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Tesla’s Model 3 shows how our electric-car future is shaping up

 

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Tesla Model 3

Tesla Model 3

Tesla Model 3

This week's car transported me to a different motoring realm. I don't think there is anything in production as close to what we envisage the 'future' as the Tesla Model 3, the most affordable car they've made. I say that as one who has been sceptical of much of the hype around the marque and as one who wasn't exactly bowled over by two larger models previously driven: the Model 'S' and falcon-winged 'X' SUV.

The 3 is a different proposition altogether. Tesla have learned lessons, for sure, but still do things their own way.

In the Model 3, most of what they've tried works out well. Some elements need improvement, of course, but it is unique.

It's the manifestation of a mindset born with an utterly different take on matters from the traditional motoring marques we've known all our lives. It does simply the things we conventional-car drivers regard as complicated. Take its looks as an example. I am not a total fan but they are of a kind: curved, simple and unfussy (albeit with minor implications for rear-corner visibility).

Then there is the cabin: a cross between spartan and elegant, the test car's white 'vegan' upholstery magnifying a minimalist, but spacious, perspective. I keep using the word 'simple' because everything appears to be. There is an intuitive logic to stuff. Virtually everything works via the 15in digital interface: air con, Spotify, caraoke (the words are displayed on screen as your passengers 'sing' along), wing-mirror adjustment, opening the boot or the rear-tail-light disguised charging point. Basically, all you need is in that central touchscreen.

A tiny detail encapsulates the simple (there's that word again) end-product of the new-world approach. There are only two relevant 'buttons' on the steering wheel. The left-side one gets you audio, volume, changes stations, music tracks, etc; the right sets distances between you and other cars, let's you tweak cruise control and the hands-on 'self-drive' system, prompts for voice messages, etc. That's it. Nothing to see here; but plenty going on beneath.

The full-length glass sunroof accentuates the sense of space. Without it, there is still capacity for five; it just makes the cabin more pleasant. Two tall young people had no complaints in the back as they wowed at the short-trip verve of my Performance model's searing acceleration: 0-100kmh in 3.4 seconds.

I drove to Wexford, Naas, to Wicklow, Kildare; some of the time just cruising, slipping silently along with the Autopilot, 'self drive' working (so long as I kept a light-hands' touch on the wheel).

But I also, on occasion, succumbed to the temptation to push it to near-legal limit spurts. I did all the things you shouldn't do if you want optimum range but with so much power, this begged to be driven. Not that its handling or ride were exemplary; they were not. Some elements remain the remit of the more traditional car-makers, yet this was a drive experience of some magnitude.

My celebration of power came at a cost, of course. My range, close on 500km when I started, held well until, better acquainted with the car, I increased the tempo. I left it back with 60km charge remaining after scaring myself with how quickly time and energy can dissipate. But it was a tremendous interlude, a highlight.

With a bit of prudence, judging by my initial 'normal' drives, I'd confidently expect real-world range of 450/460km - even with the large boot reasonably full.

Make no mistake... the Model 3 is, and will be, real-world driving for an increasing number of people over the coming months and years.

As such it will also be a vehicle for varying grades of real-world criticism. The flush door handles were noted for their opening animosity towards long nails; I never really got the seat/steering wheel combination I wanted. The steering felt clunky, dull all the time, and resistive when changing lanes on 'auto'.

The Model 3 is well built, no doubt, but not quite as well as the more traditional premium competitors.

So would I buy it? Absolutely, I would. There is something about it. Sure, it can be a practical entity in terms of running costs and zero emissions. But it is also alive and brisk; the sense of tomorrow today is palpable.

My Performance version is costly. So my advice is to buy a more basic model (415km range), save yourself money and still enjoy a car that is remarkably easy to live with - but does an awful lot.

 

Facts & Figures

Tesla Model 3

Performance:

Electric compact five-seater saloon; range 530km; 0-100kmh 3.4secs. Autopilot, self-driving capability (€6,500), dual-motor AWD, eight cameras, sunroof, carbon fibre spoiler, 20in wheels; vegan white interior trim (+€1,050), 542-litre cargo (back and front). Car tested €75,910. Standard Range Plus: €48,900, Long Range €57,990, Performance from €61,990.

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