Among the more affordable options in the electric-vehicle marketplace, the 2021 Tesla Model 3 is, without doubt, the one with the most name recognition. It also earns a spot on our Editors’ Choice list. It borrows some styling cues from the company’s Model S sedan and Model X SUV, but goes its own way with a unique interior design and an all-glass roof. Acceleration is quick, and the Model 3’s chassis is playful as well—especially the Performance model‘s, which receives a sportier suspension and a track driving mode. But EV buyers are more likely interested in driving range than speediness or handling, and the Model 3 delivers there too. The base model offers up to 263 miles of driving range according to the EPA, and the more expensive Long Range model can go up to 353 per charge.
What’s New for 2021?
Tesla is giving its entry level Model 3 sedan a host of enhancements for 2021, including exterior styling elements that have swapped bright chrome for satin black trim. Three new wheel designs give the rolling stock a fresh look, and the trunk lid is now power-operated. Appearance upgrades continue inside where the car’s metallic door-sill protectors inherit the black satin trim to match the exterior. The Model 3’s center console has been redesigned to accommodate two wireless smartphone charging pads, and the sun visors now use a magnet to hold them in place. The seat-adjustment controls and the steering-wheel-mounted infotainment scroll wheels have new finishes—the former in graphite colored paint and the latter in metal. Most important of all is the Model 3’s improved driving range. The base Standard Range Plus model now claims a driving range of 263 miles per charge, up from 250, while the Long Range model boasts a 353-mile range, 31 miles more than the 2020 model delivered.
Pricing and Which One to Buy
The Standard Range Plus model, starting just under $40,000, is the best value. Its 263 miles of estimated driving range should be enough for most people, and it comes standard with heated front seats and navigation. If your car usage includes more long-distance drives or frequent commutes, the Long Range model and its 353-mile range may be worth the upgrade.
Engine, Transmission, and Performance
As with most EVs, the Model 3 gains speed smoothly and almost silently, with the electric motor providing strong power from a stop. And it’s fast—extremely so in some trims. The rear-wheel-drive Long Range model we tested sprinted from zero to 60 mph in 5.1 seconds. The Model 3 Performance rockets to 60 mph in just 3.5 seconds—0.5-second faster than our long-term Model Long Range. Like all Teslas, the Model 3 carries its battery under the floor, resulting in a low center of gravity. This helps it change direction crisply and feel planted and stable in corners. The steering is accurate and well weighted, with three different settings that adjust the level of steering effort. The ride is firm without being harsh; without the noise of a gas-powered engine, however, you do hear plenty of noise inside the cabin as the tires thwack and thrum over pavement imperfections.
Range, Charging, and Battery Life
Three distinct Model 3 trims are offered, each with a different estimated driving range. The Standard Range Plus model is the most affordable, with a claimed range of 263 miles. Upgrading to the Long Range or Performance models increases the Model 3’s estimated range to 315 miles for the Performance and an impressive 353 for the Long Range. Of course, this distance isn’t easy to achieve, as we’ve found in our long-term Long Range Model 3 test vehicle. The Model 3 offers several different options for charging: Tesla’s network of fast-charging stations called Superchargers, adapters for DC public-charging stations, 240- and 120-volt outlets, and a home-charging station.
Fuel Economy and Real-World MPG
The various versions of the Model 3 are rated between 113 MPGe and 141 MPGe by the EPA. Our test vehicle, however, managed only 84 MPGe when we took it on our 200-mile highway fuel-economy test. The Model 3 comes standard with aluminum wheels that are covered by plastic aerodynamic hubcaps. We wanted to know how much impact those hubcaps have on the car’s driving range, so we tested it and were surprised to find that they helped more than expected.
Interior, Comfort, and Cargo
We’re not exaggerating when we say that the Tesla Model 3 has an interior unlike any other car on the market today. It’s shockingly simple inside, with nearly everything controlled by the monolithic touchscreen in the center of the dashboard. The Tesla’s low, flat floor makes for a spacious and airy feel inside. The front seats are supportive and comfortable, but the rear seats are cramped and uncomfortable; don’t expect adults to be able to spend time in them. Folding the 60/40 split-folding rear seats is simple and expands the trunk considerably. The Model 3’s seatbacks fold flat, too, providing an uninterrupted cargo floor for hauling larger items. With the rear seats folded, the Model 3 provides enough room for 15 carry-on suitcases. There are also generously sized bins and cubbies throughout the cabin.
Infotainment and Connectivity
Navigation, Bluetooth, and USB connectivity are standard, but the Model 3 is oddly not available with AM radio or SiriusXM satellite radio. Several internet-streaming radio options are standard. It also can’t be equipped with Android Auto or Apple CarPlay. To make charging-station layovers more bearable, the Model 3 offers plenty of entertainment options on its central display, including Netflix, YouTube, and a host of arcade games.
Safety and Driver-Assistance Features
The Model 3 has been crash-tested by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and received a perfect five-star score; the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has named it a Top Safety Pick+. Although we question whether the name Autopilot might be misleading, the driver-assist system has one of the best feature sets in the industry, with smooth operation and impressive capabilities such as automatic lane changes. Key safety features include:
- Standard automated emergency braking
- Standard lane-departure warning
- Standard adaptive cruise control
Warranty and Maintenance Coverage
Tesla’s overall warranty coverage is among the longest in the EV segment, but it’s disappointing that the coverage doesn’t include corrosion protection. The Long Range model includes an additional 20,000 miles on the coverage period of its battery and drive components.
- Limited warranty covers 4 years or 50,000 miles
- Powertrain warranty covers 8 years or 100,000 miles
- No complimentary scheduled maintenance