As from the 27th of January select customers who have pre-ordered the upgraded Model 3 have been able to collect it from their nearest Tesla Centre in the UK and Ireland, while for prospective buyers stores will be hosting a range of activities and test drives for the first time.
Tesla call the Model 3 a benchmark for all electric vehicles, and are presumably hoping that the enhanced version of its 2021 facelifted version, will prove a success. Given the bigger Model S and Model X are now only available in left-hand drive it will likely sell in big numbers. Considered the disruptor of the automotive market, it became the best-selling electric car through the pandemic, outselling premium German mainstays, and for 2023 it’s been improved and repriced to undercut nearly all of its rivals.
While it’s now been relegated to Tesla’s second-bestselling car after the Model Y, the brand has really struck a chord with motorists and will no doubt continue to grow in popularity – partly thanks to its own charging network. There are however, a lot more rivals now on the scene compared to five years ago, including a few that undercut the new Model 3 in terms of price (Kia Niro EV from £37,325; VW ID.3 Pro from £37,430; Skoda Enyaq 60 from £38,970; Volvo EX30 from £33,795; Cupra Born 58kWh from £36,475; Nissan LEAF e+ N-Connecta from £30,495), but not on range with the exception of the all-new Hyundai KONA Electric 65kWh Long Range (from £34,995) and MG4 Trophy Extended Range (from £36,495) with up to 319 and 323 miles respectively. However, don’t let the cheaper alternatives put you off on range alone. Having tested all of the aforementioned models and lived with the Model 3, the Tesla isn’t very accurate on range nor is it as efficient as it claims (more on that later).
So, what’s changed since Tesla’s first mass-market car and is it any better?
It is more cocoon like inside now, and offers customizable ambient lighting wraps around the cabin – in line with most cars nowadays, as well as a new centre console with expansive storage, dual wireless phone chargers, one front and two rear USB-C charging ports (each with up to 65W of power). The seats are new and all fully integrated into the automatic climate controls, while the fronts are now ventilated. It’s definitely got a more premium feeling about it with real aluminium and textiles dotted around the cabin, plus better fit and finish, but there’s still room for improvement given this car cost almost £50k. Also, and personally speaking, such a stark interior smacks of hitting cost, production targets, rather than looking what Tesla call 'sleek'.
The centre display is the same size at 15.4” but there’s now more usable screen area thanks to a thinner bezel, while those in the back will be delighted to see there is an 8” rear display for climate control and entertainment. The new Tesla-designed audio system features 17 speakers, dual subwoofers and dual amplifiers in the Long Range and nine speakers, a single subwoofer and amplifier for the Rear-Wheel Drive. All includes native support for Spotify, Apple Music and Tidal. Phone calls are now better than ever too, thanks to additional and more capable microphones, while connectivity is industry leading, with a 30 per cent improvement for cell range and 50 per cent cell signal, and also enables you to connect up to two WiFi-enabled devices.
Thanks to 360 degree acoustic glass, improved suspension bushings, seals and sound-dampening materials, it’s now a lot quieter – especially compared to the last version. In fact, Tesla claim there’s a 30 per cent improvement in wind noise, 20 per cent in road noise and 30 per cent in ambient noise.
Now to address the negatives… Personally we find Tesla’s interior far too minimal – it’s one of the brand’s downfalls but also its USP – and now it seems to have majored on that with the removal of steering wheel stalks, instead adding more buttons to the steering wheel with cruise control, rear-facing camera, wipers, voice commands and high beam headlights on the right – and wait for it – turn signals on the left. Yep, that’s right, every time you want to let other road-users you’re turning left or right, you find your hands madly flapping around looking for the indicator stalk! It’s all in the name of an uncluttered driving experience apparently, but we just found it infuriating and utter madness.
The right scroll wheel controls autopilot and the left multifunction – and different actions activate different functions – all in all for us it’s added more complexity and more steps for the sake of – well – we don’t know!
Oh, and if you’re wondering how to put the car into drive or reverse, you have to swipe up or down on the left-side of the screen once you’ve pressed the brake pedal. The gear-shifter does at least automatically appear when you press the brake or at low speeds, making things a little easier, and when Autoshift Out Of Park (Beta) is enabled, and you’ve buckled yourself in, closed the door and pressed the brake – the car will automatically select Drive or Reverse according to your surroundings.
Comparing the two models side by side it’s quite easy to see what’s changed but stood alone you’d probably not notice. The upgraded model 3 boasts sharper body lines and surfaces – which help to reduce drag and thus increase range but also improve wind noise. The wheels have been redesigned, too, offering improved aerodynamics, and are shod in noise- and range-optimised tyres.
The newest version actually has the lowest drag of any Tesla at 0.219. It also features sleeker headlights and rear lights which are brighter in colour and integrated into the boot lid for a better fit and two new colours – Ultra Red and Stealth Grey – replaces Red Multi-Coat and Midnight Solver Metallic respectively.
As previously mentioned range has been improved with the Rear Wheel Drive version now covering 344 miles on a single charge, while the Long-Range All Wheel Drive can go for 391 miles (or 420 miles with the 18” Photon wheels our test car was equipped with). That’s very impressive and one of the best in its segment, but speaking from direct experience having owned one for almost four years now, Tesla doesn’t show realistic estimates – with the range indicator never adjusting to account for driving conditions like other EVs do. Tesla quote 4.44 miles per kWh but that is very far from the truth in real road conditions. In fact, if you Google ‘Tesla range estimates’ you’ll find a lot of articles and forums dedicated to the very subject, with one Reuters’ reporter discussing how Tesla has been exaggerating the driving range of its vehicles for years.
We only had the upgraded model for a few days so perhaps it’s improved over our 2020 model and let’s be honest anything between 250 and 300 miles of range – which is what other journalists have reported is more than adequate. Besides, we think one of the reasons people buy Tesla is for its infrastructure. With 250kWh charging speeds, you can juice up to 175 miles in just 15 minutes, but more impressive than that is Tesla claims its UK chargers boast an uptime (working, without errors) of 99.5 per cent. And with 1200 Superchargers now installed across the UK long distance travelling definitely requires less planning in a Tesla! It’s also considerably cheaper than the public rapid charger costing just 45p/kWh compared to an average of 74p/kwh.
It has been six years since the first Model 3 rolled off the assembly line and in that time it has sold over 2 million units. It’s been a game changer in terms of shifting perceptions about electric vehicles and offering accessibility – not just in terms of price point but also ease of charging, high performance and advanced technology. This update brings more refinement and comfort but they’ve taken away functionality for the sake of an uncluttered design aesthetic, and it still isn’t a luxury car but the Long Range is priced as such. And don’t get us started on the customer service, which can’t be underestimated, and again, while personal, it's made us jump ship.
That said, £39,990 for the Rear Wheel Drive entry-level model makes it a good contender for those considering a very useable mid-size EV.
Price (RRP OTR): From £39,990, £49,000 (model as tested)
Top speed: 125mph
0-60mph: 4.2 seconds
Power: 498 bhp
Torque: 364 lb-ft
Driving range (combined): 390 miles
Charging time: 120 volt outlet will supply 2 to 3 miles of range per hour of charge, wall connector up to 44 miles of range per hour, 250kWh superchargers up to 200 miles in 15 minutes; destination charging up to 44 miles of range per hour
Insurance group: 50
Vehicle warranty: 4 years or 50,000 mile, whichever comes first
Battery warranty: 8 years or 120,000 miles, whichever comes first, with minimum 70% retention of battery capacity over the warranty period (Model 3 Long Range specific)
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