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Tesla Model 3 2021 review: Long Range

The Model 3's body consists mostly of steel, though some aluminium is also used. Weight is 1919kg.

Daily driver score

4.5/5

Urban score

4.5/5

For a futuristic experience, the Tesla Model 3 is already historic.

In under three years it has become the bestselling electric vehicle (EV) of all time, surpassing the Nissan Leaf (from 2010) and joining the 1908-1927 Ford Model T and 1938-2003 Volkswagen Beetle as singular cars that have struck a chord with consumers globally.

The medium-sized sedan from sunny California also dominates the Australian EV scene, apparently, though Tesla won’t reveal actual sales figures.

So, why and how does a vehicle that is not an SUV or pick-up – but an unfashionable three-box sedan – resonate so strongly, even here in Oz where the government seems dead-set against EVs?

To find out, we borrowed a Model 3 and treated it exactly like a normal internal combustion engine (ICE) car to see how it feels and copes. Ours is the reassuringly badged Long Range, which for 2021 starts from $83,425 before taxes and on-road costs – or $89,589 driveaway at the time of writing. Those prices are around $7800 under the MY20 versions.

Is it worth the outlay? Keep reading.

Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with?

Confession time. At the time of testing (December 2020), our Model 3 Long Range was the MY20; the MY21 update hadn’t yet reached us.

Besides being nearly $8K cheaper, chief among the changes is a heat pump heater/ventilation/air-conditioner (HVAC) system, which draws dramatically less energy from the batteries and so – combined with the upgraded tyres and improved powertrain and software – boosts efficiency as well as that all-important range.

As the dual-motor Long Range name suggests, the 3 can now travel 657km between charges (according to the optimistic NEDC figures), making this EV an even greater everyday proposition, though our MY20’s 620km rating is nothing to scoff at. How we managed, with two occupants, HVAC blaring and driving like it was stolen, we’ll reveal later on.

As the dual-motor Long Range name suggests, the 3 can now travel 657km between charges. As the dual-motor Long Range name suggests, the 3 can now travel 657km between charges.

Other MY21 updates, by the way, include satin black instead of chrome for various brightwork and doorhandles, the bootlid is now power actuated, the vast centre console’s armrest/lid now slides, a pair of wireless smartphone chargers and extra USB-A and new USB-C outlets debut, metal replaces plastic for the steering wheel scroll wheels and magnetic sunvisors are fitted, among other minor amendments.

The 3’s specification is hardly generous, however. You’ll find ‘vegan leather’ upholstery, powered and heated front seats, heated/electrically folding mirrors and climate control. The latter two, along with all communications and navigation, must be accessed through a 15-inch tablet-style touchscreen, and the GPS is via Google. Although an analogue radio is fitted, there is no digital radio, while all other audio relies on a sim or smartphone. A (quality) 15-speaker system with subwoofer is included, as is a fixed glass roof.

In-car internet provides over-the-air updates for drivability, performance and functionality as they become available is fitted, negating the need to visit a dealer.

Note that the vaunted ‘Autopilot’ semi-autonomous driving system is now standard. It enables adaptive cruise control with driver-supervised assisted steering, acceleration and full stop/go braking capabilities, to mitigate collision with other vehicles and pedestrians.

Pearl White is standard, Solid Black, Midnight Silver and Deep Blue add $1500 while ‘Red Multi-Coat Red’ as per the test car is $2900. Pearl White is standard, Solid Black, Midnight Silver and Deep Blue add $1500 while ‘Red Multi-Coat Red’ as per the test car is $2900.

Interestingly, Autopilot is ready for full auto self-drive capability, but disconnected for Australia as per current legislation. That can be reversed at a flick of a switch back at Tesla HQ if/when laws change. This is another example of Elon Musk’s claim that it’s a technology company, not a traditional carmaker.

On the subject of safety, eight surround-view cameras and a dozen sensors see and detect surrounding objects. They work with front radar for what the company says is a 360-degree monitoring taking in most adverse weather conditions. Aiding this are low-speed (with pedestrian avoidance) and high-speed autonomous emergency braking (AEB), forward collision warning, lane departure alert with active steering-assist and keep, blind-spot sensors and front/side/rear parking sensors. Front, head and side airbags for all outboard occupants are also provided.

