Tesla Model 3 2021 long range awd
review

2021 Tesla Model 3 Long Range review

Baby’s first Tesla: An honest diary of my time with the Model 3

Rating: 8.3
$83,201 Mrlp
  • Fuel Economy
    N/A
  • Engine Power
    258kW
  • CO2 Emissions
    N/A
  • ANCAP Rating
    5Stars
Almost three weeks with Tesla’s mid-range, new-build Model 3 was an eye-opening experience for this first-timer.
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I have a confession to make: up until late 2020, I had never driven a Tesla.

I’d written about the brand more times than I could count and watched countless YouTube videos about its cars. Plus, I’d fostered an unhealthy obsession with Elon Musk’s bizarrely engrossing Twitter account since before I can remember.

And yet, I’d only been in a Model S once – as a passenger, when I was in my early 20s and my friend’s dad offered us a lift to show off his new car.

When I first arranged to drive this Model 3, it was back in March 2020 and I was brimming with excitement. Then, COVID hit and, through no fault of their own, the team at Tesla were forced to push back the loan multiple times due to various restrictions and lockdowns.

By the time I was finally due to actually collect the Model 3 it was late December 2020 and it had undergone an entire upgrade – marking the first update since the car landed in Australia in 2019.

The new-build 2021 Tesla Model 3 Long Range AWD I tested was in a shade of deep blue metallic, with new interior and exterior trim, a fresh design for the 19-inch wheels, a redesigned centre console with new wireless phone chargers and an improved HVAC system for added efficiency.

As its name suggests, the car is all-wheel drive, courtesy of two independent motors digitally controlling torque to the front and rear wheels, with a single-speed automatic transmission and a battery capable of 580km of range on the WLTP cycle. It’s harder to ascertain maximum outputs as Tesla doesn’t officially list the power and torque of its vehicles.

The Model 3 Long Range AWD is the mid-tier spec grade available and is priced from $83,201 before on-road costs, but that number is closer to $91,751 on the road once you add in the blue paint and Tesla’s mandatory delivery and order fees.

That puts it up against any number of luxury electric cars – the Audi e-tron, Mercedes-Benz EQC or Porsche Taycan – but the only comparable electric quasi-sedan is the all-wheel-drive Jaguar I-Pace, which starts at $128,248 before on-road costs.

Tesla prefers journalists to take its cars for longer than a standard press loan (which is typically seven days) so you can grow accustomed to the charging process, meaning I was able to hold onto my Model 3 for just under three weeks.

Since it was my first time in a Tesla, the epiphanies, questions, confusions and surprises came quick and fast. So I decided to keep an honest, unfiltered diary of my time getting to know the world’s most talked-about car brand. Here it is...

DAY 1

It’s collection day. I’m scheduled to pick up my shiny new Model 3 from Tesla’s Melbourne head office in Cremorne, which is conveniently located two minutes from my house.

Unfortunately, a week ago I broke my foot because I’m an uncoordinated mess, so I’ve rocked up to the immaculate, sparse HQ looking a little worse for wear on my crutches.

Tesla’s PR team has asked me to allow up to 30 minutes for handover of the car. Unlike other manufacturers, they prefer to do a walk-through with media rather than just chucking you the keys.

About five minutes into my tour, I’m grateful. While Teslas are intuitive in that they’re set up much like an iPhone, they are absolutely not like your regular car. I’m used to getting into new cars every week and figuring it out on my own, but I can’t even find where to open the glovebox without assistance.

For starters, there’s no on button. And no key either. The closest thing you have is a black plastic card that looks like the room key at a very swanky hotel, but it’s more of a backup plan.

Otherwise, the car recognises you via your phone and unlocks and turns itself on automatically as you walk towards it, ready to go as soon as you get in the driver’s seat. To turn it off, you put it in park, get out and walk away – and it locks itself.

The Model 3's control centre is a 15.0-inch touchscreen, which sort of looks like they’ve stapled a MacBook to the middle of the dashboard. There’s no instrument cluster or head-up display, so your speedometer is off to the left of your field of vision.

It’s certainly visually spectacular – especially against the car’s minimalist, wood-accented interior – but it’s also kind of distracting, and I feel a little bit like I’m texting while driving every time I check my speed, turn on the wipers or crank up the climate control.

It also takes me a little while to get used to one-pedal driving again. Tesla’s PR suggests I avoid using Creep or Roll Modes, which essentially make the car imitate a regular internal-combustion-engine car, and instead prolong battery life by taking full advantage of the regenerative braking.

