Last updated on December 2nd, 2023 at 08:25 pm
- Even better range than ever
- Rear infotainment screen
- Great driving dynamics
- Lack of physical indicators is questionable
- Not a hatchback, reducing value of large cargo space
- Camera-only system currently lacks some features
Range (WLTP): RWD - 344 miles; Long Range - 421 miles Top Speed: 125mph 0 to 60: RWD - 5.8 sec; Long Range - 4.2 sec Efficiency: RWD - 5.6 miles per kWh; Long Range - 5 miles per kWh
After six years on the market, the Tesla Model 3 was starting to look tired. The late 2020 / early 2021 update was only a mild cosmetic improvement with some incremental technical enhancements. But the new Model 3, codenamed Highland, is a much bigger change. The front has been noticeably redesigned, and there are much more major technology developments. Has Tesla done enough to make the Model 3 a contender again, and lift it out of the shadow of its Model Y sibling?
Price and Options
So far, only Long Range and RWD Model 3s have been released in Highland form. We'll have to wait for the Performance version, although there are rumours that it will be launched early in 2024 and have a new name. Whether you go for RWD or Long Range, the option list available is essentially the same.
The range of colours doesn’t look like it has changed since the previous Model 3, but there are in fact two replacements on the list. The red and the grey are new, called Ultra Red and Stealth Grey, both of which are £2,000. White is the default, with blue and black £1,300 options. Our Long Range review car was Ultra Red, which looks amazing. Cars made in Germany will also offer a Dark Cherry paint choice, which looks even better. But for now, UK cars will be made in China.
The other external option is upgrading from the 18in Photon wheels to 19in Nova wheels, which cost £1,500. You also lose about 30 miles of range on either Long Range or RWD, so the 18in wheels are the sensible choice – and they look much better than the previous 18in rims. Lots of owners of the previous 18in wheels have taken off the aerodynamic covers to improve the appearance, but the new 18in covers might tempt most to leave them in place.
There was speculation that Highland would come with Autopilot hardware 4, but it appears to be more like 3.5, because there are no radars yet, which will return with HW 4. In fact, Highland currently relies exclusively on cameras for all ADAS, parking and self-driving, which has caused some limitations (of which more later).
Tesla has also adjusted the price of the new Model 3. The rear-wheel-drive car now costs £39,990, although the Long Range is much more expensive at £49,990. Neither is exactly cheap, but in the premium EV sector these are competitive costs. The new entry-level BMW i4 eDrive35 starts around £50,000, and that’s only as fast as the Model 3 RWD but with less WLTP range.
The entry-level Polestar 2 has similar range and performance as the Model 3 RWD but is £5,000 more. Even the Hyundai IONIQ 6 is more expensive, starting at £7,000 more than the Model 3 RWD. In other words, the Tesla Model 3 Highland isn't exactly cheap compared to internal combustion, but amongst EVs it's not bad value.
The major change on the outside with the new Model 3 is the front, which is slicker and somewhat reminiscent of the prototype designs of the roadster. The slimmer headlights create a fiercer appearance. The headlights have been matrix LED headlights since the 2020/21 update. However, they don’t offer the same functionality as Volkswagen’s matrix LEDs, for example. This technology was illegal in the USA until the middle of 2022, and Tesla has yet to provide greater capabilities via a software update.
The rear lights have also been updated, but that's not such an obvious change, until you open the boot. More of the lighting cluster is now situated on the boot lid, although this also creates a sharp point at head height that you might knock into when loading the car.
As you look round the new Model 3, eventually you’ll notice something missing that most cars have had for a few years now – the little discs that are the homes of ultrasonic sensors. That’s because the Tesla Model 3 Highland doesn’t have any, as mentioned above. Instead, all sensor jobs are performed by the cameras. That does simplify the look of the car, but there have been complaints about the accuracy of distance measurements without them.
At first glance, the interior doesn't look that different from the original car. You still get a choice of black upholstery or the £1,100 white upgrade. But the incongruous wood veneer has been banished, replaced by black with the black upholstery, and a grey fabric section with the white.
The biggest aesthetic change is an ambient lighting strip that goes right around the top edge of the trim, which you can change the colour of through the settings menu. The cabin is also allegedly about 30% quieter than before thanks to acoustic glass.
