What if you could own a Tesla without breaking the bank? The American company has dominated the electric vehicle market and set trends for the industry for over a decade now. However, Tesla’s cars are expensive, and many can’t afford the starting price for various models. All that has changed in 2021, as Tesla brings us the cheapest electric vehicle in its lineup – the Model 3. Our objective in-depth review should help you decide whether this EV is worth owning.
The new Model 3 makes the Tesla brand name more affordable, but it doesn’t cut corners. Instead, it brings a combination of design elements from the Model 3 sedan and the Model X SUV, all while performing exceptionally well and offering a decent driving range. With a variety of new upgrades in 2021, the Model 3 proves to be a stylish, high-performing, and reliable car that is slightly more affordable than other Tesla models.
As we’ve noticed in new models Tesla has released this year, chrome trims have been replaced with a new (more stylish) matte black. This may not be noticeable at first glance but gives the car a more elegant appearance. The side mirrors dim automatically, which is not only convenient when driving but also looks better. The standard 18-inch wheels come with plastic hubcaps for more efficiency, and let’s face it, it looks good.
The Model 3 Performance looks slightly different, with wider wheels (20” Überturbine), a spoiler, and upgraded brakes (red high-performance brakes).
Cabin and comfort
The unique cabin interior is beautifully simple and takes minimalism to the next level of elegance with the matte color scheme. It is spacious with plenty of legroom, owing to the low floor and sunroof. The glass roof of the car comes tinted but makes rides much more enjoyable. It floods the cabin with light during the day without scorching heat from the sun. Additionally, the rear window has great visibility (especially when compared to other Tesla models).
Both front and rear seats were incredibly comfortable – long rides with the family won’t be a problem with the 2021 Model 3. The horizontal (15-inch) screen on the dashboard sticks out slightly, and there is no instrument cluster. Almost all controls can be accessed from the infotainment screen, and it is also used to display speed and other information that you would normally see behind the wheel.
Cargo and storage
The car has a lot of storage space overall. The frunk (storage space in the front of the car) is larger than we’ve seen in other electric vehicles, and the interior deceivingly hides the massive trunk space offered. The trunk may not be tall (as in hatchback models), but it is impressively large. Additional cargo bins below the trunk and cabin floor give access to more storage options. You can also fold the rear seats flat to further expand the trunk space.
As for small storage options, the Model 3 offers wide door pockets, a large center console, and many other small places to stow away everyday items. In short, the car provides generous storage solutions all over.
Engine, specifications, and road test
Given the lower price of the Model 3, we expected Tesla to deliver a less powerful engine. Needless to say, we were very pleasantly surprised to find the silent motor is quick to accelerate and drives smoothly. Depending on the model you choose, the acceleration time from 0 to 60 mph ranges from 5.3 seconds to as low as 3.1 seconds.
The Standard Plus model runs on a single rear-wheel-drive engine, with a top speed of 140mph, which is not bad for a sedan. The Long Range and Performance models use a dual motor and reach speeds up to 145 and 162 mph. Regardless of the vehicle model, the Model 3 rides fast and turns smoothly around corners.
The Model 3 also comes with one-pedal driving, which is enabled by a complex regenerative braking system. The feature is often underrated but very useful. The energy lost when braking is regenerated into the battery, and the car automatically starts braking when you start to let go of the pedal. This can especially be useful on long rides and in traffic. In addition, you never need to move your foot between pedals, which changes the driving experience greatly once you get used to it.
The infotainment system takes some getting used to. The 15-inch screen is sharp and includes many useful apps but no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto (as is expected with a Tesla). Instead, the standard Google-based navigation system is installed, which has proven very useful in previous models.
We really enjoyed the sound system that gives clear audio. The windows are double-paned, so noise cancellation is particularly great in the Model 3 this year. Unfortunately, the (up to 15) speakers aren’t all activated in the standard range version, but we were satisfied with their audio nonetheless.
As with all Tesla vehicles, there is no key. Instead, it is replaced by a smartphone app and a key card for emergencies. The app can also be used to upgrade software, turn on the car, climate control, and much more. Some features (such as heated seats) are installed but not activated in the Standard Plus model unless you subscribe to them via the app, making running costs slightly higher than expected (unless you opt for the more expensive models and pay the difference upfront).
Battery, range, and fuel economy
Tesla’s network of charging stations (known as Superchargers) is the fastest and most extensive in the world. Access to Tesla’s Superchargers is expensive but significantly cuts down the time you need to spend charging the car. However, this year’s Model 3 will be the first Tesla car that allows the use of public chargers. The car comes with an adaptor (Type 2 CCS Port) specifically for that purpose, and you can order a special charging socket to be installed in your home for faster charging as well. Unfortunately, the time difference between charging using a public charger (107 minutes) and Tesla’s Supercharger (36 minutes) is not small. Still, if you aren’t in a hurry, you can forgo the cost of using their Supercharger network. Also, if you opt for the Long Range model, you may only rarely need to use any chargers outside your home (unless you’re going on a road trip). In any case, the cost of using the Superchargers is still significantly lower than the price of gasoline, and obviously, more environmentally friendly.
The single RWD engine of the Standard Plus runs using a 60 kWh battery, whereas the other two (more expensive) models use an 88 kWh battery. Driving ranges vary accordingly up to 263 EPA miles for the Standard Plus. The Long-Range can run for an outstanding 353 EPA miles on a single full charge. On the other hand, the Performance Model 3 sacrifices range for performance and so only drives for 315 EPA miles.
In real-world testing, the 2021 Model 3 shows exceptional fuel economy. According to the EPA, the MPGe rating for the new Model 3 is estimated to be 113 to 141 MPGe. In addition, Tesla claims that the plastic hubcaps (called the Aero Wheel covers) can help with the driving range, and according to tests we conducted (and reports from others), this actually works. They increase efficiency (more than you’d think – around ten extra miles) by reducing turbulence and wind resistance to create less aerodynamic drag.
Safety and Reliability
The Model 3 has proven reliable and safe, passing safety testing in the US, UK, and Europe. In addition to the standard car safety measures, the Model 3 offers Autopilot technology, which allows the car to drive with little to no input from the driver. Note that although the vehicle can change lanes, drive, and brake on a highway independently, Tesla repeatedly asserts that the driver must be alert when the car is on the move (for safety purposes).
Also, without using the Autopilot feature, the car includes other systems that increase driving safety. These include emergency braking for pedestrian passing and adaptive cruise control. If the previous model is to be taken as an indication, we can trust the durability and reliability of the new and upgraded model.
Summary of different options of the Tesla Model 3 (2021)
The Tesla Model 3 (2021) comes in three configurations:
- Standard Plus: The basic model, with lower acceleration and top speed, rear-wheel drive, reduces driving range, and fewer tech features activated.
- Long Range: The model is optimized to give more driving range. It uses a dual motor and includes most premium features.
- Performance: The model is optimized for better performance (speed, acceleration, stability). It uses a dual-motor, with all premium features, an advanced braking system, 20” Überturbine wheels, and a spoiler for aerodynamic performance.
The Model 3 has yet again raised the benchmark of what the average consumer should expect from an electric vehicle. While it is not as cheap as models from other manufacturers, it remains superior in quality, build, performance, and technology.