New Tesla Model 3 Dual Motor Performance review

Range-topping Tesla Model 3 Performance sports saloon offers M3-beating performance and best-in-class tech

Overall Auto Express Rating

5.0 out of 5

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Among a of sea of legends, the Tesla Model 3 stacks up as one of America’s greatest cars. Like them, it’s not quite perfect, but it offers something exciting and enticing – notably tech and performance - that you can’t get anywhere else. With a realistic range around the 300-mile mark, it proves that living with an EV is perfectly do-able, too – you’ll get a similar range to that of ICE rivals.

Never mind the Cheshire Cat, the Tesla Model 3 – in Dual Motor Performance spec – will put a smile on your face wider than the USA itself. So there we go: job done, review over.

Of course, there’s much more to a sports saloon than that, so how does this Model 3 stack up against, let’s call them more established, competitors wearing M, RS and AMG badges.

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We’re well used to Teslas in Europe these days, but the Model 3 is smaller, cuter and arguably better resolved – certainly proportionally. The sleek headlights on the stubby bonnet look like stickers, while the short overhangs front and rear add a pertness to the design that we’ve not seen from a Tesla before.

You unlock the car using a slim credit card-style piece of plastic waved against the B-pillar – or more likely with your phone, which works just like Tesla’s normal key by opening and closing the car as you approach.

You have to access the flush door handles yourself – they don’t pop out for you on the Model 3 – and then you swing open the doors to reveal an interior that’s other-worldly.

Let’s start in the back – you can wait for the best bit… Space is pretty similar to that in a 3 Series, so knee room isn’t too generous, but okay. There’s the added bonus of a flat floor with no transmission hump, but it’s comfy enough, the view out is good and the doors open wide enough to get in and out comfortably.

You’ve got a choice of front or rear boots – we can’t help but call the front boot a ‘froot’ – with a combined 425-litres of space. Access to the back is a bit letterbox-style, but the rear seats split and fold.

Then there’s the front. Slide into the rather comfy seats – our car had premium seating – and the optional all-white interior shows how well minimalism can work in a car.

The dash is dominated by a screen, of course – in this case a slim 15-inch monitor that sits landscape style. And when we say it controls everything, we mean everything – the only controls in front of you are a steering wheel, pedals and stalks (now bespoke, not Mercedes hand-me-downs) for the drive selector and wipers. Even the doors are opened via a push button.

Across the slim, white dash is a single wide air vent. Air flow is controlled via the screen, too, and you even open the glovebox by prodding a virtual button on the display.

There are clever charging points for your phone, plus deep-lidded storage and cup holders all between the seats. It’s a triumph of realising what you do and don’t need in your car, making the inside clean, comfortable and spacious. And as architect Frank Lloyd Wright once said, “Space is the breath of art.” 

You may think that having everything on the screen could be problematic, and although Tesla has put the more important driver information as close to the driver as possible, you do have to look further away from the road to check your speed than you would usually. A head-up display would be a nice touch.

Otherwise, it all quickly becomes intuitive and you soon learn to use the two (yes, just two) buttons on the steering wheel to control the audio or standard autonomous tech to good effect.

On board Google navigation on the big screen works well, while the Performance model gets a standard sound system upgrade that’s pretty punchy.

Much has been mentioned about Tesla quality, but we were impressed with the quality of our test car and with that of two other Model 3 cars we met by chance on our test around the hills and highways near Tesla’s Fremont factory.

Whether the car is built by Americans in baseball caps and T-shirts in a ‘tent’ in the factory parking lot or bearded artisans wearing thick leather aprons in a mountainside chalet, quality is perfectly good enough. Audi good? No. But not far off and we had no extraneous squeaks or rattles.

Of the many options in the menus in the touchscreen, we decided to opt for Sport rather than Chill in the drive mode, and set off to enjoy the sort of instant acceleration that makes any internal combustion-engined car feel tardy.

Tesla says this sportiest Model 3 will get from 0-60mph in 3.5 seconds – in reality it feels slightly quicker than that and not far off what the quickest Model S will do.

But what’s most enjoyable is that the slightest tickle of the throttle from any speed – especially standstill – will shove you back into your seat with a ferocity to rival the fiercest rollercoaster, with a fun factor to match. You’ll never tire of it and will look for every opportunity to do it.

Fun isn’t just about acceleration, though, as the Model 3’s rivals prove. They have a delicious dexterity that the neigh sayers will claim only internal combustion engine-cars can have due to an EV’s battery weight.

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Sure enough, the Model 3 feels different; heavy even. Yet it grips well, turns in sharply and has very little body roll. You can feel the extra weight of the car – it must weigh over 1,800kg – pull the car down into the road, but it’ll stick steadfastly to its line with a different, but no less enjoyable feel to what you might be used to.

The steering isn’t quite as alert or tactile as that of a BMW M3, but it’s accurate enough, while sudden changes of direction don’t leave you rueing that sizeable battery pack sitting in the chassis.

True, it’s not quite as delicate to drive as an M3 or C63 can be – in spite of their power. It’s different – and you only need to flex your right foot to get the biggest grin back on your face.

We’re still about a year away from first Model 3 deliveries in the UK, but if you fancy one, then £1,000 deposits are still being taken with UK deliveries expected some time next year – probably the latter half.

The Model 3 comes in limited flavours: standard and long range – with a choice of rear or all-wheel drive – plus this Performance version with only the 4x4 option.

Performance also drops the ride height slightly and tweaks the motors to up the power from the 75kWh battery to around 450bhp. The range jumps up to a claimed  310 miles (and we did our best to dent that, but it appears pretty realistic), while you get a few cosmetic boosts, including the cute, carbon-fibre rear spoiler.

This model doesn’t come cheap – but then neither do its rivals. In the US the base price is $64,000. The premium interior upgrade is included in that price, but you’ll have to pay extra for every paint colour except for black, the wonderful white interior costs $1,500, while the ‘enhanced auto pilot’ (which is better than anything anyone else can currently offer) costs $5,000. If you want to ensure full-self driving capability in the future, that’ll be another $3,000. Our car topped out at $71,000 - Tesla has certainly learnt a trick or two about options from its rivals.

When it arrives in the UK, we’d expect prices to be pretty much pound for dollar – maybe a little less. It would be nice if a base price was around £60,000, which would still look pretty good up against its ‘old tech’ rivals.


Steve Fowler has been editor-in-chief of Auto Express since 2011 and is responsible for all editorial content across the website and magazine. He has previously edited What Car?, Autocar and What Hi-Fi? and has been writing about cars for the best part of 30 years. 

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