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BY KATIE - MYGREENPOD, 06 Sept '19
The car that may well change the way we drive has landed in the UK
This article first appeared in our Restoration Revolution issue of MyGreenPod Magazine, distributed with The Guardian on 06 Sept 2019. Click here to subscribe to our digital edition and get each issue delivered straight to your inbox
Anyone who grew up in the ‘90s, as games consoles were beginning to eat up the precious time of teenagers across the country, was either a fan of Sega or Nintendo. Regardless of your affinity, here in the UK you’d have to play a waiting game for the new releases to come round; the Japanese and then the US market would get first dibs on all the great stuff, until eventually the games would arrive in Europe.
Globalisation and the development of digital delivery methods have pretty much ended this sense of anticipation – not just in the games market, but in most other areas of commerce, too.
The car market, however, is still prone to these quirks. A globalised supply chain and most other countries’ dogged insistence on driving on the right-hand side of the road mean that the release schedule for automobiles is pretty idiosyncratic – especially if the production capability is focused outside Europe.
This is magnified in the electric vehicles (EVs) space, where the growing demand for clean, efficient vehicles far outstrips supply.
Take the Tesla Model 3: quite possibly the most eagerly anticipated car of the 21st century. It’s been wowing car enthusiasts in the US for well over a year; over 130k units were sold in 2018, making it the eleventh bestselling car there last year.
Now, finally, the Model 3 is here. The first left-hand drive models arrived on our shores in June, and many are now in the hands of new, happy UK Tesla owners.
For Tesla, Model 3 represents an important milestone in its goal to accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable transport. This masterplan, announced in 2006, read something like this: 1. build a sports car that costs a lot; 2. use the money to build a high-end sedan; 3. use that money to build a high-volume, lower priced car.
The expensive sports car came along in 2008, in the form of the Roadster. The high-end sedan was 2012’s Model S. Tesla Model 3 is that high-volume, lower priced car.
The base – or ‘Standard Plus’ – Model 3 is coming in at around the £40k mark – similar to the more sporty lines from Audi, BMW and Mercedes.
Elon Musk, Tesla’s sometimes controversial, always entertaining CEO, set the goal of 500,000 cars a year in 2020. With reports that the factory is now at 1,000 cars a day, the target is close: it looks like Tesla is beginning to crack the mass production model.
What range anxiety?
Accelerating the world’s transition to sustainable transport has been at the heart of everything Tesla has done since day one.
Model 3 is the culmination of all the things Tesla has achieved so far; it tops the charts in class for range, safety, performance and usability.
Range (how far the car will get without charging) is the main thing people consider when they first look at buying an electric vehicle. The premium Performance Model 3 boasts 300 plus miles of range and the Standard goes around 230 on a single charge – but you can charge your car every night so you always leave with a full ‘tank’.
If you do want to venture further afield, you have the extensive Tesla Supercharger Network to back you up (next time you’re at a motorway service station, check out how many Tesla Superchargers you see). The network is Europe-wide and capable of charging at rates of well over 200 miles an hour.
A revolutionary car
All of this would be immaterial if the Model 3 didn’t drive or do the basics well. Last year, experts from Octopus Electric Vehicles drove the car on the coast in Oregon, and none of them could believe what Tesla had achieved.
The Model 3 is really easy to use; you open and shut the car with your phone, though a card key is provided in case your phone’s battery dies and a key fob is available as an optional extra. That alone shows how revolutionary the Tesla approach is.
The car senses how far away you are and unlocks as you approach. The door handles are more akin to what you would find on a Lamborghini; they sit flush to the body, creating an amazingly smooth finish. This is for aerodynamic efficiency – and maybe, just a tiny bit, because it looks awesome. Simply press the end in with your thumb and the handle pops out into your hand.
On the inside, it’s almost spartan: a steering wheel and a huge 15-inch touchscreen that controls everything and has a lot of clean lines. It’s what you might expect at a Mayfair art gallery.
Weight and acceleration
The Teslas you’re most likely to see on the road at the moment are the Model S and the Model X; they suffer somewhat from their weight, being 2.1 and 2.4 tonnes respectively, and you can feel this when you drive them. They have unbelievable roadholding but the trade-off is that the front end can suffer from a lack of dynamic turn-in.
You would be forgiven for thinking that Model 3 would drive just like Model S or X but smaller. No. Tesla has worked really hard to make this feel and drive like a small European car; amazing grip but playful, and super easy to get into a corner. It’s so impressive for a car verging on 1.9 tonnes.
Tesla engineers’ attention to detail in developing the Model 3 is a thing of renown. They worked with motor trend journalist and racing driver Randy Pobst, two-time winner of the 24 Hours of Daytona, to craft new algorithms that would allow the Model 3 Performance to compete on track days with many of its competitors, as well as cars above its class.
It can out-accelerate the 1999 McLaren F1 (0-60 in 3.2 seconds) which, if sold today, would go for around £1.2 million. This was a car Elon Musk owned, loved and totalled after driving too fast over a hill; the car Musk would hold as a benchmark for all Teslas in terms of acceleration.
The high-tech EV
So, the Tesla Model 3 is quite a remarkable drive – and the tech at its heart makes it an absolute joy, as well as incredibly safe.
The Lane Departure Avoidance feature, for instance, means that if you start to veer out of your lane, the car is intelligent enough to correct this and hold its lane. This is clearly a prelude to a more full-on autonomous driving feature, something that no doubt could be unlocked if and when infrastructure, technology and legislation allows.
This is one of the most significant features of a Tesla: the implementation of Over The Air upgrades similar to those received on a smartphone.
Improvements, enhancements and sometimes quite frankly ridiculous but fun ‘Easter Eggs’ are rolled out to Teslas across the country overnight while they’re parked on a driveway charging.
Did you say Easter Eggs?
Yes we did. Easter Eggs are the little gifts the Tesla software engineers leave to be unlocked by drivers, mostly to bring a little joy to their day.
You can change the central display to a roaring log fire or a sketchbook to while away some time while you’re parked up, and even change the on-screen view of your vehicle to Santa’s sleigh or James Bond’s submarine car.
Easter Eggs have made all of these things possible. This is what happens when the tech world and the motoring industry collide.
Tesla Model 3 is the true start of the age of sustainable transport for the masses. It’s the first time an electric car has been designed, pitched and priced as a viable alternative to a petrol or diesel car.
Model 3 allows you to swap your family car today and never have to compromise. It does all the things you’d expect from a supercar, without burning the tiniest bit of fuel.