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Tesla Model 3 110 review: The most affordable Tesla comes without its usual punch

Tesla Model 3 110 review: The most affordable Tesla comes without its usual punch
PHOTO: AsiaOne/Ben Chia

Would you buy a Tesla?

Elon Musk's electric car brand has always been divisive among car buyers. Fans of Tesla like its advanced tech features and unconventional approach. Detractors however think that Teslas are compromised products that tend to be more gadget than car.

That polarising effect can be seen in Singapore too, albeit to a slightly lesser extent. Tesla officially launched here with much fanfare in 2021, and quickly became the best-selling electric vehicle (EV) brand in its first two years of sales, buoyed by its major publicity blitz and aggressive pricing strategy.

But the hype soon died down, and Tesla found itself overtaken in the sales charts by Chinese EV brand BYD in 2023. Part of the reason could be BYD's strategy of offering entry-level options for first-time EV buyers, with a number of models that qualify for the more affordable COE Category A segment, undercutting most of Tesla's models which up until now have solely resided in Cat B.

Nevertheless, Tesla continues to fascinate a segment of the car buying public, and the brand hopes to reignite interest and boost sales by introducing a Cat A-eligible version of its Model 3 sedan, which also comes with a lower price tag.

What's it like?

Officially, Tesla calls this the Model 3 110, with '110' being the car's power output in kilowatts. It is essentially a detuned version of the Model 3 RWD which produces 208kW/279hp, and the power reduction allows it to qualify for a Cat A COE, which restricts electric cars to a maximum output of 110kW/148hp.

Aside from the reduced power output, the Model 3 110 is not much different from the rest of the Model 3 family. But the car received a major update late last year, so it's worth looking again at what you get for your money.

Externally, you can identify the facelifted Model 3 from its slimmer headlights and reshaped taillights. But the basic silhouette remains the same, and the car is instantly recognisable as a Tesla from afar.

The big changes are on the inside. Tesla is known for its minimalist interiors, but the Model 3 takes it to a whole new level. There are no stalks, and hardly any buttons, and almost every single function is controlled via the giant central touchscreen.

That includes the drive selector, which requires you to slide your finger up and down the side of the screen in order to put the car in gear. It's a novel approach for sure, but it does raise questions about what would happen should the screen fail to work.

Similarly, functions such as?turning on the wipers, adjusting the mirrors and even opening the glovebox require?one to prod the touchscreen. It's probably the most controversial aspect of the Tesla driving experience, but the general consensus from friends and colleagues who've experienced it is that it can be rather distracting to operate while driving.

Even the indicators are unusual, requiring you to press on the steering wheel instead of flicking a stalk. A friend pointed out that it's similar to how indicators on motorcycles work, but for those who are used to traditional controls on cars, it can feel a bit weird initially.

Anything else interesting?

Knowing Elon Musk's personality, it's no surprise that Tesla cars contain more than a few easter eggs that are designed for (mostly) mindless entertainment.

Most of these can be found under the Toybox function, and perhaps the most juvenile one is what Tesla calls 'Emissions', where you can activate a fart noise from within the cabin, ostensibly to prank your passengers.

There is also Boombox, which allows you to play music outside of the car, turning it into a mobile concert machine of sorts, as well as Romance mode, which puts an image of a fireplace on the screen and turns the heat up, if you wanna cuddle up with your partner.

Probably the most interesting one of all though is Light Show, which triggers a loud musical display that involves flashing lights?and opening doors. It is somewhat entertaining to watch, but it's probably best activated in a quiet and less crowded area lest you end up annoying passers-by.

Those in the back won't miss out on the fun too. There's a small screen in between the seats where passengers can access controls to the air con and sound system. But it also offers connectivity to streaming services like Netflix and YouTube, as well as incorporating some games which are handy for entertaining your kids on road trips.

Cool. What about the drive then?

The first thing to address is obviously the reduced power, and it is indeed a significant change.

The car still accelerates reasonably briskly and smoothly, thanks to its 350Nm of torque, but it doesn't quite have the same amount of punch at the top end as its more powerful siblings. Tesla restricts the speed of its test drive cars, and for ours,?the limit was set at 120km/h, but even then you get the feeling that it won't be able to deliver the same kind of exhilarating performance as other Teslas.

There are other signs that this car is not made for exciting driving too. There are no selectable driving modes, unlike the more powerful Tesla models where you could adjust various parameters like throttle response and such. Instead, you could only select your degree of steering feel, between light, standard or heavy.

As well, the regenerative braking cannot be varied or switched off, which feels a tad annoying as it results in a somewhat jerky driving experience if you're not used to modulating the pedals accordingly.

That said, the Model 3 does have its bright spots. The car feels very balanced while cornering, and it matches that with a smooth and comfortable ride. Performance aside, the Model 3 110 is actually quite a pleasant car to drive?if you're not going anywhere in a hurry.

Another bonus is the fact that as the power reduction is merely just a result of software tuning, the car has the same 60kWh battery as the Model 3 RWD. This means a claimed range of 513km on a full charge, although you can easily get 400km without trying too hard. You also get access to Tesla's fast-charging Supercharger network, which can refill your battery in around half an hour or so.

So, should I buy one?

Ultimately, it still comes back to the question of how much you like Tesla as a brand, because as a car, it's really not for everyone.

A friend of mine who recently bought a Chinese-brand EV before the launch of the Model 3 110 said that he was seriously considering a Tesla as he appreciated the tech that goes into the car. However, he found the high asking price of the Tesla then a bit hard to stomach.

He noted that if Tesla had more affordable options like the Model 3 110, he would have made a different choice.

On the other hand, another friend who currently drives an internal combustion engine (ICE) car said that he would never consider a Tesla even if it was within his price range, as he simply could not get used to the unconventional interior user interface. And it's a sentiment shared by many as well, me included.

Still, there's no denying that the Model 3 110's price tag of $184,173 inclusive of COE (as of July 2024) is pretty attractive, especially when compared to its more powerful siblings which require?pricier Cat B COEs and will therefore set you back?at least $200,000 or more.?

If you've always wanted to experience the hype of Tesla, but found the prices prohibitive, perhaps this is now your chance to jump on the bandwagon.

ALSO READ:?BYD launches Cat A-eligible Seal with 100 Hour Sale Marathon

benjamin.chia@asiaone.com

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