Following its successful launch last year, the 2018 Tesla Model 3 follows up with a few more features, but the elusive $35,000 base model has yet to appear. Alongside the rear-wheel-drive version is an all-wheel-drive model that promises both better traction in winter and better grip in the curves. The Model 3 remains a 5-passenger sedan, although we think four adults is really a more realistic figure. The Model 3’s range remains an impressive 310 miles, with a 5.3-second 0-to-60 mph time and a top speed of 140 mph. New this year is a less expensive model with a 260-mile range. Roughly the same size as the Audi A5 Sportback, the Model 3 is loaded with high-tech innovations, such as a single large display screen with internet capability through which all functions are operated. An available semi-autonomous driving mode makes the Model 3 unique in this class, however, the Model 3 isn’t big on rear-seat space or comfort, the single-screen control panel and enhanced Autopilot features both require too much driver attention to operate and supply and build quality issues are yet to be fully resolved.
What’s New for 2018?
Tesla bucks the traditional yearly model changes and instead makes constant upgrades to its vehicles via a cloud-based downloading system. Software upgrades can add new features at any time. For now, the biggest confirmed changes are the addition of AWD and a mid-range model with a smaller battery pack, 260-mile range and a lower price. See the 2018 Tesla Model 3 models for sale near you
What We Like
- Up to 310-mile driving range
- Fast acceleration
- Good crash test scores
- Most affordable car in the Tesla lineup
What We Don’t
- Everything in one screen can be distracting for the driver
- No Apple CarPlay or Android Auto
- Second-row seat comfort
As the Model 3 is powered solely by electricity, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has a different measurement for its range calculated under the MPGe standard. The 2018 Model 3 earns a 130 MPGe rating, meaning that on a single charge, it can travel 310 miles. The base model has a less powerful battery pack, achieving 123 MPGe and traveling 260 miles on a charge. The Long Range and Performance AWD versions drop to 116 MPGe, but increase power and acceleration, with a 0-to-60 mph time of just 3.5 seconds. Charging with a conventional 110-volt outlet isn’t really practical, as it produces only about two miles of range per hour of charging, which would literally take days. Using a 240-volt charger reduces that time to between eight and 12 hours depending on the type of charger, but at a Tesla Supercharging station, that time drops to about an hour and a half for a complete charge from empty. In the real world, most people won’t need a full charge, so getting roughly 180 miles worth of juice at a Tesla Supercharging station should take about 15-20 minutes.
Standard Features & Options
The 2018 Model 3 comes in three trims: Base, Long Range and Performance. Tesla talks about a lower price Standard trim, but at the time of this review, it exists nowhere on their consumer site. Tesla’s pricing uses some backhanded ways of dropping the price, basically calculating gas savings and possible local tax breaks into the price. We’ve listed the list price without the possible discounts. The Model X still qualifies for a $7,500 federal tax credit and may qualify for additional state credits where applicable.
The Model 3 ($46,500) comes with RWD, Autopilot (automatic emergency braking, lane-keeping assist, blind spot monitoring), heated 12-way adjustable power front seats, an immersive sound audio system, standard maps and navigation, fog lights, Wi-Fi and LTE connectivity, keyless entry, a dual-zone automatic climate control, black paint, 18-in wheels, a 15-in center control screen, power windows, power locks, auto-dimming power-folding heated side mirrors, Bluetooth, app-based key for entry and some car functions, a rear camera, a tinted glass panel roof and eight airbags. Options include paint colors other than black ($1,000, $1,500 or $2,000 depending on color) and the enhanced Autopilot system with full self-driving capabilities for $5,000.
The Model 3 Long Range ($53,000) adds a longer driving range (310 versus 260 miles) and a slightly faster 0-to-60 mph time (4.5 seconds versus 5.3 seconds) and the option of dual-motor AWD. Also on board is the Premium interior that adds heated front and rear seats, 14-speaker Premium audio with subwoofer and two amps, satellite-view maps with live traffic visualization, a panoramic glass roof, leather seating, in-car internet music streaming, an internet browser, LED fog lamps, a location-aware garage door opener, four USB ports and docking for two smartphones.
The Model 3 Performance ($64,000) brings an even faster 0-to-60 mph time of 3.2 seconds, plus 20-in performance wheels, a lowered suspension, performance brakes, a carbon fiber spoiler, a Track mode and an increased top speed of 162 mph.
The Model 3 warranty covers 8-year/unlimited on the battery and drive unit, while the rest of the car comes with a 4-year/50,000-mile limited warranty.
In addition to its numerous safety features, which include a super strong frame cage, forward emergency braking, a blind zone alert, lane-departure warning, electronic traction and stability control and eight airbags, the Tesla Model 3 can also tout a 5-star government crash test rating. The fully autonomous driving mode can help reduce fatigue and avoid accidents, but as of now, it still requires you to keep a hand on the wheel and your eyes on the 15-in touchscreen.
Behind the Wheel
Given its nearly 4,000-lb weight, the 2018 Tesla Model 3 displays an impressive ability to sprint from 0-to-60 mph in just over five seconds with RWD or 4.5 seconds with AWD. Move to the Performance trim and that time drops to 3.2 seconds. Beyond its blistering speed, the Model 3 handles quite well for an electric car. There are various settings for steering feedback, but we found the standard setting to be less sensitive than the Sport setting and more communicative than the Comfort mode. Braking is also quite good, and Tesla will periodically upload software updates to improve anti-lock braking, acceleration and other programmable features, which is a nice perk.
The Model 3’s front seats are comfortable and form fitting, and there’s good legroom and headroom, too. In the back, two occupants can fit comfortably, providing their legs are not too long. The wide flat floor helps with foot room, and the glass panel roof gives up a few more inches of headroom. Storage areas are numerous throughout the cabin, with a 15-cu ft. cargo bay with additional storage under the load floor. Up front, there’s a small cargo hold where an engine usually resides, providing even more storage. The rear seats are of the 60/40 split-folding variety.
Other Cars to Consider
2018 Nissan Leaf — The Nissan Leaf can’t quite go the distance compared to the Model 3, but its 140-mile range isn’t far from most other electrics, and the Leaf’s base price along with the $7,500 federal tax credit undercuts the Model 3’s bottom line by a good bit.
2018 Chevrolet Bolt — The Bolt also costs less than the Model 3, qualifies for the reduced federal tax credit and has a range of 238 miles. However, for the money, the Model 3 offers way more tech and advanced features and much faster acceleration. The Bolt also offers Apple CarPlay and Android Auto
Used Tesla Model X — If you can’t swing a loaded Model 3, try looking at an older version of the larger Model X. The Model X first arrived in 2015, and older models had a bit less range and power, but many of the same features as the new one. The 2015 Model X 60D was the least expensive version, with only a 200-mile range.
For its added range and upgraded feature set, we’d go with the Long Range model, then toss in the enhanced Autopilot self-driving upgrade just for good measure. The Performance model is nice, and you won’t sacrifice any additional range, but can you really tell the difference between 4.5 and 3.2 seconds? Find a Tesla Model 3 for sale