The LeafScore team test drove a Tesla Model 3 on Long Island, NY. Here is everything you need to know about the Model 3 and whether it will be a fit for your driving needs.
Tesla Model 3
Highlights: A fun to drive EV at a competitive price. Adequate storage for singles and couples, vegan leather, a battery recycling program, and AWD for cold weather climates.
I got my hands on a Tesla Model 3, currently the most affordable Tesla on the market. I spent an entire day driving the Model 3 to see how it performs and how it feels to drive. Here is my in-depth review of the Tesla Model 3.
- Accessible price point
- Tons of fun to drive
- Vegan leather
- AWD available for snowy locations
- Everything runs through the touch-screen which can feel like tech overkill
- Lack of trunk space less than ideal for families
- Back seat too small for car seats to fit comfortably
What Is a Tesla Model 3?
The Model 3 was the fourth production EV released by Tesla, after the Roadster, the Model S, and the Model X. The Model 3 is a four-door sedan with some pretty impressive specifications. These include:
- 449 horsepower
- A top speed of around 160 mph
- A battery range of around 350 miles (EPA estimate)
- A stunning 0-60 mph acceleration time of just 3.1 seconds
- Gorgeous and high-tech interior, including a monitor for navigation and entertainment
- High safety ratings
- A full, high-quality sound system that cancels out road noise
- Onboard WiFi and cellular connectivity
These specs sound great on paper, but how does the Model 3 feel to drive?
See also: Which Tesla models qualify for the EV tax credit?
Tesla Model 3 Features By Year
Tesla began manufacturing the Model 3 in the U.S. in 2017. Since then, it has made some updates and changes to the features and software. The table below includes a list of updates for the Model 3 based on the year of production.
|Model 3 Production Year||Changes Made by Tesla|
|2017||Model 3 is first manufactured.|
|2019||Model 3 software updated to HW3.0, which added full self-driving capabilities (visualizations on the dash for traffic lights, traffic cones, arrows painted on the street, and garbage cans.|
|2020||Model 3 is upgraded with a heat pump to improve range.Rear trunk becomes powered.Center console is redesigned.Side mirrors can now dim.Changes to headlight and tire design.Battery gets upgraded in Performance Model 3 from 75 kW to 85 kW.Tire pressure monitors are upgraded to use Bluetooth.|
|2021||Model 3 gets heated steering wheel stock. Area for door card access is increased for easier entrance.|
|2022||Ultrasonic parking sensors are ditched late in 2021. The car now relies solely on cameras for proximity warnings.|
Tesla Model 3 Cost by Feature Package
The base price for a Tesla Model 3 is $42,990, as per Tesla’s website. You can customize your car online, and every option you add or detract will affect your pricing. The table below includes some of the pricing options you have during customization, along with how each affects your total. The “new total” will be reflected based on the single change, so these are not cumulative.
|Model 3 Options||Average Change to Price||New Total|
|No options (base price, RWD)||$0||$42,990|
|Upgrade to Dual-Motor and AWD||+$11,000||$53,990|
|Upgrade color from Pearl White to Midnight Silver Metallic or Deep Blue Metallic||+$1,000||$43,990|
|Upgrade color from Pearl White to Solid Black||+$1,500||$44,490|
|Upgrade color from Pearl White to Red Multi-Coat||+$2,000||$44,990|
|Upgrade to 19” Sport Wheels (not available for Dual-Motor)||+$1,500||$44,490|
|Upgrade to black and white interior||+$1,000||$43,990|
|Upgrade to Enhanced Auto-Pilot||+$6,000||$48,990|
|Upgrade to Full Self Driving Capability||+$15,000||$57,990|
|Add wall connector||+$425||$43,415|
|Add mobile connector (for use with standard outlets)||+$230||$43,220|
Tesla Model 3: Performance and Overall Experience
Driving the Model 3 is an absolute blast. The only car I’ve driven that accelerates as quickly and handles as easily is the Model S from Tesla. The Model 3 has an incredible amount of pick up, but it never feels like it’s straining to get up to speed. The acceleration is smooth, too, unlike some internal combustion engine (ICE) cars that feel a bit jerky.
The car weighs around 4,000 pounds, and you can really feel the weight when you drive it. I’m coming from driving a Toyota Prius, which weighs around 3,000 pounds, and the difference in the feel of quality is night and day.
The Tesla corners smoothly, even at higher speeds. With acceleration and handling that are the best I’ve seen, I have to give this car a 10/10 for responsiveness. You can just place yourself on the road where you want to because the car always does what you ask.
Tesla Model 3’s Autopilot Feature
This is perhaps the most exciting thing about owning a Tesla, as the car can drive itself. There are three features: autopilot, enhanced autopilot, and autopilot with navigation.
Autopilot will keep your car driving on highways and parkways, basically acting as cruise control but with traffic awareness. It will accelerate and slow down to keep up with traffic, and it will make turns to keep you in your lane. This comes free with all Model 3 Teslas and other new models.
Enhanced autopilot is an upgrade you can buy that adds some cool features. It’s basically autopilot, but it can change lanes for you and park in tight spaces for you. It also lets you “summon” your car, which means it will pull out of a parking space and drive to your location in a parking lot.
Full autopilot with navigation effectively turns your Tesla into a driverless taxi. It will navigate all roadways (this feature is still in beta testing), stop at stop signs and traffic lights, and do everything the other two tiers will.