For first-timers, this sensation is easily one of the strangest things about electric cars, and in the Tesla it’s heightened by the fact the regenerative braking is fairly intense, drastically slowing the car the second you begin to decelerate.

I finish with a brief demonstration of Autopilot – push down once on the gearstick stalk for cruise control, push down twice to add the steering.

On the drive home, I promptly activate it by accident when trying to indicate right, causing the car to surge forward at a stop sign. Yikes.

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DAY 2

Already I am extremely appreciative of how ‘get in and go’ the Model 3 is – I love not having to find a key in my bag, especially since I’m on crutches.

Still, I have trust issues with walking away and leaving the car to lock itself, so I change the settings so it beeps when it turns itself off for reassurance.

I’m enjoying entertaining my friends and family with the ‘entertainment’ menu options, which include ‘Romance Mode’ (puts a crackling fire on the central screen), ‘Fart Mode’ (exactly what it sounds like) and the Sketch Pad, which lets your passenger create works of art and share them with other Tesla owners.

Thankfully, my battery is up around 85 per cent, which is convenient because I have no off-street parking and will have to rely on the nearby Supercharger throughout the course of my loan (my council won’t love if I run an extension cord across the footpath).

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DAY 4

After spending the day prior at home, I take the Model 3 out for several hours of very unexciting suburban driving, during which I delight in discovering new features.

For example, the mirrors on the sun visors have neat magnetic covers and the surrounding lights are ultra-flattering.

Meanwhile, visibility is a little challenging because the rear windshield sits quite high and the rear-vision mirror and side mirrors are on the smaller side. Thankfully, there are cameras all around to compensate.

My husband and I decide to head to a Supercharger just to get the lay of the land, and add a lazy 20 per cent battery capacity in case we need it.

We notice that the Supercharger site near our house is particularly popular, with Tesla owners scattered around the sizable parking lot reading the paper or watching Netflix while their cars charge.

We recently learned that occupying a charging space without charging is a big faux pas, and Tesla will begin charging you idle fees soon after your car stops charging, so we don't linger.

2021 Tesla Model 3 Long Range AWD
Range (WLTP)580km
TransmissionOne-speed automatic
Drive typeAll-wheel drive
Kerb weight1844kg
Claimed energy consumption13.1kWh/km
Actual energy consumption18.2kWh/km
Supercharger pricing$0.52/kWh
Boot volume425L (or 542L including frunk and underfloor storage)
Turning circle11.8m
ANCAP safety rating5-star (tested 2019)
Warranty4yr/80,000km (8yr/192,000km for battery and drive unit)
Main competitorsJaguar I-Pace, Porsche Taycan, Audi e-tron, Mercedes-Benz EQC
Price as tested$83,201 before on-road costs
Length/width/height4690/2080/1443

DAY 5

The door handles are driving me crazy. To open them, you have to push the inner corner of the handle inwards, in order to pop the outer corner outwards and trigger the window to retract so it doesn’t get damaged. It’s fiddly and none of my passengers can really get the hang of it.

Inside the car, there’s a manual handle to open doors, but the car doesn’t appear to like that and sounds a warning suggesting you might damage the door.

With a longer trip on the cards, I decide to visit the Supercharger again to take my car up to full capacity, where I'm immediately overwhelmed.

It’s raining cats and dogs, I’m on crutches and, without my husband’s help, the charging cord is too heavy for me to pull out of the charging station.

Thankfully, a kindhearted Model X owner sitting nearby notices my struggles and offers to help, successfully plugging the charger into my car.

He’s just driven from Sydney, and when I tell him I’m embarrassed to look so hopeless, admits he is terrible with tech, hasn’t even read the manual at all and still makes mistakes every day.

He does give me a very handy tip: he advises that when I use a wall socket to charge the car at home, I should set the rate of charge to below six amps. He learned this the hard way after going to a friend’s house for dinner, plugging his car into their garage and causing a mini blackout.

When I leave the Supercharger site I have 90 per cent battery capacity (up from 73 per cent) and it’s cost me just over $10. From there, I collect my husband from work and we head down to our beach house down the Great Ocean Road.

Thankfully, Melbourne’s torrential rain is no match for the Model 3’s all-wheel-drive system, which keeps the car firmly planted and is immensely capable, without any tyre slippage to speak of.

By the time we arrive, I’ve got 59 per cent battery capacity left – which is exactly what the car’s satellite navigation system told me I’d have at the end of the trip.

