Phonebox Motoring | Road test: Tesla Model 3

Phonebox Magazine Tesla car review

Charge of the Bright Brigade

I have talked many times in this column about the environment, fuel economy, the future of the motor car and the ever-looming ban on the production of petrol and diesel vehicles. But I haven’t yet thrown off my combustion engine shackles and gone completely electric. Until now.

Now is the time to show you a pure electric car, and one of the best too – from the genius US company that simply doesn’t do petrol or diesel. And presumably never will. 

Tesla, founded in California in 2003 and run by billionaire inventor Elon Musk, has grasped electric-powered transport firmly by the terminals, and continues even now to lead the charge.

Striking, modern and practical, Tesla models answer a lot of the questions that electric cars throw up, chiefly, where can I charge my car on a long journey? Anyone who has an electric (or hybrid) vehicle will almost certainly have a charging point fitted at their home, but it’s when they’re out on the road with a disappearing range gauge and nowhere to top up, that things start to look bleak.

Not so for Tesla though and the Model 3 that I tested can go a minimum of 278 on a single power-up. The cars also have a clever feature built into their satnavs which maps out charging point stops on a lengthy journey and even tells you how long you will need for each top-up. Longer-distance or performance Tesla models go even further between charges such as my test version – the Model 3 Long Range which can do 360 miles. I collected it from Tesla’s posh London showroom on the day that lockdown restrictions were eased – it felt like everyone had got back in their car again just to see what it felt like. The roads were busy, traffic was heavy and the city was jammed.

No problem for the Model 3. I had instant comfort, performance and a beautifully balanced ride as the car took me through the gridlock and out on to the open road. At first it seems a bit daunting as you place your key card against the side of the car, wait for it to unlock and slide into the comfortable leather seat. 

But that’s only because it’s so different from what we’re used to. The key is like a credit card. There’s no engine sound. There’s a tiny gear lever for forward, reverse or park, because there’s no traditional gearbox. There’s no handbrake. Acceleration is instant and super quick and you barely have to use the brakes as the car slows itself. The dashboard is uncluttered – everything is controlled from a massive I-Pad style screen in the centre of the car. And from that same screen you see yourself (your car) and all the other traffic around you, in front, passing on either side and coming up behind you.

Heading up the M1 I felt the full potential of the awesome electric motors. This ‘Dual Motor’ version has one electric unit powering the front wheels and another powering the rears, providing outstanding acceleration, phenomenal grip and fantastic mid-range overtaking capability. And all in almost complete silence. 

Incredible regenerative brakes are superb – the technology slows the car quickly and safely so that you hardly have to use the brake pedal, while recovering kinetic energy produced from stopping. 

There’s a bright airy feel behind the wheel while rear seat passengers will enjoy plenty of head and legroom. An electric lid allows access to a large 425 litre rear boot space which is plenty for three suitcases, a pushchair or two or perhaps some golf clubs. And, as there’s no engine, you have a front boot too (called a Frunk) which can take two small bags. The Model 3 certainly has the look and feel of a business car, probably more so than its larger Model S and Model X sisters, and this would be the car that company users would probably opt for. Certainly the case for a Tesla – or any electric-powered – company car is compelling. Business cars are taxed according to their value and the type of fuel they use, so the more emissions (CO2) a car emits, the greater its banding figure. 

Petrol and diesel can attract up to a whopping 35% banding. But electric cars with no CO2 emissions have been exempt from any Benefit in Kind taxing and even though last month (April) it rose to 1% of the car’s value and will rise again to  2% next year, they’re still a cost-effective and hugely attractive way to run a company vehicle. While the Tesla is certainly not the cheapest electric car to buy, it’s definitely one of the most interesting. Bright sparks, those Tesla people. 

While we’re talking electric…

Don’t need four wheeled electric transport yet but are thinking of a green-friendly way to get around? This Qooder Oxygen might be the answer. Battery-powered, you trickle charge it overnight to get up to 50 miles range the next day – perfect for an urban trip. Acceleration is brisk and, although top speed is only about 35 mph, the Oxygen is a neat, nippy and stylish way to be a man (or woman) about town. Swiss manufacturer Qooder planned to bring the bike to the UK in big numbers last year but were set back by the Covid pandemic. It will cost around £4,500 – not bad, especially as you’ll never have to put any fuel in it…

Andrew Totton

Director, AJ Accountancy, Olney

Second Opinion

My biggest worry with electric vehicles is running low on battery power and not knowing where to recharge the car. This has a good range on it, but we often holiday in Cornwall and driving down there would still need some planning. In normal driving it’s not a million miles away from a petrol car, once you get used to the ‘automatic’ feel to it and the fact there’s no sense of it changing gear. The acceleration is amazing, especially when you consider this isn’t even the top performance model. The braking too, adds a whole new dimension – you hardly have to touch the brake pedal, and they give you a really good feeling of safety and security.

The whole car has loads of safety features, with the screen showing all the other cars around you, the reverse cameras and the various audible warnings. I was worried initially that I would be distracted by such a big information screen but I got used to it quickly. 

The price is good – I was expecting six figures. I’m not changing my current car for a couple of years yet but the Tesla has certainly got me thinking for next time.

Tom Johnston Media | Phoneboxmagazine

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