21.10.2019Tesla Model 3 Standard Range Plus review
Tesla's Model 3 was heralded at its launch as a game-changer for the company. Promising a long driving range, minimalist interior, and 'affordable' list price, the Model 3 has the potential to shake up the entire car industry, not just the EV sector. We've tested the entry-level Model 3 Standard Range Plus, the starting point of the entire Tesla line-up.
Review by Chris Lilly
Performance is as you would expect from a Tesla - brisk. The 0-62mph time is 5.3 seconds, so it's plenty quick enough for most. It doesn't feel 'Tesla' fast however, with a single 175 kW (238 hp) motor driving the rear axle, rather than the twin-motor set-up that the rest of the Tesla range features. It's not got the ability to shove you into your seat that other Tesla's have, but this is a case of Tesla having spoilt us with other models. The responsiveness and power from the electric motor is instantaneous, and the performance more than good enough for day-to-day life. There's plenty on offer to overtake up hills, cart a car full of people and kit around, and sit at motorway pace without feeling strained at all. Performance is comparable to a BMW 330i/d/e - petrol, diesel or PHEV are within half a second for similar cost - or other executive saloon, and those that drive one currently, could comfortably switch to the Model 3 with an improvement in real-world performance. For those wanting a bit of extra pace, the Long Range is fitted with dual-motors, and features a 0-62mph time of 4.4 seconds, while the Model 3 Performance is available with a blistering 3.2 second sprint time.
While the Model 3 Standard Range Plus might not have the performance to compare to a Model S, the compact Tesla's handling is much better. The bigger Tesla feels like a large car, but the Model 3 - although not much physically smaller - feels far more agile and compact. The suspension set-up is effectively the same as the rest of the Tesla range, with adjustable settings but none that feel particularly sporty. The model tested had the option to switch between Standard and Low ride heights, while the steering could be switched between Comfort, Standard, and Sport. With either the suspension or steering, Low/Sport doesn't feel particularly sporty, it just drops the car a little, firms up the ride, and adds weight to the steering. Much of the time I left the various systems to their own devices, with the suspension dropping when at motorway speeds for improved aerodynamics, and sitting at normal height the rest of the time for a decent balance between road holding and comfort. Like the rest of the range, the Model 3's handling doesn't excel in any particular area, but is well set-up as an all-rounder. It's comfortable enough around town and on the open road, though harsh road imperfections shudder through a little. Likewise, it will corner pretty flat, but you can certainly feel the car's relatively heavy mass shift and settle. There may be better handling options on the market and more comfortable ones, but the Tesla does everything pretty well. Think of it as an Audi in comparison to a BMW or Mercedes respectively, and you'll get the right picture.
Personally, I'm not as much of a fan of the Model 3's design as the Model S, but beauty is in the eye etc. On the whole, it's a pretty decent bit of styling, though I think there's too much metal up front. I know that there isn't the need for a large grille because of the electric motors, but what Tesla did with the current-generation Model S is an example of how to do things at the front end of an EV, and the Model 3 is a backward step aesthetically for me. Other than that, it certainly looks like a Tesla, and the Model 3 is no ugly duckling. What I always have to remind myself of is that the Model S - though often thought of as a large executive saloon - is in fact a hatchback, while the Model 3 - with the roofline of a hatchback, is actually a saloon. Because of this saloon boot-lid, there are a couple of features that would improve themselves in my mind if it were a hatch. For starters, I opened the boot one morning after a night's rainfall, and the water fell off the boot-lid, onto the rear window, and then straight into the boot itself. There isn't enough of a gully or channelling to catch the water. Equally, when looking in the rear-view mirror, the top edge of the parcel shelf sits too high, obscuring some of the view. A rear-view camera gets around this to a degree, but I would prefer to have greater depth in my rearward vision when driving. Other than that, the styling translates pretty well to practical issues. Those six-foot and taller will feel their head brush the panoramic glass roof when sitting in the rear, but shoulder room is good and leg space is excellent. The floor is practically flat in the rear, meaning a third person can sit in the rear without much issue, and there is an undercut in the central storage bin so that they would have somewhere to put their feet. Boot space is very good, with the load area going back quite a way to the rear seat backs. It's deep too, and there's a large under-floor storage bin. Remember that there is also a front load area, which isn't lined with carpet and makes an ideal space for cable storage.
