While price and range are probably two of the biggest factors in deterring people from buying an electric vehicle, poor charging infrastructure has to be one of the biggest barriers – and you don’t need a study to tell you that, just ask any one you know who is considering an EV as their next car.
To test the UK’s readiness for electric vehicles, we took a Tesla Model 3 Performance and embarked on a 450 mile round trip from our home near Tunbridge Wells, Kent, to Morehampstead, on the north eastern edge of Dartmoor, Devon. Over the six days we had the car we added another 257 to that total. We had done a similar trip almost a year ago in a Jaguar I-PACE and were very grateful to have access to a charger at our end destination with just 29 miles left to play with. This time we were self-catering rather than living it up in a hotel, and so the likelihood of being able to charge on site was zero, but with access to the Tesla Supercharger network (enabling up to 180 miles of range in 15 minutes) we weren’t too worried.
What we were more concerned about was the weather – having managed to time our trip during Storm Dennis. Let’s start at the beginning.
Before we left for our road trip we had to collect Tesla’s press car from one of its showrooms, which gave us a good opportunity to suss it out on the drive from its London Heathrow outlet to our home on a mix of motorway and country roads.
Upon collection the lovely Laura Hardy, Senior Comms Manager at Tesla, showed us around the car. Compared to the Model S, the Model 3 is designed to be a smaller, simpler and more affordable electric car. It’s more akin to a BMW 3 Series Saloon in size, but because it isn’t bound by the typical packaging constraints of an internal combustion engine vehicle, there’s more room for passengers sitting in the front and there’s a frunk (front boot). Saying that, there is slightly more rear legroom (although the middle passenger doesn’t have to straddle a transmission tunnel) and headroom in the BMW, as well as boot space with 480 litres versus the Tesla’s 425. The all-glass roof that extends from front to back does a good job of making the Model 3 feel bigger at least.
Comparing it to the Model S again, the cabin is much more minimalist – basically there’s just one 15” touchscreen in the centre of the dash, that’s slightly angled towards the driver, and integrates media, navigation, communications, cabin control and vehicle data into one intuitive interface. You access every driver control here making it unlike any other car on the market. It’s also where you can access the over-the-air software updates that Tesla owners regularly receive free of charge and add functionality, enhance performance and improve the driving experience. That in itself is pretty cool.
With no buttons, dials or knobs on site it looks a lot cleaner, and it lends itself to neat features, such as the air con – simply press the fan symbol on the interface and you get a graphic of the dash and with your finger you can decide exactly where you want the air to come out. The only immediate downside is you need to ‘learn’ to glance left to look at your speed. You do get used to it after a while but a heads-up display wouldn’t go amiss.
The Tesla Model 3 comes as standard with either partial premium (if you opt for Standard Range Plus at £40,490), or premium all black leather (if you opt for Long Range at £46,990 or Performance at £56,490). Our press car had white – which is a £1000 option and presumably only ticked by owners who don’t have kids. In terms of the exterior, anything other than white (so black, silver, blue) will cost you an extra grand (or £2000 if you want red), 19” Sport wheels will set you back £1450, a tow hitch (unavailable on Performance) £1000, and full driving capability £5800 (Autopilot is included as standard, which, under active driver supervision, enables your car to steer, accelerate and brake automatically for other vehicles and pedestrians within its lane). That’s it in terms of options – nice and simple. Tesla cars may not be cheap but you don’t need to spend another ten grand on top of the purchase price to get a decently spec’d car. The cost of electricity is up to seven times lower than petrol, and Teslas also require significantly less maintenance than traditional vehicles due to their reduced mechanical complexity and fewer moving parts, so you’re making savings as soon as you’ve purchased one.
Having got familiar with the way it operates it was time to get on the road. Crikey. It’s quick. I’ve been privileged to have edited a BMW and Porsche magazines so I’ve driven some fast machinery but this is like nothing else. Zero to 60mph takes just 3.2 seconds, that’s superbike quick – impressive when you consider this weighs 1860kg (curb weight). According to Tesla, that little carbon fibre boot spoiler improves stability at high speeds. I guess every little helps! It’s little surprise that there are four piston calipers clamping 355mm brake discs up front. And yes, they do work well!
While the Model 3 Performance has an official range of 329 miles – more than enough to cover the 228 miles to our holiday cottage, we didn’t charge the car overnight so we only had 282 miles to play with. However, when we plugged our end destination into the sat nav it said that even if we stuck at 70mph we would still need to stop – albeit for 15 minutes at its Exeter Supercharger location, Darts Farm, meaning we’d arrive at our final destination with 27 per cent charge. After 45 minutes or so, it then advised us that we would need to maintain a speed of 60mph! As our three-year-old son needed a wee we decided to speed up and stop at Fleet services South on the M3 but annoyingly all of the superchargers were under construction.
Plan B. While the sat nav was desperate for us to go the opposite way to where we were heading to access the superchargers at the northbound services we decided instead to go to a 50kW supercharger at Norton Park near Winchester. This meant we could top up to 47 per cent in 15 minutes and then arrive at our final destination with 17 per cent charge. When we arrived there were only two charge points and both were occupied, however as luck would have it one freed up in five minutes and as a bonus it was located at a hotel, so the charger was free to use and we could grab a coffee and watch the car charging (at up to 400mph!) from the brilliant app, while our son investigated the box of toys that were conveniently placed in the lounge area. Given it was a welcome break for us all we decided to stay a little longer and left the hotel with 285 miles, and the sat nav telling us we’d have 38 per cent battery charge remaining by the time we’d reach our cottage. It cost just £8.64, which compared to half a tank of fuel in a car of similar performance levels, is nothing.. We arrived at our destination with 85 miles remaining (and 27 per cent).
