New Tesla Model 3 2018 review

27 Feb, 2018 4:00pm Jordan Golson

We drive the eagerly awaited Tesla Model 3 EV in the US, ahead of right-hand-drive versions going on sale here in 2019


This is the Tesla to buy, full of EV pep and at a more affordable price. It competes well with other sports saloons around the same price point and looks future-proofed when it comes to self-driving tech. The wait for delivery is by far the biggest drawback – and the knowledge that there will be lots of fresh rivals by the time your Model 3 turns up.

The Tesla Model 3 is here – sort of. Although shipments technically began in July, the production ramp of the new “affordable” Tesla EV has been slower than CEO Elon Musk had hoped.

Last quarter, Tesla delivered just 1,542 Model 3 cars against a reservation list that is several hundred thousand long, and production of right-hand-drive versions isn’t expected to begin until 2019 at the earliest. UK pricing has yet to be announced, too.

• Best electric cars on sale

Despite a brief run in the Model 3 last summer, we’ve had to wait until now to get our hands on the new EV for a more thorough test. We borrowed one from an owner in Silicon Valley and put it through its paces for a day on the hilly streets of San Francisco, across the Golden Gate Bridge and back, and on traffic-clogged highways.

The Model 3 isn’t nearly as fast as its larger brother, the Model S, but it has plenty of electric oomph driving the rear wheels. Tesla claims a 0-60mph time of 5.1 seconds with the larger battery pack, and that seemed the right ballpark, but we didn’t pull out our stopwatch.

This car weighs over 450kg less than the 100kWh version of the Model S, so the long-range Model 3 comes in at 1,730kg, including the hefty battery. That’s not exactly light in overall terms, but it’s more than respectable for an EV with this sort of range.

That weight loss shows in corners, too. The Model S feels extremely heavy, because it is, although it carries the bulk well. The Model 3, though, doesn’t feel like a super-heavy electric car at all. Rumour has it that the BMW 3 Series was the benchmark, and that feels about right in terms of agility.

The chunky, two-turns-lock-to-lock steering wheel is lovely to use, with a trio of options for weight: sport, standard and comfort. The steering communication isn’t up the levels of, say, a BMW M3, but it more than gets the job done.

Thanks to the all-electric drivetrain and regenerative braking, most driving can be done with one foot. Lifting off the throttle really slows things down and only in the most severe braking manoeuvres (or when coming to a complete stop) do you need to touch the brake pedal. Brake feel is adequate, given the amount of electronics between you and the brakes, but we wouldn’t expect much on a track day.

The semi-autonomous Autopilot seems a little improved from the Model S and X, so perhaps Tesla’s newest car is getting the latest software as well. The system keeps the car between the lane lines without the driver needing to keep a hand on the wheel at all times, and the traffic-aware adaptive cruise is a commuter’s dream. But annoyingly, Tesla has put the Autopilot control on to the shift stalk.

A huge central screen controls all aspects of the car – entertainment, sat-nav and the instrument cluster – and it’s probably the most controversial design choice made by the Tesla team. We got used to the set-up within about 10 minutes, but we’ve heard of others who just couldn’t get their heads around the idea of not having an instrument cluster directly in front of the steering wheel.

As an added bonus to not having a screen behind the steering wheel, however, the ventilation system (with invisible vents built into the IKEA-esque dashboard) can blow directly on the driver through the wheel, which is an odd but rather cool experience.

But Tesla has really gone all out with this screen. There are a only a handful of physical buttons: window controls on each door, and a pair of thumbwheel/joysticks on the steering wheel. That’s it.

Want to control the mirrors or the power steering wheel? First you go into the on-screen menus, then make adjustments via those thumbwheels. As this was a borrowed car, this was a bit annoying, but of course, you can set up individual driver profiles, so theoretically you’d only have to do this once.

Finally, there’s the key. Instead of a traditional fob, the Model 3 connects to your phone via Bluetooth. Walk up to your car with your smartphone in your pocket and the Tesla should unlock. We spoke to the owner of the car and he said this feature didn’t work 100 per cent of the time and he’s hoping for a more traditional key, so maybe the future isn’t quite ready for us yet. As a back-up, you do get a credit card-style “key” that you can tap on the B-pillar to unlock and then start the vehicle.

Could you live with an electric car?

Although the Model 3’s price starts at $35,000 (£25,000) in the US, the car we drove was pushing £43,000 after tax credits, and included the optional $9,000 (£6,400) longer-range battery (good for 310 miles) and a $5,000 (£3,500) premium interior. For the time being, only the fully loaded Model 3 is available, to simplify production.

The standard-range battery (220 miles) and all-wheel-drive car will come further down the road, when Tesla has properly ramped up production and made inroads into a waiting list that’s as daunting as it is impressive.

Key specs

  • Model: £42,000 (est, with optional larger battery)
  • Engine: Electric motor
  • Power/torque: 258bhp/430Nm (est)
  • Transmission: Single-speed auto, rear-wheel drive
  • 0-60mph: 5.1 seconds
  • Top speed: 140mph
  • Range: 310 miles
  • CO2: 0g/km
  • On sale: 2019 (est. in UK)