The Model 3’s range, charging ability and performance mean this pioneering EV can still compete with rivals like the BMW i4 and Polestar 2
The Tesla Model 3 has a function that lets you project a whoopee cushion noise to any seat within the car – or outside via the car’s external speaker.
It also lets you turn your on-screen car into a model of Santa’s sleigh and plays jingle bell sounds when you indidicate.
And, when you’re parked up and charging, it lets you play a variety of old-school arcade games on its 15.4-inch touchscreen.
It’s all very entertaining and my kids thought being able to project fart noises at pedestrians was hilarious, but it’s also hardly the stuff on which a car succeeds or fails.
Tesla Model 3 peformance and range
Beyond the in-car gimmicks and pie-in-the-sky tech promises, Tesla’s key strength has always been the power, pace and range offered by its motor and battery setup and the Model 3 is no exception.
Entry-level cars offer two-wheel-drive, 242bhp and a range of 305 miles. Our Long Range test car bumped that up significantly to a four-wheel-drive setup with 346bhp, a 0-60mph time of 4.2 seconds and an official range of 374 miles.
In the depths of a cold snap, the car suggested a more realistic 270 miles and even with the fans blasting and the heated seats on all the time, I was on target to achieve that. An average of 3.5 miles/kWh plus a big 82kWh battery is great news for longer-distance use, especially where you have access to 250kW Superchargers that can sling in an extra 200 miles of range in just 15 minutes.
And confidence in the car is boosted by the excellent range prediction and energy usage tracking that integrates seamlessly with the navigation.
The drive, too, mostly lives up to the Model 3’s promise. The acceleration is plain silly but handy for overtaking and the ability to make smooth, silent progress with instant power and an intuitive single-pedal drive function shows why most EV drivers swear they’ll never go back to ICE.
The handling is also a step up from its leaden predecessors, with quick steering and good grip but there’s not much in the way of feedback and a BMW i4 has the Model 3 licked for driving fun.
A bigger problem is the Model 3’s ride, which is acceptable at higher speeds but takes on the brittle jitteriness of an old supermini around town.
Design-wise, the Model 3 also has difficulties. A minimalist approach to styling means from some angles it looks sleek, slippery and futuristic, from others it looks like a squashed toad.
The interior carries on the design philosophy of less is more, with virtually no physical controls. Only the steering wheel, pedals and indicator stalk remain, with everything else – from seat adjustment to windscreen wipers controlled via the central touchscreen.
On the up side, this means the cabin is a bright, uncluttered environment with a low-slung clear dashboard and simple centre console interrupted only by the wireless phone charging pocket.
On the downside, it means you rely on the central screen for everything, including the speedometer – tucked into a small corner – and controlling functions such as lights (which, incidentally, are the worst of any new car I’ve driven). The screen is clear and responsive but messing with menus is simply not as intuitive or safe as having physical switches and having to look across the car to check your speed is distracting. The Ford Mustang Mach-e, with its slimline digital instrument panel and head-up display is a far better solution.
Technology aside, the Model 3’s cabin is a step up from the S and the X, with better materials and a more solid feeling construction. However, it still feels some way behind the premium levels of the i4 or Polestar 2. Space is good for four, although the sloping glass roof steals some rear headroom, and the front and rear boots offer plenty of luggage space.
There isn’t space here for a full exploration of the Model 3’s Autopilot. Suffice to say, it works as well as any other highway assist system. Which means it’s mostly fine at maintaining a distance or following lane markings but panics at the first sign of a complication and deactivates without warning. Like them all it’s not to be trusted, especially given the number of “cameras blocked or blinded” warnings I encountered over five days.
So like the whoopee cushion seats and Missile Command on the touchscreen it’s a gimmick that does as much to distract from the Model 3’s qualities as it does to enhance them. Because under the pointless baubles, the Model 3 is Tesla’s best car yet and one of the best mid-sized EVs on sale.
It’s fast and powerful with almost unrivalled range and a strong exclusive network of ultra-rapid chargers. If you can get on with the reliance on the touchscreen, some sub-par materials and the uninvolving driving experience there’s a lot to recommend.
Price: £49,990 (£55,490 as tested); Motor: Dual synchronous motors; Battery: 82kWh; Power: 346bhp; Torque: 376lb ft; Transmission: Single-speed, all-wheel-drive; Top speed: 145mph; 0-62mph: 4.2 seconds; WLTP range: 374 miles; Consumption: 3.88 miles/kWh; Charging: Up to 250kW