Tesla has come along way from that Roadster sports car based on a Lotus. Today, in 2021, it has four models on sale in the UK and another couple on the way.
The Tesla Model 3 has, rightfully, been the most popular to date. It can seat five people, accommodate a decent amount of luggage and travel up to 360 miles on a full battery for a sensible price. All Model 3s have five doors, but there’s a choice of battery sizes dictated by which model you choose - the cheapest entry-level Standard Plus, range-winning Long Range or the quickest (and priciest) Performance.
But part of the Model 3’s success is that it doesn’t just compete with other electric cars such as the Polestar 2 or Volkswagen ID.3. It’s also been tempting people out of their BMW 3 Series, Audi A4 and Mercedes C-Class.
That’s thanks to its combination of anxiety-busting range, minimalist interior and cutting-edge tech. However, unlike those alternatives, Tesla is famous for continuously updating its cars, often without warning. So, to keep you in the loop, here’s everything you need to know about the Tesla Model 3 in 2021.
Spotting the differences between the ‘old’ 2020 Model 3 and latest 2021 model is a bit like a game of Where’s Wally. Wally is there if you look hard enough.
The first change is the Model 3’s window surrounds, which are now black rather than chrome across the range. Then there are new wheel designs, which start at 18 inches on the Standard Range and Long Range models, although you can add an optional 19-inch set if you prefer. Performance models now get 20-inch wheels called Uberturbine. No, really.
Lastly, there are some new Matrix LED headlights at the front on Long Range and Performance models, while the Standard Range makes do with lesser LED units. Oh, and like all new EVs, your number plate will now have a little green section on its lefthand side to let everybody know you’re saving the planet.
There’s more to report inside the Tesla Model 3 for 2021. OK, so the general layout and landscape screen are still there, but look closer and you’ll see a brand new central console.
The old console had a piano black finish which scratched easily, so is now finished in matte black instead. You’ll find new USB-C charging points and 12v socket in a central cubby beneath a folding lid and a new soft-touch wireless charging pad at the base of the dashboard which looks great and holds two phones in place really well when driving.
It’s all solidly built, too. In its early days, Tesla struggled with build quality inside its cars, which was particularly hard to stomach when considering the much more expensive Model S. This latest Model 3 is the best effort yet, though, with genuinely impressive leathers and plastics everywhere. There are now metal buttons rather than plastic on the steering wheel, too.
There aren’t many ways to customise the inside of your Model 3, though. If you go for the black leather seats, you get a wood-effect dash section, while white seats come with a white dash strip instead. Otherwise, the Model 3 hasn’t changed its dimensions inside, so it’ll seat four adults in comfort, but trying to carry three adults across the rear seats will cause some complaining in the back on a long trip.
The Model 3 still comes with a decent boot, too. Well, two actually. Together, there are 542 litres on offer, which put in simpler terms, is around six carry-on suitcases in the back plus an extra one in the front. It’s just a shame the Model 3’s saloon body shape makes its access pretty average, and that Tesla has done away with the front boot’s carpet lining and bag hooks for 2021.
There’s less to report here, with Tesla’s 15-inch landscape infotainment screen still dominating the dashboard in 2021. It still doesn’t come with Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, but it still doesn’t matter, because Tesla’s menu layouts are pretty much like a smartphone anyway, plus its navigation uses Google Maps, which most people are familiar with.
It’s still annoying, mind you, that you have to control so many functions through it. Such as adjusting the steering wheel, for instance, or the mirrors when you want to line up against a kerb to park. All this requires fishing through menus on the screen to find the right button, and it all feels like an attempt to keep the dash as plain as possible.
In truth, BMW’s iDrive is just better, particularly to operate when you’re driving, but you can be forgiven for thinking the Tesla’s just looks cooler.
It’s worth upgrading from the Standard Range to Long Range model if you can, and not just for its bigger battery. You also swap manual seats front electric ones, plus they’re heated in the front and back. You’ll enjoy the better sound from the upgraded stereo, too, and the panoramic roof looks superb inside and out.
Tesla is famously cagey when it comes to battery sizes and power outputs, preferring instead to focus on 0-60mph times and overall range figures.
Still, you can rest assured the Standard Range’s battery is around 50kWh in size, has a single motor on its rear axle and produces 296hp and 450nm of torque. It’ll officially go 278 miles and crack 0-60mph in 5.4 seconds.
Then there’s the Long Range, which has a battery of around 75kWhs and a motor on each axle. That means all-wheel-drive, more power at 367hp and punchier torque at 510nm. It also has the best range of any Model 3 at 360 miles, but still gets to 60mph in just 4.2 seconds.
Lastly, the Performance tops the range, with a reputed new 82kWh battery and the same two motors, although with the wick turned up; here there’s 462hp and 639nm of torque. Its range is slightly down on the Long Range at 352 miles, but it’ll hurl itself to 60mph in a staggering 3.1 seconds.
So, there are distinct steps in performance, but in truth, no Model 3 feels slow. With so much instant torque, you’re able to punch away from lights in complete silence, leaving those pesky combustion engines in your wake. Of course, the Performance takes things to a completely new level, rivalling M3s and RS5s, let alone their lesser petrol and diesel stablemates.
It isn’t all about straight-line speed, though, because the Model 3’s relatively quick steering and grippy handling make it a monstrous point-and-squirt experience on backroads. Its modest dimensions make it easier to enjoy here too, plus the car’s brakes in all forms are strong and feel more consistent than in than most EVs.
The hottest German saloons are still more fun, but it’s difficult not to be impressed with how efficiently a Model 3 gets down a country road, and the Tesla certainly feels more agile than a Polestar 2.
Oh, and we almost forgot, a new feature for 2021 is the ability to choose how much power you want to send to either motor on the twin-motor models. Yes, 100% rear-drive is possible, and yes, the Model 3 will drift.
In more relevant news, you can charge all three models from 10-80% in around half an hour at a Tesla Supercharger. And having the option of Tesla’s superb charging network is reason alone for a Model 3 to be on your list, given the inconsistency of the other options available right now.
The changes for 2021 are relatively few and have largely improved the way the Model 3 looks, feels and works.
Tesla’s industry-leading motor and battery tech still has rival manufacturers scratching their heads. Put simply, you will go further in a Model 3 for less cash than all of its current EV competition. You’ll also have great fun doing it.
However, if you’re used to BMW or Audi interiors, then while the Model 3’s might look cool, it may start to frustrate, given its touchscreen governs so much and that the Germans ultimately rule the roost when it comes to quality.
Even so, if you’re considering chopping in your traditional executive saloon for an EV, a Model 3 test drive remains a must, and the Long Range remains the pick of the bunch.
Model tested: Tesla Model 3 Performance
Motor: electric motor with 82kWh battery (est)
0-62mph: 3.1 seconds
Max speed: 162mph
Range: 315 miles