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The vehicle that made Tesla a titan continues to deliver big
Like its older sibling, the Model S, the impact of the Tesla Model 3 resists simple explanation – it merits a comprehensive review. Although it hasn’t reached the affordability that its manufacturer, and its high-profile CEO, originally advertised, it has undeniably democratized electric driving.
In cities like Los Angeles, New York, Atlanta, and Miami, it’s impossible to not spot a diverse range of drivers – from young professionals and middle-aged parents to older folks, all driving the Model 3. Tesla has offered it in various configurations and trims, and many reviews have lauded its performance and dynamics.
The Model 3, and the Model Y , its small SUV sibling, likely propelled Tesla’s extraordinary growth. Last year, Tesla surpassed Mercedes-Benz, BMW, and Audi in U.S. sales by a substantial margin. This review dives into why the Model 3 continues to excel.
EVU Hot Take:
- Like its Model S, Y and X siblings, it’s an iconic EV that will be remembered for decades
- Lower price point of entry into the Tesla brand, even if the $35,000 mark wasn’t hit
- By far the quickest compact sport sedan in the world for acceleration in Performance trim
- Minimal interior could be perceived as spartan by some
- Several years later and its “Full Self Driving” capabilities have failed to fully materialize despite the option costing $15,000
- Quality has been questionable from time to time
Exterior Design and Packaging
Photo by Robin van Geenen on Unsplash
The Model 3 introduces the Tesla lineup as a compact sport sedan, with the Fremont company basing its dimensions on competitors like the BMW 3 Series, Mercedes-Benz C-Class and Audi A4. Despite arguments about these competitors being more luxurious, it hasn’t stopped a flood of customers from switching to the Model 3. The Model 3 reinterprets the “three-box sedan” style popular among its aforementioned rivals but leans more towards the four-door-coupe or liftback sedan styles, like the BMW 4 Series Gran Coupe (derived from the 3 Series). This style choice results in a more aerodynamic shape, improving range. Buyers can look forward to both a frunk and a trunk, an edge over competitors like the BMW i4. The overall design unmistakably embodies Tesla, showcasing major and subtle traits shared with its Model Y, S, and X siblings.
Interior, Features and Tech
Photo by Bram Van Oost on Unsplash
The Model 3 marked Tesla’s initial unveiling of the ultra-minimal interior design that has since become their standard approach. The interior completely forgoes button controls, save for a steering column-mounted shifter, lighting/windshield wiper controls, and window/door release switches. A dominant widescreen tablet infotainment system controls all other vehicle functions and features. Recognizable from other models, a plethora of high-tech features cater to Tesla enthusiasts, including highly automated cruise control (Autopilot) and direct Spotify integration. Echoing the similar specification approach of other Tesla products, the cabin color options are either black or white with varying trim pieces. A large panoramic roof stretches across the vehicle’s length.
Tesla’s “Autopilot” system, the subject of near-constant controversy, is a prominent feature of the Model 3. Depending on the chosen option package, buyers can avail of an entry-level version of the system or a “Full Self-Driving” package, priced at $15,000. However, it’s worth noting that despite its name, this system does not offer fully autonomous driving. This misleading terminology has led to congressional inquiries. The system’s foundation lies in a mix of cameras, radar sensors, and ultrasonic sensors, which are designed to perceive and react to traffic and road conditions surrounding the vehicle.
The package includes dynamic cruise control, lane departure warning and lane-keeping assistance, with visual and audible alerts if the car starts to stray from its lane. Despite Tesla’s boasts, many other brands provide systems performing the exact same tasks, using similar hardware. The main difference lies in Tesla’s approach, which allows these systems a greater degree of decision-making capability. Additionally, the Autopilot feature comprises automatic emergency braking, capable of mitigating or avoiding collisions with vehicles or pedestrians. Remarkably, the system can even detect and respond to traffic lights and stop signs, enabling the car to halt fully and proceed when the driver prompts.
The Model 3’s driving dynamics and performance have won it acclaim from motoring press and customers alike. It was widely received as the first real electric challenger to the existing hegemony of euro sport sedans, likely due to its benchmarking and smaller wheelbase/higher power output. In standard rear-wheel-drive trim, the Model 3 sends 271 horsepower to the rear wheels. Step up to the all-wheel-drive Dual Motor Performance, and that figure jumps to 470 HP. The Dual Motor Long Range model drops to about 360 HP by most automotive media estimates (Tesla doesn’t make the actual figures easy to find for the Model 3), but what you give up in power you regain in range.
