Performance & drive
What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is
Engine, 0-60mph and gearbox
In our tests, even the entry-level, rear-wheel-drive Tesla Model 3 Standard Range Plus managed 0-60mph in 6.1sec. That's much faster than the Kia e-Niro or, indeed, a similarly priced petrol or diesel rival, such as the BMW 3 Series. However, the Long Range and Performance models have four-wheel drive, and not one but two electric motors, so they're even quicker. Indeed, we've timed the Performance pinging from 0-60mph in just 3.3sec, so it'll comfortably see off a Porsche 911 Carrera S in a drag race – as well as its closest rival, the Polestar 2.
As for how far you'll get between charges, the pre-facelift Standard Range Plus model we tested managed a respectable 181 miles in our Real Range tests. The Long Range and Performance models both have bigger batteries, and the latter (also a pre-facelift model) achieved 239 miles – one of the longest ranges of any electric car we've ever tested.
Tesla claims the facelifted cars should go quite a bit farther on a charge thanks to a more efficient air-conditioning system (with a heat pump) along with more energy efficient tyres (the Standard Range Plus has an official range of 267 miles; the Long Range 360 miles and the Performance 352 miles). We’ll be putting those claims to the test in the near future.
Suspension and ride comfort
Ride comfort isn't a strength of the Model 3, but it's far from a deal-breaker. At low speeds, the entry-level Standard Range Plus and the Long Range jostle you around a bit. The BMW 3 Series is a more comfortable alternative – as long as you avoid M Sport trim – although that car, too, is far from perfect. Indeed, if you want a really smooth ride from your executive car, we'd point you in the direction of smaller-wheeled versions of the Audi A4 – although you can't get an electric version of one of those.
The range-topping Performance version of the Model 3 has sports suspension and massive 20in wheels as standard. Around town, you certainly feel more of bumps as they pass beneath the car, but it's still a more comfortable alternative to the Polestar 2 and actually ride pretty smoothly on the motorway.
Compared with other electric cars – from the pricier Jaguar I-Pace to the Polestar 2 – the Model 3 handles really quite well in its Performance guise. As we've just mentioned, this range-topping version gets stiffer suspension and larger 20in alloy wheels, so there isn't much body lean and the amount of speed you can carry through corners is seriously impressive.
True, it’s still a heavy car because of all the batteries it carries around, so it doesn’t feel as light on its toes as, say, an Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio, but it grips with real tenacity once settled into a bend. The steering is quicker and more precise than the Polestar 2's vague set-up, and you can change its weighting to suit your tastes, although you don't get a much feedback streaming to your fingertips.
The Long Range version handles tidily, too, just with a bit more body lean and a little less grip. However, the Standard Range Plus feels altogether less balanced and less confidence-inspiring than the pricier versions of the Model 3 – despite being lighter. It's the only model in the range without four-wheel drive (it's driven by its rear wheels) and feels less stable when driven enthusiastically.
One of the biggest draws of the Model 3 is how much tech it comes with. Its standard Autopilot self-steering and adaptive cruise control system works really well on motorways, automatically keeping you a set distance from the car in front as well in the centre of your lane.
Noise and vibration
Being a pure electric car the Model 3 is, unsurprisingly, whisper-quiet at town speeds. However, there’s quite a lot of tyre noise on faster roads when you can also hear the wind whistling around its frameless doors – despite the double-glazed side windows. It's still quieter than the Polestar 2 on motorways, but there's no doubt that conventional executive cars, such as the 3 Series and A4, are more peaceful cruising companions.
The brakes deserve a special mention for being far less grabby than those of most electric cars. This makes it easy to slow down smoothly and without your passengers thinking you’ve only just passed your driving test. There's also a selectable one-pedal feature (Hold mode), which ramps up the effect of the regenerative braking system and allows the car to bring itself to a standstill fairly quickly without you pressing the brake pedal at all.
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