I’ve been looking forward to reviewing the 2020 Tesla Model 3 Standard Plus RWD for some time now. Sure, I’ve driven quite a few Model 3s here and in the States before, but what I haven’t done, and what isn’t that easy for us to do, is get our hands on a standard, entry-level Model 3.
In other words, the one you buy if you want a Tesla, but your budget won’t stretch to the more expensive variants.
It’s not easy to do regardless of brand either. Manufacturers want to showcase their vehicles in the best possible light, and as such, most are fitted with any number of optional extras to ensure we have the absolute best test-driving experience we can.
Buyers often experience the same thing when they head to a dealer for a test drive. The demo cars are quite frequently optioned up to the hilt, and it isn’t always easy to get your hands on the entry-level variant. That’s not a bad thing, because you’ll probably be exploring the options list in any case, but there’s something to be said for the purity of a base car.
And, in the case of a Tesla, you’re still accessing plenty of the technology and ability that would have brought you to the brand in the first place.
So, here we have the most affordable Model 3 variant, and on paper at least, the one most electric vehicle converts should be looking at in the Tesla stable. Our test car starts at $73,900 before on-road costs, and has only a single option – $1500 for the Deep Blue Metallic paint.
After all those on-road costs are added, at the time of testing, you could buy this Model 3 for $81,550 drive-away (in NSW, final costs will vary by state). That’s quite some way away from the six-figure prices of most other Teslas we’ve spent time with.
Tesla was clear from the outset, too. With the Model 3 it wanted to offer a simpler, more affordable car that would appeal to more people. And on paper at least, there’s plenty to like about the Model 3.
Within the Model 3 range, then, you start at $73,900 for this car, move up to $91,613 for the Model 3 Long Range, and end with $102,013 for the Model 3 Performance – all before on-road costs. Ahem, three variants of Model 3 for you to choose from, budget permitting.
The standard equipment list is impressive, too, with some of the noteworthy inclusions being: 18-inch aero wheels, a 15-inch centre touchscreen that seamlessly integrates media, navigation, communications, cabin control and vehicle data into one intuitive interface, keyless (literally) entry and start, and a glass roof – amongst many other features.
Over-the-air software updates add functionality, enhance performance, and improve the driving experience of Tesla vehicles. Similarly to how you receive updates to your smartphone, Model 3 owners receive updates to their car remotely without visiting a service centre.
Top speed is pretty much irrelevant in Australia, but the 0–100km/h run is what most people focus on with Tesla. Because the two more expensive variants are dual motor, AWD platforms, they are faster – 4.6 seconds for the Long Range and 3.4 seconds for the Performance. Still, 5.6 seconds for this Model 3 is hardly slow. Of course, being an electric vehicle, maximum power and torque are available from 0rpm effectively – 190kW and 375Nm respectively quoted by Tesla.
Claimed range is where things get interesting, and it’s why I think you should be looking at this Model 3, even though the more expensive variants are the ones that most people talk about. On the NEDC system, our tester has a range of 460km, against a whopping 620km for the Long Range and 560km for the Performance.
While you won’t get to those theoretical maximums, just like a petrol or diesel engine can’t match its ADR figure, it’s fair to say the real-world range of the Standard Range Plus is more than enough for the average owner.
If, for example, like most people your commute is no more than 30km each way, that adds up to 300km in a week to get to and from work, meaning you won’t have to charge your Model 3 Monday to Friday.
Further, most Tesla buyers are telling us they are also installing a charger at home, which means your Model 3 would always be topped up in the morning when you’re ready to leave for work in any case. Still, the range is very much real-world useful.
So, while the other two variants can travel further on a full charge, I reckon the Standard Range Plus delivers more than enough range for the average Australian buyer, most of the time.
The argument about driving across the continent or from Brisbane to Melbourne isn’t particularly relevant when it comes to electric cars. Sure you can do it, if you plan your route, but how many electric vehicle buyers are actually doing it?
Further, at the drive-away price you can step into this Model 3, Tesla is already appealing to a much larger cross-section of Australians than it would be once you get beyond six figures on the road. For the majority of owners, day-to-day usability and functionality are the most important factors in a new car purchase.
On the subject of charging – outside of whatever you set up at home – Model 3 owners have pay-per-use access to the Tesla Supercharger network around the country, reserved specifically for Tesla customers.
Tesla told us at the time of review that the supercharger network now covers 33 locations, with new ones being added regularly. Compatibility with third-party fast chargers means Tesla owners get as much, if not more, flexibility than most other electric vehicles.
Some electric vehicles tend to look weird just for the sake of it, but I think the Model 3 cuts a stylish figure on the road. It did tend to stand out a bit when it was brand new, but with more of them on the road, they blend in as much as any other new car out there.
Whether you like the styling or not, there’s certainly nothing offensive about it. What I do like, though, is the fact that the compact exterior hides a spacious cabin – more on that in a minute.
Plenty of Tesla fans claim they don’t like the look of the base-model car, and prefer the equipment you get with the more expensive variants. I agree that the Performance looks pretty tough, but I could easily live with the simpler appearance of the Standard Range Plus we’re testing this week.
