2024 Tesla Model 3 Review: No Longer a Trailblazer

When Tesla first hit the mass-market scene with the Model S, it rightfully shocked the world. There was nothing else like it. At the time, no other electric car on the planet was as good, none had even half the range it had, and no one could keep up. It took more than a decade for mainstream brands to get anywhere near the Model S in terms of range, performance, and technology. However, competitors have finally caught up and even Tesla’s more affordable, entry-level car—the refreshed 2024 Tesla Model 3 Highland—has lost its luster. 

The Model 3 I drove was a dual-motor car with the Autopilot “Full Self-Driving” system equipped and subscribed to. I only had a couple of days with it, so I couldn’t test it as thoroughly as I normally would. However, I don’t think I needed to. I got the gist of it in the short time I had and my consensus is this: buy a Hyundai Ioniq 6 instead.

Nico DeMattia

Whether it’s because Elon is afraid of criticism, can’t afford a press fleet, or simply does not care, Tesla doesn’t do press cars. Special thanks to the fine folks at Turo, though, who comped us a three-day rental. If you want to check out this Model 3 in New York, you can find it here

The Basics

I can still remember staying up until 2 a.m. on the East Coast to cover the initial launch event for the Tesla Model 3 in 2017. Back then, it was a big deal. Perhaps not as big of a deal as the Model S was originally, but the Model 3 still changed the game. Finally, a semi-affordable electric sedan from Tesla that not only had more range than its competition but cost less. However, it took six years for Tesla to give it any significant updates. BMW, Mercedes, and Audi—its primary internal combustion competitors—would have entirely new models out by then. Now, though, it’s finally been updated and the refreshed Model 3 is better in many ways than its predecessor. But it’s also worse in others.

From the outside, there’s no question that the Model 3 Highland is prettier than the original. Its headlights are slim and sharp, its front end is pointier, and its taillight design is much more upscale. Granted, it still looks like a jelly bean and is incredibly boring to look at in grayscale colors but it’s an improvement over the aging 2017 car. 

Inside, it’s mostly the same, though. Which is to say, it’s shit. I really try not to criticize interior ergonomics or design too hard unless it significantly hinders the driving experience. Even odd interiors will be learned by their customers. However, the Model 3 is almost dangerously bad inside. The seats are miserable (although I hear the new Model 3 Performance seats are excellent), every surface and material feels econobox-cheap, and the ergonomics can genuinely cause crashes.

Nico DeMattia

Like with all Teslas nowadays, there’s no wiper stalk. Or side mirror controls. Or even steering wheel adjustments on the column itself. Everything, and I mean literally everything, needs to be controlled via the massive tablet-style touchscreen, with its dizzying amount of menus and tiny smartphone-sized icons. Not only do you have to take your eyes off the road to use it, but you also have to focus on touching the right icons because they’re small and all very similar looking. The menus have a very similar UI design, color scheme, and font to an iPad, which is great when the car is stationary but maddening while moving. 

It’s infuriating and easily the dumbest user interface I’ve ever encountered, on any device, in my entire life. However, the newest dumb thing Tesla did with the Model 3 was move the gear select controls to the touchscreen. To put the car into drive, you need to step on the brake like normal but then slide a skinny bar upward on the left part of the touchscreen. To reverse, you slide it down. It works OK, but several times in less than two days, it failed to register my swipe. 

There are redundant drive select buttons, though. But do you know where they are? Built into the interior lighting panel on the headliner, between the sun visors. Since Tesla wants the touch slider to be the primary control, the redundant buttons only illuminate when you use them. So if you want to turn on a dome light while driving, you can easily accidentally press a drive button and get a frighteningly loud beep beep as the car warns you that it can’t go into reverse while moving forward. It’s almost like whoever designed the cabin never drove a car before. 

Driving the Tesla Model 3

Thankfully, the Model 3 is still as quick as ever, so you can enjoy a little speed to make yourself forget about the frustrating controls. Two electric motors make 394 horsepower and 377 lb-ft of torque and launch the little Model 3 forward hard enough to make you forget about the Performance model. 60 mph arrives in 4.2 seconds, just 0.5 seconds slower than the BMW i4 M50. Buyers certainly don’t need anything quicker and, by the seat of the pants, the dual-motor Model 3 feels practically just as quick as that BMW. 

When the Model 3 originally came out, I remember hearing that its driving dynamics were genuinely close to cars like the BMW 3 Series. I was told that it was among the best sports sedans in the world. Now that I’ve driven one, I can finally, honestly say… bullshit. It’s good, don’t get me wrong. But it’s far from great. Its steering is hyperactive to the point of feeling incredibly fake and it self-centers with such an artificial rubber-banding that it actually becomes annoying. It’s accurate but there’s zero feel and the ratio is so quick that it feels overly twitchy at speed. 

Then there’s the ride, which is brittle. On smooth surfaces, it feels planted and solid. However, sharper bumps can upset that planted feeling. It isn’t horrible, but it’s certainly not as composed or as comfortable as something like the BMW i4 or Polestar 2. It’s more on par with the Ioniq 6. While it can be fun through twisty corners, it feels too rubbery and artificial to be genuinely engaging. So, it’s an OK sport sedan but far from a great one. 

Now, here’s the part where I get to talk about Elon Musk’s infamous “Autopilot with Full Self-Driving.” With the system set to its most comprehensive setting, allowing it to “drive itself” to the fullest of its abilities, I tested it on both normal and stop-and-go roads and highways. For the most part, it works well. It keeps itself in a lane perfectly, it shows you exactly what it sees and what it’s doing, it can stop at red lights, and it can follow traffic just fine. I also like that it tells you why it’s doing certain things, like, for example, changing into a faster lane to better match your desired speed, which I appreciate. 

