Driving a Tesla Model 3 in Singapore: As fast as a supercar, cheaper to run, and like nothing else around
That Tesla isn’t quite like any other carmaker is patently obvious by now, as our test drive of the Model X SUV has already shown.
What is less obvious is how that approach is paying off big time. The Tesla Model 3, as the brand’s most accessible car to date, is electrifying proof of that.
In 2018 Tesla sold 245,000 cars, which isn’t huge as carmakers go, but triple the number it sold in 2016. As a pioneer in the fast growing electrified car market, that’s to be expected, but it’s blown away every other EV brand. A year ago, Tesla already sold 145,000 Model 3s around the world, making it the best-selling EV globally.
In other words, the Model 3 is already doing what the 3 Series did for BMW – become the key model in the lineup and the definitive statement of what makes the brand, and at a more accessible price point. Conveniently, the Model 3 is an executive sedan and thus occupies the same segment as the BMW 3 Series, Audi A4, and Mercedes-Benz C-Class.
Baby Kamm on over
The Model 3 certainly looks like a Tesla. The American EV company doesn’t make particularly beautiful cars – see the slab-sided Model X and the sleek but not-jaw-dropping Model S – but it’s still unique enough that people will give you the smartphone salute around town.
The Model 3 looks like a shrunken S, it has the same grille-less front, a shark-like nose with wide-spaced headlamps and chopped, Kamm-style vertical tail. And to speak of windows, Tesla’s gone nuts with them – ‘greenhouse’ certainly applies to this car, with its rear roof section made entirely of glass.
Of course we’re still in the luxury zone here, so ‘accessible’ isn’t Kia Niro EV accessible, and keep in mind a Model S and X still costs more than S$400k with COE here. But at S$276k with COE (from Hong Seh Motors, see our sidebar for more information) for the least expensive Standard Plus model, we’re sure the Model 3 will find more homes to charge into in Singapore .
All Teslas in Singapore are self or parallel imports – here’s where you should get yours
Tesla’s still aren’t here in an official capacity – this unit is a parallel import (or grey import, since there’s nothing official to parallel) from Hong Seh Motors, and while we don’t usually test PI cars, especially mainstream ones, Hong Seh is a specialist in exotic cars and as an ex-Ferrari and Maserati dealer, has been around for decades. It’s not only the regional distributor for Geely-owned EV brand Geometry, it also deals in multi-million dollar yachts, so you can be quite sure it won’t up and run with your money.You can also spec the car to your liking on the official configurator (UK market), from least expensive possible to Dual Motor monster like the one we drove.
Hong Seh’s managing director Edward Tan says: “I’m a huge fan of electrification and of Tesla, the way the company does things is truly special and something we have never seen before. For our customers, we can provide almost any specification possible in the Tesla configurator.”Hong Seh offers a three year warranty for its Teslas, and it will also assist the customer in handling any claims on Tesla’s factory warranty, that is eight years for the ‘battery and drive unit’ (Tesla’s nomenclature in commas).
The version we drove will SHOCK you. Sorry, couldn’t resist the clickbait reference, but it really is.
This is the most expensive and powerful of the Model 3 range, the Dual Motor Performance (DMP) model. Like the Jaguar I-Pace and Audi E-Tron, it has a motor driving each axle, a 283hp unit on the rear, and 197hp on the front. Combined it gives 473hp with a eye-opening 639Nm of torque.
At 1,874kg the Model 3 is still a bit of a porker compared to equivalent gasoline car. A BMW 330i weighs just over 1.4-tonnes, although the Tesla’s key competitor here is the plug-in hybrid EV version, the 330e, isn’t far off at 1,815kg.
However the instant go of the motors – and the lack of a conventional gearbox – means the Model 3 DMP has a ridiculous amount of accelerative power. All EVs have this in varying degrees, even the modest BMW i3, the Jaguar I-Pace, the Mercedes-Benz EQC, but tap the car into Sport mode, floor the ‘gas’, and you are instantly, and quite violently, pinned into your seat without any preamble whatsoever.
In fact it has a hint of ‘the breath squeezed out of your lungs’ type acceleration typically only seen in supercars, and will easily see off most AMGs/Ms/RS cars in this respect.
On paper it’s 0-100km/h in 3.4 seconds, but feels faster because the 0-50km/h time is certainly in the range of sub-2.5 seconds, and compared to the Model S or Porsche Taycan it’s not as fast, but we challenge you to find a car that can do the same for under S$400k with COE.
Compared to the Standard model, the DMP has lowered, tuned suspension, larger 20-inch wheels, uprated brakes and a carbonfibre spoiler. It delivers a recognisable performance EV experience, with a slightly stiff, busy ride quality which just about avoids devolving into crashiness, and still has a comfortable edge to it.
Tesla Model 3: The Variants, compared
We test the most expensive Tesla Model 3 here, the DMP model, but the range starts from a more palatable S$276k with COE with the Standard Range Plus model that is rear-wheel drive.
Low-slung battery pack weight, and the fact that it’s not an SUV – in fact this is the first performance/luxury EV we’ve tested in Singapore that isn’t – translates into snappy, enjoyable handling. It isn’t quite the sharpest tool in the shed, since that weight never quite goes away, but on the flipside the Model 3 is stunningly competent at the daily grind as well.
