Every previous time that I’ve driven a Tesla Model 3, my overwhelming feeling has been: why isn’t everyone making one of these? The Model 3’s combo of price, performance, practicality and range all seemed to make for a nigh on perfect car.
You could start to see, at least a little bit, what all those raving Tesla fans were on about. Yet, until recently, no one else could offer a car that was in direct competition to the Model 3.
That has now, at long last, changed: BMW has introduced its new i4, an all-electric version of the 4 Series Gran Coupe, and in terms of price and electric performance – not to mention size and shape – it’s more or less a bang on Model 3 rival. Which gives us a good excuse to have another spin in a Model 3, and better yet, this is the Model 3 Performance.
Previously, we’ve only had the chance to test drive the Long Range version on Irish roads and, to be honest, there has always been something of a doubt over whether the Performance – with its higher price and shorter range – was worth the upgrade. After all, no one gets out of a Model 3 Long Range and complains about its acceleration.
Well, the answer is: yes, the upgrade is most definitely worth it. You may only be able to safely deploy the Performance’s performance a couple of times a year, but the giggles that will ensue will make it all worthwhile. Plant your foot from a 30cm rolling start and the Model 3 Performance will hit 100km/h in just 3.3 seconds.
Now, it won’t do that time and time again in succession – the battery will eventually cry enough, and power will be reduced to let the cells cool down and recover – but like I said, the opportunities to do it will be limited anyway. Just make sure your passengers have been forewarned to press their heads tight against the backs of the seats.
The Model 3’s prodigious performance reminds me of an old tale about the late Carroll Shelby’s tactics to sell the original Cobra sports car. Shelby would apparently tape a $100 bill to the Cobra’s dashboard, and invite a prospective customer for a spin. If that customer could reach forward and grab the cash while Shelby gave it the full-beans in second gear, they could keep it. According to the legend, no one got the money.
Before anyone starts accusing me of rampant hooliganry or worse, one of the most impressive things about the way the Model 3 Performance drives is actually how it tackles lower speeds.
Flip the switch on that big touchscreen to adjust the acceleration from “Sport” to “Chill” and the Tesla seems to settle perfectly at 50km/h. Some performance cars are desperately hard to restrain at urban speed limits, so hyperactive is their throttle response, but not the Tesla. It’s actually a very relaxing car to drive around town. Better still, you feel pleasantly smug because you’re not (directly) burning any unnecessary hydrocarbons.
On more open roads, the Model 3 continues to impress, but the debit column does start to fill up a bit. The steering is entirely artificial in feel. It’s good in terms of its weighting and response, but not in terms of feedback. The Tesla does make up for that with a feeling of chuckable agility. It helps that the scuttle of the windscreen seems as low as your knees, giving tremendous forward visibility (spoiled a little by big windscreen pillars).
Added to that are the Model 3’s diminutive dimensions. At 4.6m long and 1.8m wide, it’s on the small side (although its flat-floor layout means it’s decently roomy inside), and it feels smaller still from behind the wheel – almost Fiesta-sized, subjectively.
The big touchscreen, of course, dominates the cabin but while you do get used to it, the lack of simple physical buttons for major controls remains frustrating, as does the Model 3’s lack of an instrument panel or a heads-up display for the driver. Overall cabin quality seems fine, although whether “fine” is good enough at the Performance’s €65,990 price tag (or more than €77,000 as tested) is at best debatable.
Refinement is an issue. Obviously, the electric motors are all but silent, but that does reveal a cabin that’s pretty full of rattles. It doesn’t help that the ride, on the 20in “Uberturbine” wheels, is pretty firm. It’s not as objectionably harsh as that of the 3’s brother, the Model Y, but it’s stiff enough that some bumps and lumps are certainly felt, and heard. Heard too is an occasional cacophony of cabin rattles, which in a relatively low-mileage car doesn’t bode well.
On the outside, you will still spot some gammy panel gaps, which does not inspire confidence. That goes double for some of the ancillary systems, such as electric windows that creak and groan as they slowly wind themselves up, and automatic windscreen wipers that seem to struggle to know what drizzle is.
On the upside, touches such as the suede-lined wireless phone chargers are nice, as are the reasonable boot space, the useful “frunk” boot at the front, and the big storage areas in the front of the cabin. Good heated seats, too (although no heated steering wheel, which is a shame).
However, there’s also the appallingly-named “Autopilot” system to deal with. Not only is it corporately irresponsible to name an active cruise control and lane-keeping steering set-up thusly (and don’t even get us started on the optional “Full Self-Driving” which is nothing of the sort), it’s also worrying that Tesla has dropped the ultrasonic sensors from the Model 3’s automated systems, and now relies entirely on cameras.
Those cameras can too easily struggle – watch the animations on the big screen of the positions of cars and people around you and you’ll too often see that the cameras either decide that some are moving in a direction that they are palpably not, or misses them entirely. It’s not a system I feel properly safe using in any circumstance but a straight, relatively clear motorway. And even then, to be honest, I’m less than keen.
I am pretty keen on the rest of the Model 3, though. Sure, it has its quirks and drawbacks, and your opinion of Elon Musk’s personal character might well push you away from buying one of these, but the Model 3 remains a convincing electric sports saloon.
The extra thump of the Performance’s 573hp is pretty addictive, and yet it can still go for a claimed 547km on a full charge of its 76kWh battery. Plus, there’s the attraction of Tesla’s unbeatable network of high-speed “Superchargers” when you’re out and about.
BMW is getting closer, though, and soon others will too. The i4 is handsome and capable, albeit more expensive and still slower if you opt for the top-spec M50 version. Flawed though it is, the Model 3 remains compelling in the face of growing opposition.
Tesla Model 3 Performance: the lowdown
- Power: 420kW twin-motor setup powered by a 76kWh battery pack with a single-speed automatic transmission and four-wheel drive.
- CO2 emissions (annual motor tax): 0g/km (€120).
- Electric range: 547km.
- Electric consumption: 16.4kWh/100km.
- 0-100km/h: 3.3 seconds
- Price: €77,327 as tested; (Model 3 Performance starts at €65,990, while Model 3 range starts at €49,990)
- Verdict: The competition is getting closer, but in spite of shortcomings, the Model 3 continues to convince.