TESTED 31.10.2018, USA ON SALE NOW PRICE $64,000 (USA)
Electric motor upgrade creates quickest, if not the most affordable, Model 3 yet
This is the proof that the more traditional part of the motor industry has some serious catching up to do if it wants its new EVs to be able to match Tesla.
The Performance is the range-topping version of the Model 3, for now at least, based on the existing Dual Motor model and using the Long Range Battery pack. The difference is a punchier rear motor, which increases the peak output to 444bhp, which Tesla says is good for a 3.3sec 0-60mph time.
Our test car, driven in the US, was fitted with the Performance Upgrade pack (initially a £3800 option but now to be fitted as standard, at least in the US), including 20in wheels, Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tyres, lowered suspension and a 155mph top speed against 145mph for the regular Performance.
We drove the Model 3 Performance just after the Dodge Challenger Hellcat Redeye and can report that the acceleration of the Tesla is only fractionally less impressive than that of the supercharged 800hp muscle car. But while the Dodge does its thing to a furious soundtrack, the 3 delivers organ-sloshing longitudinal g-forces without drama or apparent effort. The chassis can digest even stamped-throttle starts without squeaking or slithering and with no more noise than the whine of the electric motors.
Full-bore starts are huge fun – you won’t experience it for the first time without muttering expletives – but are far from the Performance’s only trick. The quality of engineering in the 3’s powertrain and chassis runs deeper than the brand’s detractors would have you believe, and the Performance is as impressive being driven gently as it is giving it all.
The Model 3’s throttle response is instantaneous and the lack of a gearbox means there’s no delay in the drivetrain: every input has an immediate effect, with acceleration arriving as quickly as your toe can move. A conventional car capable of matching the Performance’s 0-60mph time would never keep up on real-world acceleration.
On Michigan backroads the Model 3 stayed impressively flat under hard cornering, although tighter sequences do make its considerable 1850kg mass feel obvious. Yet it always feels a measure more agile than the Model S when changing direction quickly, with some active torque management helping it to turn and hold a line effectively, if with little sense of driver involvement.
The only thing that seemed to unsettle it was the combination of a big bump and a loaded-up bend, with a brief moment of indiscipline as the wheels unloaded. It was certainly the first time I’ve encountered power-on oversteer in a Tesla.
The rest of the Model 3 remains true to Tesla’s established values. Step straight from a similarly sized upmarket model and the interior will feel minimalistic to the point of empty, and it takes a while to get used to the delegation of almost all functions – including opening the glovebox – to the vast central touchscreen. The more traditionally minded would likely appreciate a few more conventional buttons, not least for the heating and ventilation functions. But this is Tesla’s way and, in the manner of the deliberate distinction once made between Apple and Windows operating systems, customers seem to like it.
It’s hard to write about any Tesla without falling into the seemingly unbridgeable chasm that separates the company’s lovers from its haters and which expects all reviews to share the same binary separation.
The Model 3 has yet to deliver on Elon Musk’s promise of genuine affordability and the promise of $35,000 (£26,750) lead-in pricing; as the most expensive variant of what was meant to be the brand’s cheapest car, the Performance might seem to be heading in the wrong direction.
But it is also a timely reminder that, as long-established OEMs prepare their pure electric models, the world currently contains only one upmarket EV maker with a proven track record of selling cars in significant numbers.
Any rival hoping to beat the Model 3 will have to be very good indeed.
You’d get used to the minimalist interior and touchscreen interface pretty quickly, but the Performance’s cabin offers little obvious difference over that of the much cheaper base car. The seats are also short on lateral support. MD
Price $64,000 (£50,000)
Engine Dual DC electric motors
Torque 471lb ft
Gearbox Single-speed, direct drive
Kerb weight 1850kg
Top speed 155mph (limited)
Economy 116mpg equivalent (US)
CO2, tax band 0g/km, 13%
Rivals BMW M3, Jaguar I-Pace