Pearl White is standard, Solid Black, Midnight Silver and Deep Blue add $1500 while ‘Red Multi-Coat Red’ as per the test car is $2900.

If it sounds like we’re avoiding answering the ‘value for money’ question, it’s complicated. There currently isn’t any car – let alone an EV – like the Model 3 offering this sort of shape, speed, dynamics, range, packaging or zero tailpipe emissions.

Eight surround-view cameras and a dozen sensors see and detect surrounding objects. Eight surround-view cameras and a dozen sensors see and detect surrounding objects.

Yes, a Hyundai Kona Electric from $60,740 achieves the last two objectives and with a roomier body to boot, but it looks too much like a sub-$25K Kona Go inside and out, cannot hit 100km/h in 4.4 seconds and is 100km shy of the 3’s 557km range.

Conversely, while any number of ICE-powered medium-sized luxury-performance sedans like our favourite – the BMW 3 Series – offer more kit for less, the plug-in hybrid electric 330e version that costs similar money to the Tesla from $82,900 can barely manage 50km of pure EV range and needs another 1.5s to 100km/h and the M340i rocket with AWD is $110K plus.

You can consult the intriguing Volvo S60 T8 PHEV AWD to challenge the Long Range’s style, space, pace, practicality and price, but it’s still heavily dependent on its ICE to go the distance, while in the pure EV sphere, only big-brother Model S obliges at close to $150K.

In other words, there’s utterly nothing at all like a Tesla Model 3 right now. What value do you place on uniqueness?

Is there anything interesting about its design?

Fun fact. Franz von Holzhausen designed the Model 3. He used to work at Mazda and General Motors – where he was responsible for the pretty Pontiac Solstice roadster – and had a hand in the vehicle that became the Volkswagen New Beetle of the 1990s.

Some people love the 3’s style, others think it is an amorphous blob with a gormless face and an anonymous rump. We think it is a slick and sophisticated, with personality and spunk that is spot-on with consumers’ expectations. Great design sells.

Some people love the 3’s style, others think it is an amorphous blob with a gormless face and an anonymous rump. Some people love the 3’s style, others think it is an amorphous blob with a gormless face and an anonymous rump.

What you may be surprised to actually learn is that this is a three-box sedan with a separate boot, not a liftback. While a pair of folding backrests greatly boost the latter’s practicality, we feel a fifth door would greatly boost the medium Tesla sedan’s appeal.

Can you imagine how utterly cool a 3 wagon would look?

How practical is the space inside?

The Model 3 is basically the size and shape of a 3 Series, more or less, at nearly 4.7 metres long, two metres wide and 1.43m tall. And its wheelbase is 24mm more than the BMW’s.

Learning to use your thumb to push the flush handle in while grabbing it takes a moment to get used to, but quickly becomes second nature. Entry and egress are basically sedan-like, except that the roof’s slightly lower and more coupe-like. The frameless-window doors actually open surprisingly wide front and back.

Calling to mind that old Enzo Ferrari cliché about paying for an engine and getting the rest of the car thrown in, all Teslas seem spartan inside. Of course, this is far from the case of the Model 3, but things are done or presented differently.

Here’s what’s vaguely normal. That 15-inch touchscreen (thankfully with night as well as day modes as it’s very bright at times) dominates, along with a three-spoke steering wheel featuring a Mercedes-Benz-style column-stalk transmission selection (though it includes a handy toggle-down for cruise-control activation), regular indicator stalk and a pair of scroller wheels on the spokes that adjust seating and mirrors. There are power window switches sited along the door armrests, huge amounts of storage as well as the necessary cupholders, and no visible front vent outlets except for a full-width slit along the shelf just behind the screen and wheel, that breathes rather than blows air on you.

Entry and egress are basically sedan-like, except that the roof’s slightly lower and more coupe-like. Entry and egress are basically sedan-like, except that the roof’s slightly lower and more coupe-like.

