| 3.9°C Belfast


Jonathan Bell

Tesla Model 3 Performance review: Week with electric vehicle in NI shows future is here

Jonathan Bell


Close

Range anxiety should not be a factor for many drivers.

Range anxiety should not be a factor for many drivers.

The car is not lacking in the looks department.

The car is not lacking in the looks department.

The phone app control of the car is well thought out.

The phone app control of the car is well thought out.

The navigation system will direct you to charging points when needed.

The navigation system will direct you to charging points when needed.

The navigation system is very quick.

The navigation system is very quick.

The weather conditions can have impact on battery performance.

The weather conditions can have impact on battery performance.

Tesla on Belfast's Boucher Road.

Tesla on Belfast's Boucher Road.

Just over 200 miles could be expected from a single charge.

Just over 200 miles could be expected from a single charge.

The charging network in NI is growing.

The charging network in NI is growing.

/

Range anxiety should not be a factor for many drivers.

Electric cars are the future, one review proclaimed not so very long ago.

And that’s wrong… well sort of. They are the here and now.

Not so long ago Google Glass was the future, people would develop better dexterity to be able to text on a phone number-pad and we’d all get around on hover boards.

There has, however, been more of a dogged determination to bring about the electric vehicle revolution, than some other endeavours.

A display of a battery-powered post van at the Ulster Transport Museum and other examples throughout history – dating back to the 1800s – long-before that early 1990s vehicle show that there have been many attempts to get plugged in cars on the road.

The difference now is the battery technology has improved which is making it easier and more accessible to a greater number of people. And there is a growing network of charging points.

Daily Headlines & Evening Telegraph Newsletter

Receive today's headlines directly to your inbox every morning and evening, with our free daily newsletter.

This field is required

Tesla, which looked at the issue of a lack of charging infrastructure and took it head on, is the current leader of the pack. Its supercharger network helps extend it’s own vehicle’s range for as little as a five minute stop. It makes owning one of their cars an easier decision to make.

Others are joining in. Volkswagen is putting in its own chargers and saying anyone can use them. It takes industry to step in when government is slow to adapt. 

NI government studies have shown the average person does around 6,000 miles a year. That is 16 miles every day. Around a third of all journeys, the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency found were under a mile, and half of those are taken by car. 

Close

The navigation system will direct you to charging points when needed.

The navigation system will direct you to charging points when needed.

The navigation system will direct you to charging points when needed.

So for the type of driving that most people do an electric vehicle should be the only option.  Obviously price and how you can charge them at home can stop some, but for many it should be the clear cut choice. Range is not an issue for any EV on the market or for the majority of drivers.

And, as I found out in my week with the new Tesla Model 3 Performance, availability of charging points may not even be a factor in life on electric wheels.

The new Model 3 is a near £70k saloon and the most common model of the American marquee you'll see on the road in its various guises.

The performance model is at the top of the very limited range the manufacturer offers. It comes with its own bigger wheels and a carbon fibre spoiler on the back. The suspension is also lowered. The difference to the rest of the range is mainly in the performance.

Close

The weather conditions can have impact on battery performance.

The weather conditions can have impact on battery performance.

The weather conditions can have impact on battery performance.

I have never been too keen on the look of the Teslas, thinking the styling a bit fishy. But with this all-black low-slung beast of a car sitting in the driveway all week, with its flared wheel arches, low-profile tyres and striking red Brembo brakes the only kink in its colourless presence, I got hooked on its looks. It's a shark, primed for attack. By the end of my week I was considering getting a poster of the car for the bedroom wall. But I'm not 12.

It is also a big shark. Our gate posts are one-and-a-half-times wider than the usual and the sensors protested every time I pulled in.

Tesla puts all controls - bar essentials which live on the steering wheel and the stalks (or the ceiling for the hazards) - on the car’s dominating 15" touch screen. I never like it when the likes of the air controls are all part of the one screen and you must go looking for them.

But the Tesla design is good and functions like the radio, heating, windscreen demisters and phone are always permanently available. 

You can even turn on the seat heaters easily. And in this Tesla every seat is heated.  The controls are where you expect. But the glove box could be opened from a button - especially as the screen won't close it. The screen functions are very clever and intuitive – it is the best available. 