The seats are comfortable for long journeys. There are electric adjustments for both passenger and driver. With the driver's seat, you can save settings with your key profile and have these recalled automatically. The driver also gets lumbar adjustments, which the passenger doesn’t.
The 15.4in infotainment screen is still the same as previous Model 3s, with no dashboard display. But Tesla has simplified the interior even further, along the lines of the Tesla Model S Plaid. Like the latter, there are no steering wheel stalks, with all controls now centralised into buttons on the wheel itself. We’ll discuss the implications of this in the controls section of this review.
The central console has been further tidied up too. You still get the two wireless phone chargers up front, with a large cubby behind containing a 12V car power adapter. But the cupholders are now beneath a door, which makes the central console look neater if you're not using them. Another large cubby further back under the armrest contains a USB C port but is lacking the removable tray of previous cars.
The glove compartment doesn't have its own switch. You must either use the LCD panel or voice control. You have to be sure to say “open glove box” rather than “open glove compartment”, however, because otherwise the voice control appears to open the charging port instead.
Although the difference between the Long Range and RWD is mostly about performance and battery size, you also get a 17-speaker audio system with two subwoofers in the Long Range car, or a 9-speaker system with a single sub in the basic rear-wheel-drive car.
The rear space feels even more unchanged than the front, but it was well designed already. You'll be fine in the back even if you're over six foot tall, with a decent amount of knee and headroom. The standard panoramic sunroof accentuates the sense of space in the rear. The middle seat is adequate for short journeys, or you can pull the back down to make an armrest with cupholders. This now includes the middle headrest, so the armrest is a little longer than before. These rear seats also have ISOfix points.
The big change in the rear is that, again like the new Model S, there is an 8in LCD panel in the central console. You can use this to adjust the air conditioning in the back, and at long last rear passengers can turn their heated seats on and off. This screen also includes the music and video streaming capabilities that have long been a Tesla signature. Your rear passengers can watch Netflix, Disney+, YouTube and Twitch, although watching a screen at knee level could make some people car sick. You can also use the screen to move the front passenger seat all the way forward to give the rear passenger behind more space.
Storage and Load Carrying
One of the biggest missed opportunities about the Model 3 has always been that it isn't a hatchback. Sure, there’s the Model Y if you need more luggage space, but the lack of a hatch on the Model 3 is a shame, because there's plenty of space available in the back. The boot release has been powered since the 2021 update, although without a kick to open capability.
Inside, there is a decent basic 425 litre capacity, with more available in the area below, bringing the total to a considerable 594 litres – about twice what most small hatchbacks have to offer. If you drop the rear seats forward, which has a 60/40 split, the space rises to 1,140 litres, which is similar to a larger hatchback such as the VW ID.3 – but with the narrow boot entry point you can't use it so easily.
However, you get a reasonably sized 88-litre frunk under the bonnet too. The £1,300 tow hook can pull up to 1,000kg, too, or you can use it to install a bike rack. Overall, there is a lot of cargo carrying capacity available.
The most controversial change in the new Model 3 is the adoption of stalkless control systems, replaced by buttons on the steering wheel, first seen on the Tesla Model S Plaid. This means that you must now use arrow buttons on the left-hand side of the wheel to indicate. You get used to this fairly quickly but if the wheel isn’t straight – for example when indicating on a roundabout – you will probably find you need to look down at the wheel. This means taking your eyes off the road for a split second, which could be dangerous.
There’s also a multifunction wheel near the indicator buttons, which by default operates media volume and skips tracks or radio stations. However, it can also change its mode when used in tandem with other buttons. If you press the lights button, this wheel lets you choose modes. The wipers button on the right-hand side of the wheel also changes the function of the wheel on the left, which can then be used to change the wipers speed, turn them off or select auto.
Also on the right is a button to toggle viewing the rear and door cameras, which can be useful if you’re parking forwards rather than reversing. Another button enables voice control. There’s also what looks like a button for the cruise control, but in fact you now press the right-hand wheel to turn on the traffic-aware system, and again for Autopilot (although you can now choose to go straight to Autopilot with a single push, meaning the traffic-aware option is no longer available). This is a lot of functionality from just a few buttons, but one thing you can’t have with the new Model 3 is the yoke that is an option with the new Model S.