The best-yet experienced, the 3’s vegan leather looks, feels and smells expensive, the wood applique bisecting the upper and lower back-dash area is a pleasant piece of faux-forest inside this high-tech machine, and the Long Range’s front seats themselves offer ample adjustment and support, feeling snug and comfy after long journeys.

There is also a decent amount of space to stretch out, the ideal driving position is easy to achieve and vision out is actually pretty good, with the low bonnet providing commanding forward views.

Some observations, though.

Despite superb round-view camera resolution and clarity, rear vision is hampered by the sedan’s high boot and shallow rear screen, as well as the fixed back headrests that further limit the view out.

In 35ºC heat, that fixed glass roof is hot to the touch, just a few millimetres from the scalp of my 200cm-tall partner and somehow just doesn’t seem sufficiently insulated enough from the blazing Australian sun above. This could be psychosomatic, but I took to wearing a hat.

The Long Range’s front seats offer ample adjustment and support. The Long Range’s front seats offer ample adjustment and support.

Additionally, drivers who want the feel of air on their hands or face won’t be satisfied as that touchscreen obstructs the flow. Climate control air does filter around the cabin very quickly and effectively, though, and the temperature remains sufficiently comfortable.

Let’s also praise the Dog Mode HVAC feature, which keeps the car cool or heated as required with your pet inside, while the screen proclaims that the owner is nearby and that the air-con is on.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

The thing is, the first time sat inside one might leave many people wondering where the hell everything else is? It can be daunting. And don’t forget, as the company’s “smaller, simpler and more affordable car”, the Model 3 is aimed at a mass audience.

The good news is, everything is still there, just accessed via that all-encompassing tablet but aided by a driver-memory system that automatically recognises you and so returns steering column, seat and mirrors to pre-determined settings. This isn’t new but it’s most helpful and appreciated in a space as spartan as this.

The Model 3’s rear seat area is a bit of a mixed affair. The Model 3’s rear seat area is a bit of a mixed affair.

Please keep in mind that there are a row of short-cut icons at the bottom of the screen – for volume, HVAC, seat-heater, multimedia (including audio and navigation) and vehicle settings – that soon are fast and feel naturally familiar. Even a short time should see most people mastering these.

So far, so good then. The Model 3’s rear seat area is a bit of a mixed affair, however.

You’ll quickly realise the falling roofline means taller folk have to stoop to get inside, and once sat back there, the low (though sculptured) outboard cushion and high floor make for either splayed legs or an uncomfy-for-some knees-up posture – though headroom (beneath that glass roof) is actually better than the swoopy styling suggests.

The backrest, too, is a bit upright for it to be ideal. That is 70/30 split, for boot access, and features a centre armrest with cupholders. Door storage is generous, there are map pockets, twin face-level air vents, a pair of USB-C outlets and effective door grabs but no overhead handles.

Cargo capacity is rated at 425 litres. Cargo capacity is rated at 425 litres.

Beyond that, the boot opening is low but wide and long, with a hidden floor compartment for a charge cord. Access to the cabin is easy once the backrests are folded, with a large mountain bike minus the front wheel fitting in no problem. There is no spare wheel. Cargo capacity is rated at 425 litres (or 542L including the front boot and rear under-floor cubby), which is somewhat adrift of a 3 Series’ 480L equivalent.

Finally, a word about our test car’s quality. Previous experiences in the Model 3 have revealed patchy-at-best build, with squeaks and rattles and some cheap-looking and feeling trim. Not ours, though, for quality-wise, it felt like the best Tesla we’ve ever tested.

We hope this high level can be kept up.

If you include the front boot and rear under-floor cubby, boot space expands to 542L. If you include the front boot and rear under-floor cubby, boot space expands to 542L.

What are the key stats for the engine and transmission?

Dubbed Dual Motor, the heart of the Model 3 Long Range is a pair of permanent magnet synchronous reluctance motors, one on each axle – though there’s nothing reluctant about this 233km/h EV’s performance.

Unlike in the Tesla Model S and X, this is a fixed-magnet DC arrangement rather than a three-phase AC induction set-up. Drive is to all four wheels via a single reduction gear transmission. Total power is rated at 324kW and torque at 493Nm. The Long Range is fitted with a 78kWh lithium ion battery pack, with a useable capacity of 73.5kWh.

