Performance & drive
What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is
Engine, 0-60mph and gearbox
In our tests, even the entry-level rear-wheel-drive Standard Range Plus managed 0-60mph in 6.1sec. That's much faster than the Kia e-Niro or, indeed, a similarly priced petrol or diesel rival, such as the BMW 3 Series. However, the Long Range and Performance models have four-wheel drive, and not one but two electric motors, so they're even quicker. Indeed, we've timed the Performance, which is our pick of the range, pinging from 0-60mph in just 3.3sec, so it'll comfortably see off a Porsche 911 Carrera S in a drag race, as well as its closest rival, the Polestar 2.
As for how far you'll get between charges, the Standard Range Plus managed a respectable 181 miles in our Real Range tests. The Long Range and Performance models both have bigger batteries, and the latter achieved 239 miles – one of the longest ranges of any electric car we've ever tested, beaten only by rivals that include the Kia e-Niro and Jaguar I-Pace.
The Long Range should theoretically manage even more miles between charges. Sadly, Tesla was unwilling to supply us with a car for testing, forcing us to source one from elsewhere, and it achieved a relatively disappointing 211 miles. However, it's important to note that our test day was blighted by heavy rain, in which extra battery power would have been required to push the tyres through the standing water. We plan to retest the Model 3: either when Tesla is willing to supply us with a car directly, or when we're able to source another one from elsewhere.
Suspension and ride comfort
Ride comfort isn't a strength of the Tesla Model 3, but it's not a deal-breaker, either. At low speeds, the entry-level Standard Range Plus and the Long Range jostle you around quite a bit and you'll notice a jolt if you hit any obstacle with a sharp edge.
The BMW 3 Series is a more comfortable alternative – as long as you avoid M Sport trim – although that car, too, is far from perfect. Indeed, if you want a really smooth ride from your executive car, we'd point you in the direction of smaller-wheeled versions of the Audi A4, although you can't get an electric version of one of those.
The range-topping Performance version of the Model 3 has sports suspension and massive 20in wheels as standard. Despite this, it’s a better-riding car – especially around town – than the Polestar 2 and, perhaps surprisingly, the most comfortable Model 3 on motorways, staying calmer and flatter at high speeds than the less expensive models.
Compared with other electric cars – from the pricier Jaguar I-Pace to its nearest rival, the Polestar 2 – in its Performance guise, the Model 3 handles really quite well. As we've just mentioned, this range-topping version gets stiffer suspension and larger 20in alloy wheels, so there isn't much body lean and the amount of speed you can carry through corners is seriously impressive.
True, it’s still a heavy car because of all the batteries it carries around, so doesn’t feel as light on its toes as, say, an Alfa Giulia Quadrifoglio – but it grips with real tenacity once settled into a bend. The steering is quicker and more precise than the Polestar 2's vague set-up, and you can change its weighting to suit your tastes (comfort mode is best for anything other than hard driving), although you don't get a great deal of feedback streaming to your fingertips.
The Long Range version handles tidily, too, just with a bit more body lean and a little less grip. However, the Standard Range Plus feels altogether less balanced and less confidence-inspiring than the pricier versions of the Model 3 – despite being lighter. It's the only model in the range without four-wheel drive (it's driven by its rear wheels) and feels more skittish and a lot less balanced.
One of the biggest draws of the Model 3 is how much tech it comes with. Its standard Autopilot self-steering and adaptive cruise control system works really well on motorways, automatically keeping you a set distance from the car in front as well in the centre of your lane.
Meanwhile, the optional full self-driving package gives you the ability to remotely 'summon' your Model 3 out of a garage or tight parking spot by using an app on your phone, takes care of lane changes automatically (you just hit the indicator), and its presence also enables further self-driving features to be automatically downloaded to the car as and when they become available. It's massively expensive, though, and for what it adds right now, isn't really justifiable.
Noise and vibration
Being a pure electric car the Model 3 is, unsurprisingly, whisper-quiet at town speeds. However, there’s quite a lot of tyre noise on faster roads and you can also hear the wind whistling around its frameless doors. It's still quieter overall than the Polestar 2 on motorways, but there's no doubt that conventional executive cars, such as the 3 Series and A4, are more peaceful cruising companions.
The brakes deserve a special mention for being far less grabby than those of the majority of electric cars. This makes it easy to slow down smoothly without your passengers thinking you’ve only just passed your driving test. There's also a selectable 'one pedal' feature that ramps up effect of the regenerative braking system, which recovers energy that would usually be lost under braking. When one-pedal mode is selected, the car slows so rapidly when you let go of the accelerator that you rarely have to hit the brake pedal at all.
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