Tesla Model 3 review

Brilliant breakdown + serious savings

Brilliant breakdown + serious savings

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Brilliant breakdown + serious savings

Tesla's all-electric Model 3 executive saloon took the American brand into volume territory for the first time. Now it's been significantly improved. Jonathan Crouch takes a look.

Ten Second Review

The Model 3 is the car that's really put Tesla on the map. It's all-electric of course - and much more accessible than the company's previous models, with prices starting from just over £45,000. Your next executive saloon? Middle managers who are early adopters of new technology should form an orderly queue.

Background

At its launch back in 2017, the Model 3 was the most significant car Tesla had introduced in its history, but even this ambitious US brand couldn't have predicted just how successful it would be. In the first six years of production, over 2 million were sold and the car was frequently the European continent's best seller. It was an accessible, high-performance and technologically advanced contender that appealed to a broad audience and it helped shift perceptions about electric vehicles from being seen as niche products to becoming more mainstream.

By Autumn 2023 though, the EV competition was catching up, hence the need for the heavily revised version of the Model 3 we look at here. There's a sharper look, greater refinement, improved media connectivity and a smarter cabin. Sounds promising.

Driving Experience

As before, there's a choice of two powertrains, an entry-level Rear-Wheel Drive set-up (which goes 318 miles between charges) and a Long Range AWD model (which extends that to 390 miles). Both offer eager performance, with the rear-driven model making 62mph in 6.1s, a figure the AWD version improves to just 4.4s. Lots of work has been done on refinement (not a strongpoint of the original model), Tesla introducing 360-degree acoustic glass and adding improved suspension bushings, seals and sound-deadening materials.

Otherwise, the drive experience here is much as before. Which means superbly accurate steering, lacking only the final really feelsome element that's integral to a good European rack. And very well modulated set of brakes. There's also firm-ish damping that contributes to excellent body control through the turns, but doesn't crash too much through pot holes or over speed humps. You could actually enjoy yourself driving this car, which is quite a rare experience in an EV. The smooth linearity of the throttle helps -though it's still prone to lurch the car forward like a startled rabbit if used without due care.

As before, there's no driving mode system of the kind a combustion-engined competitor in this segment would offer - just three steering settings ('Comfort', 'Standard' or 'Sport') and two acceleration modes ('Sport' and the rather cringily-named 'Chill'). You can activate a 'Slip Start' setting that eases the car away if you happen to be stuck on snow, mud or sand. And as usual with a Tesla, you can select a 'Creep' function if you want the kind of 'creep forward' feel that you'd get from a conventional mechanical gearbox. As for regenerative braking, well you can't control it with steering wheel paddles in the way you can with rival EVs; there are simply two screen-selectable options - 'Low' (which minimises retardation when you lift off the throttle) and 'Standard' (which increases it). Select the latter setting and you'll find you'll only really ever need the brake pedal for hard stops or when you're bring the car to a complete halt. A Model 3 also dispenses with other driving control features you might be familiar with - a handbrake, an ignition key and a start button for instance.

Design and Build

The key difference with this evolved Model 3 lies with its sleeker exterior design, which sees sharper body lines and aero-optimized surfaces reduce drag, improve wind noise and increase range. The headlamps now have a totally new aesthetic and the tail lamps have been restyled too, with super bright colours. Otherwise, things are much as before, so the batteries run along the floor and there's a body made of a mixture of steel and aluminium. The suspension design uses double wishbones up-front and a multi-link set-up at the rear, with coil springs all-round. Breaking from the hatchback body configuration of other current Tesla cars, the Model 3 is a five-seat saloon that measures in a 4.7m long - fractionally more than a BMW 3 Series.

A little disappointingly, the door handles are conventional, rather than automatically popping out to greet you as they do with larger Teslas. As before, to get in and start the car, you don't need anything as old fashioned as a key - or even a key fob. When you take delivery, simply download the appropriate app, then put a special credit card in your wallet and have it with you; that's all you'll need.

Inside this revised model, interior ambiance has taken a noticeable step towards 'premium-ness' (as it needed to), with upgraded materials (real aluminium, textiles and so on) and customisable ambient lighting wrapping around the full cabin. There's re-designed aluminium-covered centre console with dual wireless 'phone chargers. The heated front seats are now ventilated and Tesla has installed a new studio-quality next-gen audio system, with either 9 or 17 speakers, depending on whether you choose a rear-driven or AWD variant. The previous wheel stalks have been replaced with steering wheel controls for a more uncluttered driving experience, including both haptic switches and physical buttons. The brand's 'Smart Shift' system automatically selects the correct driving direction to start your trip, just like with the latest Model S and Model X.

