Tesla Model 3 Review
Tesla threw a thunderbolt at the established car manufacturers when it released its Model S in 2012. This was an all-electric machine from a relatively new company that most people had never heard of, but it brought scintillating straightline performance and design that was light years away from what had gone before. And it had a dedicated charging network rolled out globally to keep it going for long distances. Many will say that Tesla kick-started the electric car revolution, and the big carmakers have been playing catch up ever since.
The Model 3 is (at the time of writing) Tesla’s most recent and most affordable electric car, and it’s also the best one. First introduced in 2017, it was given a refresh in 2021, which knocked off most of the few criticisms that could be leveled at it. It’s a four-door, five-seat saloon that comes in several different forms. All have some technology that no other carmaker can boast, all have very decent performance and handling, and all have a range of up to 278 miles from a single battery charge. The Long Range model promises up to 360 miles, which should be enough to alleviate the ‘range anxiety’ faced by some would-be electric car drivers. You’ll see a lot of Model 3s on the road, and if you drive one, you’ll understand why.
Tesla Model 3 Review Sections
Select's rating score* - 4.3 / 5
The Model 3, unlike some other electric cars from established car manufacturers, is an EV through and through. There are no petrol or diesel versions. It has sleek, aerodynamic styling on the outside and an interior that takes minimalism to a whole new level, with little more than a steering wheel and a giant touchscreen to clutter up the dashboard. There’s plenty of interior space and a reasonable boot, and customers have a choice of three different models. The Standard Plus car is rear-wheel drive and promises up to 278 miles from a battery charge, and it’s the most affordable version. The Long Range AWD model has all-wheel drive for improved traction, will deliver up to 360 miles on a charge and is faster, while the Performance model has straight-line speed to rival supercars, and yet still promises up to 352 miles to a charge.
The Model 3 grabs the headlines for a variety of reasons. Its styling, with its lack of front grille, can divide opinion, as can its unique interior, which ditches all extraneous controls in favour of a do-it-all touchscreen. Its performance figures are very impressive. All versions have acceleration to rival sports cars, and it’s a car that handles very well too. Impressive range is a big attraction for customers, although there are rival cars that are starting to match it. But the availability of Tesla’s dedicated Supercharger network is a huge plus for drivers; having a reliable, widespread and fast way to charge your car on longer journeys is something that other electric car drivers can only dream of, as the wider EV charging infrastructure in the UK can still be somewhat patchy.
Tesla’s Standard Plus version of the Model 3 uses a 50kWh battery, which gives it an official range of up to 278 miles, although as with all cars, what you get in the real world is likely to be a little less. That said, it’ll depend a lot on the type of driving you do, and external factors like temperature – batteries tend to perform less well in the cold.
The Long Range model uses an 82kWh battery, upping the range to 360 miles, which is pretty decent, and certainly enough for anything but mammoth commutes.Not too many rivals can offer more range than that, and one of those is another Tesla; the Model S Long Range promises up to 405 miles on a charge.
The Performance model sacrificed a bit of range for acceleration, but still promises a 352-mile range from the same 82kWh battery.
Whichever Model 3 you opt for, you’ll get pretty scintillating performance. The Standard Plus model is the least potent, but it still has 241bhp, which puts it up there with hot hatchbacks in terms of grunt. And because of the nature of electric motors, which don’t need to rev to deliver their power, you get maximum oomph straight away.
Even more potent is the Long Range model, which uses dual motors – one driving the front wheels and one driving the rears – giving it all-wheel drive. Compared to the rear-wheel drive Standard Plus model, this gives it extra traction in poor conditions and makes the acceleration even more pronounced, although the 346bhp has more than a little to do with that. This is a seriously quick car, with lots of power everywhere, whether you’re moving away from standstill, accelerating on to a motorway or putting in an overtake. For most customers, this power, coupled with the impressive battery range and security of the all-wheel drive, will make it the ideal model.
For those that want absolute performance though, the unimaginatively named Performance model will be for them. This ups the power to 449bhp, which is up there with top sports cars. It too has all-wheel drive and will do the benchmark 0-60 sprint in 3.1 seconds; a pace that will match an Audi R8 V10 and a Lamborghini Urus.
What’s particularly impressive about the Model 3, however, is not just its acceleration, or the fact that it can do those numbers without sacrificing battery range. It’s also a genuinely impressive car to drive. The ride is on the firm side of comfortable, especially with the larger wheels found on the Performance model (and optional on other models) , but it’s easily comfortable enough for longer journeys.
