If there’s a car that needs no introduction in 2021, it’s the Tesla Model 3. Though Tesla’s smallest and cheapest EV has been sold in New Zealand since 2019, it left its mark on the car industry in a big way in 2021, with a lot of help from price cuts that helped buyers take full advantage of the Government’s $8625 Clean Car Discount for BEVs under $80k.
It also took out the People’s Choice category in the 2021 AA DRIVEN NZ Car of the Year awards. Drastic price cuts and rebates aside, does this little electric sedan deserve its title as the hottest car of 2021? Let’s find out.
This handsome little Model 3 RWD represents the entry point into the Model 3, and Tesla as a whole. Kiwis can drive away silently in one for as little as $58,275, post-rebate. How did Tesla achieve that? Not long ago, it moved Australasian market Model 3 production from the US to China, and it made for a significantly cheaper bottom line.
This entry Tesla is rear-driven, powered by a single electric motor. Power is supplied by a 54kWh battery, and the all-important range is 491km. It can be charged to 80 per cent in around 30 minutes using a Tesla Supercharger.
Following a recent update, the 0-100km/h time was increased from 5.6 to 6.1 seconds, but the shove of instant torque makes it feel just as fast. In terms of on-road performance, I’d label the Model 3 as “comfortable”. While the Performance variant is blisteringly quick, and feels very tight around corners, the entry-level model offers a more relaxed ride, and will body-roll when pushed. It’s still super fun to push around a back road, and the instant smack of torque out of a corner never seems to get old. I look at this fun aspect as a bonus, because comfort and economy are the two main purposes of this BEV, and they’re the two things that it does best.
Like the outside, the Model 3’s interior is minimalist. The only screen in the whole cabin is the large display on the dash, and it serves as the control point for everything. Need to open the glovebox? Touch the screen. Need to open the froot (frunk if you’re American)? Touch the screen. Want to entertain a car full of passengers with fake fart noises? You know what to do. Thanks to the iPad-like design of this display, it’s probably the easiest to use in the market, and only requires an hour or two to get fully acquainted with. The steering wheel serves as the other main control point with its two toggle wheels, and despite not being labelled, drivers will have no trouble learning its ways.
As for the rest of the interior, things are super simple, but it still feels premium. The faux-leather seats are some of the most comfortable on the market, and the glass roof stretches all the way from the windscreen to the boot.
It’s easy to get lost in the stunning simplicity of the Model 3, but questionable build quality will always bring Tesla vehicles down a peg or two. Whether it be a strange panel gap on the exterior, or a slightly misaligned wooden panel on the inside, it seems Tesla still has a way to go on this front.
The price point of the Model 3 Rear-Wheel Drive remains the most impressive feature of all. At $58,275, it’s not much more than a top-spec Toyota RAV4 hybrid - an electrified car that also tops local sales charts.
With a range of almost 500km, I find myself questioning why even bother climbing the Model 3 ladder for the Long Range or Performance models. Buyers have to shell out an extra $24,625 for the extra 123km in the Long Range model, and an extra $37,625 for the halved 0-100km/h time of the Performance model. In a way it seems that Tesla has put all its eggs in one basket with this Model 3 RWD, but if you’re going by how many of these entry-level BEVs are now on Kiwi roads, it’s a good basket to be a part of.
TESLA MODEL 3
ENGINE: Single electric motor, 54kWh battery
GEARBOX: Single-speed automatic, RWD
POWER CONSUMPTION: 11kWh per 100km, range 491km
PRICE: $66,990 (before Clean Car Discount)