Tesla has given the ever-popular Model 3 a major update which brings sleeker styling, an even more minimalist interior, and much-improved suspension, all of which turns it into one of the most comprehensive vehicles on sale today.

As one of the biggest pioneers of electric vehicles, it’s no real surprise to see Tesla now positioned as one of the top-selling EV brands globally. In 2023, the Model Y was the top-selling vehicle worldwide according to JATO Dynamics, ahead of the Toyota RAV4 and Corolla, and here in Australia it managed a sixth-place finish in the overall standings after a 230.0 percent increase in sales.

But it’s the Model 3 which the Model Y shares its underpinnings with that’s been given an update for 2024, and Tesla has given it more than just a facelift. The old model didn’t perform too badly in the sales charts either last year, managing 15th overall and third in its class with a 59.5 percent sales uptick here in Australia, but it speaks to the popularity of SUVs in today’s market. Consider, though, that the Model S was the car that really made EV ownership cool and desirable, so the importance of having a good-looking sporty sedan in the range can’t be understated – even if people rationalise buying its SUV sibling instead.

Dubbed the ‘Highland’ update after its internal project codename, it marks more than a mere facelift, with promises of big improvements in efficiency and ride quality, along with the expected tech upgrades from a brand which resembles a tech company such as Apple more than it does a traditional car manufacturer.

While I’ve heard some describe the new styling as a bit plain, I think it’s an absolute stunner in the metal, offering a sleeker and more resolved look than its predecessor which did have some awkward angles. The most drastic change is at the front which looks more chiseled thanks to one strong crease across its entire width, along with narrower headlights which look far more modern. While the old model looked as though it was missing a grille, this looks like the design of a ground-up EV.

The changes are less drastic along the sides, save for the new wheel designs, although obvious changes can be seen at the back with more premium looking taillights which are intersected by the metal of the boot, ‘TESLA’ script in place of the company’s logo, and a more prominent rear diffuser design. With increased efficiency the aim – Tesla claims an approximate 10 percent increase in range – the new design sports a lower drag coefficient of 0.219, down from 0.225, which is largely responsible for this improvement.

At launch, two versions are on offer in Australia, with the entry-level RWD version tested here starting at $61,900 before on-road costs, while the dual-motor Long Range model charges a $10,000 premium. Both are identical stylistically, although my tester had the standard 18-inch ‘Photon’ wheels with aerodynamic plastic wheel covers switched out for upgraded 19-inch ‘Nova’ alloys ($1800) which look far sharper, while the new Ultra Red paint ($2600) is a far deeper metallic shade than before. Factor in these options and the delivery and order fees ($1400 and $400 respectively), and you’re looking at $68,100 before state-dependent on-roads for one spec’d like this.

Despite its base-grade status, considering the RWD model akin to the typical entry-level executive saloon would be doing it a disservice, as there’s nowhere else in the market you’ll find this much tech at this price point. Its sheer functionality might not be entirely visible at first glance, however, as describing this cabin as minimalist is an understatement. Virtually all cabin controls are located on its massive 15.4-inch touchscreen – which is unchanged in size but features a smaller bezel and brighter display – including even the gear shifter.

That’s right, your eyes aren’t deceiving you – there’s no gear shifter stalk on the steering column anymore, and neither is there an indicator stalk. Instead, the Model 3 starts as soon as you unlock it, and shifting gears requires your foot to be on the brake as a little car icon pops up on the screen which you drag up to go into Drive or down to put it in Reverse. As for the indicators, they’re now capacitive-touch buttons on the steering wheel, which admittedly isn’t unheard of since Ferrari has been using buttons for years.

Although you might expect to be thrown by both of these changes, it’s surprisingly intuitive. The slickness of the touchscreen means the digital shifter is quick to operate, while the indicators automatically self-cancel after crossing lane lines thanks to the Model 3’s vast array of cameras reading the road surface.

The main touchscreen offers plenty of other functionality as well – everything from integrated Google Maps which will even trigger battery preconditioning if you navigate to a Supercharger station, in-built Spotify connectivity in addition to Bluetooth and digital radio, and a vast array of video games including everything from 2048 to Stardew Valley and Tesla’s own Beach Buggy Racing 2 which take the boredom out of sitting at a charging station.

