Some still consider Tesla the young upstart of the automotive world, and in all fairness, they have only been making cars on a considerable scale since 2012 – less than a decade. Tesla may look at things differently, though. With 2021 seeing the more established manufacturers making announcements about taking steps towards electrification (Jaguar Land Rover yesterday, Ford today), Tesla would probably prefer to be considered the old hands – the leaders in the field who know a thing or two on the subject.
This is the Tesla Model 3; the cheapest model they offer and the smallest too. It’s a mid-sized saloon designed to compete directly with the likes of BMW’s 3 & Mercedes’ C; Tesla clearly isn’t afraid to mix things up with the big boys. That’s not to say they’re resting on the laurels an ever increasing market share and being the most valuable car brand in the world brings, though; the Model 3 has seen a refresh for 2021.
360 miles range
They look nearly identical, but there’s still three very different specs to choose from; Standard Range Plus which is rear-wheel drive, Long Range and Performance are both all-wheel drive. Long Range gives you 360 miles on a full charge, Standard Range Plus 278 miles and the Performance model a claimed 352 miles. The fastest Model 3, unsurprisingly the Performance is the one Elon Musk boasted would leave an M3 for dead, and at 3.1 seconds to get from 0-60 mph, we wouldn’t bet against him.
How much does a Model 3 cost?
This is the entry level Model 3; the Standard Range Plus. It starts at £40,490 (Long Range & Performance are £46,990 & £59,990 respectively), and at that price, this is the Tesla everyone should be talking about as it’s a more-than realistic proposition for average income families where previous Teslas were undoubtedly the reserve of the more wealthy.
The Model 3 comes as one body shape and that’s a saloon, albeit one that has folding rear seats. Quite why they chose the least practical type of boot rather than a hatchback or estate is anyone’s guess, maybe it’s due to large markets such as the US and especially China having a preference for them. No pesky engine in the front means no need for a grille and the bonnet can be far shorter, lower and, most pertinently, more aerodynamic.
Another benefit of having a frunk up front in place of an engine is the improvement to the driver’s view of the road. Despite sitting on the Model 3’s batteries, you’re by no means perched up high and yet the only bits of bodywork the driver sees out front are the tops of the wings, which is a good thing to give a point of reference when parking etc.
The most minimalistic interior
And it’s a good job you can see lots out of the front windscreen, because there’s not much to look at inside the Model 3. There’s the usual oversized ‘iPad’ in the middle, albeit it’s a touch smaller than pricier Teslas, and apart from that, it’s an object lesson in minimalism. The only controls that aren’t via the central screen are two roller wheels on the steering wheel – a wheel that’s a bit low-grade next to the wooden dashboard and full-width sound-bar spanning the width of the car under the windscreen.
But then there’s the toys
Being a Tesla, there’s a bit of techy-fun thrown in to offset the general grown-up feel of the car. Scroll through your menus and you can turn your car into a Mars Rover or Santa’s sleigh. The real child pleaser is clearly the whoopee cushion mode that can make each individual seat ‘fart’ on demand. Tesla knows how to appeal to their customers of the future, including building Netflix and Spotify into the car.
Whoopee cushions aside, anyone sat in the back two seats will find it’s streets ahead of the competition in terms of space. Legroom is more comparable to cars in the class above the 3 Series or C-Class, although the seats aren’t quite as luxurious.
What’s new for 2021?
The Model 3’s cabin has seen some improvements for its 2021 refresh, albeit minor ones. Some of the plastics that are regularly touched by fingers are now a matt finish as opposed to shiny, there’s a sliding lid on the centre console, the boot-lid is electric and it all just feels more polished. The build quality still lacks the general solidity of the German competition, though.
What most people don’t realise about electric cars is that they need to use some of their own power to warm the batteries and keep them at their most efficient. The Model 3’s system has been improved to try to combat this and allay that range anxiety issue electric cars inherently come with. Cold weather eats range but we found our Model 3 managed around 200 miles from its claimed 278 miles range during a particular harsh February cold-snap.
Should I buy Model 3?
As long as a saloon fits your lifestyle, the Model 3 is a relatively affordable, realistic way into electric car ownership. 350 miles range will obviously cost more, as will supercar baiting performance, but a 5.3 seconds 0-60 mph time in this entry level model isn’t exactly sluggish. There no free charging on the Tesla supercharger network as you get with more expensive Teslas and bits of trim inside can still feel a bit suspect. With more electric competition appearing every week, though, the Model 3 can still hold its own.
By Ben Harrington