Using autopilot for the first time is nerve-wracking. Letting your car drive for you—of course, you need to maintain focus and “supervise” the car—is a very unnatural feeling at first. And I say “at first” because I very quickly got used to it. In fact, it’s going to be difficult to go back to having to drive my car myself.
Tesla Model 3 Regenerative Braking
Teslas, like many other EVs and hybrid cars, use regenerative braking, which is to say the car reverses the electric motors used to move the car forward to recuperate energy that would normally be lost with physical braking. This recharges the battery a bit every time you brake.
I have regenerative braking in my daily driver, but the braking in the Model S was much more aggressive. When you just take your foot off the accelerator, it feels as though your brake is being depressed simultaneously. This is pretty surprising for the first few minutes of driving, but, much like the autopilot, you quickly get used to it.
You can also change the braking settings right from your dashboard.
How Comfortable is the Tesla Model 3 to Drive?
The Tesla is super comfortable to sit in, even for extended periods. The seats come in cloth and vegan leather—more on this material later—and there’s a good amount of padding where your body contacts the surfaces.
I tested out all of the seats in the car, and I expect that most people would be comfortable in any position except the rear middle seat. Like in most cars, this doesn’t feel much like a seat and probably won’t be terribly comfortable long-term. The Model 3 has an option for bucket seats in the back, which I think is a good upgrade if you can spare the fifth seat.
The legroom is outstanding in all areas of the car. I’m 5’10”, but I also had my brother at 6’3” get in the car and find plenty of room to stretch out a bit.
Some Convenient Features
Even when you’re not talking about the actual performance, the Tesla Model 3 is just a fun and convenient car to drive.
First off, getting into your car can be done via a key card or key fob or, more conveniently, the Tesla app on your phone. As you approach your car with one of these on your person, it automatically unlocks for you. When you walk away from the car, it locks itself.
Second, the car is always on, which means a few things. First, when you get in and out of the car, you don’t need to turn it on or off. You just get in and start driving, or get out and walk away. This seems like an unimportant feature until you use it and see how convenient it is.
Third, you can control your car’s temperature remotely using the Tesla app on your phone. That means if you’re out somewhere on a particularly hot or cold day, you can pull out your phone a few minutes before you get into the car and set the temperature to your liking. Again, just a super convenient way to interact with your vehicle.
Fourth, while the Frunk—what Tesla calls the front trunk in the owner’s manual—is quite small, the rear trunk has a massive 19.8 cubic feet of cargo space in the trunk alone. Compared to most other sedans I’ve driven, this is quite impressive.
Finally, most of the software features are outstanding. The screen is super responsive, the navigation is excellent, and you can even see nearby available chargers and plan trips based on their locations right from the cockpit. Everything on the control panel feels great and works smoothly.
The downside of the Tesla Model 3
There’s really not much I didn’t love about the Model 3, but there are a few things to note before you buy one for yourself.
First, the interface on the car is almost entirely electric. The lack of buttons and controls on the dashboard makes the car look sleek, but for certain things, it’s inconvenient.
For example, changing the fan speed on the AC or heat requires that you look at the control screen, hit the air control button, and then use a slider to change fan speed and air direction in the cab. This is kind of annoying and could potentially be dangerous unless you’re in autopilot mode. Using physical vent sliders and temperature control buttons is much easier without taking your eyes off the road.
Finally—and I feel like this is really nitpicking—the front trunk isn’t powered, so you manually have to close it.
What Does It Cost to Charge a Tesla Model 3?
The average price to charge a Tesla at a public supercharger is around $0.25 per kWh. With a battery capacity of 65 kWh on the Performance model and 80 kWh on the Long Range model, that’s around $16.25 and $20, respectively. Your actual price will vary based on your local electricity rates.
You can check out our complete guide on Tesla charging costs for more cost information.
My Carbon Footprint Before and After Tesla
Lastly, I wanted to take a look at how buying a Tesla Model 3 would affect your personal carbon footprint.
A typical car averaging 22 mpg driving the average 11,500 miles per year emits around 10,141 pounds of CO2 per year.
In comparison, the Tesla battery takes between 5,291 and 35,273 pounds of CO2 emissions to produce. That means you need to drive a Tesla for around three years (or 30,000 miles) before you break even on emissions. After that, you should save on CO2 emissions at a rate of around 10,000 pounds annually.
According to Elon Musk, the typical Tesla car battery should last between 300,000 and 500,000 miles, saving between 238,000 and 414,000 pounds of CO2 over the lifespan of the vehicle. Even given the high emissions for battery production, Teslas are far more sustainable in the long run.
Wrapping Up: Is the Tesla Model 3 a Good EV to Buy?
Overall, I think the Tesla Model 3 is a good option for those looking to upgrade to an electric vehicle. It provides one of the most enjoyable driving experiences I’ve ever had, with impressive acceleration, customizable handling, convenient features like keyless operation and driver profile customization, and an overall feeling of quality and high performance when you drive.
From a sustainability standpoint, Tesla as a whole appears to be headed in the right direction. It has moved from real leather seats to vegan leather for moral purposes, and it includes more sustainable bamboo and cloth interiors as options. It has a miles-to-kWh ratio that is well above average, and its public superchargers are powered by 100% renewable energy.
With a price tag that’s in line with other entry-level EV models, I think the performance-heavy, feature-rich Model 3 will end up being an EV that will impress most drivers.