COMFORT & CONTROLS
The design of the cabin is excellent aesthetically, looking more like a minimalist Swedish home interior than a traditional car. The dominant feature is the large 15-inch touchscreen that controls just about everything; even down to the wing-mirrors, glovebox, and steering rake and reach adjustment. It's clear, quick to respond to commands, and easy to use with an intuitive interface. It's an excellent example of how infotainment systems can be done in cars, though Tesla overdid it a little. For example, the speed is displayed in the top right corner, which takes more effort to look at than a conventional spot near the steering wheel. It's not much different and you get used to the different position, but the speedo is not close to the line of sight as the majority of cars are. A head-up display would solve this issue and retain the minimalist styling. A greater bug-bear is the windscreen wipers. The Auto setting isn't clever enough, and to turn the wipers on you need to press the end of the indicator stalk or hit the wiper button on the screen, and then select the speed. It's an additional step over just about every other car on the road. It's not easy to use without looking; particularly when it's raining and you don't want to look away from the road. A simple rocker switch on the indicator stalk would again keep the styling clean but improve functionality. Other than that, the controls work well and look good. There's an element of form over function, but the interior stands out. Build quality isn't up to scratch considering the Model 3 tested is a £40,000 car. Compare it to any of the traditional executive saloons, even those costing £10k less, and you can tell where the cost savings have been made. Buyers are paying for the powertrain mainly, and costs must be kept low in some places. It's not going to prove an issue for most, but the American car can't compete in terms of material or build quality to the conventional German, British, and Japanese rivals.
MPG & RUNNING COSTS
The headline range figure for the Model 3 is 254 miles on a charge. This is the starting point of the range with the Model 3 Performance able to cover 329 miles and the Long Range version offering 348 miles on a charge. Fitted with a 60 kWh battery, we've previously found official WLTP range figures to be pretty accurate, and the Model 3 is no different. Over the course of my time with it, I covered a little over 700 miles, and the trip computer said that I used 170 kWh. That's an average of 4.2 miles per kWh, for a range or 252 miles on a single charge. With Tesla being its usual cagy self with technical specifications, the 60 kWh capacity figure isn't as fixed as it would ordinarily be with other EV reviews, but matches a few other sources, including our data provider's information. Having used 55 kWh, I'd covered 227 miles, which is on track with the efficiency figures found throughout the test time. The test routes had a good mix of driving styles, combining motorway stretches, A- and B-roads, and urban driving - both in heavy and lighter traffic.
The usual electric car features combine to help the Model 3 make the most of its battery. Brake energy recuperation is well set up with a strong level of region when fully off the throttle. It's effectively enough to drive just on the throttle for the most part, with the brake only really required when others brake suddenly in front of you, or at the start and end of your trip. It's easy to quickly get used to the abilities of the system, and although various levels of adjustment work well on some models, the Tesla system is a very good one. When navigating to a Supercharger, the car will prepare the battery to the optimum temperature to maximise charging capabilities. The app allows users to control pre-conditioning temperatures and charging settings. Tesla's first-time use of the CCS charging inlet means that the Model 3 can charge just as fast as on its Supercharger network. Opening the Model 3 up to other rapid charger units allows for increased flexibility in terms of charging. The Standard Range Plus features 'aero' wheels which see alloys fitted with plastic covers to improve the aerodynamic efficiency of them.
Equipment levels are very good with the Model 3, even on this entry level Standard Range Plus model. There were a few features missing from upper trim levels, such as live traffic updates, but essentially it's still a high-spec car. The large map uses intuitive destination search and incorporates Supercharger sites for those trips longer than the available range. Tesla's games and Easter Egg pack is incorporated, including Fart mode (never not funny for passengers and children), and all the hardware is installed for Autopilot autonomous driving to be fully enabled once the regulations allow. The systems gather information regardless of whether it's active or not, consistently contributing to shared information to keep developing the software for improvements down the line. Driver assist level Autopilot was fitted to the test model, and the part-premium interior incorporated black 'vegan' leather trim, a decent sound system, 18-inch aero alloy wheels, and Summon mode. Access is via an RFID card or more commonly the Tesla app, though Tesla is bringing out conventional keys having received feedback from customers. Supercharging compatibility is a huge factor, with the CCS inlet able to charge at ultra-rapid speeds from the Tesla-specific network and other ultra-rapid CCS points. It must be remembered that Tesla provides over-the-air updates to regularly update and improve the software either running the car or adding functionality to the 15-inch infotainment system. Other manufacturers are getting on board with the idea, but Tesla is well established and ahead of the game.
The Model 3 is certainly a game-changer for Tesla, though not realistically for the car industry as a whole. There is much to like about the most compact Tesla on the market, but it's not the perfect car some buyers would have you believe. Build quality isn't a match for other cars costing the best part of £40,000, and there are a few design features that - while different from the norm - aren't as good as those normal elements on rival offerings.
That said, the Model 3 opens up pure-electric ownership to a whole new group of people; those where a Model S or the likes of Jaguar's I-Pace and Audi e-tron were simply out of reach. The range is excellent as you would expect from Tesla, and the Supercharging network is a big plus-point that no rivals have in their arsenal. It's stylish, quick, and a realistic long-distance EV. You can see why customers are switching to the Model 3, and if there were just a few tweaks in places, this would be a genuine, world beating, five-star car.
Model tested: Tesla Model 3 Standard Range Plus
Body-style: Executive saloon
Engine / CO2: 175 kW electric motor / 0 g/km
Trim grades: Only one - Model 3 Long Range and Performance available with different powertrain
On-road price: From £39,490 (inc. PiCG)
Warranty: Four years / 50,000 miles - Battery: Eight years / 100,000 miles
In the showroom: Now
Review rating: 4.5 Stars