New MG 4 Extended Range vs Tesla Model 3

The new MG 4 Extended Range costs thousands less than the cheapest Tesla Model 3, yet has a longer official range. Is that game over for the Tesla?...

MG 4 and Tesla Model 3 driving - fronts

The contenders

MG 4 Extended Range Trophy

Price £36,495 Engine Electric motor Power 241bhp Torque 258lb ft Gearbox 1-spd automatic Battery size 74.4kWh (usable) 0-60mph 6.1sec Top speed 112mph Official range 323 miles

Tesla Model 3 RWD

Price £42,990 Engine Electric motor Power 321bhp Torque 310lb ft Gearbox 1-spd automatic Battery size 57.5kWh (usable) 0-60mph 5.8sec Top speed 140mph Official range 305 miles

Just five years ago, the idea of getting a 300-mile range from an electric car seemed optimistic in the extreme. Indeed, only one brand – Tesla – offered a car that could manage such a feat, and you’d have to spend almost £100,000 to put it on your front drive.

By contrast, now the cheapest new electric car in the UK can officially obliterate 300 miles. Not the cheapest version of it, granted, but at £36,495, the new MG 4 Extended Range is barely more than a third of the price of that pioneering Tesla Model S 100D (below).

Tesla Model S front action - 69-plate car

In fact, it undercuts the American brand's cheapest car of the present day, the Tesla Model 3 RWD, by £6500 while beating it for range. So, if you can now go farther between charges for less money, is there any point in buying a Tesla at all?

To find out, we embarked on a road trip from London to Cornwall – the sort of jaunt you might make with your other half, perhaps with the kids in tow, for a weekend or maybe even a whole week away.

A long range is always a real bonus for trips like this, especially when visiting areas with relatively few charging points. However, we’re also comparing two completely different charging infrastructures: the UK’s public charging network versus Tesla’s Supercharger network, which, a handful of trials aside, is reserved exclusively for Tesla drivers.

The cars

Let’s start with a quick recap on the MG 4. It’s a Volkswagen Golf-sized family hatchback that was launched last year with two battery options. The entry-level version (our reigning Small Electric Car of the Year) has 50.8kWh of usable capacity and an official range of 218 miles, while the Long Range model gets a 61.7kWh battery and can travel for up to 283 miles on a charge.

The brand new Extended Range, however, gets a 74.4kWh battery and a range of 323 miles. That’s more than any other sub-£40k electric car, and as a bonus the electric motor that drives the rear wheels has been boosted to 241bhp to improve performance.

Such aggressive pricing makes the Model 3 look quite dear, even after the huge price cuts Tesla made to its entire line-up earlier this year. Yes, it’s a bigger car than the MG (about the size of a BMW 3 Series), but not by enough to allow you to carry any more people.

Like the MG, the Model 3 RWD is also driven by its rear wheels (the clue is in the name) and by an even more powerful, 279bhp motor. The downside is that you get a much smaller (57.5kWh) battery than with the MG 4 and a shorter range of 305 miles.

Remember, though, that all of the range figures we’ve mentioned so far are the official ones based on government tests. Things are different in real-world use, with everything from speed and air temperature to the topography of the road affecting efficiency.

MG 4 and Tesla Model 3 charging in car park

Day one

We started out at the What Car? office in Twickenham, London, on a sunny September morning. Both cars had been fully charged and were ready to go – just as they’d most likely be for anyone making such a long trip.

What Car?’s head of video, Doug Revolta, would be driving the MG and reviews editor Will Nightingale would be in the Tesla. The trip wasn’t designed to be a scientific and repeatable test of each car’s range and efficiency (we’ve done that previously), so there was no plan to stay in convoy or swap drivers. Doug and Will would simply have to meet at Land’s End as soon as reasonably possible, factoring in a subsequent overnight stay in Newquay.

In the Tesla, the plan was simply to plug the destination into the sat-nav and let the car decide on the route and where best to make charging stops. Meanwhile, in the MG, Doug would be running the Waze app on his phone, mirrored to the car’s infotainment screen via Apple CarPlay. The reason for this is that the MG’s native sat-nav system is rather basic and has limited information on charging locations.

Doug had decided on his charging stops beforehand, using a popular website (and app) called ZapMap. He planned to make just one stop on the way down, at an InstaVolt site near Redruth, and another on the way back if all went well. The Tesla was suggesting two Supercharger stops on the way down – one roughly 70 miles into the trip, at Amesbury in Wiltshire, and another at Exeter in Devon.

