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New Tesla Model 3 and Jaguar XE vs BMW 3 Series

The electric Tesla Model 3 provides a genuine alternative to petrol and diesel power for executive saloons. Let’s see if it can beat the fossil-fuelled BMW 3 Series and Jaguar XE...

Tesla Model 3 parked with BMW 3 Series and Jaguar XE
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What Car? team
18 Oct 2019 12:20

The contenders

BMW 3 Series 320i M Sport

  • List price £35,465
  • Target Price £33,917

Entry-level petrol version of our 2019 Executive Car of the Year is surprisingly efficient.


Jaguar XE D180 RWD S

  • List price £34,555
  • Target Price £32,651

Recent updates include a new interior, and diesel now meets latest emissions standards.


Tesla Model 3 Standard Range Plus

  • List price £40,840*
  • Target Price £40,840*

Tesla’s best car yet – but does it make sense in entry-level form?

*Before £3500 Government grant


Being a company car driver used to be so easy: you just decided the model you wanted and then went for the most efficient diesel version of it. Job done.

These days, there’s so much more to think about. Should you even be considering a diesel? Would a petrol bankrupt you with its fuel bills? Or could you actually ditch fossil fuels altogether and go electric? You’re probably going to have to do so at some point, but is now the right time?

To help unmuddy the waters, we’ve lined up three of the world’s best executive saloons, each powered by a different type of fuel. In the petrol corner is the latest BMW 3 Series, complete with a 2.0-litre engine that has CO2 emissions low enough to rival many diesels. Indeed, the 320i actually pumps out less CO2 than the recently facelifted Jaguar XE D180. However, this 2.0-litre diesel XE is cheaper to buy and one of the few diesels to have passed the latest RDE2 emissions tests, meaning there’s no penalty in benefit-in-kind (BIK) tax over an equivalent petrol car.

BMW 3 Series driving

Our final contender is Tesla’s new Model 3. The American company has been making electric cars with impressive real-world ranges for years, but until now they’ve all been seriously pricey. The Model 3, appearing here in its cheapest Standard Range Plus form, costs barely any more than its fossil fuel-powered rivals when you factor in a £3500 grant from the Government.


Driving

Performance, ride, handling, refinement

The Standard Range Plus is the least powerful Model 3 you can buy, but it can still comfortably see off its rivals in a drag race. Granted, we couldn’t match Tesla’s 0-60mph claim of 5.3sec, but 6.1sec is still faster than many hot hatches and well ahead of the 7.3sec and 8.2sec the 3 Series and XE posted respectively.

You’d normally expect an electric car to be lightning quick away from the mark, but the Model 3 actually took the longest time to sprint to 30mph, before pulling ahead and disappearing off into the distance. The Model 3also required the shortest distance to make an emergency stop from both 30mph and 70mph.

Jaguar XE driving

But here’s the rub: you’ll need to stop to refuel (or rather recharge) quite a lot more often than you will in the 3 Series or XE. The official figures suggest a range of up to 254 miles, but you’ll need to drive like a vicar to get close to that. Indeed, the Model 3 managed 181 miles in our Real Range test –a decent distance and farther than you’ll get in, say, a BMW i3, but still potentially quite frustrating.

Tesla’s brilliant Supercharger network helps mitigate this, as we’ll explain later, but there’s no doubt the 3 Series and XE will fit into more lifestyles more easily. The former has a real-world range of about 450 miles, while the latter can do around 530 miles between stops. And refuelling is, of course, the work of a couple of minutes.

If you love driving, the 3 Series is easily the best executive car you can buy. It’s incredibly stable through corners, with more grip than its rivals and barely any body lean. It’s fun, too; the steering is incredibly sharp and accurate, even if the overly thick-rimmed steering wheel doesn’t give you a great deal of feedback.

You actually get a bit more feel through the XE’s steering wheel and the weighting is more natural. In every other respect, the XE is outclassed by its German rival, particularly when it comes to keeping body sway in check, but it’s still impressive compared with most other executive saloons.

Tesla Model 3 driving

Like the 3 Series and XE, the entry-level Model 3 is driven by its rear wheels – but it’s the least composed of our trio. It feels heavier (which it is) and its nose doesn’t respond as quickly to steering inputs, although there’s still plenty of grip once the car is settled into a bend. In four-wheel-drive Performance guise, the Model 3 is much more capable through corners, albeit still not quite a match for the 3 Series.

On the plus side, the Model 3 is the most comfortable cruiser on the motorway; in the XE, you’re jostled around more at a steady 70mph. We’d definitely recommend specifying the 3 Series with adaptive M Sport suspension (part of the £2200 M Sport Plus Package fitted to our test car), because the ride is rather punishing without it. Even with it fitted and Comfort mode selected, you still feel more of bumps than you do in the XE, but the 3 Series deals with potholes and sharp-edged obstacles around town better than the Model 3.

The Model 3 is the noisiest cruiser, mainly because its frameless side windows whip up a lot of wind noise. The 3 Series is the quietest at 70mph, doing the best job of keeping wind and tyre noise away from your ears.


Next: Behind the wheel >

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