Tesla has given me a cable for at-home charging, so I plug that in to a wall socket at the beach house, set the limit to a conservative five amps and leave it overnight, hoping for the best.

DAY 6

I find my humble wall socket has taken the battery capacity from 59 per cent to 73 per cent. I’m impressed with how effective this was, given previous electric cars I’ve driven have either added very little charge at home, or refused to charge at all.

We decide to give Autopilot a good workout on a country freeway with speed limits between 80km/h and 100km/h. It’s a pleasant experience until it isn’t – the Model 3 detects oncoming traffic as obstacles and slams the brakes on in a very startling manner.

While it steers for itself, if you nudge the wheel ever so slightly, this function is disabled – almost like the car is protesting against human intervention. This isn’t the case in other lane-centring or lane-keeping systems I’ve trialled, which persist even if you take control.

Otherwise, it’s a quiet car on the freeway and the most dominant noise is the sound of the wind whooshing past, or the sound of the spectacularly immersive 14-speaker sound system (you can log into Spotify directly from the car, so no need for Bluetooth pairing).

Still, the ride can be a on the harder side and the ground clearance is also lower – meaning the very steep driveway at the beach house induces a very specific kind of crippling anxiety.

DAY 10

After spending a few days either letting my husband drive or swapping into my other loan cars, I get back behind the wheel of the Model 3.

It needs a charging top-up, so we head to the Supercharger site once again and decide to kill time by grabbing brunch at the nearby cafe Top Paddock, which I’m convinced must make millions of dollars from Tesla owners buying coffee while they wait for their car to reach capacity.

I love how the app sends you a notification when the car is nearly done charging, so you have a little warning to get back to it before you start incurring idle fees.

On that note, the Tesla app is really astonishing in general. I’ve used similar BMW and Ford apps before, which purport to remotely lock or ventilate the cars, but they take several seconds to work and the requests often time out.

The Tesla app can instantaneously open the frunk, flash the lights, sound the horn or turn climate control on.

In the evening, we take pleasure in watching our house guests being creeped out by Sentry Mode, which displays a giant red recording icon on the screen when unattended, to let potential thieves know they’re on camera.

My friends drunkenly dance next to it in the hopes of having their big-screen debut.

The boring reality is that whenever the car tells us there’s a ‘Sentry Mode event’, it’s invariably video footage of a strong gust of wind, or an awkward clip of me struggling to open the car doors.

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DAY 14

We return home from several days at the beach, where we took my Kia Sportage loan car because we had too much baggage.

That’s not to say the Tesla doesn’t offer cargo space – it just requires a bit more strategising. There’s a handy power tailgate that opens up on a boot that is shallow in height but deep in length, plus there’s an additional storage compartment under the floor and extra room in the front-trunk - or 'frunk'.

The rear seats fold 60:40 and almost flat, and we were able to fit several suitcases in there without passengers by using both the boot and back seat.

Passengers are well-served with air vents, USB-C ports and cupholders, plus ISOFIX points and top tethers for two child seats, while leg room is moderate but head room may prove limiting for taller passengers.

When I come home from my weekend away, the car is unspeakably hot thanks to all that matte black and the giant glass moonroof.

My app tells me the interior temperature is 60 degrees Celsius, so I take full advantage of remote climate control, which works effectively to cool down the car before I get in and really startles my neighbour, who watches in awe from his front porch as the car springs to life while unoccupied.

The Tesla’s climate control is easy to configure via the touchscreen, allowing you to change the angle and placement of the vents with a swipe of the finger – a neat party trick.

DAY 16

This morning, the Tesla woke us up at 1am with an almighty alarm that scared the life out of me. In a panic, I grabbed my phone and remotely unlocked and locked it from bed, which made the noise stop. My husband conducted a quick check and all seemed well.

When we check Sentry Mode later that day, it gives us nothing. Supernatural forces at play, perhaps?

I spend the day driving around town in traffic and on freeways, and run down the battery from 90 per cent capacity to just over 70 per cent in a single day.

The way this thing accelerates is truly unreal – like going at warp speed. The steering is remarkably light, but it does feel as though it could be more precise or perhaps sportier to match the supercar-like acceleration.

DAY 17

Another rainy day and I have to set the wipers to manual, because they take a very lackadaisical approach when set to automatic.

I periodically receive a tyre pressure warning telling me my back left tyre is falling behind the others, but this disappears when the tyres warm up and every wheel’s measurement seems to change depending on the time of day.