The super bright and responsive 15.4-inch centre-dash display is the same size as before, but offers a more usable screen area thanks to thinner bezel. It features customizable UI and gets better over time with OTA updates. As before, it's certainly very airy inside thanks to an uncovered sunroof at the front and a rear window that stretches up into the roof. That gives excellent rearward visibility too. In the back, there's an all-new 8-inch rear display with integrated climate control, ventilation, and entertainment. As before, there's 425-litres of luggage space, that figure including both boot capacity and the 117-litre under-bonnet 'froot'.

Market and Model

Model 3 pricing has actually become a little more affordable in recent times, the figures now starting from around £40,000 for the entry-level rear-driven version; it's around £50,000 for the 'Long Range' variant. If that's still a little on the high side for you, the various improvements made to this revised model might take some of the sting out of these figures; enhancements like the new customisable ambient lighting system, the ventilated front seats, the more premium cabin trimming, the two-phone wireless charging station and the smarter 8-inch rear seat climate display screen. Media connectivity has been improved too, with dual-band Wi-Fi capability (2.4Ghz and 5Ghz). Then there's the new Tesla-designed premium audio system. It features 17 speakers, dual subwoofers and dual amplifiers for Long Range vehicles; and 9 speakers, a single subwoofer and amplifier for Rear-Wheel Drive vehicles. It includes native support for Spotify, Apple Music and Tidal. Additional and more capable microphones deliver improved call quality too. there are also two rear USB-C charging ports, each with up to 65W of power. You'll be able to seamlessly connect it all with Bluetooth to sync everything from your contacts to your music.

The 15.4-inch centre screen takes software downloads from Tesla every few weeks (once you've approved the same via your ownership app) which means that, as with other Teslas, you'll get into your car one morning and find it can do something it couldn't do yesterday - which is rather cool. The navigation mapping is by Google maps, so traffic mapping is very interactive. All of this does mean though, that as soon as you want to change something, you have to delve around in menus and sub-menus to do it, which requires intimate familiarity with the way the monitor works. This isn't one of those cars you can just get in, drive and use to the full without a second thought.

Cost of Ownership

Owning a Model 3 is of course very different from owning a conventionally powered executive saloon. There's no fuel bill and service is minimal. The annual service fee covers an annual inspection, replacement parts like brake pads and windscreen wipers, 24 hour roadside assistance, system monitoring, remote diagnostics, software updates and new features sent through the touchscreen. It's possible to charge the battery half way in about 30 minutes using Tesla's 'supercharger' but as with most elements of this car, it requires a change in your way of thinking.

The car responds best to nightly recharges, but will happily sit for a couple of weeks at an airport while you holiday without losing significant charge, though over longer stationary periods, the cells will slowly lose their charge. We gave you the driving range figures in our 'Driving' section - 318 miles for the rear-driven model and 390 miles for the Dual Motor AWD version; these are aided in this revised model by improved aerodynamics and range-optimised tyres. The charging regime is much as before; in 15 minutes at a rapid charger, you can add up to 175 miles of range. And, as a Tesla owner, you'll have access to over 45,000 Tesla global Supercharger stations. These will allow you to charge the battery up to 80% capacity in as little as 30 minutes. Plus there are a further 550 less powerful but still very useful so-called 'Destination chargers' in clubs, hotels and other public locations around the UK. Thanks to CCS socket compatibility, your Model 3 can also use any ordinary Public charging point too. At home, charging takes around eight hours from an 11kW wallbox. And, as with other EVs, you'll make big savings in terms of your tax, VED and maintenance liabilities.

Summary

A lot of people have a lot to say about Tesla and its co-creator Elon Musk. Here though, our job is to talk about the cars it makes, specifically this one, which to begin with caused the brand more headaches than any other in its history. But then perhaps you'd expect that. It's one thing to build relatively low volume cars that sell in the £75,000 to £125,000 bracket, as Tesla did with the Model S when it started off. But quite another to make one for the volume market where per-unit profits are lower and product scrutiny much greater. The Model 3 was that car and in the years since, it's gone on to redefine its brand.

But the EV market has moved on since 2017, so it's just as well that the Model 3 has moved with it, creating this heavily revised design. If you didn't already want a Model 3, the improvements made here probably won't be enough to convince you over alternatives from more established brands, but if you've always hankered after one of these, then this update package will please you very much indeed.

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