2021 Tesla Model 3

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2021
The Car Connection
2021
The Car Connection

The Car Connection Expert Review

Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Senior Editor
January 28, 2021

Buying tip

With upgrades to range and materials for 2021, the lowest-priced Standard Range Plus version of the Model 3 now offers the best combination of value and usability.

features & specs

Long Range AWD
Performance AWD
Standard Range Plus RWD
MPG
Coming Soon
MPG
Coming Soon
MPG
Coming Soon
MSRP
$49,990
MSRP
$57,990
MSRP
$41,990

The 2021 Tesla Model 3 remains unrivaled, as an impressive automotive amalgam of sport sedan, efficiency leader, and technology icon.

What kind of vehicle is the 2021 Tesla Model 3? What does it compare to?

The 2021 Model 3 is a fully electric compact sedan, with a touchscreen interface that highlights a simplified, austere interior, while over-the-air updates regularly roll out new features and refinements. The Model 3 has few rivals for range, but the Kia Niro EV, Hyundai Kona Electric, or Chevrolet Bolt EV, all hatchback/crossovers—as is the Ford Mustang Mach-E. 

Is the 2021 Tesla Model 3 a good car?

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The Model 3 offers strong, satisfying performance, excellent driving range, and a set of desirable technology features, all at a price that’s premium but affordable in entry versions. We give it a 7.3 out of 10 overall. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

What's new for the 2021 Tesla Model 3?

Tesla has revamped some of the Model 3’s exterior trim—especially toning down some of the brightwork for the door handles and around the windows. The center console now gets a wireless charging pad and nixes the gloss-black look, and all versions have a power trunklid. Tesla has dropped the base $35,000 Model 3, which had been offered as a special-request, off-menu variant. 

The range improvements only make the Model 3 more appealing. It continues to offer better performance, higher efficiency, and faster charging than other electric cars. 

The Model 3 is quiet and fuss-free, but that’s not to say that it’s boring. Even if you get the most affordable Standard Range Plus model, expect sport-sedan handling and a level of responsiveness and sharpness usually reserved for top-performance editions. In its most potent combination the Model 3 will sprint to 60 mph in 3.1 seconds. 

The 15.0-inch touchscreen system will seem familiar to anyone who’s used to living with screen swipes—and it had better be okay, because outside of that and voice commands it’s how you operate the Model 3. Its Apple-like interface has a flat menu structure and controls everything from mirror adjustments to climate control to drive mode settings—although you won’t find Apple CarPlay or Android Auto compatibility here. 

The Model 3 includes automatic emergency braking and lane-departure warning and an Autopilot suite of sensors allowing additional safety features plus adaptive cruise control (in a single lane). A Full Self-Driving option—not exactly as billed—adds automated lane-change ability, automatic parking, a summon feature, and more. 

How much does the 2021 Tesla Model 3 cost?

The Tesla Model 3 Standard Range Plus starts at $39,190, while the top Model 3 Performance, optioned with cosmetic upgrades and the $10,000 Full Self Driving Capability, it costs $69,190. Cost isn’t open to haggling (or markup), as instead of using traditional dealerships Tesla runs its own retail showrooms employing online ordering and payments. 

Where is the 2021 Tesla Model 3 made?

In Fremont, California.

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2021 Tesla Model 3

Styling

The Tesla Model 3 is modern and minimalist overall, with a sleek, windswept shape and an interior that sets a new standard for decluttered.

Is the 2021 Tesla Model 3 a good-looking car?

Altogether, the Model 3 impresses as a relatively good-looking car that feeds you the future in what from the outside is a softly evolved form. Next to the striking, sexy form of the Model S, the proportions are less evocative and the design details fundamentally frumpier. Overall, we give the Model 3 a 6 out of 10 in styling. 

The Model 3 lacks any kind of grille in front and the lack of any engine under the hood keeps everything very low. The smooth arc of the roodline tapers a bit at the sides, and it’s a slippery shape—accented by door handles that sit flush to the body. It all comes together in a somewhat tall rear end that might lead you to believe at first glance that the Model 3 is a hatchback; it’s a sedan, just with a very short trunklid. 

