Tesla Model 3: the affordable one


What is it?

It’s finally here. Long promised, delayed, and promised again — Tesla’s Model 3 range hit Aussie shores in August.

It is its own car but crosses into Model S territory as well. The vehicle provided and tested, the Standard Plus, has a single electric motor that powers the rear wheels.

Range is said to be, from a full charge, around 460km. Like petrol and diesel fueled cars, however, that range depends on a few conditions such as traffic, weather, and driver.

Model 3 comes with a four-year 80,000km warranty, with the battery and drive unit covered for eight years or 160,000km.

Access to the Tesla Supercharging service is on a pay per use basis.


What’s it cost?

The vehicle as tested topped out at $81,165.

The base price is $66K, then there’s the usual government and dealership charges.

Tesla ask $1400 for metallic paint, in this case a Deep Blue, and the autonomous driving package adds $8500.

The Long Range all-wheel drive model is $85,000 while the Performance model commands a $91,200 price tag.

Tesla S on the other hand is priced from $123,500.

The 3 is a fastback sedan with seating for five that bears some resemblance to the Model S, with its long nose, teardrop window-line and stubby tail.

The door handles look similar but operate differently. They don’t open automatically. Instead a press at the rear releases a longer section to use as the handle.

Rear lights are almost identical, but up front it’s bespoke Model 3.

A blunt and rounded nose holds LED headlights, with a similarity to a particular German brand — but it’s also distinctively Tesla.

Entry is different too. There’s no key. You install an app on your phone pair it with the car’s telematics.

Tesla also provide a couple of smart cards called Concierge Keys, with a sensor located in the centre console and another on the driver’s side centre pillar.

Rubber is from Michelin, with 235/45/ZR18 Pilot Sport fitted to charcoal aero alloys.

Head inside and the charcoal interior is broken by a car width piece of wood inlay and a single, landscape-oriented, 15.0-inch touchscreen.

Think large tablet turned sideways. There’s no dash as such. Everything is accessed from the screen, including audio controls, aircon, energy graph, map, and gadgets.

There is a pair os USB ports up front, a pair in the rear, and 455 litres of bootspace, with a hidden compartment in the rear — and naturally there’s a “frunk” or front trunk.

Aircon is a pinch and move setup to direct airflow, and although initially fiddly, it becomes easy to use with practice.

You also need to get your head around the doors. There’s no handles, a simple press pad pops the door open a couple of centimetres. 

The interior is minimalistic and it is effective. Even the tiller is minimalistic, with two roller switches that have some left and right movement for activating certain functions such as the cruise control distance.

Voice control is also on board.

For navigation there are voice controls too.

When it comes to searching for charging stations, it’s definitely best to start with Tesla Destination, otherwise you’ll be directed to a non-Tesla compatible charger.

For self-driving the exterior cameras and sensors require clear roadside markers. A steering wheel icon shows on the screen.

The drive engagement lever is located on the right of the steering column, which is fully adjustable for reach and rake via the screen. Press down once for lane keeping, twice for auto drive and cruise, with light hands needed on the steering wheel.

The system will sense if the hands are fully removed, otherwise it tugs gentley at the wheel to align on the go. It’s easily disengaged by a press of the brake pedal or a press again on the lever.


What’s it go like?

It’s whisper quiet on smooth tarmac, a little noisier on harsher roads.

Acceleration for the Standard Plus is quoted at 5.6 seconds for 0-100km/h.

That’s not really in dispute. Seat of the pants suggests it’s even quicker.

The same goes for rolling acceleration, with overtaking simply point and squirt proposition . . . safely.

The suspension tune is spot on. It’s a standard suspension, not airbag.

To perhaps “pigeonhole” the Model 3, it’s a sports car that seats four — and comfortably.

It’s supple to ride in, with direct steering, and fantastic brakes. There’s no sense of float or waft, rather it’s more a well damped, well tied down, ride quality.

We took the Model 3 on a country run to the home of The Big Potato, which is in Robertson, NSW.

Just a few kilometers south-east of Bowral/Mittagong, Robertson is a popular spot for drivers and bikers to stop for a pie, sausage roll and a drink.

It’s an ideal location for a Supercharger station, being close to Wollongong, Kiama, Berry and Nowra — and the Hume Highway.

There’s also a renovated cheese factory that houses a café and a huge range of bric-a-brac.

We took a slightly longer route to get there and a good portion of the drive was uphill.

This took the Standard Plus’ battery to just under 50 per cent. An hour’s break in Bowral on a single charger, and 30 per cent later we were home.

What this means is that the subtle uphill run to the Southern Highlands and the hilly drive itself will certainly chew through the estimated range.

In equal measures though, the Model 3 handled the roads well enough to stake a strong case for touring status.

The Performance version would be better suited, though, with a greater driving range.


What we like?

  • Minimalism works
  • Superb ride quality
  • Pin your ears back acceleration


What we don’t like?

  • Robertson doesn’t have a charge point (Yeah yeah, but it has great pies)
  • Single screen layout will be disconcerting for some
  • Standard range can be compromised


The bottom line?

Tesla’s first “affordable” car isn’t without foibles but it’s also a beautiful drive.

It’s comfortable, looks good, and in real terms is not unaffordable. And that, in the slowly increasing list of electric cars, is crucial for its appeal to work.


CHECKOUT: Tesla Model X: cost the crux of it

CHECKOUT: We get ‘ludicrous’ in Tesla’s eye-popping Model S


Tesla Model 3 Standard Plus, priced from $66,000
  • Looks - 7.5/10
  • Performance - 9/10
  • Safety - 9/10
  • Thirst - 8/10
  • Practicality - 8/10
  • Comfort - 8.5/10
  • Tech - 9/10
  • Value - 8/10

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