2021 Tesla Model 3 Performance Review: InEVitable?

Leow Ju Len

The Tesla Model 3 blazed a trail for others to follow. Is this how all cars are going to be someday? We test the Model 3 Performance in Singapore

SINGAPORE — Having spent some proper saddle time in the Tesla Model 3 on Singapore roads, it’s occurred to me that it’s nonsense to think of the American upstart company as a game changer. Instead, Tesla is forcing other car companies to play a different game altogether.

It’s one where everyone else has had to have a serious look at not just how they build their cars, but whether their entire business models need an overhaul.

Now that Tesla has dragged the industry kicking and screaming into the post-combustion era, legacy carmakers are scrambling to put their own electric cars on the market.

READ MORE: Everything you need to know about buying an electric car in Singapore

That’s the easy part for now — there are already more than a dozen different pure Electric Vehicles (EVs) on sale here (10 of them were at our sister title Ucars’ EV Weekend event). Long term, it’s the car companies who nail battery supply and software code who will survive and prosper. 

Anyway you didn’t come here for random thoughts on the car industry. You want to know what the Tesla Model 3 is like. To help us answer that, Tesla loaned us its media car, a Model 3 Performance in Pearl White with the black and white Premium interior (a S$1,500 option).

Teslas are no longer a rare sight here, but laying eyes on one is enough to clue you in on how different these cars are. Here’s a machine that could outrun a Lamborghini with ease (in a straight line, at least), yet it looks like a wispy, compact sedan.

Combustion cars tend to express power with long, bulging bonnets that say, “Look at how much raw horsepower I’ve got under here!” But the Model 3 goes the other way, with a low bonnet that dips low between the front wheels, as if to express how little hardware it needs to have there. 

Tesla Model 3 Performance in Singapore

In fact, being built from the ground up as an EV means the Tesla takes full advantage of the layout that batteries and motors make possible.

Unlike some converted cars, it doesn’t need to ride on tall springs to make sure the battery pack clears obstacles, for instance.

Tesla claims a combined 649 litres of cargo space, and while the main boot isn’t huge there’s room for a deep frunk — I would store loose items such as a breakdown triangle, high-visibility vest and first aid kit up there, leaving the boot relatively uncluttered.

And despite having a similar footprint to a BMW 3 Series, its wheelbase is an inch longer.

That leaves room for an airy interior, helped in no small part by a glass roof that keeps out heat and UV rays but lets light in, giving you an expansive view of the sky overhead.

Then there’s the minimalist design, which makes you wonder if they forgot to put in air-con vents and all the main controls you usually find in a car. A steering wheel with two scrolling wheels/buttons on the spokes and a floating 15-inch touchscreen are all you’ll find.

Here’s where most people diverge on the Tesla. You’ll either detest the minimalism or find it revolutionary.

Things like the steering wheel position and wing mirrors are adjusted by the switches on the steering wheel spokes, but involve diving into the touchscreen menus. About a quarter of the screen area is for driving info such as your speed and a representation of what the car sees around it, while the rest is for everything else under the sun.

You can set the regenerative braking, decide if you want the car to creep when you’re off the brakes or aim the airflow from the air-con vents (yes they’re there).

Mundane stuff aside, you can turn the icon of your Tesla into Santa’s sleigh, listen to Fox radio if you want your world to get a little darker, call up some “caraoke” tunes, play classic arcade games and even have the car make fart sounds when you use the turn signals.

Why? The real question is why not?

Mind you, it’s all a bit disorienting and bewildering at first (I only found the hazard lights after three days). Learning the user interface is like switching from iOS to Android, in that you’ll be lost initially, but if you’re reasonably tech-savvy you’ll get there eventually, and then you’ll simply get used to it and maybe even wonder how you lived without it.

You can’t use Apple CarPlay or Android Auto with the car, and either of those would feel easier to get to grips with for a start (plus you could dictate Whatsapp messages or pick up where you left off with your podcasts), but Tesla keeps it all in-house for a reason. Its control over its cars’ software means it can send over-the-air updates to make them better. Model 3 owners got an automatic upgrade in 2019 with extra range and more power, for instance.

Mind you, power is something the twin-motor Performance variant has in abundance. If you’ve driven an electric car you’ll know how instantly they respond to the right foot, but the Tesla adds a dash of violence to the proceedings, accelerating like it’s got a score to settle with your driving licence. It’s done with the sprint to 100km/h in a blazing 3.3 seconds.

Tesla Singapore apparently limits its test cars to that speed, so our driving impressions are somewhat half baked, but that’s enough to get a sense of what the motors can do, since it’s not like they have to hit a certain rpm before doing their stuff. Pin the accelerator, and pretty much right away you get an idea of what it’s like to be kicked in the stomach by Chuck Norris.

Mind you, not everyone will find that pleasant (I have to say I found it pretty addictive), so you really might want to think about how often you’ll use the supercar acceleration, and consider buying the Standard Range Plus version instead. It’s still quick, needing just 5.7 seconds to get to 100km/h, and it’ll save you some 40 grand.

Two seconds later the scenery gets way more blurry…

But if it’s ballistic acceleration you want, there’s nothing else on this side of six hundred big ones that’ll do. And at least you’ll get around corners ok. The Model 3 has surprisingly meaty steering, and though you can feel the tyres fight to deal with the car’s 1.9-tonne mass, it feels nicely balanced when you dive into bends. It mostly sails through a twisty road in that fuss-free way that EVs do, given how the low-mounted batteries help to keep body roll at bay.

Driving it fast is almost laughably easy, but for now the EVs with the tautest handling are the Audi e-tron GT/Porsche Taycan siblings, so the Tesla certainly isn’t all-conquering.

The next Tesla to hit town… has already hit town. Find out about the Model Y in Singapore here!

Yet, if you look at the Model 3 in isolation, it’s clear it offers an amazing amount of car for the money: unique packaging, an open and Zen-like interior, rapid acceleration, and enough infotainment firepower to either madden or delight a person. If EV chargers were truly island-wide, it’s likely that Tesla would have made an even bigger splash on the motoring landscape than it already has.

As it is, other carmakers have had time to get their own EV programmes going, with the likes of the BMW i4 incoming, the Mercedes-EQ EQE, and many others on the horizon. The Model 3 feels like a car developed by people who didn’t have to worry much about what others were doing, but the EV field is seeing more players enter by the day. It’s still a trailblazer, but for the Model 3, it’s game on from here.

Tesla Model 3 Performance

Electric Motor505hp / 639Nm dual motors
Battery / CapacityLithium ion, 75kWh
Regular Charge

Fast Charge
Wallbox 7.3kW / 7-9 hours

Supercharger 250kW / 30 mins 10 to 80 percent
Electric Range567km (WLTP)
0-100km/h3.3 seconds
Top Speed261km/h
VES Band A2 (-S$25,000)
AgentTesla Singapore
PriceS$155,283 without Certificate Of Entitlement
VerdictRepresents a complete re-think of what a modern car should be. It’ll either frustrate or delight you, but objectively a great car.

READ MORE: The latest on CarBuyer


5 door 5 seat electric model 3 performance sedan tesla

About the Author

Leow Ju Len

CarBuyer Singapore's original originator, Ju-Len in person is exactly how he is on the written word and behind the wheel. Meaning that he darts all over the place and just when you thought he's lost the plot, you realise that it's just you not keeping up with his incredible rate of speed and thought.

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