If you’ve got your smartphone paired as a key, you can simply press the brake pedal to start the system. Otherwise, you will need to place your key card on the left-hand wireless phone charger. Then, if you’re familiar with the previous Model 3 or Y, you’ll encounter another missing control – the stalk for selecting drive. This function, like on the new Model S, is now performed via the LCD panel. A strip on the right-hand side appears when you push the brake. You slide up for forwards, down for backwards, and press at the top for Park. You can also press at the bottom for neutral. Like the missing indicator stalk, you do have to wonder what was wrong with the previous drive stick. But you get used to this system quite quickly too.
The initial controversy with the Model 3 was the absence of an instrument panel, requiring the 15.4in infotainment display to perform more functions. This has been further accentuated by the new drive controls, but at least the display is well designed. When you're driving, you have the current speed and limit details at the top right, plus the famous graphic showing the car's understanding of the vehicles and objects around it. There's a small media control interface underneath, although you can swipe left and right for other information, including a trip meter and tyre pressures. Most of the display is taken up by the navigational map. Along the bottom are icons for the air conditioning. This display is quite intuitive, but not exactly easy to use when driving. In fact, you really shouldn't try.
You can also add icons for frequent functions like window demisting, front heated seats, and steering wheel to the bottom row, as well as media features. Interestingly, if you add the heated seats icon, the one for the passenger will only appear if the car senses someone sitting there. There’s a Windows 11-like central menu, which lets you choose other functions, such as the famous Tesla Theatre mode, games, toybox and Web browsing. Theatre mode lets you stream video from Netflix, Disney+, YouTube, and Twitch. The games available are being added to all the time, and the Toybox includes amusing widgets such as Emissions Testing Mode, which enables the Tesla to emit fart noises. You can also stream music from Spotify and Tidal.
The screen is also home to one of the best laid out settings menus around. This is accessed via the car icon on the right. There’s fine control over every function of the car, with logical and easy access. Tesla also famously has the most mature Over-The-Air updating system in the business. Assuming you can give the car WiFi connectivity, updates will download automatically, and you can use the smartphone app to trigger them when convenient. You can also tether your smartphone as a hotspot to download updates. You can’t update over Tesla’s premium connectivity, unfortunately. You get this free for a year with a new car purchase, after which it's £9.99 a month. This includes streaming audio and video, live traffic, and remote access.
Performance and Driving
Our review car was the Model 3 Long Range, a dual motor car with 394hp. It can hit 60mph in just 4.2 seconds. If that's not enough, there's the acceleration boost option, which drops the figure by half a second, just 0.6 seconds slower than the current Model 3 Performance. The single-motor rear-wheel-drive car takes a still quick 5.8 seconds to reach 60mph. Both cars have a top speed of 125mph.
Although Tesla Model 3s and Ys don't have the best reputation for ride quality, we found our review car handled London potholes quite well. This car was on 18in wheels, though, which will improve the smoothness. The Long Range obviously doesn't feel as quick as a Performance, either, but it's still more than fast enough to outperform most other vehicles on the road. Acceleration is smooth and effortless, with precise and dependable steering. But there is a slight delay to the throttle response, which you don’t get with a Model 3 Performance. Around town, on A roads or on the motorway, the Model 3 Long Range feels entirely in its element.
There are some better handling EVs, such as the Porsche Taycan, but the Model 3 is one of the best for engagement, although the Long Range is behind the Performance in this respect. Of course, those indicator buttons on the Highland update will worry some drivers and could be dangerous if you get flustered. But otherwise, this is a great car to drive.
Range and Charging
The Model 3 Highland looks different on the outside and has some significant changes to the interior. It also has notable improvements in range. The rear-wheel-drive car now offers up to 344 WLTP miles with 18in wheels, and 318 miles with the 19in option. Bear in mind that the original RWD only offered 254 miles. The current RWD car uses an LFP battery, too, so you can charge it to 100% regularly without risking a shorter life. The capacity has reportedly increased to 60.9kWh, although Tesla never officially states this information.
