A futuristic throwback. The Model 3 is a difficult car to analyze if you’re not familiar with EVs – and Tesla vehicles in particular. In some respects, this hatchback-styled sedan is seductively futuristic, with its huge monitor-style touchscreen dominating an otherwise empty dash, and neck-snapping performance from superbly engineered electric motors. It looks like nothing else on the road, and in many respects, it drives like it, too.
Yet in other respects, the Model 3 feels like a throwback. The interior fit and finish are disappointing on a vehicle costing in excess of $70,000 in some configurations; the colors don’t match, the panel gaps are inconsistent and the road noise is startling for an EV. Reliability is a bigger concern, with Tesla’s name routinely at or near the bottom of reliability surveys around the world.
Power you’ll never tire of. There are three configurations for the Model 3, and even the RWD base version is powerful and responsive. Its 0-60 time has increased for the 2022 model year (despite an $8,000 price hike), but it’ll still hit sixty in less than six seconds. The AWD twin-motor Long Range model will reach that speed in 4.2 seconds, and the Performance model more than lives up to its billing by doing it in 3.1 seconds. Few other vehicles can live with that, even among the rarefied waters of the supercar set.
This performance is rendered all the more impressive by its smooth, linear delivery. As electronics wage war with physics, the Model 3 responds to a prod of the throttle with seamless acceleration at any speed. It’s intoxicating, especially in tandem with meaty steering that gives the car some welcome heft. The one bum note is played by the suspension, which serves up a jittery ride that won’t impress anyone, especially around town.
Dashing looks, inside and out. To some eyes, the Model 3 is sleek and futuristic. To others, it’s bulbous and gloopy. We’ll let you decide whether the exterior styling works or not – what’s beyond doubt is its distinctiveness. Allied to a huge glass roof and flush-fitting door handles, it’s a triumph of aerodynamics that stands apart from less characterful sedan/hatchback/SUV rivals. That bulging hood covers a compact frunk with 3.1 sq ft of cargo space, complementing a trunk that swallows just shy of 20 cu ft even before the comfortable rear seats are dropped.
As with the exterior styling, opinions on the pared-back dashboard vary. Some people bemoan the lack of physical controls and the need to endlessly go through menus, though as in-car infotainment systems go, this is up there with the very best. The 15-inch landscape screen responds promptly and accurately, and even the Model 3’s air vents appear to be hidden from view. The infotainment system’s over-the-air updates also ensure regular improvements akin to smartphone operating systems.
Excellent safety – but not as described. In its standard guise, the Model 3 is an extremely safe vehicle. It’s deservedly received a five-star NHTSA rating and an IIHS Top Safety Pick+ designation. It comes with a wealth of active safety aids including adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitoring and automatic emergency braking. Visibility is strong, too, thanks to all that glass.
There is one caveat to all this, and it’s a big one – the options list. If you’d just paid $12,000 for a Full Self-Driving package, you’d be pretty annoyed to discover it can’t actually drive itself. Indeed, people have died as a result of misunderstanding thus system’s abilities. Paying so much money for automatic lane changing and self-parking simply isn’t worth it, especially when self-parking has been available on other cars for many years, and often more affordable.
Final thoughts. If you want an EV, there’s a great deal to admire about Tesla’s entry-level model. The 3 brings high-performance electric motoring within reach of many consumers, and it does so without any compromises on range. The single-motor RWD version can travel an estimated 272 miles on one charge, while Tesla’s Supercharger network is industry-leading technology. The Model 3 is fast, characterful, futuristic, and places relatively few compromises on its owners.
That said, we question how the 3’s looks will date, and some drivers won’t appreciate the absence of physical controls on the dash. The ride is harsh and the amount of noise generated on the move is remarkable in a car without an engine. Allied to iffy build quality and ongoing concerns around reliability, the baby Tesla remains a flawed, if charismatic, choice.
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