MG 4 and Tesla Model 3 driving - rears

The first suggested stop was a bit too early for lunch, and Will still had loads of range left, so he decided to push on to Exeter – a Supercharger location with more charging stalls (32) than any other in the UK.

Only 13 were in use when he arrived, meaning he had 19 to choose from – each capable of delivering 250kW. That’s quite a luxury when you consider that every other brand of electric car charging at Exeter Services has to share six Gridserve devices that can each pump out just 50kW of power.

This Tesla can’t accept more than about 170kW when charging, but because the battery is pre-conditioned to ensure it’s at the optimum temperature when you plug in (as long as the stop is programmed on the sat-nav), Will actually got that speed – at least to begin with. He stayed plugged in for 24 minutes, during which time the battery received 34kWh of electricity – an average rate of 85kW/hour.

One of the great things about the Supercharger network is the bays have plenty of space around them, so everyone can get in and out without worrying about bashing doors with adjacent cars. Even better, the car takes care of virtually everything as it communicates with the charging station; you just plug the cable in, charging starts automatically and the money comes out of your account at the end. There’s no need to faff around with an app or wave a contactless card around.

Tesla Model 3 plugged in to Supercharger

Sadly, this isn’t the case with the rest of the UK’s public charging network – as Doug soon found out. He carried on past Exeter (due partly to the relatively slow public chargers there but also because he had the range to do so) and on towards Redruth, roughly 260 miles into the journey. However, the MG’s indicated range suddenly started to drop a lot quicker than expected, so Doug had to switch to Plan B and enter a Shell Recharge location in Penhale into the sat-nav.

Despite being only 240 miles from Twickenham, Doug had to switch off the air-con and slow to 60mph just to make it there, which he did with an indicated 10 miles (4%) of remaining range. The good news is that, despite there being just two stalls at the location, one was free. The charging point initially refused to work, but on the third attempt it started doing its job.

The Extended Range can charge slightly faster than other MG 4s (at speeds of up to 144kW), and although it didn’t receive that much power at any point, on this occasion it took on 62.3kWh during a 45-minute stop (an average rate of 83kW/hour). That’s not bad at all.

The 60mph cruising and longer charging stop meant Doug was now around 25 minutes behind Will, and the traffic was building up ahead as rush hour approached. However, assuming the MG’s indicated 238 miles of remaining range wasn’t too far wide of the mark, he’d have plenty of charge to get to Land’s End and on to Newquay.

MG 4 and Tesla Model 3 at Lands End

Will, on the other hand, needed a second stop to do that comfortably – and duly followed the Model 3’s advice to pit at Camborne in Cornwall, another 100 miles on from Exeter.

It was a quick, 16-minute stop that added 26kWh of juice, so Will was soon back on the road and still farther along it than Doug. He arrived at Land’s End at 5.35pm, ahead of Doug in the MG, although by only 15 minutes or so.

After a few photos, they were straight back on the road to Newquay – an easy 43 miles, with both cars having more than enough charge for the trip. Because there were no charging points at or near the hotel, a decision was made to worry about further top-ups on the way home.

Day two

More than half of the road trip’s total miles were already done, and both cars had enough range left to reach a convenient charging location on the way back. So, after some breakfast during rush hour, the cars left Newquay together in the direction of London.

MG 4 and Tesla Model 3 driving - sides

Will’s plan was simple, and devised by the Model 3’s sat-nav: he’d stop once at Exeter – the same place as on the way down. Doug decided he’d also stop once, a bit farther into the journey at a farm shop near Honiton, which had two 125kW InstaVolt chargers.

Will arrived at Exeter to find at least 20 free charging points, plugged in and went to grab some lunch. He returned 26 minutes later to find the battery topped up with 41kWh of energy (an average rate of 95kW/hour) and enough range to get back to London.

Doug, on the other hand, was only just plugging in at his planned stop – albeit a bit farther into the journey. Ordering (and eating) lunch took a bit longer than expected, so the MG was plugged in for 57 minutes and received 61.4kWh – an average of 65kW/hour.

Again, traffic had started to build up by this point, so the MG arrived in London around 45 minutes after the Tesla. That wasn’t too bad, and Doug assured us the farm shop lunch was worth the small delay.

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