American though it be, avant-garde though it be, Tesla knows how to tickle the tonsils of those people wishing to taste a no-nonsense EV, reports Iain Robertson, and eschewing Performance and Long-Range variants, he sampled the base model.
This is the road test that nearly did not happen, because of a silly camera fault! It seems that in reassembling my nearly-new Canon, I had not inserted its storage card properly. As a result, it showed no on-screen faults and appeared to continue taking pictures…except that it did not. I have had the camera checked out and it is fine. It’s me that is not!
However, having experienced the full, six-figure might of both Tesla Models S and X last summer, the Californian company’s semi-luxury saloon and gullwing-doored SUV respectively, nothing was going to dissuade me from getting to grips with the latest Model 3. As the ‘affordable’ and smaller Tesla, it has a lot to prove and its route to market, while undoubtedly problematic, has led to it becoming the biggest selling EV worldwide so far this year.
This is the Tesla that suffered from two, previously faulted launch exercises. The car’s delays were not helped by aspects of build quality that were reported as atrocious. Then, there were the now customary tales of woe about how its owner, Elon Musk, was funding the enterprise on a sea of debt. While regarded commonly as a ‘bloody PR disaster area’, Mr Musk is nothing, if not controversial. Yet, his spirit of enterprise cannot and will not be denied. For sure, he has friends in high places but he is also leading, in case we forget, a sustainable revolution that extends into how we harvest energy, let alone redeploy it.
As far as Model 3 is concerned, expect nothing to be normal. Possessing much the same swoopy styling as its Model S big brother, the 3 is perter but no less attractive. If, as I have stated before, the Model S is the way that the Jaguar XJ-series should have looked, the 3 makes an XE look ugly. Viewed from any angle, this Tesla is a very pretty car indeed. While its anonymous 2.24m wide snout lacks the diversion of a radiator grille, it is also very shapely and blends into the streamlined flow of its flanks, culminating 4.69m later in a curtailed rump containing the jewel-like tail-light units.
The spacious interior is well made, if anything a vital step-up from the Model S, and is both comfortable and disarmingly plain but dominated by a large laptop-size touchscreen angled towards the driver. Every aspect of driver information is provided via this screen, from speed to sat-nav position, music settings to air-con and, having no conventional instrumentation, rather than frustration, the driver soon feels clutched warmly to the bosom of the car. Its column stalks are the only link to sobriety. Familiarity breeds rapidly. Mind you, working it proficiently on the move can be flaming difficult at times, especially as the car’s firm suspension can make accurate touches on-screen very inaccurate, as, not for the first time, trying to change my iPod setting introduced a full-screen map instead.
Very few modern cars telegraph road responses with any real zeal to a driver’s fingertips and the Model 3 follows that order by feeling remarkably lifeless at the helm. While I am hardly a child of the X-Box generation, my scant experiences of those devices seemed to be mirrored at the controls of the Tesla 3. Yet, the car is not lacking in dynamism and, on the roads of North Yorkshire, I discovered that it possesses an ability to conceal the car’s hefty 1.6-tonnes kerbweight with a surprising amount of competence and agility. Levels of mechanical grip are unerringly excellent and familiarity makes the car amazingly easy to point and press on. On several occasions, I found my cornering speeds to be almost as high as those experienced in a recent Porsche 911 drive on the same roads. While lacking in tactility, the Model 3 proves to consume miles with an unexpected level of alacrity.
Featuring only a single electric motor, hooked up to a 55kWh battery pack, the unit delivers 235bhp and 276lbs ft of instant torque to drive its rear wheels. It is enough to whisk it from 0-60mph in a mere 5.3s, before topping out at 140mph, which highlights that Tesla 3 ain’t slow. It also provides a WLTP range of 254 miles, which is more than enough for most EV owners and access to Tesla’s growing ‘supercharger’ network means that, as long as you can find an empty bay (one that has not been occupied by a thoughtless day-long parker), which is feasible using the car’s informative sat-nav system, a 30-minutes recharge provides another 200 miles of range.
Needless to say, it drives gearlessly, although its braking system is augmented by ‘dead-pedal’ regenerative braking, which is actually one of the least pleasant aspects of the car. There are only two settings on this ‘bargain basement’ model; on, or off. In the latter state, the driver relies on the car’s conventional brake system. The feel at the pedal is inconsistent but it is harvesting a small amount of energy and feeding it back into the battery (it helps with Tesla’s very accurate, on-screen, remaining mileage statements). With the ‘regen’ on, retardation is effective and lost energy is piled back into the battery, the electric motor acting as a power generator.
Thanks to its flat-floor construction, there are boots at both ends of the Model 3, offering a generous total of 425-litres of space. The rear seats fold for extra room. In terms of practicality, Tesla has all of its rivals licked, because there is space all around the car’s interior. However, the biggest advantage lies in Model 3’s list price, which is pitched from a moderately affordable £37,360. Okay. I realise that it is still costlier than some EVs (which are also sorely overpriced) but, with some interesting lease options and Tesla’s nous in the EV scene, it looks like conspicuously good value for money to me, especially for the company car scene.
If you want to see and drive the future, in a car that is ready for change (updates are carried out online), the Tesla 3 probably has it cracked and an otherworldly visit to your nearest Tesla outlet will prove my contentions. I apologise for the grim snap of the car!