With society’s continued push to eliminate its carbon footprint, it is highly likely that you have at least heard of Tesla, the world’s leading electric vehicle manufacturer. While Tesla’s flagship Model S sedan has been on the streets since 2012, its more recent release of the Model 3 has truly made Tesla a household name among all automakers, electric or otherwise.
Tesla Model 3 vs. Tesla Model S. The Tesla Model 3 is a newer, more affordable electric sedan that has seen record numbers of orders recently. The Tesla Model S is the original Tesla that has become the company’s higher-priced, luxury electric sedan.
The choice of whether to purchase the Model 3 or Model S is largely a matter of personal preference, depending on the importance you place on functionality, value, style, and horsepower, among other considerations. Whatever your choice, you can feel confident that you are purchasing a vehicle that will be in line with the trend of reducing dependence on fossil fuels.
Tesla Car Comparison: Model 3 vs. Model S
While the Tesla Model 3 and Model S have many similarities, several significant differences will distinguish them in electric car buyers’ minds.
Off the bat, the price between the two models is one of the greatest differences, as the Model S is roughly twice as expensive as the Model 3. For the base version of each model, the prices will start as follows:
- Tesla Model 3 – $39,190
- Tesla Model S – $76,190
However, this is just the starting point when it comes to the price of both models. For example:
- If you were to add the Performance trim and the Autopilot package to the Model S, the cost would be over $100,000 for this luxury model.
- On a similar note, one of the complaints against the Model 3 is that $39,190 is not a realistic price for its “budget” sedan. Among the features that many customers add to their base Model 3 include an upgraded battery, dual-motor, Performance trim, all-wheel drive, and Autopilot, the totality of which will nearly double the vehicle’s cost to around $60,000.
As you can see, regardless of whether you order the base model or choose to add upgrades, the Model S will still be considerably more expensive than the Model 3; this is because the Model S is marketed as the “original” Tesla that put the electric car maker on the map, while the Model 3 is perceived as the model that made Teslas more available to the masses.
Therefore, if you want the prestige of driving the original Tesla, you can expect to pay in the ballpark of six figures to own a luxury Tesla Model S that is quickly surpassing such stalwarts as Mercedes and BMW in terms of status and total orders.
However, if you want an environmentally-friendly electric vehicle that will help save fuel costs and are willing to live without some of the advanced features of Tesla technology, then you can get the Tesla Model 3 for under $50,000.
While this is still more expensive than most economy ICE (internal combustion engine) cars, it is competitive enough that budget and environmentally-conscious consumers are ordering them in droves, with wait times for the Model 3 currently exceeding two months in some cases.
When purchasing a new vehicle, many customers are terrified at the prospect of driving the car off the lot, and seeing its resale value plummet as their vehicle instantaneously shifts from “new” to “used.”
Fortunately, if this is a concern for you as you make the switch from ICE to electric, then Tesla has you covered. Both the Model 3 and the Model S come with a seven-day or 1,000-mile grace period during which you can return your Tesla for a full refund of the purchase price if you are not satisfied.
One of the most significant hurdles that the electric car industry has had to surpass on the path toward more widespread adoption is proving to buyers that electric cars are not “toy” cars that are good for little more than putting around the neighborhood at 25 miles per hour.
Simply put, many motorheads do not believe that an electric car will ever be able to replace the proverbial “roar of the engine” that signifies high-speed performance in ICE vehicles. However, at this point, such sentiment derives either from ignorance or bias.
- When equipped with Performance trim, the Tesla Model S has been proven to rival or surpass many of the world’s top-end sports cars in terms of acceleration. In fact, test runs have shown that flooring the gas pedal on the Model S can accelerate the car from 0 to 60 miles per hour in a whopping 2.4 seconds. (As a frame of reference, manufacturers typically note anything less than 4 seconds when advertising their vehicle’s horsepower.)
- The Model 3, while not capable of sprinting off the line quite like the Model S, still boasts an acceleration of a very impressive 3.2 seconds from 0 to 60 when equipped with Performance trim. This figure far surpasses many traditional sedans. Furthermore, in terms of top-end speed, the Model 3 can actually reach 162 MPH, while the Model S tops out at 155 MPH.
