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New 2021 Tesla Model 3: What are the facelift changes?

Last year we reviewed a 2019MY Tesla Model 3 Performance, and were very impressed awarding it a rating of 4.5 out of 5. 2021 has brought a first facelift for the M3 bringing changes inside and out. So what’s new and is it any better?

Overview

Just months after the Tesla Model 3 went on sale in Europe in February 2019 it became a success. With the German players reluctant to compete with a battery-powered version of their own most profitable products, the Model 3 was able to steal the limelight away from the similarly priced, long-established BMW 3 Series, Audi A5 and Mercedes-Benz C-Class.

Since then the latter of those two companies now have a range of EVs on sale, but they’re not a tech company first and foremost and in that respect they’ve lost some time, which is why Tesla is doing so well. It’s only very recently that some EVs are competing when it comes to how far they can go on a full charge but in terms of software – which can be updated on the fly – Tesla are a game changer. On top of that, they’ve also installed charging stations, rather than waiting for governments or petroleum companies to do so, and as a result have a dependable and useable network, thus helping to obliterate range anxiety – one of the biggest barriers to EV adoption.

Last year, the Model 3 was the 16th bestselling car in the world (according to data from Focus2Move) having sold a total of 439,760 units and the most popular EV, while latest stats from SMMT show it topped June registrations in the UK as it continues to ride a wave of consumer interest in electric vehicles. With just body fit and other markers of quality that are inferior to the German brands, we find out how much of the 2022 changes address what we consider to be Tesla’s only downfall.

Exterior changes

Tesla has obviously been incrementally improving the Model 3 via software updates since it launched (over 20 in fact), but the 2021 refresh brings significant physical and hardware changes: Here are the most important differences outside:

One of the most popular modifications among Model 3 owners is a ‘chrome delete’ – basically covering all the shiny stuff with black vinyl (outside and in). Presumably Tesla took note of this and now the flush door handles, and all of the trim around the windows and triangular camera cupolas just behind the front wheels are satin black, as are the sill plates. It’s a personal preference, but the general consensus on the forums and social media groups is it looks better.

While our model was equipped with 19 inch Sport wheels (at a cost of £1500), there are also new range improving 20 inch Uberturbine wheels available – both are shod in more efficient tyres.

A less obvious change is dual layer acoustic glass on the front windows, which serves two purposes – firstly to reduce exterior noise and secondly to improve insulation. No doubt it makes a real difference to the latter helping with the efficiency of the climate control, but in terms of the former the road and wind noise is much more audible than in our own 2020 Model 3 Performance (which we subsequently bought after our review), and we have several friends who purchased this very model of car earlier this year and have also complained about this issue.

The best tweak – especially for those with kids – has to be the power assisted tailgate so you can remotely lift it up via your phone, touchscreen or the button itself. They’ve also put holes into the piping where the boot lid meets the rear windscreen so the water drains away a little better – previously the water would accumulate in this area if it had been raining heavily and you would open the lid at your own peril if you didn’t want the contents inside to get wet. If it was snowing you could have the option of transforming your boot into a momentary fridge – not Elon Musk’s plan I’m sure.

Differences inside

Just as the bling has gone from the outside it’s also disappeared from the inside, replacing the finger print attracting piano black shiny surfaces on the centre console for a matt grey finish, as well as some of the chrome trim. The side cushions on the centre console have gained accent stitching to help make it look classier, but the biggest change is probably the two standard wireless phone chargers which were previously a plug-in addition under a flap. As a result the armrest tray underneath has gone and no doubt the aftermarket suppliers of pads for the first generation M3 will be pretty peeved. The cubby behind has a more useable sliding door rather than a flimsy feeling flip-up one that was sometimes tricky to close, USB-C ports replace USB-A (ditto for the rear seating area) leaving the usual two side-by-side cup holders, plus the arm rest with loads of space underneath it.

There’s also metal scroll wheels on the steering wheel, graphite coloured paint on the power seat controls, magnetic sun visor clips so they snap into place and a new graphic on the door release buttons, making it easier for newbies to get out. Combined, they still don’t do much to help prevent the cabin looking cheap and plasticky however.

