By Mark Nichol
The Tesla Model 3 is the most popular electric car on the planet, believe it or not. Tesla overlord Elon Musk announced that Tesla was going to build a mass-market electric car in 2016 and even though everyone knew it would do well, few predicted that this £40-60k runabout from, let’s face it, basically a brand-new car company would become so amazingly successful. In 2021, the Model 3 passed the 1 million sales mark worldwide, and in the UK specifically it officially overtook the Nissan Leaf in April to become the number-1-selling electric car in the country.
In total, 3 versions are available: Standard Range Plus, Long Range, and Performance. The 1st has a single 296hp electric motor driving the rear wheels and a 54kWh battery, good for a 278-mile claimed range. The Long Range model has 2 electric motors and an 83kWh battery, meaning all-wheel drive, 367hp and a 360-mile range. Performance also has the twin-motor set-up and bigger battery, but power goes up to 462hp, good for a 3.1-second 0-62mph sprint. That’s as quick as an Audi R8. Yikes.
It's available in 5 stylish colours with various interior choices for those who like to customise, check out our Model 3 colour guide for details.
What’s Good About It?
You don’t even have to drive a yard to know that it’s just, well, amazing. See, the Nissan Leaf… and most current electric cars to be honest… pun… they try to make a virtue of being ‘normal’. They do that because we’re in a transitional phase to electric at the moment and so most manufacturers have decided to entice buyers into this new technology by making the experience as conventional as possible.
But here’s a car that you can play games in using the steering wheel while you’re waiting for KFC to bring your order out. And that you can connect to your phone using an app, then use that app to do fairly normal things like check and control the charging of your battery or using your phone as a key, or awesome things like monitoring the exterior of the car… or hilarious things like setting off the horn remotely when someone is walking past. Also opening the boot from somewhere else, which again, seems to have more value as a prank than a convenience.
On top of that, there’s the existence of Tesla’s Supercharger Network, which is almost certainly the catalyst for the Model 3’s inordinate popularity. It’s the most extensive and fastest charging network in the world! Check out our Tesla Supercharger explainer for more info.
What Could Be Better?
Although the Model 3’s cabin is arguably its most alluring feature, at face value anyways, it also just doesn’t have the depth of quality that you’d get from a £40,000+ car built in Germany. Tesla actually calls the basic version a ‘partial-premium interior’, which you could translate to ‘semi-fancy’ if you like. You could also argue that the design is minimalist to the point of looking unfinished. Aligned to that, because the Model 3 has most of its controls and all its driver info housed in the massive central touchscreen, driving and operating the thing takes some getting used to. Still, 1m people and counting seem to be okay with it.
What’s It Like To Drive?
Very few cars, including other electric ones, have the Model 3’s sense of futuristic idiosyncrasy. And very few of them are as fun to drive. The combination of the way it steers, and the turn of pace, and the motor on the back axle, and the responsiveness, and how natural the brakes feel… it all adds up to something pretty special. A fascinating blend of the past and the future.
Why the past, you ask? Well, take away the big screen and the electric drivetrain and, aside from having a very plain-looking cabin, you’d have a surprisingly rough-and-ready driving experience. There’s more glass in the Tesla than in an average car because the windscreen is tall and the roof is glass too, as standard. The pillars are thin by modern car standards, and in general the Model 3 feels quite small around you. All-round visibility is amazing, even though you sit quite low in the cabin. The short bonnet feels a bit like a Porsche’s front end from the driver’s seat, which helps give this sense that you’re piloting an old-school sports car.
It’s comfortable, too. Its suspension is on the softer side, making it good at gliding over potholes and broken roads, but the flipside is that it doesn’t ever settle into perfectly smooth sailing at higher speeds. It bounces a little. But mainly, it’s really, really quick. Even the single motor version will feel like one of the quickest cars you’ve ever driven – super-responsive to your accelerator input at all speeds – while the dual-motor stuff is stupid quick. And, of course, strangely quiet with it. Unless you activate Boombox mode, which lets you upload custom sounds or sounds and project them as you drive along. That definitely won’t get irritating for everyone else.
How Practical Is It?
The Model 3 is a saloon, which is unfortunate because that’s a significant hindrance to flexibility. The luggage space is quite large, at 425 litres, but that’s the combined volume of the rear boot and the smaller front one; because the electric motors are quite small, the Model 3 can have an empty space at the front of the cabin.
The cabin itself is quite sizeable, with plenty of space for 4 adults, although a 5th passenger in the rear will find themselves squeezed from both sides. Tesla has scooped out the centre console though, so there’s room for shoes under it – a small detail but it makes a real difference. Cabin storage itself is as you’d expect: a couple of cupholders, quite shallow door pockets, centre console storage and an average-sized glovebox. The most recent Model 3 update (more on that in a minute) brought twin wireless phone chargers.
How Much Will It Cost Me?
In tax terms very little, which is undoubtedly why a car with this sort of list price has become so popular. The super-low tax liability for taxpayers in all the brackets means that running a Model 3 as a company car is far cheaper than running a basic German saloon powered by a petrol or diesel engine. All Model 3s attract a 1% benefit-in-kind (BIK) rate, compared to 25% for a BMW 520d.
Once you add the cost of electricity into that – much cheaper per mile than fuel – it’s a very alluring thing. Plus, supercharger costs are relatively low per kWh (presently 26p), which means an empty Standard Range Plus will cost £14 to fill. Assuming you get 250 miles from that, it works out at less than 6p per mile. The Supercharger Network charges at 250kW speeds, meaning if you have a Long Range model, a 5-minute session will give the car 75 miles of range, according to Tesla.
Anything Else I Should Know?
The Model 3 was recently updated for 2021, with a few things improved in ways you may or may not notice. The battery of the dual-motor cars is 4kW bigger than before, which inherently ups the range, plus all versions scrape more from their batteries because of improved energy management software and a new physical heat pump.
The tailgate is now electric, the wheels are styled a bit differently, the door handles and window surrounds are glossy black, the headlamps are brighter, and if you get a Performance model, the brakes are fatter Brembo ones now too. Inside, the centre console has been redesigned slightly, using a more scratch resistant material, and the aforementioned wireless phone charging pads are a new thing – previously there was only 1, rather than 2.
What Alternatives Should I Look At?
Feels higher quality in the cabin – thanks, Volvo – but it’s not as quick and the ride quality is poor unless you add pricey adjustable suspension. Read our Model 3 vs Polestar 2 head to head to see how they match up.
The smallest Mercedes EV makes a great case for itself: practical, comfortable and cheap to run.
Exceptional quality and techy with it, but doesn’t have the sense of excitement of the Model 3.
The Vanarama Verdict: 8/10
"You don’t even have to drive a yard to know that it’s just, well, amazing."
Three things to remember about the Tesla Model 3:
All versions are quick and tech-laden.
The Supercharger Network is a huge convenience bonus.
You could offset loads of the cost in tax savings.