Nonetheless, if pure horsepower is what you are after, there is no beating the Model S. Its stealthy, zero-emissions sports car performance is one of the primary factors making it among the best car choices of the year.
Another factor delaying the skeptics in electric car adoption is battery life, as some people do not like the idea of having to plug in their car multiple times a day or are afraid of running out of power in the middle of nowhere.
Once again, the Tesla puts these concerns to bed, as the range on both models is similar to that for an ICE vehicle on a full tank of gas, with the range figures for each as follows:
- Model 3 – 250 to 300 miles
- Model S – 350 to 400 miles
As you can see, the Model S will get, on average, about 100 miles more on a charge than will the Model 3; this makes the Model S a better all-purpose vehicle, as 400 miles is a common distance that travelers can make in a day during a long road trip.
While the Model 3 will require more frequent charging and not be able to accomplish the same distances as the Model S in a single haul, it still has a similar range to that of many ICE vehicles for city driving, meaning that it should get you through your workweek on a single charge.
Lastly, remember that range can vary based on the additional features and upgrades added to your Tesla, regardless of the model. However, these upgrades and driving behaviors—such as city driving versus highway driving—do not seem to influence a Tesla’s range quite as noticeably as they do fuel economy in ICE vehicles.
Although the Model S is noticeably larger than the Model 3, the amount of cabin space in each vehicle is surprisingly similar. The Model 3 offers more headroom for front and rear passengers than the Model S, which features a longer, sleeker body that gives it some additional space for the shoulders and hips to wiggle around.
As far as the front and rear legroom, the difference between the two models is negligible, with the following breakdown showing just how close the two models are:
|Model 3||Model S|
|Front Legroom||42.7 inches||42.7 inches|
|Rear Legroom||35.2 inches||35.4 inches|
This gives each model a very similar riding experience for both front and rear passengers.
In terms of cargo space, the Model S and its larger design greatly outpace the more compact and economical Model 3. The breakdown of trunk space is as follows:
- Model 3 – 15 cubic feet
- Model S – 26 cubic feet
The larger Model S is designed with a rear hatchback, which opens wide to allow for the toting of bulkier and more cumbersome types of cargo. Due to this extra space, owners also have the option for two rear-facing jump seats, but the space allotted for these seats is only sufficient for small children.
One of the major advantages of electric vehicles is that, given the proper care, they should have comparably long lifespans compared to their ICE brethren, as they avoid the corrosion and heat-related breakdowns that stem from the combustion process. Also, as Teslas operate on a single-speed transmission, their motors are virtually maintenance-free compared to the moving parts required to make an ICE drivetrain functional.
As such, early models of the flagship Tesla Model S that were introduced in 2012 are reselling at over $30,000, despite their mileage approaching 100,000.
While the Model 3 does not have as long of a resale track record as the Model S, the ability to bypass the fuel pump has led some Model 3 owners to drive their Teslas like crazy, putting over 70,000 miles on their vehicle in a single year (for reference, most people put 15,000 miles on their cars each year). Nonetheless, this comparatively high-mileage Model 3 is still reselling for over $20,000.
Due to the way that Teslas hold their value, it may be worthwhile for those people looking to switch from ICE to electric to explore used Teslas. For example, if they prefer the higher horsepower and battery life of the Model S but only have the budget for a Model 3, a used Model S will likely be obtainable for under $50,000.
Tesla Model 3: Specific Features to Consider
If the side-by-side comparison along the general specs of Tesla’s two most prominent vehicle models has got you interested in the Model 3, there are some additional components and features you should look into as you make your purchase decision.
Due to its advanced technology in which it is part car and part app, Tesla does not issue vehicle changes on a standard model-year basis. Instead, it offers software updates at various points throughout the year, with updates released at seemingly random times, similar to how smartphones have periodic updates to their operating system.
As of 2020, there are several key updates and features for the Model 3 that the prospective buyer must be aware of:
- Lane Assist – This feature uses artificial intelligence to let drivers know when they are swerving out of their lane.
- Autopilot – This feature allows the car to drive autonomously but must be purchased as an upgrade.