That’s not to mention its many Easter eggs either, including the ability to set a whoopee cushion to various seats, a Mario Kart-inspired rainbow road display when Autopilot is engaged, a Romance mode which brings up a fireplace on the display and cranks the heater, and even the ability to set the sat nav to Mars. Say what you will about Tesla’s enigmatic CEO, but the clear integration of Elon Musk’s sense of humour makes this techy car fun in a way nothing else is.

In addition to the main 15.4-inch display, there’s also an 8.0-inch touchscreen for rear seat passengers which includes its own set of climate controls and the ability to watch Netflix, YouTube, or even Twitch. It’s just as slick to use as the main display, and it ought to keep kids entertained on long journeys.

Outside of the screens, there’s plenty in terms of standard features including heated and ventilated front seats, a heated steering wheel, power adjustment for both front seats and the steering column, heated rear seats, tri-zone climate control, new LED ambient lighting strips with almost infinite colour adjustment, and full vehicle connectivity through Tesla’s smartphone app. Not only does the app make your phone operate as a digital key but controls a live-feed from the car’s various cameras – you can set it to automatically record any activity using Sentry mode, although it chews through the battery – and the interior climate controls including the ability to heat and cool the seats so it’s always the right temperature ahead of each journey. Good luck finding all that in an entry-level Audi, BMW, or Merc.

The updated interior feels far more premium than before, with the RWD model using large swathes of grey cloth and soft black leather upholstery, making it feel more befitting of a car in this segment, even when you consider just how much it outguns its rivals for standard equipment. Ergonomically, it offers a good driving position as well, with its smaller steering wheel adding somewhat to its sportiness.

There are, of course, some drawbacks. The speedometer being on the central screen is still a bit of a faff, so a head-up display would be beneficial although it’s not too much of a distraction. The RWD model scores a decent nine-speaker audio system, but Long Range models up that to a new 17-speaker system, along with including swathes of suede trim on the doors.

That’s not to mention how sparse this cabin is in some respects as well, although I do think its stylishness and newfound air of quality – Aussie-delivered models are now produced in China – do triumph over its minimalist drawbacks.

Of course, the other thing the entry-grade Model 3 offers over its European rivals is a healthy dose of performance in addition to the tech. That’s despite there being no consensus on just how much power it actually makes, as rather curiously, Tesla itself doesn’t quote any official figures. EV Database and government compliance documents cite outputs of 208kW and 420Nm for this single-motor rear-wheel drive model, although other sources report different figures. The same goes for its lithium iron phosphate battery pack provided by CATL, which EV Database cites as having a 60kWh maximum capacity, 57.5kWh of which is usable.

Tesla does, at least, disclose the most important figures Model 3 owners will want to boast about: 0-100km/h in 6.1 seconds, a top speed of 201km/h limited by its gearing, and driving range of 513km on the WLTP test cycle. Despite using the same electric motor as the Model Y I’ve tested previously, it shaves 0.8 seconds off its triple-digit sprint not only due to the Y’s additional weight, but its larger diameter wheels effectively giving it taller gearing.

Speaking of gearing, the ratio Tesla utilises for this RWD model’s sole rear axle-mounted motor is right on the money, as it’s not only aggressive enough to deliver the sort of punch you expect off the mark from an EV, but it also helps it feel strong even at higher speeds as the maximum power on offer is accessible at around the 80km/h mark, ensuring it feels punchy and consistent at any speed you’ll reach on Australian roads.

By the 0-100km/h time alone, it’s right on the money for where an entry-level executive sedan should be, only just off the mark of the BMW 330i and Mercedes-Benz C 300, although it’s far punchier off the line thanks to its instantaneous torque delivery. Peak power, however, isn’t achieved until around the 80km/h mark based off others’ calculations, ensuring it still has plenty of grunt when you’re on a twistier piece of tarmac.