The improvements that Tesla has made with build quality are most evident inside the cabin. Panel gaps and shut lines externally are better than they’ve ever been, but the cabin is tastefully executed and exudes a sense of quality. I actually like the idea of the standard ‘vegan’ interior trim – a sense of environmental friendliness makes sense in the electric vehicle sector.
If I were to buy one, I’d also be attempting to access as much renewable energy as I could at home, or even better, stretch to afford solar panels on the roof.
The electric/heated front seats are comfortable, and there’s always a moment you need to take to appreciate the sense of minimalism inside the cabin. The lack of switchgear and gauges is something that we still notice each time we test a Tesla, and it’s not just for the sake of it either. It really is a specific design feature that attempts to clean up, declutter, and simplify the cabin space.
The cabin is practical, too. You get 117L of space under the ‘frunk’, and the boot offers up a further 425L. Then there’s the hidden section for cable storage under the sub-floor bringing the total up to 542L in the boot. In other words, way more storage than you’d expect for a car of this size.
You get useful door pockets, with space for bottles, cupholders in the rear armrest, and of course two more cupholders up front. There’s also a capacious storage bin between the seats as well as a conventional glovebox. You don’t open it conventionally, though – that’s done via the touchscreen – because, well, less buttons.
While the second row isn’t heated like the front in this spec, you still get air vents and two USB points back there. I think the second-row space is solid for this size, but taller adults will run out of head room. Aside from that, cabin comfort is a strong point for the Model 3.
My only real interior gripe is the glass roof. Yes, it looks good and there’s a stylish element to it, plus it’s lovely at night, but we live in Australia, which resembles a blast furnace in summer. And it would get hot inside the Model 3’s cabin on those searing summer days. We noticed the same thing when we drove the Model 3 in Los Angeles on some warm days as well.
I love the minimalism of the single touchscreen, although a head-up or driver display would be a handy addition for your current speed, especially in Australia where speed limits are so sharply enforced. Simply because looking to the screen isn’t intuitive when you’re driving. You will get used to it, though.
The fact that you can set so many things up with the single screen is genius, really. If more than one family member drives the Model 3, the driver profile setting is excellent. Save the position of the steering wheel and mirrors in there, and you’re away a lot faster.
Bluetooth connectivity worked well for us on test also, and of course there’s no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. Tesla prefers to offer owners its own connectivity, on the subject of which the satellite navigation is excellent.
There’s a hell of a lot of information and controllability hidden within the menu systems on the single screen, and buyers will spend plenty of time early on working it all out. Much of it is quite interesting to get your head around, and once you learn where everything is, it’s quite easy to use.
The driver controls a fair wedge of functionality through the gear selector stalk. For example, it engages cruise control (or Auto Pilot where fitted) with two taps, but it also takes care of your more traditional P-R-N-D gear selection. Again, you’ll get used to it pretty quickly and it will feel second nature.
When talk turns to Tesla, there’s invariably plenty of focus on some of the more gimmicky features – Ludicrous mode, Summon mode – things like that. The reality is that most people are going to get into a Model 3 and drive it just like everyone else drives their cars day to day.
Back to the 460km NEDC range claim, then, the Green Vehicle Guide goes further to claim an energy consumption figure of 18.8kWh/100km. Interestingly, on test over our ‘fuel use loop’, our consumption (largely around town with a short highway run) averaged 18.27kWh/100km, which reflects a real-world range of 300km. That’s without hypermiling or anything silly to try to drive any way other than normally.
Now, while our testing doesn’t match the 460km NEDC claim (we didn’t expect it to), that’s still more than enough real-world range for a proper weekend drive in the Model 3, without charging mind you. Factor in a supercharger stop if you want or need to, and you get all your range back again. And, as we often have to remind the critics, internal combustion engines can’t match their ADR fuel claim under regular driving conditions either.
We like the RWD platform, too, despite the performance deficit it concedes to the AWD Model 3. It’s still an engaging drive, and you could argue the purity of the steering is even better with RWD than AWD, although a back-to-back test would tell us whether that’s just a seat-of-the-pants impression or not.
I do need to state that at no time during my time with the Model 3, did I feel like I was missing out by driving the base model. ‘Chill’ mode – silly name – is the go-to for daily driving, and ‘Sport’ opens the taps a bit of course, but even just running round town sedately, the Model 3 is impressively benign to live with.
Like just about every Tesla we’ve tested, the ride errs on the side of firm rather than cosseting, and on some poor surfaces it is definitely a little too firm for my liking. Adaptive dampers would make a huge difference to this without doubt, but the standard shock absorbers aren’t completely up to our rubbish urban road network.
The Model 3 is safe – six airbags, a five-star ANCAP rating, dual ISOFIX points and three top-tether points, plus all the electronic safety aids you would expect. I don’t love the connotation that the ‘Auto Pilot’ name conjures, but that’s just me, and you can also option more self-driving capability – it will cost you $8500, though.
Buyers get a four-year/80,000km warranty on the Model 3, and an eight-year/160,000km warranty on the powertrain. Maintenance is low as you’d expect, but there is an inspection checklist that owners are requested to follow for basic safety and filtration systems.
So, while the ride isn’t perfect and there are more affordable alternatives in the market, it’s hard to argue that the Standard Range Plus isn’t the smartest way to enter the electric vehicle market right now – with one caveat – budget permitting. It’s certainly the smartest way into a Model 3 in my opinion.