11 December 2020
In the (upper) middle class segment, the BMW 3 series has long been the crowning glory, but this hegemony seems to have come to an end with the arrival of the Tesla Model 3. Available in three versions (Standard Plus, Long Range and Performance), the latest member of the Tesla family offers something for everyone. With the release of the Model 3, Tesla wanted to significantly reduce the entry into electric driving, partly thanks to its price. The question whether quality would be compromised was one that I was happy to investigate.
It may come as no surprise that with the Model 3, Tesla has built on the now timeless design that also adorns the Model S. The sleek, sporty line was continued on the Model 3, with the slightly higher roofline being the most striking difference. The Model S is over 28 centimetres longer and 11.5 centimetres wider, but then it belongs to a higher segment.
If we compare the Model 3 with the competition within its segment, it is considerably wider, which translates mainly into more seating comfort in the rear, both in terms of head and legroom. Moreover, the electric engines (one on each axle in the Long Range variant that we were testing) take up much less space than an average diesel engine, which also adds 150 litres of luggage space at the front.
In terms of design, Tesla has not been idle either. The automatic "pop-out" door handles were replaced by a new variant which is also recessed into the bodywork. The handle is designed in such a way that by pushing the thumb on the wider part of the handle, the other part comes out and you can unlock the door. Completely different from a traditional door handle - which may be a small detail for some - but it already gives an indication of what we can expect inside.
With the interior of the Model S, Tesla was already revolutionising the car interior: no more of the multitude of buttons we find in some cars. Model 3 adds a scoop to that. The dashboard as we've known it as a motorist for years is integrated in one central 15-inch touch screen with which everything can be operated, and where you can also find all the necessary information. Regular software updates continuously improve that touch screen by introducing new functions, functionalities and performance. Did I mention that you can also watch Netflix on it?
No more classic odometer as we know it. Instead, a very sleek minimalist design with only the steering wheel and behind it one large ventilation slot instead of separate ventilation grilles. Furthermore, the interior is embellished with an equally sleek central console, which also provides a great deal of storage space. Your mobile phone can be conveniently stored in a docking station, which can also be closed so you can keep your attention on the road. Last but not least, there is the long stretched glass roof, which not only gives you extra light and a feeling of space, but above all a beautiful view.
We talked earlier about the Tesla Model 3 as an affordable electric car and the question of whether quality might be compromised. Although air suspension is not chosen, the Model 3 is not necessarily inferior to its bigger brother. Thanks to the extremely efficient dampers, it is very comfortable and damps the many bumps in our Belgian road network like no other. Shocks are absorbed very well, without losing touch with the road.
Although its unladen weight of over 1.9 tonnes may initially suggest otherwise, the Tesla Model 3 handles corners astonishingly. For the occasion, I visited some of the finest B-roads that our country has to offer in the vicinity of the Spa-Francorchamps F1 circuit.
A smart weight distribution with a low centre of gravity, thanks to the batteries, ensures that the handling is comparable to that of the toppers in the hothatch segment. Surprisingly manoeuvrable, the 346 hp Tesla Model 3 Long Range reels itself through the bends once you push the accelerator pedal just that little bit deeper, something you wouldn't expect from a 5-seater saloon car. Thanks to a perfectly tuned cooperation between the two engines - one on each axle - the grip limit is particularly high, giving you the feeling of being shot like a cannonball when you come out of a corner. Something that many a petrol head can appreciate!
But even in the so-called "chill" mode, the Tesla is particularly smooth in everyday traffic. In this mode the throttle response is considerably reduced, which benefits the driving range. Thanks to the Autopilot function, motorway kilometres have never been so pleasant, especially after an extensive day trip in the Belgian Ardennes. Moreover, the Tesla superchargers (or the competitor's fast chargers) ensure that charging time is reduced to a minimum. And for those who find waiting a quarter of an hour too long, there is the integrated game mode or apps like Netflix or YouTube to keep you busy.
For me personally, the Tesla Model 3, versatile as it is, is the ideal daily driver. Its handling is very reminiscent of what I can appreciate in a car. Moreover, it is a lot more comfortable than what I am used to, without having to sacrifice sportsmanship. A nearly two-tonne saloon car that feels like a hothatch, with accelerations that many supercars can envy, more than once put a smile on my face ...
Thanks in part to the Autopilot, the Tesla Model 3 is a more than practical car for driving from point A to point B. And what's more, it also knows how to entertain - both when driving and when charging. During the test I only used the Superchargers that Tesla has in numerous places in our country. And the waiting was kept to a minimum thanks to the masses of entertainment offered by the Tesla during charging.
Years ago, Gregory Eyckmans was caught by the motor racing bug, which was given to him by his father. For a long time he already was a regular photographer on circuits at home and abroad, and since 2013 you can also find him behind the wheel of a racing car. Meanwhile, he has also become a fan of electric driving. In the past he could often be found in the Tesla Roadster during our events. In other words, the ideal person to test tomorrow's electric models for VitaeMobility.
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