Tesla Model 3 review: Is this the future for the family car?

For those who want a big luxury electric car, a Tesla Model S or Model X has been the default answer in recent years, but the acid test for the US electric car maker’s game-changing ambitions is the more mainstream Model 3.

No car with a price tag that starts in the mid-to-late thirty thousands can be described as cheap, but Tesla’s Model 3 is far more affordable than its other models and goes head-to-head with premium rivals, such as BMW’s 3 Series and Audi’s A4.

The first of the right-hand drive Model 3s are now arriving with British buyers, who have been waiting patiently for their slice of the great Tesla adventure. 

So will all that waiting have been worth it? We got a sneak preview of what they will get with a Model 3 for a weekend, in the blisteringly fast Performance specification.

No car that costs £36,500 can be described as cheap, but Tesla's Model 3 sells at a considerably lower price than its big sisters, the Model S and Model X, and is designed to take on BMW 3 Series level cars The first right hand drive Tesla Model 3s have begun to arrive with patient buyers in the UK, but Simon Lambert tested a left hand drive Performance version There's no mistaking the Model 3 as anything other than a Tesla, with the US electric car firm following the theme that most big car makers use today with a family look across ranges The Model 3 Performance version costs from £49,140 after a recent price cut and has an official stated range of 329 miles,  a 162mph top speed and can hit 60mph in 3.2 seconds The deep front windscreen on the Model 3 gives excellent visibility for the driver, something that pays off when placing the car on winding B roads The Model 3's flat, clear dashboard with a giant screen is a Marmite interior - people either love or hate the completely buttonless look. Modern architects are properly in the first camp There's a decent amount of legroom in the back of the Tesla Model 3 - and enough room to sit someone on the middle seat of the bench The rear boot is the one most people will use and although the Model 3 is a saloon rather than a more load-friendly hatchback (as the Model S is) it offers plenty of space with little obstruction No engine means that there is room in the Model 3 for a front boot, which will hold a reasonable amount of stuff The Model 3's rear seats fold down to create a handy load space, which swallowed a 29inch wheel mountain bike with only one wheel removed The Model 3 Performance is lightning quick but doesn't have the same focussed feel behind the wheel or the aggressive styling that a BMW M3 or Alfa Giulia Quadrifoglio has Tesla's raft of safety features on the Model 3 secured it a five star rating Euro NCAP rating recently, with testers praising collision avoidance systems Tesla's raft of safety features on the Model 3 secured it a five star rating Euro NCAP rating recently, with testers praising collision avoidance systems

Tesla’s raft of safety features on the Model 3 secured it a five star rating Euro NCAP rating recently, with testers praising collision avoidance systems

So, what’s the AutoPilot feature like to use? It’s activated with a simple couple of taps of the steering wheel stalk, at which point the car will steer itself, accelerate and slow down and change lane if you indicate.

It’s only advised to be used on motorways and you must keep your hands on the wheel. Tesla has cracked down on this since I drove a Model S a few years ago, as I discovered.

‘Apply light force to steering wheel’, the Model 3 told me, shortly after I had engaged AutoPilot.

‘But hang on a minute, I’ve got my hands on the wheel and I’m driving in a straight line’, I thought. So, I simply held the wheel a bit tighter and continued on my way.

At which point, the Tesla shot me another couple of warnings and then announced that it was turning off Autopilot and I wasn’t allowed to use it for the rest of the journey.

If ever you need something to puncture any inflated self-confidence in your motoring skills, try being told by a car that you’re not a good enough driver to be driven by it.

This was the Model 3’s nag function, designed to stop people just relying on the car. As it stands the car can pretty much drive itself, accelerating, braking, steering and changing lanes, but it is not allowed to do that alone.

You must keep your hands on the wheel and if it thinks you are paying insufficient attention, the Model 3 will let you know.

That warning – I later found out – was telling me I needed to apply some slight torque to the steering wheel to let the car know that I got the message. A slight enough rotation for the sensors to register, but not enough to shift the car’s line would have done it.

Tesla owners’ forums suggest a tweak of the stereo volume buttons on the wheel also does the trick.

Play by the rules though and AutoPilor can be a real blessing, particularly in the kind of heavy traffic where driving is a chore and making mistakes is easy.

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