► Gavin Green salutes the latest EVs
► Our contributor-in-chief on electric cars
► Why we should embrace the e-revolution
Wailing flatplane- crank V8s have serenaded me and silky-smooth V12s have seduced me. I’ve been charmed by the bark of big-chested twin-cam fours (especially Alfas) and have a soft spot for modern small-capacity triples. And there is surely no more inspiring note than a thundering Yankee bent-eight.
I’ve enjoyed the mechanical punch of a good Rootes supercharger (none more exciting than in a Blower Bentley, below), the suck and slurp of twin-choke Webers, and the ticking of exhausts cooling after a hard day’s drive.
Petrol power has given much pleasure over the years. I even like the smell of old car exhausts. But the sweetest powertrain I’ve driven recently propels the new Tesla Model 3. I have come to the somewhat grudging conclusion that I really, really like electric drive. It’s smooth, quiet and wonderfully zestful when powered by a bank of meaty batteries.
The Model 3 is the best EV I’ve driven, alongside Jaguar’s i-Pace. The only petrol powerplant that can challenge for refinement is a Rolls Phantom V12. Which costs £300,000 more, pumps out over 300g of CO2 every kilometre and sacrifices 13 beefy German bulls. (The Tesla has vegan ‘leather’.)
The Model 3 is also the best performing car in its class, a BMW 3-series rival that can do 0-60 in 3.2 seconds. That’s faster than any M3. What’s more, the power delivery is instant and unfussed. Plus, there’s something compelling about its silence. The only thing you can hear is Spotify, the wind and a whisper of tyre hum.
Further electric car reading
The Model 3 costs from £38,900. So it’s a relatively affordable Tesla. It steers sweetly, has good body control on the Bucks and Berks B-roads where I drove it, and handles well. It’s dynamically a big jump on from the Models S and X. Think silent, smoother 3-series.
Unlike most of the dreary EVs served up by the ‘mature’ car makers, the Model 3 is also deliciously contrarian. It’s one of the things I love about Teslas. While the rest of the motor industry follows trends, Tesla sets them.
There is no key. Nor do you unlock it or switch on the ignition. Just approach it with your (paired) phone in your pocket, select D and off you go. Plus Teslas have had wireless updates for years. Then there’s Tesla’s Autopilot, the most advanced semi-autonomous drive system around.
The Model 3 has no dashboard. Instead there is a simple low facia that gives good visibility. The only instrumentation is a 15-inch ‘floating’ central touchscreen. The cabin is wonderfully minimalist.
The bespoke architecture serves up 5-series space inside a 3-series footprint. Most EVs are simply converted petrol cars. They look like petrol cars and have the same space (or less) than their petrol doppelgängers, zero emissions meeting zero imagination. They use modular platforms also designed for petrol power. This saves development costs. It also means they won’t exploit the EV’s packaging advantages. It’s like putting the latest OLED screen in a bulky TV cabinet.
The Tesla is fast, but the new Lotus Evija supercar promises to be ballistic. It uses four electric motors, develops almost 2000bhp, and will likely be the world’s most accelerative car. No petrol engine could deliver this much power with Lotus agility. Plus the compact powertrain means it’s easier to optimise the aerodynamics. There’s more space to create downforce.
So, the battery-electric car is maturing. But is it the future? This month I also drove the Hyundai Nexo, powered by a hydrogen fuel cell rather than plug-in batteries. It runs on compressed hydrogen, produces nothing but heat, electricity (for the electric motor) and water vapour, and has a 400-mile range. You sense you’re surely sampling the future.
As Elon Musk foresaw, the future is zero-emission electric. And as the Model 3 demonstrates, it’s a prospect to embrace. One of the happier consequences is that, after years of blame and shame, the motor car can regain its innocence. It’ll be okay to love cars again.
More opinion pieces by Gavin Green