But placards at the ready, because the Project C's not coming to the UK...
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£40,840 when new
A Tesla I can afford? Praise be to Elon. Indeed – what you’re looking at is a Tesla Model 3 ‘Standard Range Plus’. The entry-level Model 3. After the government’s £3,500 plug-in car grant it costs £37,340 – not that much more money than a top-spec Hyundai Kona EV, VW e-Golf or Nissan Leaf. But usefully cheaper than the next Model 3 up, the £46,340 dual-motor ‘Long Range’. On a three-year PCP with a reasonable down payment (we’re talking £6,000 or so) Tesla will let you have an SRP for a little over £400 per month, putting it squarely in the mix with the BMW 320i/d and so-on. How much kit do I lose? Happily very little. The only options offered are a white leather interior, a tow hook and £5,800-worth of “Full Self-Driving Capability” (which for now gives more sophisticated Autopilot and the promise of more to come…). This car has none of those things. It’s even white, the only non-cost colour option.
Many of the cost-savings come from the drivetrain. See, the SRP does without a second e-motor for the front axle, making it rear-wheel drive only. Said motor makes 235bhp and 277lb ft, so 0-60mph takes a still-brisk 5.3 seconds. The top speed is capped at 140mph. More than quick enough to embarrass pretty much any BMW 3 Series driver. Tesla claims 254 miles of WLTP-certified range, but in reality you’ll get closer to 220 miles from the 55kWh battery, which can be juiced at any CCS-compatible rapid charger (not just the company’s own Superchargers). A 7.4kWh wall-box (a must-have for any EV owner) will brim the battery in eight hours. 220 miles? That’s not bad… Quite right – it’s not bad at all. With Tesla’s network of Superchargers at your disposal (you have to pay in the Model 3, unlike the S and X. Still among the best reasons to buy a Tesla over literally any other EV) you’ll be able to travel the length and breadth of Britain without having to worry too much about charging. You may, however, not want to travel the length and breadth of Britain in a Model 3 Standard Range Plus. Mainly because it isn’t an especially relaxing car to drive at motorway speeds. The problem isn’t the powertrain, or even the ride (though it is quite firm), but the steering. Driven at speed, especially on poorly-surfaced motorways and B-roads (like pretty much all roads in England), the SRP feels nervous. The steering is too quick just off-centre, so you’re constantly making corrections on motorways and on country roads, as it twitches into corners too sharply. This would be fine if it had the body control to cope, but instead it tends to lurch. This only applies when it’s driven briskly, but it’s a bit unsettling. The added artificial weight in Sport mode helps calm things down a bit, but the way it behaves remains odd and a bit disconcerting. Other Model 3s we’ve driven, which have all been all-wheel drive ‘Dual Motor’ cars, don’t suffer from this issue. Around town and indeed anytime you’re just cruising about the SRP is perfectly pleasant – it’s just when you go a bit quick that things start to get a bit strange. Ooh that’s a shame. Isn’t it? Because the rest of the car really is very good indeed. As you’ll know, if you’ve read our reviews of the Performance and Long Range versions. A lovely item, though not entirely without flaw. Inside the Model 3 really does feel like the future. The front cowl is low, so forward visibility is excellent (as is the sensation of speed). Rearward visibility isn’t, though, because of the high belt-line and positioning of the B-pillar relative to your head. The driving position is good (once you’ve figured out how to adjust the steering wheel through the screen) and interior as well screwed-together as we’ve seen in any Tesla. They really are getting better. Then there’s the screen, which replaces basically every button you’d find in a normal car interior. It’s quick to respond and graphically very smart, but ergonomically challenging. Looking down and left to look at your instruments never gets normal – the Model 3 could really do with a heads-up display – and swiping between menus is best done stationary at sets of traffic lights. Should I buy one? If you don’t often drive on motorways or fast-moving country roads, then yes by all means. The interior is genuinely next-level (for better and for worse) and is a step-on for Tesla far as quality goes. It’s spacious, efficient, comfortable, reasonably-priced and well-equipped. But not the best Model 3 – other, more expensive models drive better and offer yet more range. Steering notwithstanding, the SRP is a good way into the Tesla brand, but we reckon the added range and better handling of the Long Range might be worth the extra £ per month. 8/10