I decide to finally give in to the ‘software update’ requests, which means I have to leave the car parked while the computer works its magic.

DAY 18

The software update appears to have predominantly changed the layout of the home screen and not much else.

Meanwhile, the overarching sentiment I get from curious passengers and passers-by is polite surprise that the car “doesn’t drive itself”.

That’s because my test car isn’t fitted with the $10,100 ‘Full Self-Driving’ option, which includes ‘Smart Summon’, meaning your parked car will come find you in a car park, ‘Auto Lane Change’, meaning it will change lanes for you, ‘Navigate on Autopilot’, meaning it will drive itself based on map directions, and ‘Autopark’, meaning it will park itself in both parallel and perpendicular spaces.

Once it’s available, this optional package will also allow the Tesla to drive autonomously.

DAY 19

My last day with the Model 3.

I decide to take it for one last blast down the freeway to enjoy that acceleration and, in doing so, challenge the Autopilot system to a hairpin bend. In anticipation of the bend, the car slows and handles the sharp corner with aplomb, leaving me impressed.

This is quickly ruined when, 10km down the road, it slams on the brakes for no good reason after apparently sensing an invisible obstacle.

I give my colleagues a spin before returning the Model 3 and ask for their thoughts. Emma reckons the intensity of the regenerative braking gives her whiplash and opening those fiddly doors with fake nails is impossible. She also agrees the giant touchscreen is a huge distraction.

Kez, as always, is incredibly astute and well-spoken in his appraisal, declaring: “The novelty of that [interior] design pays absolutely no heed to the functional aspect of car control. However, in terms of refinement acceleration and technology – Autopilot frustrations aside – it’s very impressive”.

All up, I spent around $20 a week on Supercharging during my time with the Model 3 – a cost that might have been lowered had I had the benefit of at-home charging.

While Tesla claims average consumption of 13.1kWh/100km, I averaged 18.2kWh/100km over the course of my loan, which saw me wanting to charge every four days or so and burning through roughly 10–15 per cent battery capacity for every full day of regular driving.

Tesla doesn’t offer scheduled servicing, and instead encourages its owners to come in on an as-needed basis for things like a brake fluid check every two years, a tyre rotation every 10,000km or a cabin air filter replacement every two years.

Otherwise, here were my 13 key takeaways from my time in a Tesla:

My key takeaways

  1. The acceleration and performance are unreal. The seemingly endless torque available immediately and the speed of acceleration are exhilarating and addictive.
  2. Tesla has really nailed the app-to-car interface – it works quickly and flawlessly to unlock or ventilate the car, sound the horn or flash the lights. The live charging updates are also incredibly handy.
  3. The central touchscreen is visually spectacular but extremely distracting. I like that the interior design is a departure from the usual, and the wireless phone chargers are an aesthetic standout, but it feels like aesthetics at the cost of practicality.
  4. If you don’t add the Full Self-Driving package for an extra $10,000, then Autopilot is really just a fancy word for 'active cruise control'. And, if you ask me, it could perform a bit better.
  5. Tesla wins the charging game, hands down. The number of locations, the ease of use, the effectiveness of the app, the in-built charging locations on the satellite navigation and the speedy rate of charge all amount to a seamless experience that’s a stark contrast to my previous attempts to use the non-Tesla charging network.
  6. Sentry Mode is equal parts creepy, genius and plain annoying. I have no doubt that I’d be grateful for it if my car were broken into, but otherwise it’s just a hilarious party trick that records gusts of wind and footage of me awkwardly opening car doors.
  7. It might have spaceship qualities and all-wheel drive, but the Model 3 still isn’t immune to the perils of being a lower-slung sedan, like a rougher ride, less rear visibility and problems navigating over uneven surfaces.
  8. The gearstick is straight-up perilous – if the Model 3 is your second car and you accidentally forget the gearstick is on the indicator stalk, you could put it into Autopilot and surge forward in a 40km/h school zone, which is terrifying.
  9. The matte-black vegan leather interior looks amazing, but is very difficult to keep clean.
  10. For all the bells and whistles, I missed Apple CarPlay. But the sound system is sensational.
  11. The wow factor is strong – it has a sense of joy that is so often missing from modern cars and it’s a real crowd-pleaser. I love that Elon Musk is making driving fun for everyone, not just revheads.
  12. Despite the longer range and the plethora of charging options, you’re going to still feel some degree of range anxiety unless you have a garage and Wall Connector at home.
  13. It will never fail to impress me that the car unlocks and starts itself as you walk towards it. Never.

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