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First Drive

Tesla Model 3 Performance review: a daily driver with a naughty side

£59,990 when new
Published: 23 Apr 2024

Is this the new Tesla Model 3 Plaid?

Nope, this is the new Model 3 Performance, not Plaid as internet rumour mongers would have you believe. Confusingly, that badge on the boot might look like a Plaid logo, but it’s subtly different, and you need triple carbon-sleeve motors to achieve Plaid status on Planet Tesla. Anyway, this is the car the engineers always wanted the go-faster Model 3 to be.

Is that an admission that the previous-gen model was a bit rubbish? 

Grab a quiet word with any Tesla engineer and they’ll all say the same thing: the first-generation Model 3 Performance was a pulled punch. Born in the midst of Model 3 production hell, Mr Musk (supposedly sleeping on the factory floor at that time to help get the whole ‘mass production’ thing to work) didn’t want any extra complexity, so the go-faster 3 suffered. Plenty of poke, but not a lot else.

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What are the changes?

It’s still a dual-motor, although a new ‘Performance 4DU’ rear motor unlocks a total of 503bhp, and 547lb ft of torque (up from 444bhp and 471lb ft in the old one). The 0-60mph time drops from 3.3 to 2.9 seconds, top speed’s 163mph. Range is 328 miles WLTP, so think comfortably over 250 miles real world. Prices in the UK start from £59,990, which isn't bad ding for your dollar when you consider a BMW M3 can be specced up to beyond £100k.

The 20-inch forged aluminium wheels have snap-in aero fins and are now staggered so the Pirelli P Zeros are wider at the rear than the front. Upgraded semi-metallic brake pads, that only came when you ordered the Track Pack on the previous model, are now standard but the big story is that this is the first Model 3 with adaptive dampers. Like everything Tesla does they’re controlled by in-house software, so can be tweaked and improved with an OTA update while you sleep.

Do the dampers need tweaking and improving?

Not really, the two ride and handling settings are nicely judged: not too sloppy in ‘standard’, not bone shaking in ‘sport’ and a tangible gap between the two. And who needs more choice than that? We’re either feeling frisky on a decent road or trying to get somewhere comfortably and quietly.

The most dramatic way to change character is flipping between the three throttle map modes – standard, chill and insane – which takes you from docile to straining at the leash. Yes of course we found a quiet, straight section of road and launched it, and yes it delivers a mildly uncomfortable wall of torque that works out your neck muscles and requires zero skill to deploy. Faster than the last one? Almost certainly, although once you’ve experienced one 500-ish-bhp EV take flight, you’ve sort of experienced them all.

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That’s not to diminish the Model 3 Performance’s ability to snap forward at a millisecond’s notice and sustain a harder shove for longer, only that these days there are teleportation machines like the Porsche Taycan Turbo GT and Model S Plaid… in that company, this car’s accelerative efforts are merely stout.

Anything else you can play with?

You can pick between three settings for your steering – comfort, standard and sport – each adding more weight but no additional feel. Weirdly, I found it most satisfying to drive quickly in ‘comfort’, the lighter feel making the steering ratio seem snappier and the front end more agile. Which it is. Whereas the previous model would bounce on its outside springs in fast corners, never quite in control of its not-insignificant heft, here it corners flatter, faster and feels more faithful when you carve out a line, and less-likely to pirouette in a quick left-right transition.

Shame we didn’t have a racetrack to find and exceed the limits on, and a few sets of spare tyres, because a new Track Mode looks like lots of fun. You pick your level of stability control intervention and then a slider lets you select the handling characteristics from maximum oversteer to maximum understeer. Quite why you’d choose the latter I’m not sure, but the former certainly requires some forensic, sideways analysis. Another day.

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Are there any design changes?

Yes, but not many. The same slimmer headlights and lower nose as the facelifted Model 3, but with a new lower bumper at the front and a carbon boot-lip spoiler at the back, and that’s about it. Inside there’s a more meaningful change: new Performance seats with some proper bolstering, but still a good amount of squidge, which encapsulates the car neatly.

Is it a BMW M3 killer?

Nah, it’s far more laid-back than that. Is it more satisfying to drive than the last one and more fun than the standard dual-motor 3? Absolutely. You can happily punt this along at absurd speed, but it still has the limiting factors of EVs: no gears, no noise and weight of over 1,800kg. You can’t escape that mass. Tesla has done a good job of resisting making it more extreme than it is, this feels like as far as you’d want to push it. Right now, this is a daily driver with a naughty side you can uncork now and then. If it’s real fireworks you’re looking for, sit tight. The Roadster’s on its way.

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