Charging times vary, from nearly 38 hours from empty to full capacity using a standard 10-amp wall socket (2.3kW), to nearly 24hr with an inexpensive 16A upgrade (3.7kW).

For regular high-mileage daily drivers, we recommend spending upwards of $3000 fitting a Wall Box (32A, single phase, 7.4kW) that halves charging time to 12hr, or 8hr with a twin phase 11kW upgrade. Overnight or at-work charging, as you might a smartphone.

Charging times vary, from 38 hours using a standard 10-amp wall socket to 24hr with an inexpensive 16A upgrade. Charging times vary, from 38 hours using a standard 10-amp wall socket to 24hr with an inexpensive 16A upgrade.

Of course, Tesla provides the pay-per-use Supercharger network, which can cut that down to either 45 minutes for a top up from 10 to 80 per cent using a 75kW DC outlet, or 20min if you find a 150kW DC station. 327km of range is possible in 15 minutes.

Additionally, a CCS Charge Port is also included for compatibility with third party fast charging networks. Their speeds vary according to the power output of such places. To encourage EV uptake, some local councils are currently offering free usage.

How much fuel does it consume?

While the NEDC average for the MY21 Model 3 Long Range is a startling 657km, 580km is what the more real-world WLTP methodology states.

However, like we said, this is a test to see how much we can eek out of a full battery between charges without a single thought on saving electricity. Just like we were driving a normal ICE vehicle. No eco or hypermiling, just not-a-second-thought schlepping about town, often in packed peak-hour traffic, or driving at 110km/h-plus on freeways, air-con on and two or more souls inside, with frequent – even brutal – acceleration bursts. Just because 4.4s to 100…

Keeping in mind our MY20 Long Range does not have the heat pump which helps add another 37km to the stated 620km NEDC range, we managed 305km, with an indicated 80km left in reserve. Nearly 400km after at-times ham-fisted, boofhead driving. 174kWh/km, or 17.4kWh/100km. That’s impressive. Using the average price of electricity in Victoria (23.47c/kWh), that’s $4.10 every 100km.

Using Tesla’s Supercharger network plugged into a “40kW+” charger, we topped that up to 500km range in under 75 minutes for $33.80.

Note that the final “five minutes left” indicated turned in 30min, which is misleading and annoying.

What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating?

The Model 3 includes AEB, lane departure warning with steering assist, forward collision warning, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, adaptive cruise control with full stop/go functionality, eight cameras and 12 sensors around the vehicle for a 360-degree surround view.

These are on top of the expected front, head and side airbags for all outboard occupants, anti-lock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution and brake-assist, and stability and traction controls.

There are also two rear-seat ISOFIX points as well as three top tethers for straps.

Tested in mid-2019, a rear-drive Model 3 scored a five-star ANCAP crash-test rating. Tesla says the AEB works between 8km/h and 150km/h, in day or nighttime conditions.

What does it cost to own? What warranty is offered?

Tesla offers a four-year/80,000km warranty and roadside assistance, which is now behind the industry average, while the battery and drive unit fall under an eight-year/192,000km warranty – whichever comes first.

Tesla offers a four-year/80,000km warranty and roadside assistance. Tesla offers a four-year/80,000km warranty and roadside assistance.

Tesla says it monitors owners’ cars to ascertain when they need servicing, and so it is based on a case-by-case usage situation. Every 12 months/20,000km is recommended for a general check-up, and includes tyre rotation. In colder climates, brake callipers need cleaning and lubrication at this interval. Wiper blades, brake fluid and cabin air filters need replacement every two years while the air-con service is every six years.

Of course, there are no oil changes, filters or spark plugs to replace, while even brake pad wear is less than on an ICE vehicle because of the regenerative braking system.

What's it like to drive around town?

Even with its exceptional range and electrifying 4.4s-to-100km/h performance, if you are still having doubts about the value of the Model 3 Long Range, then consider this.

Under the ‘Driving’ section in the touchscreen there’s a choice between Standard and Chill.