And the handling is really impressive. The steering feels meaty and full of feel, and the car stays level and composed through the corners. This isn’t a given with electric cars, as those batteries can be very heavy, necessitating suspension that’s either too stiff for a comfortable ride, or too soft to keep things in control through the corners. Tesla engineers have judged it beautifully; it’s fun when you want it to be, and comfy at all times.
You can charge your Model 3 at home, using a home wallbox or even a three-pin socket. The latter will take a very long time – the best part of two days – while a 7kW home charger will take between about eight and 12 hours, depending on model. This equates to around 30 miles of range each hour.
Many Tesla drivers will take advantage of the company’s dedicated Supercharger network of fast chargers. This is widespread and reliable, and a massive USP over other electric cars. The latest Superchargers will refill your Model 3’s battery at 250kW (Long Range and Performance models), which is as fast as just about anything else out there; it can add 172 miles of range in just 15 minutes. You can also charge the Model 3 at regular CCS Combo 2 public DC chargers.
Leasing costs for the Tesla Model 3 aren’t particularly cheap, but then it is a relatively high end car, especially in higher specs. And when you compare it to some other EVs that you might be considering, it’s actually pretty competitive. At the time of writing, entry points for the Model 3 were broadly similar to the Ford Mustang Mach-E, Kia EV6 and Audi Q4 E-Tron. There are cheaper electric cars to lease, but they won’t have the performance and range of the Tesla. And there are more expensive models too, which might have an edge in luxury, but don’t offer the same all-round bang-for-buck appeal as the Tesla.
When it comes to running costs, electricity is far cheaper than petrol or diesel. Exactly how much it costs to recharge your Model 3 will depend on how you do it. The cheapest way would be at home, overnight, on a tariff that gives you cheaper electricity at night. But even topping up at a public charger will be less than filling up with fuel. When it comes to efficiency, the Model 3 should deliver around 4.4 miles per kWh, which is the electric equivalent of miles-per-gallon. This is really good for a car of this size, and better even than a lot of smaller cars.
As a zero-emission vehicle, the Model 3 attracts a 1% benefit-in-kind tax for company car drivers. It’s worth noting, however, that all Model 3s will be quite pricey on insurance; they sit in insurance groups 48 or 50, which is the highest you can get.
The interior of the Tesla doesn’t look like anything else on the road. Several brands claim to embrace a minimalist ethos when designing their cabins, but Tesla has taken it to an all new level. The environment comprises simple, elegant lines, and in front of the driver is simply a steering wheel with two controls on, and two stalks behind. That’s it. Everything else is controlled through a huge central 15-inch touchscreen. This can take a bit of getting used to, and there’s a debate to be had about whether this is the right approach (do you really need to navigate through a menu to adjust the door mirrors or open the glovebox?).
However, accepting the fact that this is the way Tesla has decided to go, it’s been executed very well. The screen is bright, clear, quick to respond and very easy to use. In terms of features, it’s light years ahead of the competition. Speed information is shown in the top right of the screen, which isn’t as distracting to glance at as you might think. A network of sensors around the car also scan the surroundings and put a graphical representation below the speed info, so you can see what’s around you. It’s impressive, being able to tell the difference between cars, lorries and bicycles. It’ll even spot wheelie bins and individual cones and show them on the screen.
Sat-nav comes courtesy of Google Maps and factors in Supercharger locations for longer distances, and there are myriad other features to keep you amused when, for example, waiting for the car to charge. Spotify, YouTube and Netflix are all included, as is a karaoke function. There are games too, including a driving game that you control through the steering wheel and pedals. It’s very hard to be bored in a Model 3. There’s no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, which means linking up your smartphone isn’t as seamless as it could be, but it’s still pretty straightforward. There are two wireless chargers underneath the touchscreen to keep your devices topped up.
Build and material quality wasn’t perhaps as good as it should have been when the Model 3 first launched, but a 2021 refresh has improved things considerably. It’s not as rock solid as, say, an Audi A4 E-tron, nor does it feel as special, but it’s entirely acceptable; nothing feels cheap or flimsy.
When talking about tech, we should also mention the ‘AutoPilot’ feature. This is Tesla’s suite of systems and sensors that will take over limited control of steering, acceleration and braking, and can be used on the motorway to make life a bit less stressful. Other manufacturers offer similar systems, but Tesla’s is one of the best. There are three levels of AutoPilot, the top two of which are optional and add extra functionality. The top-spec version is called ‘Full Self-Driving Capability’, although this is a misnomer; despite the marketing, it’s not advanced enough to drive the car while you jump in the back and have a sleep; you still legally need to be alert to intervene if it gets caught out.
