Tesla’s new high-tech Model 3 is changing the electric car game

Erin Baker, Editorial Director at Auto Trader, explains why the Tesla Model 3 is set to be a major player in the electric car industry

Words by Erin Baker, Editorial Director at Auto Trader 

Electric vehicles (EVs) are finally becoming a sensible purchase for motorists, thanks to increased battery ranges and an increased number of public charging points, plus general awareness making them a less scary idea. Most electric cars now offer between 200 and 300 miles of range on one charge, and the cost of running one works out at about 2-3p per mile, instead of the 7-10p per mile you’ll pay if you run a petrol or diesel car.

But how does Tesla’s long-awaited car for the masses compare with the healthy competition emerging from every other brand?

Style

Very, very weird, this. We are so used to talking about how a car looks from the outside, that it’s hard not to comment on the ultra-bland appearance of the Model 3 – give a five-year-old some crayons, tell them to sketch a car, and he or she would pretty much draw this very bog-standard outline.

However, that is to totally miss the point that Tesla has cleverly realised, which is that cars of the future will all be about what goes on inside; no one will care what they look like for passers-by.

And so it’s inside we go, where our test car was bathed in Tesla’s very white synthetic (part of the sustainable messaging) leather. There are four seats, a steering wheel, two pedals, one massive screen and, er, that’s it. No buttons, bar two scroll buttons on the steering wheel. No dials, no switches, no clocks… nothing but a big empty dashboard and that massive touchscreen which does everything. It’s brilliant.

Tech

I took my eight-year-old and six-year-old sons with me for the test drive from Tesla’s West Drayton showroom, which couldn’t have been better, because the Model3 is essentially an app more than a car. And children are far better at operating apps than adults.

Where to start? The massive screen does everything. It’s got Spotify, a pinch-and-swipe satnav map showing Tesla superchargers, calculating distances and charge for routes. You operate the lights, the glass roof if you have one and the ventilation on the screen – for the latter, simply pull the air-flow graphic from the vents wider or downwards to control the direction. You can toggle between “Chill” and Standard for acceleration, between low and standard levels of retardation for braking and recouping energy. You can select autopilot, which will steer, over and stop the car as long as you have a hand on the wheel, and so much more. There’s a credit-card device instead of a key, or you can download your Tesla app and start the car with your phone.

Obviously the kids’ favourite was the app that allows you to change the audible tick of the indicator stalk to either Santa’s sleigh bells or – giggle – a whoopee cushion. Yeah.

One downside: no head-up display, which means you are looking down at the screen an awful lot of the time, fiddling with the controls, until you get used to where everything is.

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Desert Supercharger by @dinokuznik

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Comfort

A real step up here for Tesla over its other cars, the Model S saloon and the Model X huge SUV/weird family mover. The suspension set-up has changed and the result is a car that rides the UK’s rough and cracked roads softly, with none of the crashing into potholes that the other two cars have.

My children loved sitting in the rear, with its massive glass roof and good view forwards. Obviously, being electric, it’s oh so quiet around town and out on the motorway, and feels like an expensive car, whereas it’s about £20,000 cheaper than the other two Teslas.

Power

You have two options: the base version comes with rear-wheel drive and is good for 258 miles on the WLTP (most accurate) index. Then there’s the Dual Motor Performance model, which we tested, with all-wheel drive which will give you up to 329 miles but more pizzazz.

As for charging it, Tesla owners have access to 445 superchargers in the UK which you’ll be wanting if you’re out and about as they put in a huge dose of charge in just 20 minutes. But you can also charge your Tesla at any public or domestic charging point.

The Model 3 feels very quick, and very powerful, partly because, as with all electric cars, you don’t have to wait for the engine revs to rise but instead get 100 per cent of the power from the moment you press the throttle pedal.

But the stats are good: 0-60mph in 3.2 seconds which is proper sports-car territory, and yet you’re seating four adults in comfort with a decent boot too.

Price

The Model 3 starts at £38,900 but the rub is the infamous waiting list for this car in right-hand drive, ie UK spec, as Tesla struggles to fill its orders. If you are interested, get your order in now because you’ll be waiting several months.

We drove a left-hand-drive model on Dutch plates – deliveries of UK cars to people who got their deposits down early on start this month. As our car was the top model, it came with a price tag of £49,300, which includes the £3,500 government grant for electric cars (it was recently cut by £1,000).

An 80 per cent charge on a supercharger will cost you about £14, so that’s £14 for about 280 miles. A little better than petrol or diesel, I think you’ll agree…

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