The Model 3’s driving experience is deeply impressive, a welcome departure from the characterless performance of many pre-2017 electric cars. Its rear-wheel-drive platform, a first for this category, freed the front wheels for precise steering. This bridged the dynamic gap with rivals such as the BMW 3 Series. The car feels stable and responsive on twisty roads, shedding the fun-factor compromises previously tied to electric vehicles.
Five years since its launch, critics still praise the Model 3 as a standout in its segment. Its All-Wheel-Drive (AWD) Performance variant competes favorably with high-level trims of the BMW M3 and Mercedes-AMG C63. Thanks to dual motors, this Performance variant boosts acceleration significantly, achieving 0-60 MPH in a mere 3.1 seconds.
Model Year Differences
The Tesla Model 3 has been in production since 2017, and each model year has brought changes and improvements. Here are some of the key differences between each model year:
In 2017, Tesla launched the first Model 3s with limited features. Standard features included a 220-mile range, 5.6-second 0-60 mph time, 130 mph top speed, a 15-inch touch screen display, autopilot hardware, and a rearview camera.
Tesla updated the Model 3’s interior and exterior design in 2018, adding new features. Enhancements included a heated steering wheel, a power-adjustable driver’s seat, and an auto-dimming rearview mirror. Tesla increased the base model’s range to 260 miles and added a new dual-motor all-wheel drive option, boasting a 310-mile range and a 3.5-second 0-60 mph time.
Tesla made further improvements to the Model 3 in 2019. The base model’s range expanded to 240 miles, and a new mid-range version offered a 264-mile range. Tesla also raised the long-range version’s range to 325 miles and made the dual-motor all-wheel drive standard.
In 2020, Tesla introduced minor changes to the Model 3, including new wheel options and a small range increase for the long-range version to 358 miles. The Performance version also got an acceleration boost, now achieving a 0-60 mph time of 3.2 seconds.
Tesla debuted new features for the 2021 Model 3, such as a heat pump system for better energy efficiency and a powered trunk. The range of the Standard Range Plus model increased to 263 miles, and both the Long Range and Performance versions also saw minor range increases.
2022 to present
The most significant recent upgrade to the Model 3 was in 2021, with 2022 and 2023 models remaining largely similar. As of April 2023, the Federal Tax Credit for the Model 3 is due to drop from $7,500 to $3,750 in May 2023, based on new EPA guidance. Visit www.tesla.com for more information.
Electric Range and Charging
For the Standard Range Plus model, the estimated EPA range is around 263 miles on a full charge. The Long Range and Performance models, on the other hand, have an estimated range of 353 and 315 miles, respectively.
In terms of charging, the Model 3 is equipped with a built-in Level 1 and Level 2 charging capability, which allows owners to charge the vehicle at home or at public charging stations. The Standard Range Plus model can be fully charged using a Level 2 charger in about 7 to 8 hours, while the Long Range and Performance models can take up to 11 to 12 hours.
The Model 3 is also compatible with Tesla’s Supercharger network, which allows for faster charging times. Tesla’s V3 Superchargers can charge a Model 3 Long Range up to 170 miles in just 30 minutes.
As for battery capacity, the Standard Range Plus model comes with a 50 kWh battery pack, while the Long Range and Performance models come with a larger 75 kWh battery pack. These battery packs use lithium-ion technology and are designed to last for hundreds of thousands of miles with minimal degradation. The Model 3 also comes with a warranty that guarantees the battery will retain at least 70% of its original capacity over eight years or 100,000 miles, whichever comes first.
As the gateway into the Tesla brand, the Model 3 offers a significantly lower price than its more upscale siblings, Model S and Model X. Despite sharing most components and design aspects with the Model 3, the Model Y compact SUV still demands a much higher starting price of over $60,000. Pricing for the entry level, rear-wheel-drive standard range model starts at $41,990, and the Dual Motor Performance trim is available at $52,990. At this writing, customers cannot order the Model 3 Dual Motor Long Range, but it last retailed around $56,000. Tesla has recently slashed prices for the Model 3 and other product lines, which may lead to swift changes in this information.
Just like its Model S stablemate, the Tesla Model 3 will secure its place in the annals of automotive history. Even though it may not have fully realized its manufacturer’s original promises of a $35,000 starting price and Full Self Driving, there’s no denying that the Model 3 is the first vehicle to bring fully electric driving to the masses in a practical daily-driver format. This vehicle didn’t just establish Tesla as a serious player in the auto industry, it catapulted the company into juggernaut status.
The Model 3 played a significant role in Tesla’s astonishing rise to become the world’s highest valued automaker. It now outsells most other EVs on the market, coming second only to its Model Y SUV sibling. Despite its design starting to show its age, mirroring the rest of Tesla’s product lineup, this hasn’t dampened customer demand. Without a doubt, the Model 3 will be remembered as a historic automotive achievement for years to come.