The instant acceleration is smoothed out in ‘Chill’ mode, the relative silence of the cabin is a great balm to the usual noise of a commute, the Autopilot safety warns you of the vehicles around you and takes over if you get sick of driving in stop-and-go traffic. The PMD has thrilling performance on hand, no doubt, but its ability to smooth over the mundane stuff will convince buyers most.
At 4.69-metres long the Model 3 is approximately the same length as a BMW 3 Series, though it has a slightly longer wheelbase, at 2.88-metres, and that translates into generous interior room.
Five adults will fit alright, four even better, the flat floor is a plus, and there’s enough headroom to accommodate tall people, despite the downward curve of the glass roof. The latter adds a feeling of even more room to the rear, though with all that shine-through surface area you will need to bump up the AC to compensate on sunny days.
The combined boot space isn’t the best – 425-litres vs 480-litres on the 3er – the front boot is shallow enough for a briefcase, the rear is helped by a big loading aperture (the fastback design helps here), the seats do fold down, and there’s a deep underfloor storage compartment.
We described the Model X as an SUV built not by a car company, but by a technology company, far more Silicon Valley than Detroit or Munich/Stuttgart, and the same thing is even more true for the Model 3.
It shows a big improvement in interior quality, with restrained design and luxurious material choices – Alcantara-style fabric, lots of leather, and gloss black. It helps that the cockpit is probably the most minimalist (Least complex? Hugely pared down?) we’ve ever seen on a car.
The steering wheel has two stalks, one for wipers and one to shift PRND, and it also has two remote control knobs/rollers. On the side are buttons for the windows, door opening, and seat adjustment.
That’s it, there are no other buttons in the cockpit and only the MacBook Pro-sized 15-inch screen is used to display and control absolutely everything from driving info, to climate to steering wheel position, even wing mirror adjustments.
CarBuyer’s disdain of touchscreen systems is no secret, but it helps that the Model 3’s screen isn’t just huge, sited within easy reach, it works just like an iPad. That’s in contrast to most systems which are flush with the dashboard and have their own structure/control idiosyncracies. But you’ll inevitably have to deal with menu diving, and the logic of the system is simple enough but there are still moments of ‘How the heck do I…’.
What sets the Tesla system apart is how slick and easy it is to use. For instance, the air con vents are controlled by a finger drag, and like on the Porsche Panamera it has the potential to be unnecessarily complex, but you only need to do it once and it becomes habit.
There are also plenty of little tweaks and features that set the Model 3, and Tesla, apart. A ‘Dog Mode’ for the aircon puts up a display telling outsiders not to worry, while Sentry Mode has already proven its worth against people who key cars. It even displays Tesla’s own character and sense of humour – no other car we’ve driven has an inbuilt whoopee cushion to prank your friends with, nor has memes on board (stay tuned for our video review that’ll show you these features).
Nuts and lightning bolts
Perhaps you can begin to see how Tesla gained its enviable position at the head of the luxury EV market (globally anyway), but good old (emphasis on ‘old’) Singapore brings us back to level thinking.
As detailed in our EV ownership guide, the fact is to make an EV work here you need somewhere to charge it, and that means a landed property or EV charger in your office at the very least, and it also means most of us are SOL if they want to make that transition due to the lack of a widespread EV charge network in apartment-style homes.
The usual EV but aside, we had a short test drive in the Model 3 and didn’t rack up big miles in it, but the consumption figures (which included testing the 0-100km/h time and lots of static photo/video shooting) of around 200Wh per km translates to 350km per charge, and we imagine with judicious driving it could easily extend to the claimed 500km mark.
Charging off a wallbox will take seven to nine hours, and will cost you roughly S$19 at current power tariffs of S$0.25 per kWh. The car can also do CCS DC fast charging of up to 150kW, though Singapore’s current fastest is SP Group’s 50kW chargers.
That aside, the Model 3 is still – like all EVs – expensive for what it is. The S$345k price tag could net you plenty of other tasty gasoline cars – a Mercedes-AMG C 43 sedan would leave you with S$30k-plus in change, a BMW M340i with more than S$60k.
As mentioned the most direct rival the car has here is the BMW 330e PHEV, which has a claimed electric range of 59-66km. It costs S$248,888 with COE, that’s less than the S$276,000 with COE of the standard Model 3, and you have the advantage of not needing a charge point at all and simply treating it like a conventional hybrid as our friends in Malaysia do.
It’s clear that owning a Tesla in Singapore at this time is still something reserved for those with the financial means and the space for a charging point, it will show you what the future of motoring is right now. The fact that we said the same thing about the BMW i3 half a decade ago isn’t a stain on EVs, which are flourishing elsewhere in the world.
Still, the Model 3 is the most accessible Tesla to date, and a clear sign of the advantages of EVs presented in the luxurious and compelling way only Tesla can.
Tesla Model 3 Dual Motor Performance
|Electric Motor||Dual motors 473hp, 640Nm combined|
|Battery / Capacity||Lithium ion, 75kWh|
|Charge Time / Type||7-9 hours / Wallbox|
|Electric Range||530km (WLTP)|
|VES Band / CO2||TBA / TBA gkm|
|Agent||Hong Seh Motors|
|Price||S$345,000 with COE|