This Long Range car, which reportedly now has a 84.6kWh battery, can achieve 421 miles, or 390 miles with the 19in wheels. That's pretty class leading, and you've got Tesla's Supercharger network to back that up too, which now includes v4 units capable of 350kW. However, the rear-wheel-drive car charges at a maximum of 170kW, while the Long Range tops out at 250kW, so you can’t take full advantage of 350kW yet. An 80% charge will still take about 25 minutes on a v3 or v4 charger with either car.
There's 11kW AC too, but on a regular 7kW home wall box expect about 11 hours to charge the Long Range from empty. The charging port has always been CCS on the Model 3 in Europe, so you can use the majority of public chargers too.
During testing, we achieved a little over 3.3 miles per kWh, giving a real range of 270-280 miles for the Long Range car. That's plenty for driving considerable distances. The weather was quite cold during our testing so well over 300 miles could be possible with frugal driving in warmer conditions.
According to WLTP, the RWD car can manage 5.6 miles per kWh and the Long Range version 5 miles per kWh, although we usually find these figures highly optimistic. Our driving efficiency of 3.3 miles per kWh would still equate to 2.3p per mile if you generally use 7.5 per kWh overnight charging, which is in a different league to any internal combustion vehicle.
The basic guarantee is four years or 50,000 miles, although you can pay extra to extend this by a further four years and 50,000 miles before the original warranty expires, which can then be transferred with the car to a new owner. Either way the battery warranty is for 8 years or 120,000 miles, for 70% retention.
However, Tesla insurance groups are always high. The rear-wheel drive car is in group 48 and the Long Range in 50.
The Highland doesn't have its own Euro NCAP rating yet, but the original version received five stars, and there’s no reason to believe new car won’t as well. Like all other new Teslas, the Model 3 has emergency braking, collision warning, and blind-spot monitoring. When you indicate, camera views pop up on the infotainment screen to help you avoid things in your blind spot as well.
There's a dashcam built in, and so long as you have a Flash drive installed in the USB port in the glovebox, it will record events when you hit something or press the horn. You can then view the clips on the infotainment screen or plug the Flash drive into a computer to copy the files elsewhere. You can also turn on Sentry mode when the car is parked. This detects motion or an attempted break-in and makes a recording. You can even view the live cameras remotely using the app – great for when your car has been valet parked in an unknown location.
We noticed that there were a few more audible warnings when driving with this car than previous Teslas, which popped up at not entirely comprehensible times. However, you still don't get irritating interventions to keep you in lane. Some car brands go too far with this, providing more of a distraction than an assistance.
There's Adaptive (traffic-aware) and auto-steering Autopilot cruise control, which you call up by pressing the right-hand dial on the steering wheel. The latter will sense the road markings and take care of cornering. You do need to keep your hands on the wheel and give it a little jiggle every so often to show you're awake, but this is one of the most relaxing cruise controls around. The dial on the right moves speed limit up and down and you can jog it left and right to alter how much space to leave in front.
You can also pay £3,400 extra for Enhanced Autopilot or £6,800 for Full Self Driving, which still offers very little extra functionality in the UK. Enhanced Autopilot provides Navigate on Autopilot and Auto Lane Change, but the Highland currently doesn't offer Autopark, Summon or Smart Summon. That's because the camera-only system doesn't support these yet. Full Self Driving only adds Traffic Light and Stop Sign control. The FSD city navigation features available in California are still in the distant future here in the UK. But for Highland, even Enhanced Autopilot doesn't seem worth the money at the moment in Britain.
|RWD – £39,990; Long Range – £49,990
|RWD – 344 miles; Long Range – 421 miles
|Charge time (7.4kW):
|RWD – 9 hours; Long Range – 12 hours
|Charge time (50kW, 80%):
|Charge time (250kW, 80%):
|RWD – 60.9kWh; Long Range – 84.6kWh
|On Board Charger:
|AC: 11kW; DC: RWD – 170kW, Long Range – 250kW
|RWD – 5.6 miles per kWh; Long Range – 5 miles per kWh
|RWD – 5.8 seconds; Long Range – 4.2 seconds
|RWD – 257hp; Long Range – 394hp
|RWD – rear-wheel-drive; Long Range – all-wheel-drive
|594 litres; 1,140 litres with rear seats down; frunk – 88 litres; towing 1,000kg braked