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Published on April 29th, 2019 | by Chris Boylan


Top Gear’s “Interesting” History With Tesla & New View Thanks To Tesla Model 3 vs. BMW M3 Track Tests

April 29th, 2019 by  

The British car enthusiast show and publication Top Gear has had a bit of a rocky relationship with Tesla. Top Gear initially published a scathing review of the Tesla Roadster, with claims of premature failures, a range that didn’t come close to its rating, and exaggerated charging times. Former Top Gear host James May was even quoted as saying, “Battery powered electric cars will soon die altogether.” (Note: James May years later bought the BMW i3 and made it his daily commuter.)

It’s been a long time since that initial Roadster controversy, and along comes the Tesla Model 3 — the smaller, lighter, nimbler sibling of the Tesla Model S. Top Gear is now singing a different tune.

The Top Gear folks recently pitted a Model 3 Performance against a comparably priced BMW M3 (as you probably saw when we quickly covered the story and Elon Musk tweeted out our summary). For the most basic measure of acceleration — 0–60 MPH — Top Gear didn’t even bother to test the cars. It’s clear from the published specs on both cars (3.5 seconds for the Model 3, 4.1 for the M3) that the Tesla wins that race handily. But Top Gear dug a little deeper to see how the Model 3 performs in more complicated track maneuvers.

Jack Rix, deputy editor at Top Gear, took both cars to Thunderhill Raceway in Northern California to run them through a series of tests to see which car is the better track performer. The tests included a straight quarter mile, a 0 to 100 MPH and back to 0 test, a timed lap around the track, and a drifting test to see if a Tesla could actually drift sideways, something that racing enthusiasts have criticized Teslas for their inability to do in the past. (Tesla’s tremendous traction control prevents drifting … unless Tesla turns the traction control off.)

British car enthusiast show Top Gear pits a BMW M3 against the Tesla Model 3 Performance. Watch the video here. Screen cap courtesy of Top Gear.

Despite the Model 3 Performance being about 600 pounds heavier than the M3, the Tesla EV beat the BMW gasmobile in 3 of the 4 tests.

  • In the quarter mile, the Tesla managed 11.9 seconds vs. the BMW’s 12.6.
  • In the acceleration/deceleration test, the Tesla made it to 100 MPH and then back down to 0 in 13.1 seconds vs. the BMW’s 13.8 seconds.
  • And in the track lap, the Model 3 bested the M3 by a little under 2 seconds at 134.07 vs. the M3’s 135.96.

Interestingly enough, the video does show the driver losing control a bit with the Model 3, kicking up some dirt by slipping off the track on a blind corner. But I’d say this is just evidence that the handling of a Model 3, with its computer-controlled all-wheel drive, is a bit different from the handling of a traditional rear-wheel drive sports sedan like the BMW M3.

The only area where the Model 3 “suffered” by comparison was in the subjective “driftability” test. Rix admitted that while the Tesla can drift, it felt a bit forced and “algorithmic,” while the BMW felt more organic and natural.

Teslas are designed for safety over everything else. A Tesla is as much computer as it is car, and the synergy of its computer brain with its steering, braking, and handling makes it difficult to perform maneuvers that seem (to the computer) to be dangerous (and actually are dangerous, in the wrong hands). The Model 3’s “Track Mode” mitigates this a bit, and future enhancements are coming which will allow even greater flexibility there.

But as Mr. Rix concluded, the Model 3 does all this while still being: “quiet, comfortable and refined.” For a car that wasn’t specifically designed for racing, the Model 3 is clearly a capable performer on the track. And it can help you pick up that bookshelf from IKEA in record time.

Like this article? Want a Tesla? Feel free to my Tesla referral link for a Supercharging bonus on a Model 3, Model S, or Model X purchase. Follow me on Twitter — @MrBoylan 

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About the Author

is an EV and alternative fuel enthusiast who has been writing about technology since 2003.

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