Tesla Model 3 review: Separating myth from fact

Our motoring correspondent Mark Gallivan takes the Tesla Model 3 electric car for a spin and decides if the hype is real.

Betting against Tesla is starting to look like a good way to have a bad year. From a paltry $180 share price last summer it supercharged itself to over $1,000 earlier this month. Even after the stock’s oven was opened and some heat taken out it is still valued at around $165bn – roughly the same as the entirety of the Volkswagen Group. It wasn’t so long ago that the narrative was different. In 2018 Elon Musk had an “excruciating year.” Analysts waited for the tech company to fall flat on its face, go bankrupt, or do both.

Where the Tesla story deserves closer inspection is the company’s lineage. Today every automaker has a storied history steeped in history. Tesla’s lineage? There is none. Tesla was founded as recently as 2003 by Marc Tarpenning and Martin Eberhard. With Elon Musk acting as the techmotive’s main investor the corporate twists and turns saw him ascent to the role of chair.

“Tesla’s 3 out blasts the entry level Porsche 911 by a rather awkward 1.2 seconds and ties the gladiator-from-Gaydon Aston Martin DBS Superleggera”

Tesla is like no other automaker. The company’s fan base harks back to the Steve Jobs’ avatar-esque aura that has extended to dedicated channels on YouTube viewed by vehemently supportive fans ready to defend Tesla as a conduit for a better world. Try to openly criticise Tesla on social media and you will be branded as someone that single-handedly unseated Satan. Ask any Millennial who Herbert Diess or Akio Toyoda is they’ll draw a complete blank.

Tesla is now cool. The stock valuation has soared. The production woes have dissipated. But not everyone’s so convinced. Several financial analysts believe the stock is trading at levels divorced from any degree of common sense reality. Tesla is riding high but the key to the company’s success will likely be software, like Microsoft, and battery technology to displace the might of Saudi Aramco.

In the interim it’s the cars that matter. Ignoring the Model X and S, the most important car in the company’s range is the Model 3. Think of it as the Volkswagen Golf or Toyota Corolla. No other car in the range carries the weight of the company’s success as heavily is this mainstream model. Aside from the deliberately shocking CyberTruck and the botched attempt at the car’s live launch to show how tough the side windows were it did everything that Elon Musk could have ever hoped. It went viral. The eventual publicity and discussion are almost incalculable.

Before I even stepped into the Model 3 the hype surrounding the car was bordering on hysterical. Casting a similar shadow as a BMW 3 Series Tesla’s smallest production car friends bellied up to my desk asking probing questions like it was a new handset or complex home cinema system.

There are three 3s to pick. A Standard Range Plus €48,900, Long Range €58,900 and Performance at €65,490. The Irish Government is keen to have us drive electric cars – €120 road tax and lower VRT and zero per cent benefit-in-kind for cars under €50,000 is appealing.

Tesla Model 3’s range

Steering wheel on a Model 3 Tesla.

Scrolling through the car configurator the principal concern of electric range is slayed straight away.

The Standard Range Plus breaks the magical 400km (WLTP) range by 9km. Step up to the Long Range and Tesla claims your 3 will run out of volts in 560km which is very impressive. But for car fans like us, the Performance version offers what we want: face squishing thrust from standstill to 100km in 3.4 seconds. Put that into perspective for a moment.

Tesla’s 3 out blasts the entry level Porsche 911 by a rather awkward 1.2 seconds and ties the gladiator-from-Gaydon Aston Martin DBS Superleggera – their most powerful conventional production car with 725bhp. The Performance 3 version uses two batteries producing 660Nm torque. Tesla the disrupter will delight themselves in that one. It’s unlikely we’ll see anyone at Aston Martin join in the fun.

Standard equipment with the performance version includes Internet browser with streaming music/media, LED Fog lights, tinted glass roof, electric front seats, a premium sound system with the streaming music, heated seats for everyone – front and rear, one year’s internet connectivity (locking you into a subscription from 12 months onwards), electric folding exterior mirrors, 4 USB ports.

Tesla claims a range upwards of 560km but as the test drive was short it is impossible to verify this claim.

The time in the car did throw up a number of superlatives and surprises. Let’s start with the firmness of the suspension. The Model 3 never exactly crashed into poor road surfaces and the ride remained firmer than say a new BMW 3 Series.

What was noticeable was how it never fully settled and displayed a tendency to feel nervous. Price rivals like Audi’s smooth A4 and dynamically brilliant the 3 Series are better car. I never got to drive it on the motorway but reports say it remains stable and feels more at home in this environment. The German rivals display a far better pedigree in engineering for understanding European markets.

Model 3’s handling

electric cars ireland tesla

Tesla fights back with good handling and would feel closest in agility – though still well behind – the Alfa Romeo’s Giulia Veloce. “Tenacious in the corners and grips well” were highlights scribbled in my notes. Though directly below that I concluded the Alfa’s steering is alive and brimming with feedback. Few cars in this segment feel as playful as the Italian. It’s a wonder people don’t take the Italian plunge for this alone and the Tesla struggles to match the Alfa Romeo for exciting road feedback. Still, the American does well here.

Sound insulation would naturally be great, but the Model 3 does feel particularly well screwed together and whatever the reports of substandard quality it wasn’t reflected in my drive. The Tesla 3 appears well made and it will be telling to see how the interior measures up to family life in three years when it’s on the used car showroom.

Tesla Model 3 price choices

The SEAI lists two Model 3 cars for eligible grants – the Model 3 Standard and Performance. Taking the Model 3 Standard with rear wheel drive it claims 409km range with €120 road tax with four years / 80,000km warranty for the vehicle and battery. The SEAI €5,000 grant is available and €5,000 is contributed to offset VRT and 0% benefit-in-kind is available for cars below €50,000.

A further €600 is contributed to the home charger which is the only recommended option if you are buying the Model 3 or any electric vehicle in Ireland.

Only ever consider an all-electric once you can charge up at home. If you live in an apartment or park on the street stick with a PHEV or regenerative hybrid for now.

You’ll like: Excellent range. Blistering pace in the Performance Model 3. Quietness and relaxing. Great cabin. Convenient if you are close to Tesla’s fast charging outlets. Practicality.

You’ll grumble: Anonymous looks. Big central screen is a driving distraction. Never as exciting as an Alfa Giulia or exceptional as a BMW 3 Series.

Written by Mark Gallivan

Published: 24 February, 2020