Early in its life Tesla’s Model 3 struggled with production and quality problems as the company came to grips with the challenges of building a high-volume model.
But while quality levels are still not on par with leading European brands, the Model 3 has matured into an appealing EV sedan that is much more affordable for consumers than Tesla’s other models.
Tesla’s strategy of regular over-the-air software updates has been a big factor in improving the Model 3. For buyers, knowing that their Tesla will be kept up to date with the latest tech features is a big selling point.
We are fans of the Model 3’s driving characteristics – it’s fast and handles well for a battery-powered car – but less enthralled by Tesla’s minimalist approach to interior design and materials.
One key advantage for the Model 3 is its range, which comfortably outstrips that of most rivals. In the base version, the Model 3 will cover 263 miles on a full battery charge, while the long-range edition (which is significantly more expensive) will manage a claimed 353 miles per charge.
It should be stressed that temperature and weather extremes can drastically reduce battery range on any EV, including Tesla models. To some extent, this problem can be mitigated by Tesla’s proprietary widespread network of supercharger stations, which provide high-speed charging capability.
Suffice to say, long-distance trips need to be planned carefully in an EV.
What’s new for 2021?
The Model 3 enters 2021 with several welcome upgrades. Trim changes to the exterior include a switch to black painted trim instead of chrome. We like this enhancement but still feel the bland, front-end face of the Model 3 could do with some plastic surgery. Newly designed, optional 19-in. wheels also freshen up the Tesla Model 3’s appearance. For convenience, the trunk lid is now power-operated.
Inside, the cabin receives detail trim upgrades, including new finishes for seat and steering wheel controls. Two wireless cellphone charging pads are now designed into the center console and USB-C ports are now standard.
Also, if you order your Model 3 with Autopilot, the Tesla now uses the in-cabin cameras to see if you’re paying attention to the road while using the driver-assist system. Note, this change applies to Model 3s already purchased, as over-the-air updates took place in May.
If so-called range anxiety is a factor holding you back from buying an EV, then the good news for the Model 3 in 2021 is that claimed ranges for the three different versions have been increased. The Standard Plus model goes from 250 to 263 miles of range, the Performance model from 299 to 315 miles, and the Long Range version from 315 to 353 miles.
In a recent over-the-air (OTA) update that took place in the summer of 2021, Tesla has made it possible for Model 3 drivers to keep the in-car Wi-Fi working even while the vehicle is in motion. It used to function only when the Model 3 was parked.
In other news, that same update added the Disney+ streaming service to the Model 3’s central touchscreen. The streaming mode, called Tesla Theater, also includes YouTube, Netflix, Hulu, and Twitch.
What We Like
- Swift acceleration
- Responsive handling
- Excellent range
- Constant software updates
- Fold-down rear seats for cargo flexibility
- Impressive warranty
What We Don’t
- Quality shortcomings
- Extreme weather can reduce range
- Basic interior
- Cramped rear seat
Prices range from $38,490 for the Standard Plus model to $56,990 for the Performance version. The destination fee is an extra $1200.
In tests by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Model 3 versions have returned ratings of between 113 miles per gallon equivalent (MPGe) and 141 MPGe.
Tesla estimates gasoline fuel savings over six years at $4,300.
Tesla says you can use the Model 3’s supplied charger and 110-volt home current to get three miles of range for each hour charged. Much more desirable is a 240-volt mobile connector, which is good for up to 30 miles per hour charged. Tesla superchargers are the quickest, getting you up to 200 miles of range in as little as 15 minutes.
Standard Features and Options
Kicking off the 2021 Model 3 line-up is the $38,490 Standard Plus version, which comes with 18-in. aero wheels or 19-in. sport wheels for an extra $1500. There is a single electric motor powering the rear wheels. The interior color choices are black or, for an extra $1000, white. Standard across all models are a full-length glass roof, power-opening trunk, and autopilot. Front seats are heated and 12-way power adjustable and door mirrors are heated, power-folding, and auto-dimming.
For $47,490, the Long Range Model 3 adds a front drive motor for all-wheel-drive (AWD), interior upgrades, and a larger battery for extended range capability.
For enthusiasts, the $56,990 Performance AWD model really turns up the wick with a 0-60 mph time of just 3.5 seconds, fast enough to give a serious sports car a run for their money. As well as the acceleration boost, this version comes with 20-in. wheels, lowered suspension and a top speed increased to 162 mph from 145 mph.
Tesla’s impressive Model 3 warranty provides a 4-year/50,000-mile warranty, plus an 8-year/unlimited-mileage coverage on the battery and motors.
Crash tests by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) gave the Model 3 an excellent five-star rating and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) names the Tesla as a top safety pick.
Standard safety features include automated emergency braking, lane-departure warning, and adaptive cruise control. All Model 3 examples also come with Tesla’s Autopilot system as standard equipment.
Behind the Wheel
After a bumpy start, the Tesla Model 3 has turned into a desirable mid-level electric car that provides fun to drive road manners and impressive range on a fully charged battery.
The bare bones cabin focuses virtually all vehicle controls, except for steering, power, and brakes, in a huge, 15-in. center screen. This makes for a clean cockpit in terms of design, but has some ergonomic drawbacks as it can require multiple screen steps to complete simple tasks.
One notable standard feature is Tesla’s Autopilot system, which also has its pros and cons. The system is advanced but despite the name, it is not fully autonomous and requires the driver to stay engaged.
Other Cars to Consider
2021 Chevrolet Bolt – The Bolt is quick off the mark, good fun to drive, and has a decent battery range, making it a worthy EV candidate.
2021 Hyundai Kona Electric – We like the Kona Electric for its distinctive looks, good range, driving qualities, and excellent warranty.
2021 Kia Niro EV – A little less impressive than its corporate kissing cousin, the Hyundai Kona Electric, the Kia EV has lots of safety features and a long warranty.
Used Tesla Model S – Prices for early examples of the Model S, which is larger and more luxurious, are dipping down into Model 3 territory.
To keep this Tesla Model 3 affordable, we would stick with the Standard model. Unless you are planning plenty of long-distance trips, the extra cost of the long-range version is not worth it. As for the performance model, its lighting-fast acceleration would be fun for a while, but in the long run your bank account would be happier with the base model. Find a 2021 Tesla Model 3 for sale