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Tesla Model 3 engines, drive and performance

2016 onwards (change model)
Performance rating: 4.8 out of 54.8

Written by Keith Adams Published: 28 September 2022 Updated: 30 October 2023

  • Entry-level Model 3 is hot-hatch quick
  • All models are quick and have great range
  • Performance model due to follow in 2024

What power options are there?

Following its 2023 update, the Tesla Model 3 comes in two flavours: the entry-level Rear Wheel Drive and the Long Range model, both with faster performance creds and longer trips between recharges. The entry-level Model 3 Real Wheel Drive is faster than most hot hatchbacks, accelerating from 0-60mph in 5.8 seconds, while the Long Range reduces that to 4.2 seconds.

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.

The range-topping Tesla Model 3 Performance is set to join the range in 2024, but if it’s as quick as the old one, it’ll be fast enough for most owners. The 0-60mph time of 3.1 seconds is something to behold, although the novelty of this wears off quite quickly. In quick give-and-take driving out of town, its range will drop rapidly.

What’s it like to drive?

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

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

The handling feels nimble. It’s not so hyper-sensitive that the car ever feels nervous though – just intuitive and user-friendly. It’s quite a heavy car, 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. We found it especially impressive at motorway speeds, with very low levels of wind and road noise.

The Model 3 does without column stalks of any sort – the indicators are operated by pressure sensitive pads on the steering wheel – and the wipers are automatic and controlled from the central screen. Both work well, and you soon get used to both, and stop giving them a second thought.

Autopilot: what’s it like?

The good news is that the latest version of this continuously-evolving system works very well indeed if you’re a sensitive and understanding driver. 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 scroll button on the steering wheel: 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. There’s a learning curve for the driver when using it. 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 modifies your speed depending on posted limits, and works well, although sometimes it’s frustratingly slow getting back up to speed.