Parkers overall rating: 4.6 out of 5 4.6
  • Entry-level Model 3 is hot-hatch quick
  • Performance model will trouble supercars
  • All models are quick, refined and have great battery range

The Tesla Model 3 comes in three flavours in the UK: the entry-level Standard Range Plus, Long Range and the Performance model, each with correspondingly faster performance creds and longer trips between recharges. Even the cheapest Model 3 is faster than most hot hatchbacks, accelerating from 0-62mph in 5.3 seconds and topping out at 140mph (although the battery range will plummet if you drive it like you stole it).

The range-topping Tesla Model 3 Performance is capable of a supercar-slaying 3.2sec 0-60mph sprint and a 162mph theoretical maximum speed. We have tested the Standard Range Plus and high-performance Model 3 and they are both good cars to drive. 

The Standard Range Plus is smooth and refined, and rarely does it feel anything other than quick. In quick give-and-take driving out of town, its range will drop to below 200 miles without trying. But drive it more gently, and that rises to around 220 miles.

Driving the Tesla Model 3 Performance

We've extensive experience of the Model 3 on the road in the UK and on track in France and can report that it is as absurdly fast as its numbers would suggest. Even without the so-called Ludicrous Mode beloved of the bigger Tesla Model S and X electric cars, this EV is mind-blowingly rapid and a full-bore acceleration run has to be experienced to be believed.

It feels as quick as a Ferrari, yet the jet-spec thrust is accompanied by merely an electric whirr, no shrieking combustion engine. This is not a party trick, and very quickly you adapt to it and learn to drive it gently (the car's 'Chill mode' helps with that) in just about any situation, reserving its awesome thrust for difficult overtaking moves. That performance really is something you keep in reserve, making the daily drive an extremely effortless experience.

Is Track Mode relevant?

For those Tesla Model 3 drivers who take on track days (and there are a few), then the answer is yes. For their benefit, Track driving mode sharpens up the handling for the track, and boosts electric thrust for longer with some very interesting cooling trickery.

Keeping the batteries cool means they develop full power for longer, and result in sharper performance on track. And it works perfectly - it is possible to slide and drift the Model 3 on track, and it’s easily achieved with a prod of the accelerator.

Tesla engineers say that the car makes an average driver capable of some impressive driving feats, and having tested it on track, we’d agree. Not that it’s so relevant on the road. But for those who do track days, and can afford the tyres, it’s a very impressive driver aid.

Autopilot: Tesla's showstopping technology

With cameras and sensors all around the car, the Model 3 is capable of taking much of the effort of driving away in a wide range of environments. These include overtaking on command, lane changing on a busy motorway, or just driving along your A-road commute to and from the office. To engage this system – once driving – you push the right-hand column stalk down: once for adaptive cruise control; twice for Autopilot.

Adaptive cruise control is standard fare these days – lane- and distance-keeping maintain your space around other cars. You brake when they brake, it steers for you if you get near the edge of your lane.

Autopilot is more sophisticated. We should say that its effectiveness in some circumstances remains questionable, but like any new gadget there's a learning curve for the driver as well. Once familiarised, Autopilot works well on dual carriageways, motorways and on relatively deserted A-roads, keeping the car in the centre of the lane, and smoothly keeping distance.

It's not hands-off, though, and on occasion it can intervene quite abruptly and unpredictably. We've noticed that at the latest software update (free and over the air for life) its programmed overtaking is less jittery than it once was. Curious about how to execute an Autopilot overtake – press the indicator stalk to tell the car you want to change lane, and then guide it gently when the car feels the coast is clear. It feels more natural than it sounds.

Handover from Autopilot to manual control takes time to achieve without twitchiness, too. Just as the technology progresses, so will drivers. For now, it's best reserved for long weekend drives on quiet motorways – a busy M25 is not the best environment for Tesla Autopilot.

Handling and steering

  • Steering response and feel are impressive
  • Sharp, dependable roadholding
  • Excellent brakes keep it all in check

One thing strikes you as soon as you take the wheel of a Tesla Model 3: its steering is surprisingly quick and responsive. At first some drivers may find this disconcerting, as it makes the car respond to inputs in a heartbeat, but you’ll quickly learn to enjoy the agility this imparts, and its quick turn-in becomes second nature.

The handling feels remarkably nimble and fast to react to your wishes. It’s not so hyper-sensitive that the car ever feels nervous though - just intuitive and user-friendly. It's quite a heavy car, with a kerbweight stretching from 1,645kg to 1,847kg depending on the size of batteries fitted, but it doesn’t really feel it when you thread it along your favourite back road.

The suspension keeps the Model 3 composed through corners, with just a little body roll when you’re really pushing hard. Despite this agility and keen handling, the Model 3 still soaks up the worst road lumps and bumps, even on the fat, optionally upgraded 20-inch wheels of our test car. If ride comfort is your priority, we would recommend sticking with a smaller choice of alloy wheels, however.