Tesla Model 3 saloon - Engines, drive & performance
The Tesla Model 3 is capable of outrunning a BMW M3
We've already been impressed by the Model 3 on roads in the US, and now we've sampled both the Long Range AWD and the Standard Range Plus models on British roads. Faster versions continue to offer Teslas’ now-legendary ability to push your head into the headrest with a flex of your right foot. This isn't just the Model 3's party piece, it also makes for relaxed progress with the knowledge you can easily overtake slower traffic when necessary.
With large 18-inch (or optional 19- and 20-inch) wheels fitted, the Model 3's ride is definitely on the sporty side, but it's also not ruinously uncomfortable either on motorways or backroads if you just want to cruise in its more relaxed 'Chill' driving mode.
Tesla Model 3 electric motors
Thanks to their instant torque and a single forwards gear, every Tesla Model 3 is fast off the mark and as you accelerate at speed. Even the entry-level Standard Range Plus with rear-wheel drive can sprint from 0-62mph in 5.3 seconds, making it quicker than a BMW 330e. In real world driving, the Standard Range Plus offers substantial amounts of acceleration on demand, making easy work of overtaking and getting up to speed on motorways. Because it's around 200kg lighter than dual motor versions, the entry-level Model 3 also feels quite agile and playful, making the most of its low centre of gravity.
However, the real fun begins with the dual motor Long Range AWD model because it has an electric motor over both axles for truly gobsmacking acceleration. It spears from 0-60mph in 4.2 seconds and has a top speed of 145mph. If anything, its ability to tear away from the line makes it feel even faster, and it would take a skilled BMW M3 driver to beat a Model 3 in a drag race. This is the closest Tesla in performance to the 403bhp Polestar 2, which takes 4.7 seconds to get from 0-62mph.
In the same race against the Performance version, the BMW M3 would be left trailing. The Model 3 Performance can get from 0-60mph in just 3.1 seconds, humbling not just everything in the executive class, but most sports cars too.
The Long Range model's performance is addictive and it takes some getting used to the near-silence that accompanies it, even if there's slightly more whine from the motors than in a Model S. You can feel that the electric powertrain adds weight - the car we drove is around 300kg heavier than a BMW 320d - but its mass is positioned very low in the floor, so while it won't change direction quite as quickly as a 3 Series or Jaguar XE, there's not much body lean and plenty of grip.
You can choose Comfort, Standard and Sport steering weight, with the first of the three being the one we favour for most driving, even if it still feels a bit heavy and artificial. Its brakes feel smooth, progressive and stand up well against conventional cars; this isn’t a given with electric and hybrid models, which can sometimes have brakes with an unnatural or ‘grabby’ feel. Overall, it has a slightly more sporty feel than the Polestar, which also has plenty of four-wheel drive grip but rather inert steering.
Like most EVs, the Model 3 features a regenerative braking system that helps top up the battery when you’re driving. There are two modes; in one of them, the car slows significantly when you lift off the accelerator, which feeds more energy back to the battery. This is one of the best 'one pedal' setups we've tried, bringing the car to a smooth stop if you ease off the accelerator. Drive the Model 3 carefully and it’s possible to match the claimed range in the real world.
Of course, you don't necessarily have to do all of the driving. In the UK, the Model 3 comes with Autopilot as standard, with adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping. You still have to rest a hand on the steering wheel, but the Model 3 will accelerate, brake and steer while monitoring the vehicles around you so long as the road is clearly marked. Indicate left or right and Autopilot will also judge if it's safe to change lanes and complete the manoeuver for you. It's the most intuitive autonomous driving available right now, and regularly gets better thanks to wireless internet updates.