When it comes to spirited driving, Tesla has made some big refinements to the suspension in the Model 3 which pay dividends in this regard. With different bushings, frequency-selective damping, softer springs, slightly slower variable ratio steering with new steering knuckles, and new forged steel control arms, it now feels more engaging and responsive than the old Model 3.

These upgrades also offer drastically improved ride comfort and body control, which was one of the most crucial fixes its predecessor needed, and in tandem with double-glazed windows it makes the cabin far quieter as well. Mind you, I’d still like to see better tyres than these Hankook iON Evo treads fitted to the upgraded wheels as they’re still on the noisier side – especially considering the base wheels come shod in Michelin Primacy 4 rubber which I’ve been impressed by on other vehicles.

Factor this all in and the Model 3 comes incredibly close to striking the ideal comfort and handling balance. The steering feels perfectly weighted, it remains fairly flat through the corners with only the slightest hint of body roll on the limit, and the ride quality is supple over busy road surfaces whether city streets or country roads.

The characteristic mid-corner bumps from tree roots and potholes which you’ll find on winding Adelaide Hills roads can expose some remaining room for improvement when it comes to body control as you’ll feel a definite jiggle from such hits, but it still holds its line confidently enough for it to be a non-issue. Besides, the improved ride comfort and body control on city streets shows that the areas that most needed improvement have clearly been focused on.

What’s also particularly impressive is just how energy efficient the Model 3 is, and efficiency is still something that matters when it comes to EVs, as for most people it doesn’t come for free. Over the course of my 407km of testing, I managed a return of 14.3kWh/100km which is one of the most impressive I’ve seen. To date, I’ve only ever managed a better return in the old Hyundai Ioniq and Kona Electric, so that’s a remarkably good result considering the performance this offers.

Curiously, Tesla’s warranty structure is one of the most convoluted on the market. While there is only a basic vehicle warranty of four years/80,000km, the battery and drive unit is warrantied for an industry-average eight years/160,000km in single-motor variants, increasing to eight years/196,000km in dual-motor variants, with a minimum 70 percent battery capacity retention required over that period.

However, unlike EVs from other manufacturers, Tesla doesn’t require routine servicing for any of its vehicles including the Model 3. Instead, it simply recommends cabin air filter replacement every two years, brake fluid replacement and air conditioner servicing every four years, and a tyre rotation every 10,000km. Any required servicing can be booked through the Tesla smartphone application.

When you consider just how much more resolved the Model 3 ‘Highland’ update feels compared to its predecessor, it only goes to justify the model’s continued popularity. Indeed, when you consider that Tesla’s sedans are what made EVs truly desirable and aspirational, it ensures that the way the Model 3 drives and feels to live with day to day lives up to the lofty expectations that come with the badge on its nose.

Factor in the price point, and its remarkable how much it serves up for the money as well. When you consider the various incentives for purchasing an EV depending on where you live, it’s a no-brainer alternative to its petrol-powered European counterparts.

The Model Y might be the more popular Tesla offering at this point in time, but the importance of the Model 3 can’t be understated. This is the car that you’ll probably picture in your mind when you think of Tesla, so for it to finally look this good, drive as well as it does, and be as far ahead of the competition as it is when it comes to tech shows just how unstoppable the brand is at this point.

2024 Tesla Model 3 RWD List Price: $61,900 | As Tested: $68,100
  • 8.5/10
    Performance - 8.5/10
  • 8.5/10
    Ride & Handling - 8.5/10
  • 9.5/10
    Tech & Features - 9.5/10
  • 8.5/10
    Practicality - 8.5/10
  • 8.5/10
    Value for Money - 8.5/10

Pros: Industry-leading cabin and driver-assistance technology, sleeker and more attractive styling, much-improved ride quality and body control, impressive efficiency and performance, excellent value for money compared with petrol-powered rivals
Cons: Overly minimalist interior may be confronting for some, convoluted battery warranty structure and short basic vehicle warranty, lack of transparency around motor and battery specifications

Full Disclosure: The vehicle tested here was provided by Tesla Adelaide Airport in conjunction with Tesla Australia for three days with complimentary Supercharger access.

Patrick Jackson
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