Tesla has designed its cars to update automatically, without needing to plug it into the internet or visit a dealer. This means new features are rolled out without you needing to do anything. You can also connect your car to a Tesla app, which allows you to enter navigation destinations, check the charge level and lock or unlock the car remotely, amid several other useful features.
The cabin of the Model S has a light, airy feel, helped by the minimalist dashboard and the full-length panoramic glass roof, which floods it with light. It’s also genuinely spacious inside, with lots of legroom and headroom both front and back.
The Tesla is a saloon, with a boot lid hinged under the rear window, which means it’s not quite as practical as a hatchback when loading stuff in the rear. But the space is very reasonable at 425 litres, even if some rivals have more; the BMW i4, for instance, has 470 litres. You can fold the rear seats down in a 60/40 split to make more room, although you may miss the flexibility of a 20/40/20 split offered by some rival cars.
There’s also a front trunk – a frunk – under the bonnet, which can hold a couple of extra bags. General storage is generous too; there are two huge cubby holes between the front seats, a reasonable glove box and decent door pockets, as well as a couple of cupholders.
The Tesla Model was tested by independent safety organisation Euro NCAP in 2019 and scored the maximum five stars, with particularly impressive scores for tests involving adult occupants. Its safety assist systems also scored extremely well. All models come with a great amount of safety features as standard, and the Model 3 has picked up plenty of safety awards since it was released. Overall, it’s one of the safest cars on the market.
One of the criticisms levelled against Tesla is that you don’t get as much choice of specification on the Model 3 as you do with its rivals. Essentially, you can choose between Standard Plus, Long Range and Performance, and pick a few extras, and that’s about it.
Still, when the cars are well-equipped as standard, that’s not necessarily too much of a concern, as there’s little difference between them in terms of extras. The Standard Plus and Long Range cars come with 18-inch alloy wheels, LED headlights and black leather-effect upholstery, while the Performance model adds 20-inch wheels, upgraded brakes and a carbon fibre spoiler, as well as lowered suspension for a sportier look. There’s a Track Mode too, which lets you play with settings like stability control, handling balance and brake regeneration levels, and tune the car to your liking on a racing circuit. The Performance model also ups the top speed from 145mph to 162mph.
All Model 3s come with Pearl White paint as standard, but other colours cost extra. You can upgrade your wheels on Standard Plus and Performance Models, and opt for a black and white interior colour scheme, with white leather-effect seats. You can also upgrade the AutoPilot feature, as mentioned above.
At this kind of price, with these kinds of features, there are increasing numbers of electric cars you might consider alongside the Tesla Model 3. The Polestar 2 offers a bit more practicality and, even with the Model 3’s 2021 upgrades, a bit more class, but it has less range potential and isn’t as fun to drive. You don’t get Supercharger network access either; that’s something none of Tesla’s rivals can offer, and it’s a big plus for the American brand. Hyundai’s Ioniq 5 has the Tesla beaten on looks and is more affordable, and it’s good to drive too, but can’t match Tesla’s range. Ford’s Mustang Mach-E is worth a look; it’s got funky looks and is arguably more fun to drive, although its boot is quite small. Then there’s the Audi Q4 E-tron, which is king of the hill in terms of interior quality, but not as dynamically impressive as the Tesla. Other rivals are out there, and extra competition is coming to market almost every week, but the Tesla is right up at the top of the pile.
The Tesla Model 3 is one of the very best electric cars available to lease today. It does lots of things very well and a few things superbly, offering tremendous performance with a top quality battery range, great handling at a comfortable ride. It’s spacious enough to use as a family car, safe as houses and packed with gadgetry to amuse and inform. The access to Tesla’s Supercharger network is a huge bonus for those getting used to the electric car experience. Keep an eye on the rivals, as there are plenty of manufacturers gunning for Tesla’s crown, but if you’re after a new electric car at this price point, then the Tesla page is the first one you should look at.
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*Score based on Select’s unique meta score analysis, taking into account the UK’s top five leading independent car website reviews of the Tesla Model 3
**Correct as of 18/08/2021. Based on 9 months initial payment, 5,000 miles over a 48 month lease. Initial payment equivalent to 9 monthly payments or £3,671.89. Ts and Cs apply. Credit is subject to status.