reversing, in particular, a little jerky until you learn to modulate things (or you can select Chill mode for acceleration), but whether it’s from standstill or at motorway speeds the acceleration is an intoxicating and enjoyable experience that puts much more expensive performance machinery to shame.
All that performance, of course, is accompanied by near silence. A slight whine from the Long Range model’s dual electric motors (one over the front and one of the rear axle to give four-wheel drive) is more noticeable than in a Model S – this model is cheaper after all – and our car had a bit of wind noise around the side mirrors. Other than a bit of road noise, it’s impressively silent. All the better to enjoy the punchy standard 14-speaker surround sound system in, then.
If we had one worry about Model 3’s transition from US to UK it was with the ride. Worry ye not. Yes, it’s firm – more so for rear seat passengers than those in the front – but while you’re constantly in touch with the road surface, it’s easily forgettable. It’s best to describe it as sporty.
The 3’s weight of 1,847kg – over 300kg more than a BMW 320d, due mostly to the 75kWh battery – means it will feel different on the road, too. It won’t quite change directions with the alacrity of a 3 Series, but it stays flat (a weight benefit) and there’s plenty of grip.
The steering has Comfort, Standard and Sport settings, but we’d leave it in Standard where it feels pleasantly meaty even if it’s not the most reactive system we’ve experienced.
In short, the most fun from the Model 3 comes from the acceleration – and it’s addictive. Passengers will enjoy it, too, and there’s decent knee room in the back, excellent headroom in spite of the glass roof, but foot space is a bit tight.
The boot opening is a bit tight, too, but space is okay and it’s surprisingly deep. Combine it with the room in the ‘frunk’ (Califonian-ese for front trunk – we should call it a froot) and you get a total of 425-litres for luggage.
Back to the front seat and that screen – how easy is it to use on the move? Surprisingly easy, actually. The key information is next to the driver with the speed at the top – not too far away from the natural eye-line when driving.
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You won’t be constantly fiddling with most of the settings on the move anyway – although adjusting mirrors with a combination of the screen and steering wheel buttons isn’t the greatest piece of usability – but it’s quick and easy to become very familiar with using the system and the voice control works well.
For such a tech-savvy company, it’s a bit odd that you can’t get Apple CarPlay or Android Auto smartphone controls, though – Tesla obviously thinks its proprietary system is good enough.
It leads in other areas, though. Every Model 3 comes with Autopilot as standard; click the right lever down twice and it engages adaptive cruise and lane-keeping control, while the myriad sensors monitor what’s going on around the car and feed information to the screen, even showing the size of the vehicles around you. It means you can indicate while using Autopilot and the car will decide when it’s safe to change lanes and complete the manoeuver for you.
It’s the most intuitive autonomous technology you can currently get in a car and it will get updated as and when Tesla has a software update. Over the air updates for all of the car’s control and infotainment systems are free (and regular), although you’ll have to pay for on-the-go internet access after year one.
Model 3 customers will pay for access to Tesla’s extensive Supercharger network, too, although the new car comes with CCS charging compatibility opening up other DC fast-charging networks to owners.
Tesla is a company that’s never out of the news and build quality problems are frequently raised, especially given the pace with which the company is building Model 3s. But our test car was impressive – the materials look and feel posh, there were no squeaks or rattles and, frankly, the cabin is so minimalist there’s not much to go wrong or work loose.
- Model: Tesla Model 3 Long Range AWD
- Price: £47,900
- Engine: 75kWh battery, 362bhp electric motor
- Transmission: single speed automatic
- Power: 362bhp
- 0-60mph: 4.5 seconds
- Top speed: 145mph
- Range: 348 miles
- CO2: 0g/km
- On sale: now
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