- Enhanced Charging Capabilities – The Model 3 can now connect to the company’s upgraded V3 supercharger network to reduce charging time on the battery.
As mentioned, the most standard version of the Model 3 can be ordered online for under $40,000. However, this is a bit misleading, as this is not necessarily the most desirable option, with buyers choosing Model 3 with enhanced packages in many cases.
The following are some price points for different versions of the Model 3:
- Standard Range Plus Battery – $39,190
- Long Range Battery – $48,190
- Performance – $56,190
As most buyers of the Model 3 are purchasing to decrease emissions and save on fuel expenses, the Standard Range Plus offers the best value to meet these specific needs. However, it is up to the individual buyer to determine if the longer battery range and/or increased horsepower are worth the extra investment.
Motor and Performance
For an economy car, the Model 3 can quickly, quietly, and smoothly gain speed from a stop. It also handles extremely well on corners, thanks to a low center of gravity from the battery beneath the floorboard.
Some other relevant performance considerations for the Model 3 include:
- Adjustable steering settings that allow for three different levels of steering effort
- A firm ride that is not among the most comfortable among sedans
- Due to the quiet nature of the engine, normal traffic noises, such as running over a pothole or the whirring of the brakes, seem disproportionately loud when compared to ICE vehicles
Range, Charging, and Battery Life
In addition to its inclusion in Tesla’s V3 Supercharger network, there are many ways in which you can charge the Model 3:
- Adapters for DC public charging stations
- 240-volt and 120-volt outlets
- Home charging stations
As electric vehicles continue to see more widespread adoption, the number of charging options is only set to increase.
As the Model 3 comes in three popular price points, it can be noted that the cost of the vehicle is directly proportional to its battery life, with the following breakdown giving a range for each specific version of the Model 3:
- Standard Range Plus Battery – about 250 miles
- Long Range Battery – about 300 miles
- Performance – just over 300 miles
Interior and Cargo
The Model 3 sports one of the most sparse interior designs in the current automobile market. With nearly everything in the vehicle’s interior controlled by the large touchscreen in the dashboard center, there are no spare knobs or switches anywhere in the Model 3.
It has a low floor and spacious feel inside, and while the front seats feel comfortable, the rear seats are comparatively cramped.
Trunk space is limited but can be expanded by laying the rear seats flat if you need to haul larger items. There are also some spacious bins and cubbies at various points in the vehicle’s interior.
What’s unique about the Model 3 is that it does not come with AM or SiriusXM satellite radio. It also cannot be used with Android Auto or Apple CarPlay.
However, it does come with navigation, Bluetooth, and USB connectivity and offers several Internet streaming options. Its center console also features Netflix, YouTube, and arcade games to enjoy when the car is parked.
After crash testing, the Model 3 has received a perfect score from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. According to Car and Driver, It also offers the following innovative driver assistance features:
- Standard automated emergency braking
- Standard lane-departure warning
- Standard adaptive cruise control
Tesla Model S: Specific Features to Consider
If the advantages of the original, more luxurious Model S piques your interest more than the economy Model 3, there are some specific features to consider in the newest Model S.
In 2019, Tesla introduced a Standard Range Variant of the Model S to increase the battery range on its flagship vehicle. However, after some careful consideration of the Standard Range Variant, the Model S is now offered in Long Range Plus, giving the car an impressive 400 miles of range.
Among the additional updates introduced to the Model S as of 2020 include:
- Redesigned front drive
- Improved motor
- Adaptive air suspension, allowing for a breezier ride on the highway
- Software updates that allow the Model S to tap into the V3 Supercharging architecture, which can reduce charge time by up to 25%
Like the Model 3, the Model S does come in the standard Long Range Plus, with the ability for a high-performance version beyond that. As mentioned, the highest performing Model S will push six figures:
- Long Range Plus – $76,190
- Performance – $96,190
With the Model S, buyers are typically looking for luxury ahead of price economy, so the Performance version tends to be a hot seller for those who want all the bells and whistles that modern electric vehicles can offer.
Motor and Performance
The Model S is truly an all-wheel-drive vehicle, with an electric motor dedicated specifically to each axel. When combined with upgraded Performance trim, this feature gives the Performance version of the Model S truly unmatched acceleration capabilities.