In the previous Model 3 you could plug in an external hard drive into the USB ports and record the Sentry Mode (which continuously monitors the environment around a car when it’s left unattended). Now you can do it via a new USB in the glove box itself and thanks to a previous software update you can put a pin in to lock it giving your formatted USB drive added protection.

Heat pump system

The Tesla Model Y was the first Tesla vehicle to offer a heat pump, which if you didn’t know, is a device that takes thermal energy from the outside air to warm the cabin without impacting driving range in low temperatures. It was one of the few areas where the Model 3 trailed behind some of the competition, and Tesla obviously recognised this, and perhaps in light of its success in Europe where colder climates are more prevalent than in California, decided to include it in the refresh. 

A video from EV content creator and Tesla owner Bjørn Nyland showed that the heat pump gives owners around three times the efficiency compared to the previous PTC (Positive Temperature Coefficient ) HVAC system as he compared a brand M3 to his older version of the car performing stationary tests during a cold December night, as well as using  Camp Mode. The only downside is it’s installed where the frunk is so that’s now a little smaller, but it does have a powered opening mechanism making it easier to close at least.

Increased range

Together with the heat pump, more energy-dense 2170 battery cells and tyres with lower rolling resistance, the range has improved across all of the Model 3 variants. The Model 3 Standard Range Plus (£40,990) already had 254 miles, but this has now increased to 267 miles. The Long Range (£48,490), as per our test car, increases from 348 to 360 miles, and the Performance (£59,990) gets 352 miles compared to 329. Only the Standard Range Plus can be surpassed – in terms of offering more range for less money – by the ID.3 Tour from Volkswagen (offering 336 miles, priced from £38,800), the Skoda Enyaq iV 80 (331 miles, priced from £39,350), Hyundai Kona Electric 64kWh (300 miles from £32,550), Kia e-Niro ‘2 64’, ‘3’ and ‘4’ (282 miles ranging from £34,945 to £39,645) and Kia Soul EV ‘First Edition’ (280 miles from £34,945). That said none of these cars can compete with Tesla in terms of its Supercharger network and also the fact that the Model 3 is a lot faster, more dynamic and technically superior.

Verdict

Combined all of the changes help to lift interior quality and give a different cosmetic look to the latest Model 3, as well as improve range. The facelift hasn’t revolutionised the Model 3 – rather evolved it, which isn’t a bad thing as it is a very good EV to live with, and one of the best cars currently available, giving owners of even the most sporty conventionally fuelled cars something to think about.

We just wish that the changes improved what are still niggling problems for us at this price point. I’m talking about build quality, of course, where fit and finish is clearly last on Tesla’s agenda. After just an hour of driving our test car it developed a rattle, that’s not what you want from a car that’s barely clocked over 1000 miles. Then there’s the iffy panel gaps, which to be fair seem to be inconsistent between cars, but you can’t hide from the fact that a lot of people have reported problems with shut lines on the boot being drastically out of alignment (in particular where the lid continues up the c-pillar).

Issues aside, in its short life, the Model 3 has almost surpassed Nissan LEAF sales, which sold 500,000 vehicles when it celebrated its 10th anniversary in December last year, but with increasingly stiff competition from the likes of Volkswagen and BMW over the next couple of years together with cheaper new models from less premium car brands, it may not remain king of the electric mid-sized saloons for long!

Key Specs

2021 Model 3 Long Range

Price (RRP OTR): From £47,500, £54,490 (model as tested)
Top speed: 145mph
0-60mph: 4.2 seconds
Power: 351 bhp
Torque: 299 lb-ft
Driving range (combined): 360 miles
Charging time: Up to 250kW or 1000 miles per hpur (Tesla supercharger); 11kW or 40 miles per hour (Tesla Wall connector/Type 2 cable); 2.3kW or 8 miles per hour (Tesla mobile connector)
Insurance group: TBA
Vehicle warranty: 4 years/50,000 miles
Battery warranty: 8 years/120,000 miles

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