The interior of the Model 3 forgoes nearly all conventional buttons, dials, and switchgear—and even the expected gauge cluster in front of the driver—to the bare essentials of steering-wheel stalks, a couple steering-wheel toggles, and a 15.0-inch horizontally oriented touchscreen that sits in the middle of the dash. It’s uncluttered to the max, but to those who aren’t obsessed with Marie Kondo it might also be seen as drab.

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2021 Tesla Model 3

Performance

The Tesla Model 3 is a true sport sedan—one that’s whisper-quiet.

With the ability to out-accelerate most, if not all, gasoline-powered sport sedans, and out-handle many of them as well, the Model 3 earns a 8 out of 10 for performance.

Is the Model 3 4WD?

The Tesla Model 3 comes in single-motor (rear-wheel-drive) or dual-motor (all-wheel-drive) versions. For 2021, all but the base Standard Range Plus model have the dual-motor all-wheel-drive setup. Tesla’s traction and stability systems are great at dealing with wet and slippery roads; add a set of winter tires and you’ll be good all four seasons in areas that get snow and ice. 

How fast is the Tesla Model 3?

The Model 3 Dual Motor performance model can accelerate to 60 mph in a claimed 3.1 seconds—quicker than a long list of more expensive performance cars—while the Long Range Version can do that sprint in 4.2 seconds. Even the base Standard Range Plus boasts a 5.3-second 0-60 time—quicker than some rival sport sedans, even though that isn’t the expectation with this base model. 

The Dual Motor Performance version makes the most of the Model 3’s traction systems and offers enough off-the-line acceleration to pin you back in the seat. Total output is 450 hp  and 471 lb-ft of torque. The all-wheel grip provides that gravity-bending off-the-line acceleration.

Slotted under that is the Dual Motor Long Range model, which is also all-wheel drive and makes a still-potent 346 hp and 389 lb-ft. The rear-drive Standard Range Plus model uses a single electric motor to drive the rear axle and makes 283 hp and 307 lb-ft of torque. 

The Model 3 is more than acceleration times, though. With precise, well-weighted steering and a firm but well-damped suspension tuning the Model 3 smothers out bumps while keeping body motions in check. The only thing that will take a little getting used to for those coming from a gasoline model is the regenerative braking system, which in its more aggressive setting can scrub off speed as if you left another car in its low gear.

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2021 Tesla Model 3

Comfort & Quality

The Model 3’s interior is spacious and comfortable, but austere and lacking in the details.

Although the Model 3 covers all the basics, we’ve seen lapses in build quality and materials that belie the circa-$50,000 price of more popular versions. Those issues outweigh the roomy cabin and generally comfortable seats, bringing us to a 4 out of 10. 

The Model 3 is a powerhouse for space efficiency. The cab-forward design and broad roofline offers a lot of passenger space underneath—without the head room sacrifices that sport-sedan profiles can introduce. And while its 15.X-cubic-foot trunk is quite spacious before you fold down the seats, there’s much to be impressed by when you do—before even counting the “frunk” (front trunk). 

The Model 3’s cabin feels spacious inside, the seating position itself is different than those of other compact sedans. You look past the low, sloping hoodline, not onto it, and the 12-way power-adjustable seats now in all models offer good support both for long-distance driving and the higher cornering forces you’re probably going to feel comfortable tackling in this sporty car. Seating for rear passengers is surprisingly good, even for taller riders, given the low position and sloping roofline—although three 6-footers will find it tight. 

Quality is a letdown compared to luxury-brand gasoline models in this price range. The fabrics, panels, trims, and everything in between have felt cheap and under-detailed, and road noise is prominent. Build quality has something to do with it, but with Tesla’s top-notch driving and tech details, something has to give.

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2021 Tesla Model 3

Safety

The 2021 Tesla Model 3 offers great safety plus a full ensemble of technology.

How safe is the Porsche Taycan?