The touch screen is bolted solid to the dash, there is no movement in it. It puts the speed in the top right of the screen which takes some getting used to but I did and it is as much a glance as a look at a speedo right in front of you. The screen and all its options are like no other. The 'Easter eggs', such as the emissions option, got the kids crying with laughter. There’s even car-oke should you get bored.

The result of homing the controls all on the screen is a lovely flush panel across the front with only one, very cool, air vent. It does feel like you are on the bridge of the enterprise.

Close

The navigation system is very quick.

The navigation system is very quick.

The navigation system is very quick.

The dash gives the impression of a really big windscreen. Some cars have an almost claustrophobic feel with a clustered dash and a big rearview mirror. But in the Tesla it is like a view from a spaghetti western such is the expanse.

Although the side pillars supporting the windscreen are huge and create a blindspot. 

A wood panel stretches across the dash and onto the doors. It doesn't look bad at all, but an option to get a carbon fibre trim would be nice.

The centre console has been redesigned. Gone is the black piano gloss of the old and in with a grey brushed plastic with a wireless double phone charger and two storage bins. Given it doesn't have the complications of a gear stick or all the other mechanics of your internal combustion engine the storage is good. And I found the arm rest positioning ideal.

The only buttons there are - after the hazards - are on the steering wheel. Two little wheels can control the volume, the voice recognition, the position of the wing mirrors, steering wheel, cruise control and even the distance you are to the car in front when in autopilot.

The inside is a great place to be. The vegan leather seats are comfortable and the panoramic glass roof lets in great light. I did find though the view out the back restrictive. It was like the back end rose up and at times I used the rear dash camera for better visibility.

(Yes I said vegan leather. Tesla go to great lengths to showcase the sustainability in the build of their cars.)

Given the Tesla's commitment to tech, the best function is the phone app. You can control a great deal all from the phone. When you want it to charge, it can be scheduled for the early hours when cheaper, to heating the car up to be ready for you in the cold mornings. Which irked me, as I just kept on thinking why can't every car do that already?

It also has summon. Which means you can get out of the car and direct it into a space. Which is alright if you are parking up in a row of Teslas, maybe not so much if you are parking up against some already dinged exhaust emitters.

Close

The phone app control of the car is well thought out.

The phone app control of the car is well thought out.

The phone app control of the car is well thought out.

Overall build quality I felt was good. It is solid. 

But all that aside, the thing with a Tesla is in the driving. More particularly, planting the foot down. It goes some, in short.

The stats say 0-60mph in a little over 3seconds. That is super car territory. Its acceleration that pins you back in your seat and gives you a smile. Even cruising along the motorway, the take over is good as there is no need to drop a gear for it to speed up.

That's 462bhp and 639nm of torque in the performance and the stats for the standard model are just as impressive.

The steering is also really responsive. As the car's batteries are on the floor, it has a low centre of gravity making it really responsive. It is like a go-kart. For a car so angled toward the technological aspect, it is the simple art of driving that makes it one of the there is to drive. It is as if they thought, this looks complicated so let's make driving as simple and fun as possible.

The brakes are also very good, when or if you need them.

It also has autopilot as an option. It can drive all by itself, provided you keep your hands on the wheel. It will change lanes for you and even follow the sat-nav and take you off at junctions. It is very strange. And if you get bored there is always the rainbow road – with added cowbell. Don’t ask why. 

This company may have an eccentric billionaire owner, quirks built into its cars for a bit of fun but it is underpinned by some solid engineering to make the driving experience something to remember.

 

In the driving mode section of the options there is even a track mode. You can decide how you want the dual motor - meaning four-wheel drive – to distribute the power. It can even be set to put all the power to the back wheels for some drifting. I can't think why, but this option was disabled for my test drive.

The dashcam can also be used for recording your laps - and also for 'sentry mode' which will monitor outside activity and record anything suspicious.

You almost have to adjust how you drive the Tesla. You can spend a long time on our roads driving with the one pedal. Unlike other electric cars, lifting off the accelerator is a form of braking, which slows you down more than if you did it in a petrol car, and helps recharge the battery. You can set it up so that it creeps like an ordinary automatic, but I liked the hold function.

And now for the battery bit.

I was looking forward to my week with the Tesla as I had planned to take it on a good long run - and see how life on electric power works for today's motorist.

And, in short, I am sold.