Other relevant performance considerations for the Model S include:
- Well-controlled motions and direct steering for elite agility in a sports sedan
- Heavy or light steering options
- Good ride comfort and a low center of gravity that provides a sense of control on the road
- Like the Model 3, the quiet engine makes traffic noises seem comparatively noisy
Range, Charging, and Battery Life
Like the Model 3, the Model S can be charged via the V3 Supercharger network, adapters for DC public charging stations, 240- and 120-volt outlets, and home charging stations.
However, unlike the Model 3, the Model S price is inversely proportional to the vehicle’s range. The less expensive Long Range Plus has a range of about 400 miles, while the more costly Performance has a range of about 350 miles.
Interior and Cargo
Although the Model S interior is more luxurious than the comparatively spartan Model 3, it still does not feel commensurate with a vehicle that retails for over $70,000. Poorly aligned interior panels are just one facet that leaves the Model S behind household names like Mercedes and BMW in terms of luxury interiors.
While the Model S does not have as many convenient bins and cubbies as the Model 3, it makes up for it through an excess of trunk space. A sloped roofline hides a spacious 26-cubic-foot trunk with an accompanying underfloor bin that provides even more storage capacity.
Like the Model 3, the Model S is largely controlled by the center screen in the dashboard. The list of available features is the same, with the only complaint being that some smaller drivers may have difficulty reaching all the icons on the touch screen.
While the Model S has generated some scrutiny regarding the efficacy of partially autonomous vehicles thanks to the threat of traffic fires resulting from high-speed impacts, it still scores exceptionally well in safety testing.
In addition to the standard driver assistance features offered in the Model 3, the Model S does provide the option of a semi-autonomous driver mode.
Tesla Model 3 vs. Tesla Model S: Which is Better?
After giving Tesla’s two primary vehicle models a side-by-side comparison and looking at some unique features of both the Model 3 and Model S as of 2020, it is time to decide which is the better choice when considering all of their features.
As with any technological advancement, the goal is to get the innovation price down to where a wider audience can adopt it. While the Model S’s high price tag may be more of a luxury choice than an elitist emblem in the 21st century, the cost is nevertheless prohibitive.
With government tax breaks and the collective consciousness of society pushing to eliminate carbon emissions, the affordably priced Model 3, with the base version coming in at under $40,000, is the truly revolutionary product.
Verdict: Model 3
Both the Model 3 and Model S have some serious giddy-up, especially in each Performance version; this dispels the prevalent notion that electric cars are nothing more than glorified golf carts. However, the Performance Model S, with its acceleration of 0 to 60 miles per hour in under 3 seconds, cannot be matched by many sports cars, let alone the Model 3.
Verdict: Model S
Any way you want to look at it, the Model S can go about 100 miles more on a charge than the Model 3, proving that it is more than just a luxury vehicle.
Verdict: Model S
While the two models’ interiors are largely similar, the Model S sets itself apart with its ample storage capacity, featuring a well-hidden hatchback that opens to a 26-cubic-foot trunk.
Verdict: Model S
Both the Model 3 and Model S feature a main touch screen console that is the vehicle’s control center. Through this console, the user has access to navigation, Bluetooth, USB connectivity, and multiple options for Internet streaming and game and video playback when parked.
Verdict: Model 3 or Model S
Although both vehicles have similar safety and driver assistance features, the Model S’s increased acceleration may make it more dangerous for irresponsible users.
Verdict: Model 3
While each is an outstanding choice in its own right, the true appeal of an electric vehicle is being able to get from Point A to Point B without harming the environment and saving on transportation costs.
To this effect, the Model 3 has made this goal attainable for a whole new market of buyers, making it the best value overall.
Verdict: Model 3
The Model 3 is Tesla’s economy sedan, while the Model S is its original, more luxurious product. While the two models share many similarities, the Model 3 offers a significantly lower initial price point ($39,190 for the Standard Range Battery Plus). However, the Model S provides greater battery range and acceleration.
Although it can be argued that the Model 3 offers the best value in terms of bang for your buck, both models are outstanding choices as consumers begin to make the switch to electric vehicles.