The Model 3 is a Top Safety Pick+ from the IIHS and has earned top five-star results from the NHTSA. In the subcategories of occupant-safety ratings, there were no specific areas of concern. It also offers a strong set of active-safety features. 

Altogether, that qualifies it for an excellent 9 out of 10 for safety—with the quibble that outward vision when backing up and parking could be better, or better-supported by the camera systems. 

Some of those active-safety items come as part of the Autopilot quite that’s included as standard on all Model 3 versions, as well as automatic emergency braking and lane-departure warning. Autopilot uses cameras, radar, and sensors to let the car steer, accelerate and brake automatically for short periods, in the same lane, and adds blind-spot monitoring. 

Tesla’s Full Self-Driving—which is not actual self-driving—option now adds up to $10,000, and if you add it you get an additional suite of more advanced driver-assistance features including an on-ramp-to-off-ramp highway feature that will change lanes when necessary, park automatically, and allow the owner to summon the car within a parking lot. 

Review continues below
8

2021 Tesla Model 3

Features

The 2021 Model 3 keeps its interface simple, yet its ever-expanding array of tech wizardry satisfies the brand’s deepest devotees.

Entering the Tesla Model 3 for the first time can be a little intimidating—simply because the completely uncluttered layout and absence of familiar controls (even a start button) require you to relearn much about operating a modern car. 

The Model 3 earns a bonus point because the learning curve is so easy, for a strong set of standard features, and for a good 4-year/50,000-mile vehicle warranty—pushed to 8 years and 100,000 or 120,000 miles on the battery. Altogether, the Model 3 earns an 8 out of 10. 

Which Tesla Model 3 should I buy?

The base 2021 Tesla Model 3 Standard Range Plus is probably the best deal in the lineup, as for $39,190 (including the $1,200 destination) it includes many of the same features you get in top Long Range and Performance models. The only features you’ll miss out on are rear heated seats, premium audio, and a few other upgrades—all if you’re okay without all-wheel drive. 

How much is a fully loaded 2021 Tesla Model 3?

If you load a Tesla Model 3 Performance up with all the available cosmetic upgrades and the $10,000 Full Self Driving Capability, it costs $69,190.

Tesla’s  15.0-inch touchscreen packs in everything that seems to be missing from the dash, from gauges to climate and audio functions. 

Its screen interface is about as flawless as an automotive interface can be—with an iOS-like flatness to the menu system that means you’re never more than a couple of clicks away from anything. And it responds to voice commands about as well as any current phone or tablet. But it doesn’t support Apple CarPlay or Android Auto compatibility. 

Perhaps those are on the way eventually via over-the-air updates.

Review continues below
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2021 Tesla Model 3

Fuel Economy

Despite being such a performance standout, the Model 3 also ranks as the most energy-efficient electric car.

The Tesla Model 3 can go well over 200 miles on a charge, and that in itself qualifies it for a top score of 10 points out of 10.

But there’s more to it than that. The Model 3 is one of the longest-range electric cars, and it ekes more range out of its battery capacity than other models. 

In its Standard Range Plus form, the Model 3 has an EPA rating of 263 miles of range. The Long Range version, in the dual-motor layout, is rated at 353 miles, while the Performance version gets a 315-mile rating. 

The base Standard Range Plus retains the top efficiency of any electric car on the market, at 141 MPGe.

In our testing—most recently in 2019, and range ratings have improved since then—we found that the Model 3 was perhaps the only EV capable of surpassing 250 miles at rapid U.S. Interstate speeds, without resorting to turning off the climate control. Keep in mind hard acceleration runs will drop that mileage quick, as will steep grades and extreme temperatures.

Tesla’s Supercharger network remains a strength, and a reason to consider the Model 3 over other EVs. If you can plan your road trip around the fastest V3 chargers on its network, you’ll be able to pack in up to 170 miles for each 30 minutes of charging.

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$41,990
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7.5
Overall
Expert Rating
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Styling 6
Performance 8
Comfort & Quality 4
Safety 9
Features 8
Fuel Economy 10
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