The Tesla Model 3 only launched in the United States in July 2017 but it’s already history’s best-selling electric car with nearly a million made. We sampled the Performance version.
Iain: In 20 years of testing cars, more people have asked me about the Tesla Model 3 than anything else.
Jules: The questions never stop. How much? How fast? Range? Charging time?
Iain: OK, here goes. They start at about $70,000 drive-away for the Standard Range. It does 0-100km/h in 5.6-seconds and travels a claimed 490km on a single charge. Recharge time depends on how it’s done. It will take days to fully charge off a normal powerpoint, but most buyers will opt for a wall-charger that will get the job done overnight. If you’re on the road a Tesla Supercharger will give you 270km range in 30 minutes, but you’ll pay for it.
Jules: Impressive enough. But ours is the hot one, right?
Iain: It’s called Performance for good reason: Tesla claims 3.3 seconds for the 0-100km/h sprint — faster than a $400,000 Ferrari Roma. Claimed range is 628 kilometres, and it costs $99,500 drive-away.
Jules: What else can accelerate that fast for less than $100,000?
Iain: Er, nothing. Anyway, it’s more than a rocket ship. We’re basically driving a revolution.
Jules: It’s a piece of technology as much as a car. I’m not keen on its catlike face, but the side and rear are attractive.
Iain: It’s sleek and distinctive, especially in red with black rims. I struggle with its weird high roof, but glass running its entire length is cool.
Jules: I know cashed-up Elon Musk-worshippers buy them, but how about as a family car?
Iain: Let’s just say if it was up to our kids, the Model 3 would be the family car.
Jules: Because it has video games and makes fart sounds when you indicate?
Iain: Mainly, yes. Because Tesla’s made this car fun. It has features that no other car company would dream of fitting.
THE LIVING SPACE
Jules: OK, where’s the interior?
Iain: Minimalist, eh? No dashboard dials, buttons or switches, just a giant 15-inch central screen. Everything happens through this.
Jules: And roller dials on the simple steering wheel. These and the voice control are best for navigating menus.
Iain: It takes some getting used to, but after a week it was second nature. It’s a good user experience, but I’d still love Apple CarPlay/Android Auto.
Jules: So, the cool stuff. For $10 a month Premium Connectivity gives you an internet browser, Caraoke (geddit?) for singalongs and access to Spotify and Netflix.
Iain: Having Neflix and video games helps kill time while public charging. And a driving video game linked to the car’s steering wheel? Try getting the kids off that.
Jules: The cabin’s actually brilliant. Vegan-friendly fake leather seats are sink-in comfy, there’s lots of soft-touch plastic and suede and I love the single wood strip running the dashboard’s length.
Iain: We’ve all heard bad stories about Tesla build quality but the interior of ours looked really well screwed together. The body’s panel gaps weren’t exactly Benz standard, but paint quality was good.
Jules: The acceleration. It’s otherworldly. Brutal as soon as you touch the accelerator, and in near silence. Mind blown.
Iain: Acceleration is ridiculous and the Model 3 corners incredibly well, steers fine and cruises in near silence bar the tyre noise.
Jules: You need to get used to regenerative braking when you lift off the accelerator, but I soon timed this so the car stopped without needing the brake.
Iain: The minimalist dash is very clever, but I’d prefer a head-up display to see my speed, rather than through the screen.
Jules: The quoted 628km range is unlikely by our testing. Think more like 470km.
Iain: Over our 1000km test we averaged 17.2kWh/100km. Our electricity provider charges us 28c per kWh. Multiply these and it costs $4.81 per 100km. A Camry Hybrid uses 4.2L/100km and with petrol at $1.30 would cost $5.46 per 100km. If you want to recharge at a Supercharger, though, the cost is 52c per kWh.
Jules: The boot’s surprisingly big with a clever false floor ideal for groceries.
Iain: There’s a plastic-lined front boot too — a frunk — where you can chuck in wetsuits.
Jules: Back to the shopping. On the Tesla phone app you can pre-cool the cabin. I got it from 52C to 23C in a matter of minutes while queuing to pay.
Iain: It needs to make more noise at low speed. People in car parks don’t hear the Model 3 coming.
Jules: Back roads, highway, city streets. I don’t care. The Model 3’s fun anywhere. You never get bored of that instant acceleration.
Iain: It weighs two tonnes with our family on board, making its speed almost physics-defying. All-wheel-drive and performance tyres deliver great grip, but don’t confuse it with a nimble little sports car.
Jules: There’s as much room in the back as a decent hatchback.
Iain: Rear vents, USB points and ample leg room give it family car credibility.
Jules: And talk about winning hearts and minds. Our kids loved the acceleration, its eco credentials, the unique infotainment and giant screen.
Iain: The kids spent hours in the garage using its sketchpad, playing video games and singing songs.
Jules: It has decent safety kit, minimal service costs and it’s relatively cheap to run.
Iain: The Model 3’s an incredible, tech-rich, fun and impressive achievement. I’m not ready to give up petrol cars yet, but I’d have this as a second car in a heartbeat.
Jules: I can see why they have a cultish following. A brilliant drive experience, easy to live with and totally unlike any car I’ve driven.
TESLA MODEL 3 PERFORMANCE VITALS
Price: $99,950 drive-away (nothing else like it)
Warranty/servicing: 4 years/80,000 km warranty (not great) time/condition based servicing
Engine: Dual electric motor, 340kW/639Nm (scorching)
Range: 628km (unrealistic)
Safety: 5 stars, eight airbags, auto emergency braking, active cruise control, lane-keeping assistance, piloted driving
Spare: None (very bad)
Boot: 542L (rear) 117L (front) (very good)