But if you want more words. I got the car with a full battery saying it would do almost 300 miles. After 104 miles it said it had 110 miles left in the er ... tank and was projecting another 50 miles driving. I was smiling for too long using my heavy right foot and range anxiety hit.

So I plugged it in.

Now usually as a Tesla owner you would install a futuristic-looking wifi enabled (of course) charging point outside your house, which gives a bit more of a boost than the three-pin plug option I had to use.

And being my outside sockets are at the rear of the house I had to go through an open window at the front. The irony was not lost on me on one cold winter day working away with the window open and the coal fire roaring while I charged my very eco-friendly car.

The car, through my phone app, estimated a full 24 hours was needed to get to a full charge. And I worked it out that would add around £15/£16 to the electric bill. But Tesla recommends never running the battery down and instead keeping it plugged in all times when you can.

For longer runs there is the Tesla supercharger network which will give you a full charge in an hour. But there are none yet in Northern Ireland. There are plenty of high volume chargers about with some able to give you a good blast that you won't get at home.

As my week went on and I toured the sights, the thought of never stopping at a petrol station started appealing to me, save for a supercharger stop on a long journey. Let's be honest, if you are doing a big trip you will know about it in advance, so can plan on charging the battery. And you will likely have a stop required anyway where you can plug it in. Most hotels as well have charging points. So getting the power you need should not be a problem. And as a bonus, it is free to plug in.

Close

Just over 200 miles could be expected from a single charge.

Just over 200 miles could be expected from a single charge.

Just over 200 miles could be expected from a single charge.

As for finding the charging points I downloaded an app for my phone. Handily it not only shows you the location, but most have a picture and a few comments from the last people to use them. Using them could not be simpler. They are run by the Republic’s ESB power company. You need their app to open a port and plug in. I found a 22kw power point in Belfast city centre which could charge the battery fully from near empty in around three hours.

I stopped for a brief charge but in all honesty it was more for the novelty of it.

But did I mention - it is free!

The battery reacts to the conditions. Too warm and too cold effects performance. And depending on what you have on in the car, and how you drive it obviously impacts performance. One option I looked for among the many, was a simple button to go 'eco', to turn everything down to the minimum to get more range. But there didn’t appear to be one.

My week of driving got an estimated 351 watts an hour. With a 75kw battery, I work out I'd be getting around 213 miles from a full battery. I plugged it in every night and got around same mileage back I had taken out.

Driving along with nothing but wind noise for company as I passed any number of petrol stations, I started thinking of the power for these cars. To me it has always been hydrogen cars will be the future and these electric vehicles are the stop gap until a safe and secure infrastructure is in place to fill up with the universe's most abundant resource.

But why do we need 'gas' stations at all? Yes the electric used to charge the Tesla came from a power station that uses coal, but the emissions of that would never match the emissions of a petrol or diesel So why not invest in the power network. Get people sustainable electric to their door and then improve charging point numbers around the place on motorways and key routes.

Ideally though I need wireless charging. One night after having the car plugged in for a few hours I opened up the app to see what mileage the car was getting from the charge - as it too can fluctuate. Only I found the little pulsating wire into the car was a solid red. I'd it all plugged in but not switched on. Now that is the fear I'd say drivers most have, if they have not the proper exterior charger.

Close

Tesla on Belfast's Boucher Road.

Tesla on Belfast's Boucher Road.

Tesla on Belfast's Boucher Road.

I have driven some decent cars, but never have I been so reluctant to hand one back after a test drive. The Model 3 is a fantastic driver. Goes like nothing else, is relatively cheap to run and has a great entertainment/driving system to boot.

Yes it has it faults. The ride can be hard, especially with our deteriorating roads. On one journey to the coast, I was in need of some smooth tarmac. The warning system can be a bit too fussy. Finding the recessed door handles at nights can require a torch.

But I loved it.

Electric cars are just so good for every day driving. The performance is one of their best selling points. It has to be the only option. Yes I love a good engine note - and even the turbo lag of a diesel – but that all costs money as well as not being good for the environment, or air quality.

And yes, being an electric car there is no engine so you have additional storage space in the front - the frunk as they call it. The front trunk. But being this side of the pond should it not be the Froot? 

Electric cars are going to get better and cheaper in the long run. But as for issues around range, that has to be a problem only for a minority of people. Yes there are plenty of options out there now, but the Tesla Model 3 has to be the best.


Top Videos



Privacy