This car is proof that the more traditional parts of the motor industry still have some serious catching up to do if they want their new EVs to be able to match Tesla.
The Performance is the ultimate version of the Model 3, for now at least, based on the existing Dual Motor model and sharing the same 500km battery pack. The significant difference is a punchier rear motor, which increases the total system output to 340kW. Tesla claims that is good enough for about a 3.5sec 0-100km/h time, making it nearly as quick as the fastest version of the bigger Model S.
Our test car, driven in the US, was also fitted with the Performance Upgrade pack (normally USD$5000 but now fitted standard), bringing 20-inch wheels, Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tyres, lowered suspension and a 17km/h-higher top speed of 250km/h. The car now costs $65,200 in the US, compared with $49,000 for the standard Model 3.
This car is startling. I drove the Model 3 Performance just after experiencing the Dodge Challenger Hellcat Redeye for the first time and can honestly report that the acceleration of the Tesla is only fractionally less impressive than that of a supercharged 800-horsepower muscle car.
But while the Dodge does its thing to a furious soundtrack, the 3 delivers its 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 – it is impossible to experience one for the first time without uttering expletives – but they are far from the Model 3 Performance’s only trick. As with the regular car, the quality of engineering in the 3’s powertrain and chassis runs much deeper than the brand’s detractors would have you believe. The Performance is as impressive being driven gently as it is giving it all.
The speed of response is outstanding, illustrating the biggest difference between a brawny EV and an internal-combustion performance car. The Model 3’s throttle response is effectively instantaneous, and the lack of a gearbox means there is no delay in the drivetrain; every throttle input is translated into immediate effect, acceleration arriving as quickly as your toe can move. Even a conventional car capable of matching the Performance’s 0-100km/h time would never keep up on real-world acceleration.
On Michigan backroads, the Model 3 stayed impressively flat under hard cornering, although tighter sequences make its considerable mass feel obvious. Yet it always feels a measure more agile than the staid Model S when asked to change 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 unsettled it was the combination of a big bump and a loaded-up bend, with a brief moment of indiscipline as the wheels unloaded – the first time I’ve encountered power oversteer in a Tesla.
The rest of the Model 3 remains true to the brand’s established values. Arrive in the cabin straight from a similarly sized upmarket model and the interior will feel minimalistic to the point of being empty. It certainly takes a while to get used to the delegation of almost all functions to the vast central touchscreen; you even use it to open the glovebox.
The more traditionally minded would probably appreciate a few more conventional buttons, not least for the heating and ventilation. But this is Tesla’s way and – in the manner of the deliberate distinction that used to be made between Apple and Windows operating systems – customers seem to like it.
The Model 3 has yet to deliver on Elon Musk’s promise of genuine affordability and a USD$35,000 lead-in price. And, 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’s also a timely reminder that, as long-established OEMs ready pure electric models, the world currently contains only one upmarket EV maker with a proven track record of selling a significant number of cars.
Any electric rival wanting to beat the Tesla Model 3 is going to have to be very good indeed.
Tested and rated on MOTOR reviews
2019 TESLA MODEL 3 PERFORMANCE SPECS
Engine: Twin DC electric motors
0-100km/h: 3.5sec (claimed)
Price: $125,000 (est)
Like: Instant, seamless, linear, breathtaking yet silently effortless acceleration
Dislike: Having to access everything from the central touchscreen; considerable heft
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars