Elon Musk likes bold claims. When he announced the Tesla Model 3 Performance via his favourite communications medium Twitter, he claimed it would be quicker and better handling than a BMW M3 and beat anything in its class on the track.
The video above isn’t a direct comparison of the two; there’s little point, as the two are fundamentally very different machines. However, it is worth examining how the Tesla Model 3 Performance performs on track and how driving it differs to a conventional combustion-engined, rear-wheel car.
Key to the Model 3’s circuit ability is its Track Mode. Select it and the battery fans immediately whirr into life to keep temperatures under control and ensure you have as much power as possible. It also sets up the twin electric motors (one front, one rear) to allow maximum cornering agility.
Fundamentally, the Model 3 Performance handles very well. It’s softly sprung so rolls quite significantly and the combination of its 1847kg heft and relatively modest 235/35 tyres means outright grip levels aren’t massive.
However, that mass is carried very low, so the Tesla handles in a similar fashion to something like the current Golf GTI. Until you hit the throttle, at which point it seems to somehow summon extra traction out of the road, hanging on steadfastly when logic dictates it should begin to slide wide.
It’s brutally fast, the experience enhanced by never having to worry about wheelspin and the absolutely instant throttle response. Time pressures prevented us recording laptimes around the Haunted Hills circuit but on a short, constantly twisting circuit like this, it’s almost certain the Tesla would give the BMW a bloody nose. On a more conventional circuit, we’d expect those positions to be reversed.
But is it fun? After all, there are no gears to shift, no engine noise to enjoy, very little traction management required. Yes, it is fun, primarily because the Model 3’s soft-ish setup allows you to adjust its balance using the brakes and the throttle.
Enter a corner with caution, floor the throttle with intent and it will even swing into oversteer as long as you aren’t too abrupt with your inputs. Track Mode relaxes the stability control but it doesn’t completely eliminate it. As such, there’s a lack of consistency to the Model 3’s behaviour; sometimes it will swing into a slide, other times the computers will say no.
This is where the M3 has an advantage as a driver’s tool. It responds to your inputs, whereas it feels like ‘fun driving’ has been programmed into the Tesla; give it an input that program doesn’t recognise and it shuts the entertainment down quick smart.
What is abundantly clear, though, is the potential electric propulsion provides. The prospect of a low centre of gravity, instant torque delivery and the tremendous tuneability of electric motors in the hands of Renault Sport, AMG or M Division (Porsche is already there with the Taycan) is a mouth-watering one.
Is Tesla’s M3 more entertaining than BMW’s? No, but it’s closer than most will expect for an electrical all-wheel drive hatchback.