Trend-bucking Tesla3 introduces ‘naked’ affordability and strong sales
Despite having taken a few months to arrange it, Iain Robertson has now driven the all-electric compact saloon from Tesla’s ground-breaking model range and is unsurprised by its excellence, although its ‘nakedness’ took his breath away.
Tesla makes EVs. It also makes roof tiles and space rockets. Its boss is a PR liability but the company is a minefield of explosive ideas and sustainable energy. Do I respect Tesla? Lord, yes! Do I believe some of the negative stories about Tesla, such as running out of cash and building immense debt? In part, I do, because there is often a soupcon of truth, even when it emerges from the mainstream media, which truly struggles with the concept, when pursuing a ‘good story’ is more worthwhile.
When I first drove Tesla’s impressive Model S super-saloon and Model Y SUV last summer, I shall admit that even foreswearing an attitude of ‘zero preconceptions’, I had been affected by the output of the US firm’s intense publicity machine. Yet, even then, I was conscious that, despite Tesla’s presence on our roads, which is far greater than a £100,000 machine ought to capable of, all of its brand gamble was being levied on the forthcoming Model 3.
The S is an anachronism, despite its innovation. It is a typical EV…overpriced and over-here. It gives off a whiff of classical elegance and there is no denying that Tesla employs first-rate stylists but there is something that does not quite gel. Real leather seats and door trims are not sustainable and they are costly to produce, notably to the environment. The S is also dichotomous. It weighs two tonnes and, spec’d up, costs six figures, even though it accelerates like a scalded cat. Is it worth it? No, because it is not produced by Loreal, a company that understands value for money in a popular vein.
The Y is even worse. Its amazingly ‘flexible’ gull-wing doors that provide tight space access to the five seats in the rear of the cabin are not really worth the £130k being asked for it. Both cars feel American, not in a bad way but because they are inescapably. Short of installing semi-transparent seat covers, of a type familiar to retired condo dwellers in Tampa, both S and Y lack the high-quality appeal of even Volkswagen. However, Tesla is a ‘brave-new-worlder’; Aldous Huxley would have been proud.
As the ‘affordable’ Tesla, even with prices commencing from a hefty £38,900 for the Standard Range Plus version (rear-wheel drive, 0-60mph in 5.8s, single electric motor, 258 miles range), rising to £56,900 for the Performance derivative (four-wheel drive, 0-60mpg in 3.1s, top speed of 160mph, twin electric motors, 329 miles range), while its intentions may be ‘everyman’, the reality of Tesla 3 is somewhat different. It is in BMW 5-Series territory but it ain’t no 5-Series. However, for that car to be the third most registered car in the UK in both August and September 2019, suggests that the price must be right for almost 3,200 vehicle acquirers. Confounding though it may be, it is still an excellent performance in a depressed market, which is also that ‘magical something’ that makes Tesla such a compelling proposition.
However, I cannot be alone surely in questioning what a potential Tesla 3 owner is getting for the money. Its exterior design is pleasant, verging on pretty, with a notable minimalism and lack of frills in evidence, looking every millimetre of its 4.6m length like a shrunken but glassier Tesla Model S. Crack open the driver’s door and you will wonder where the instrumentation went, as there is none, apart from the laptop-size screen that dominates the driver’s side of the dash centre.
In all respects, it is an ultimate EV, in that it provides a ‘surprise factor’ and you do not need to insert a key to start it (your pocketed mobile-phone will suffice for recognition purposes), while all functions, other than stopping and going, are controlled by the 15.0-inch touchscreen. There is a downside, of course, in that altering settings on-the-move can be a dodgy business, demanding far too much driver concentration, especially when mis-keying on typical bumpy British roads. Two ‘conventional’ stalks (the right hand of which you flick downwards to start the car keylessly) are located behind the steering wheel, which features just two buttons. It is stark naked. You cannot even spot the air-vents…which are present but largely imperceptible.
Not restricted to Tesla are typical EV weight penalties, as even the base model tips the scales at 1.6-tonnes, the top and longer range (348 miles) versions perilously close to 1.85-tonnes, and it is bulk obvious to the driver. To be fair, considering that the company’s founder, Elon Musk, states that he ‘doesn’t build cars’, their dynamic balance is quite amazing; a result of placing the 75kWh battery pack centrally low in the platform, which enhances the centre of gravity and the 3’s first-class agility. Naturally, recharging its battery at a Tesla Supercharger requires a 25-minutes coffee-break.
There is nothing quite like a Tesla. I admire its attractive styling. I appreciate its rangey battery power. Its performance can be intoxicating (which is not great for extending the mileage). Yet, I would never buy one. However, it is still the undisputed leader of the EV pack, especially in less costly 3 form, so it would seem.