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You’ve driven a Tesla Model 3 in the UK?

Yep, albeit Dutch-registered and left-hand drive. Full UK cars will start arriving to whittle down the lengthy waiting list as soon as June. Those hoping that Elon’s $35,000 entry-ticket would equate to a £25,000 starting price over here are in for a big disappointment. UK Prices start at £39,800.

What’s the full model range?

For a sniff under £40k you get the rear-drive (i.e. single motor) Standard Range Plus. For most, it’ll be all you need, the reason for upgrading unlikely to be the performance (it does 0-60mph in 5.3secs) so much as the longer-range battery. On the WLTP cycle the base model does 258 miles, while the 75kwh battery of the one up, the Dual Motor, gives it a claimed 348-mile range. But the price steps up by £8,100.

At the top of the tree there’s the £56,900 450bhp Performance, which we recently pitted against the BMW M3. It does 0-60mph in 3.2secs, 162mph max. All prices already include the £3,500 government grant.

Which one have you driven?

The mid-range Dual Motor model: 346bhp, 0-62mph in 4.5secs, 145mph top speed and – most importantly of all – that claimed 348-mile range. In reality I reckon you’re looking at a genuine 300-mile electric car, and one that can be charged not only on Tesla’s Supercharger network (albeit not for free), but via its standard CCS charge port that’s compatible with almost all roadside charge points.

Its £47,900 price buys you a four-year, 50,000-mile warranty, with battery and drivetrain covered for eight years or 120,000 miles. 18in wheels are standard, the 19s fitted to our test car a £1,450 option. The ‘Premium Interior’ is standard, and includes satellite mapping, a 14-speaker stereo and internet browser. All models get 12-way electric heated seats, four USB ports and Bluetooth. Autopilot, Tesla’s self-driving mode, is also included on all cars. The Model 3 is aimed at a premium audience in the UK.

Does it feel well built?

Yes. In fact it feels more robust and made from better quality materials than any Model S or X I’ve driven. Fewer trim rattles, too. Tesla promises that the updated S and X with the new motors will be a step on from existing cars, and there have been documented issues with the quality of early Model 3s, but this one felt good – nice materials, solid feel and the interior layout itself is just stunning.

It’s empty, and initially feels more like stepping into a piece of modern architecture than a car. The white leather helps there. You have a steering wheel and a screen, and that’s about it. There’s a lot of storage, but it’s hidden behind sleek lids. The driving position is good, and forward visibility – thanks to the bonnet dropping away so quickly – is remarkable. The rearward view is less impressive as the rear bulkhead is high. The overall impression is calming, restful, gentle,

Immediately after the Model 3 I drove both a Range Rover Velar and a Mercedes C-Class. Both, especially the Merc, felt cluttered and almost claustrophobic.

Was it easy to get on with, though?

You have to master two things. Firstly, the key, which is either a very loseable sliver of credit card or your phone, and has to be tapped on the B-pillar to open the doors, and on the centre console if you’ve waited too long before moving off.

And secondly the screen, but that’s fine, because a) it’s an enormous 15-incher and b) it’s much more intuitive to interact with than most of the premium German stuff. They give you too many options – four different ways to change the volume, clickwheels, pads and touchscreens. They might have integrated the tech, but have struggled to give up their button fetishes.

Elon Musk takes the same approach as Steve Jobs. Simplify and add beauty. It works.

Well, until the screen had a paddy and went fuzzy. It was an easy fix to reboot (just press and hold both steering wheel buttons and brake pedal for 10 seconds), but it made me realise that every function, including adjusting the mirrors and steering wheel, is controlled through the screen.

Will it be big enough for my teenage kids?

Probably. It’s not got a vast amount of legroom in the back (it’s very close to a BMW 3 Series in cabin capacities), but the bigger issue is the shaping of the rear seats themselves, which don’t have enough under thigh support. No transmission tunnel means the central occupant has less to complain about and there are split fold seats and a 480-litre boot out back. It’s a saloon, not a hatch, so the boot’s a bit of a coal hole, but there’s a useful frunk under the bonnet as well.

And how does it drive?

Safely, securely, well. Very much in the mould of the Model S, but a little tauter. The weight, 1,847kg, means it was never going to feel agile, so Tesla has combated that by fitting a very fast steering rack. Factor in the super-low centre of gravity and 235-width tyres all round and you have a car that will carry good speed across country.

The suspension initially feels a bit over-sprung and under-damped, but that’s just a corollary of its weight, the body control Tesla needs it to have and the awkwardness of your standard British B-road. There’s no tactility or feedback, but we’re used to that now, and there’s the satisfaction of recuperating energy by slowing for a corner without using the brakes, carving a clean, solid, flat line through and then jetting out the far side silently. It’s a party trick that’s bound to wear off one day, but the Model 3 does it very well indeed.  

Quick word on the actual brakes. They’re very strong. Once. Maybe twice. After that you get considerable fade. But you’re not going to be driving that hard, in fact you’re probably not going to be using all the available performance – instantly accessible though it is. The Dual Motor is very fast, probably quicker than it needs to be, as quick as an Audi S4 or Mercedes-AMG C43 and without any of the effort and strain they have to put in.

And when cruising?

You get a little wind noise from the side mirrors that you only notice because there’s no other noise to distract you. The ride’s not pillowy, keeps a firmer grip on things, but there’s little tyre or suspension noise intrusion. It just feels unruffled and easy. Apart from status, I’m not sure why you’d want a Model S instead.

And it’s gentle on its battery. A drag factor of just 0.23Cd helps massively here. You’ll get over three miles per kwh (300wh/mile) on a motorway run, four if you’re also doing lower speed stuff around town. It’s as efficient, if not more, than the Nissan Leaf we ran as a long termer last year, and not far behind the VW e-Golf.

What does it rival?

Everything. It’ll pull sales from a vastly wider range than just the BMW 3 Series it looks a close match for on paper. Existing electric car owners upgrading, SUV owners switching to electric because it’s more fashionable and so on. Enough to keep the waiting list (Tesla won’t say how long it is) topped up for a while yet.

How’s Autopilot?

No worse than the world’s worst Uber driver. You sit there and cringe at the decisions it’s making, how it’s not planning ahead, why it’s suddenly nudging the brakes for no apparent reason. But it’s not like many others are getting it right. The latest BMWs actually steer themselves quite well, but that’s about it.

The Model 3 is confident and tenacious, though – it’ll have a good stab at continuing to drive when there are no lines, or when the road gets very twisty, but really it’s only happy on a multi-lane motorway.

So did you like it?

I was really impressed. The cabin’s elegant simplicity is really appealing and compared to any car with an internal combustion engine, no matter how smooth its drivetrain, this is far, far smoother. Quality is a real step on for Tesla, and together with the equipment levels, helps to justify the higher-than-expected price. For the UK this feels like it could be the tipping point.


What do you think?

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