Despite the fact it was pouring with rain we decided to brave the weather and stretch our legs for a village pub recce. It was Valentine’s night and fortunately we had the foresight to book a table for three (romantic!) earlier that day… Unfortunately it was a table in ‘a local pub for local people’, shall we say, and what has to be the smelliest man in Devon sitting up at the bar which was about two metres from where we were sitting.
I popped out to do (another) quick recce of the other two eateries in the village and discovered that one – The white Hart Hotel – had availability. We swiftly made our apologies that we now suddenly couldn’t make dinner and moved on from what was the traditional old posting house. There was no room in the restaurant so we sat up at the bar along with every other man and his dog, but that turned out to be the least of our worries, with a family next to us – the son of which was intent on staring at us all evening while the mother insistently coughed. Perhaps we’d have better luck the next day?
With no charging facilities on site, before we could do anything for the day we needed to charge up the car. We decided to pay a visit to Darts Farm, where the sat nav was recommending we stopped the day previously (it was also highly acclaimed by Laura) and we could see why. What I will say with a Tesla is that you do go out of your way to find a Supercharger destination. While there were closer charging locations all around us, they are a lot slower charging, plus there’s still the whole anxiety around them not being contactless, so you’re better off going the extra miles in more circumstances. In this case it was 21 miles away – but by God it was worth it – and you most definitely discover new places in an electric car! Darts Farm is a huge and highly impressive retail outlet featuring a traditional master butcher and delicatessen, where we had the hindsight to buy dinner this time and cook it ourselves, plus a great selection of produce including local and seasonal food and drink. It also had a fabulous café on site so by the time we had a full English breakfast and did our food shopping the Tesla was fully topped up, and cost us £18 to go from 53 miles of range to 302 miles.
Given we were in the midst of Storm Dennis and had a young child to entertain we decided to visit ‘the UK’s largest aquarium’, which is in Plymouth. While the tank exhibit gives it that title – containing 2.5 million litres of water and housing a great variety of sea life – the aquarium itself feels quite small and we felt a little ripped off parting with almost £50. The fact you then have to pay to use the soft play, but were considering it to eke out the day, a child then vomited in it, which brought our visit to an abrupt end. Anyway I digress, it whiled away the afternoon, mostly thanks to it being an almost three-hour round trip to get there! To be honest it was fortunate those 100 miles didn’t take us longer with the torrential downpours we were driving through – we must have seen a dozen cars strewn across the side of the road where they hit flood water and aquaplaned. The weather was also wreaking havoc with the eight cameras (which ordinarily offers 360-degree visibility around the car at up to 250 meters of range).
Having discovered that the last of the remaining pub in the village we hadn’t checked out yet was closed, we then decided to drive to nearby North Bovey where once again it was a repeat of the previous day’s pub excursions, with a resident smelly man at the first pub we went to! Again we made a swift exit and continued up the hill to Bovey Castle where there was a slightly more acceptable aroma from the guests. After returning home, we were relieved to have enough juice in the tank to just require one stop at Fleet Services North in order to make it home the following day…
… Or so we thought! With a birthday party to make in Tunbridge Wells for 2.00pm we decided to leave at 8.00am. Having already driven 20 or so miles across the moor we then came to an abrupt stop. A huge tree had fallen down in the night and blocked the road, so we needed to find another way back to the A38. We eventually managed it, but then knew if we wanted to fast charge we’d need to stop earlier than Fleet, so it was off to Darts Farm again. Having left with 150 miles of range we arrived with 87. That’s okay we thought, we can stock up on goodies while we charge it back to full. Wrong, it was shut, and because it was pissing it down we couldn’t even make use of the onsite playground. Having been sat in the car for an hour already, we braved the weather and decided to stretch our legs. After walking several laps of the car park however, and saying no you can’t go on the slide and swings to our disappointed son every 30 seconds, we got bored and so with 240 miles of range after 20 minutes we decided to briefly stop again at Fleet Services North – by which time we’d all need a coffee and comfort break anyway. Interestingly, the Tesla app which ordinarily we couldn’t fault, stated that Fleet Service North only had two chargers while ZapMap said 8 – and they were right. That aside we arrived with 37 miles and after 15 or so minutes we left with 240.
Needless to say we just made it to the celebrations in total comfort and with a content toddler (thanks to Caraoke and the built-in whoopee cushions), and you know what they say, happy child, happy parents. We had experienced the best and worst of owning an electric car over those three days. It proved that it is possible to cover long distances – and while life would have been made easier with a charging point at our end destination – using the Supercharger network meant that at times, a 15 minute top-up, which is exactly the time it takes to grab a coffee and use the toilet is enough to see you through. Tesla opened its 500th Supercharger station in Europe in December 2019 – which means there are 4700 individual Superchargers across 24 countries. What’s more the Model 3 Standard Range Plus (with 254 mile range) starts from just £40k and while that’s far from making it a mass-market electric vehicle which is what Tesla claim it is, in terms of range and running costs, comfort and practicality and tech, it’s a competitively priced, capable and very likeable car.
If you regularly do high mileage and you are in the fortunate position of having at least forty grand to spend on an electric car (or you can afford the PCP which cost £625 per month for 48 months with a down payment of £6000) – then this is the EV to get. Put it this way, we were so impressed, that we bought one. And after we bought one, two of our friends then bought one. I think that says it all really.
Price (RRP OTR): From £56,490
Top speed: 162mph
0-60mph: 3.2 seconds
Drive: Dual Motor All-Wheel Drive
Driving range (WLTP): 348 miles
Charging time: 170 miles in 30 minutes at Supercharger location
Insurance group: 48-50
Basic vehicle warranty: 4 years / 50,000 miles; Battery/Drive unit warranty: 8 years / 120,000 miles