‘Standard’ is the default mode that allows for pussyfooting benignly about town on one hand, and exhilarating, pinned-back-in-your-seat acceleration thrust on the other. ‘Chill’ rounds out step-off responses from hair-trigger sharp to gently instantaneous, and after the novelty of adrenalin-addled g-force take-offs, it quickly became the preferred setting. Still, either will provide a strong and steady stream of speed most people will never tire of. 

If you’re crawling cleanly and silently through a tight jam, Autopilot’s ability to naturally and effortlessly slow, stop and then move with the pace of the surrounding traffic again is an abject lesson for every other carmaker; similarly, it can instantly zip from one gap into another, making this Tesla an ideal city or urban commuter. In the cut-and-thrust chaos of peak-hour warfare, the 3’s a weaponised oasis to travel in, armed with astonishing performance flexibility.

Then there’s the Tesla’s skateboard platform, with much of the heavy stuff like batteries slung down low and wide. Combined with double wishbones up front and multi links out back, they help provide supernaturally flat and precise handling as well as reassuringly planted roadholding. Whether tootling through a wet city roundabout or carving up a challenging mountain pass, there’s not much that upsets this car’s balance.

Considering the Hankook Ventus S1 Evo3 235/40R19 rubber our 3 wore, the suspension’s absorption is terrific. Considering the Hankook Ventus S1 Evo3 235/40R19 rubber our 3 wore, the suspension’s absorption is terrific.

Aided by its AWD torque distribution, the Long Range leaps off the line cleanly with no wheel spin or torque steer, feeling magnetised to the road at all times. And though it’s a cliché, the resulting grip across a broad spectrum of speed seems almost Scalextric in scope. The driver’s focus needs to stay razor-sharp to keep up with the 3’s cornering capabilities, though, but there’s no denying the balance and poise.

Which leads to another benefit – the Tesla’s solid yet supple and isolated ride comfort, that soaks up the urban-jungle bumps as fluently as it skims over road irregularities at higher speeds. Considering the Hankook Ventus S1 Evo3 235/40R19 rubber our 3 wore, the suspension’s absorption is terrific.

The 3's brakes, too, offer tremendous stopping power, and aren't afflicted with the wooden or unnatural pedal feel that undermines some other electrified vehicles.

But just before you start wondering whether this is sponsored content, there is one dynamic disappointment Tesla ought to get on to and pronto.

Let’s also praise the Dog Mode HVAC feature, which keeps the car cool or heated as required with your pet inside. Let’s also praise the Dog Mode HVAC feature, which keeps the car cool or heated as required with your pet inside.

While the steering is instant and reactive, it lacks meaningful feedback – and this may be a deal breaker in a consideration set against, say, a Porsche Cayman or Macan. Overly light in Comfort, pleasingly weighted in Standard and needlessly heavy in Sport, there’s precious feel coming through to the palms to meaningfully connect car and driver.

Plus, there is some road noise intrusion at speed, but it’s not nearly as bad as some luxury cars over our coarse bitumen, and wind noise too seems well contained, even at higher velocities.

What we’re saying here, folks, is that the 3 Long Range is priced like a BMW 3 Series, goes like a Porsche Cayman S, handles like a Lotus Elise, rides like a Roller and has the cornering connection of a Cadillac. Which – all things considered – must make it something of a bargain.

Here’s the deal.

In 2019 an extensive and exhausting testing regime with a 3 Standard RWD and Performance AWD revealed brilliant but flawed machines, marred by iffy quality, dodgy reliability and uneven capabilities. Memorable – lovable even – but a little half-baked.

Benefitting from nearly two years of development since, our box-fresh 3 Long Range – though still an MY20 – seemed like the car Musk must have envisaged, for our example gelled beautifully, expanding well beyond the sum of its parts to become one of the most likeable and compelling vehicles tested this year.

An EV that can realistically replace your existing ICE car.

There’s still plenty that can be improved, and the sheer inconsistency of our 3 experiences needs to be factored in, but on the basis of our time with the Long Range, Tesla seems to have truly come of age. 

$83,201

Based on new car retail price

VIEW PRICING & SPECS

Daily driver score

4.5/5

Urban score

4.5/5