What does an expert BMW driver think about Tesla’s Model 3?

Some of the legacy automakers have suggested that they consider car buyers to fall into two categories: regular car buyers and electric car buyers. This idea is one of the main reasons that sales of their EVs have been disappointing.


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Tesla has never subscribed to any such self-sabotaging view of the market. From the very beginning, Elon Musk and his disciples understood that, for an EV to have a chance in the market, it wouldn’t just need to be as good as a gas vehicle - it would need to be better in every way. Tesla set out to build “not the best electric cars, but the best cars,” and the results have proven the soundness of that strategy.

When Model 3 hits its stride, it’s going to be stealing sales (conquesting, in auto industry parlance) from existing small performance sedans. One popular model that’s directly in the crosshairs is the BMW 3 Series, which is famous for its excellent driving qualities. Several media outlets have contrasted the specs of the old favorite and the new upstart - X Auto and the BMW Blog have each published detailed spec-by-spec comparisons - but how do the two cars compare in the more subjective area of how they handle on the road?

A good man to answer that question might be expert BMW driver Alex McCulloch, who recently had a chance to take some hot laps in a Model 3, and offered his assessment in a post on the BMW Car Club of America’s web site (via Carscoops). McCulloch, who is one of those “professional drivers on closed course” that we read about at the end of every car ad, was called for a gig driving a Model 3 for “a short film promoting a very good cause.” Like a pro, he offered few details about the client or the production, saying only that it was a full day of filming at multiple locations in the Colorado Rockies, including static, aerial, drive-by, and vehicle-to-vehicle shots.


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As most reviewers have, McCulloch found Model 3’s lack of traditional controls a bit strange at first, but he adjusted quickly, and was soon putting the new Tesla through its paces. “Despite my lack of seat time in the car, it did what I asked with ease,” he writes. “It was communicative, composed, and surprisingly neutral, despite my not being able to figure out how to defeat the stability control.”

“There was only faint road noise, because, unlike our BMW X3 camera vehicle, this car consumed only ions,” McCulloch continues. “More accurately, it transformed them from a giant lithium-ion battery pack beneath my seat to instant rear-wheel-drive torque. And speaking of torque, there was enough on tap to power a Washington DC Metro train. The small-rimmed leather sport steering wheel was connected to delightfully crisp and direct steering.”

McCulloch’s love of BMWs didn’t prevent him from appreciating Model 3 - in fact, it sounds as if he found the driving experience to be broadly similar to that of a high-end BMW. “The steering, brakes, and balance were all on par with my expectations of a sport sedan - think E46 M3.” (As Carscoops points out, comparing any vehicle to a BMW E46 M3 is high praise indeed.)

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McCulloch’s conclusion: “This car is a game-changer; it will be relatively attainable compared to its predecessors, and it was even able to satisfy the driving bias of an old-school BMW-lover like me. I really didn’t want to like it, but I found little to complain about. It was an intersection of the past and the future, one where an old-school driving enthusiast like me could experience what is clearly the future - and not have to relinquish the experience that I hold dear.”


Written by: Charles Morris