It ain’t perfect, though. Twice, it failed to recognize a lane split, choosing to take a highway exit instead of staying straight. And when you need to correct it, the steering wheel aggressively tries to stay its course. Then, when you finally do correct it, Autopilot disengages, requiring you to start it again. Tesla needs to tone its aggressive throttle down, too. Even in its “Chill” setting, it accelerates too quickly from a stop and I had to quickly act to disengage it when it tried to quickly move around a cop car that had pulled another driver over. It’s impressive, there’s no doubt, and among the best on the market, but GM’s Super Cruise is still the superior, more nuanced system. 

The Highs and Lows

Without a doubt, the best part of the Model 3 is Tesla’s charging experience. Using a Tesla Supercharger is, by far, the easiest public EV charging experience out there. Simply drive up to a station, plug in, and walk away. There’s no fussing with accounts, credit cards, payments, screens, mobile apps, or anything else. You just plug in. That’s it. You can see why other brands like Ford and Rivian are going to start using them. But the Model 3 is also a quick little car that makes easy work of slicing through traffic and merging onto highways. Forward visibility is impressive. The dual wireless phone charging tray is pretty great and the rear touchscreen will make kids in the back seat go “Ohhhhh” and “Ahhhhh.” 

Unfortunately, there are a lot of low points. The interior just feels cheap and underequipped, especially for the price. The $28K-to-start Hyundai Kona is nicer inside, and its ergonomics would infuriate me every time I drove it. There was a sharp edge on the rear passenger door, so I cut myself when opening it once—an Easter egg tipping its cap to the Cybertruck, perhaps. It’s also noisy inside, with tons of wind and tire noise at high speed, even with double-pane windows. And the car seat LATCH points in the rear are difficult to hook onto. 

Tesla Model 3 Features, Options, and Competition

The Tesla Model 3 is one of the more affordable EVs in its class, with a starting price of $40,380 before federal and state tax incentives. The long-range AWD model I tested starts at $48,880 before it all. However, it comes relatively well-equipped with heated seats, the massive touchscreen that controls damn near everything, a rear seat screen, and all of its other snazzy gizmos as standard. As of this writing, the Model 3 is also eligible for the full $7,500 federal tax incentive under the Inflation Reduction Act.

There actually isn’t much of an options list to speak of for the Model 3. You choose your powertrain, color, wheels, and whether you want “Full Self-Driving Capability.” The latter of which—despite it being a misnomer at best, bald-faced lie at worst—costs $8,000. Every color except for Space Gray is an optional extra, with prices ranging from $1,000 to $2,000. Since my test car was Space Gray with the basic wheels (the only other wheel option costs $1,000) and FSD, its as-tested price was $57,130. 

The Model 3’s closest competitor, in terms of price, performance, and quality, is probably the aforementioned Hyundai Ioniq 6. The BMW i4 is much nicer inside and the better sports sedan but it’s significantly more expensive, with a starting price north of $60,000 for a dual-motor car. The Polestar 2 is pushing 60 grand if you’d like the AWD version. Meanwhile, Hyundai will sell you a fully loaded Ioniq 6 Limited with a dual-motor powertrain for under $55,000 before incentives. Its only downside is being low on range compared to the Model 3, with just 270 miles compared to the Tesla’s 341. However, Hyundais will be able to use Tesla’s Supercharger network starting in Q4 of this year. 

Range, Charging, and Efficiency

With 341 miles of range, the Model 3 bests every one of its competitors. The only EVs on the market with a higher range cost significantly more, such as the Lucid Air and Mercedes EQS. During my time with it, however, I averaged over 3 miles per kWh, which is pretty dang good. 

Nico DeMattia

More important than range, though, is charge speed. If you can charge up quickly and conveniently, outright, full-charge range becomes less of a concern. And there’s no easier charging solution than Tesla’s Superchargers. They just work brilliantly. If you’ve ever fussed with an Electrify America station, you know that charging any other electric car can be maddening. You plug the car in, wait for the station to connect, either link your account or pay with a card, wait again for it all to initialize, then it starts charging. It is routinely a multi-minute process before electrons even begin flowing. And that’s if it actually works properly, which is far from a guarantee. However, there’s no fuss with a Supercharger. You simply plug in and walk away. When you’re done, you press the button on the charging handle or a button on the interior screen, charging stops, and you unplug and drive away. 

Value and Verdict

The 2024 Tesla Model 3 is fundamentally a good car. It’s quick, handles well enough, and has great range. However, it also comes with a lot of aggravating baggage. Just unlocking the car is annoying, having to either trust the mobile app to work properly or use the little keycard (which does not act like a keyless entry fob, you have to tap it against the B-pillar). It also feels as cheap as a ‘90s Corolla inside. Now that mainstream automakers have electric sports sedans, the only advantages the Model 3 has are range and charging—which, admittedly, are a couple of big, big advantages. But as more and more automakers switch over to the NACS port and gain Supercharger access, the latter advantage is about to become moot. 

Nico DeMattia

Everything great about the Model 3 inherently—its smooth electric power, decent handling, and gas-free driving—can also be said about the Hyundai Ioniq 6. And while the Hyundai lacks the Tesla’s outright range, it’s more affordable, has a much nicer interior, comes with a far better warranty, and has a much wider dealer network (a quick search shows 820 Hyundai dealers in the U.S. versus 240 Tesla stores). Subjectively, I also think it looks far more interesting.

The Model 3’s importance to the market can’t be overstated, as it was a game-changer when it first came out in 2017. But since then, the competition has caught up and its luster is lost. Unless you simply must have the electric compact sedan with the most range, it’s hard to see why anyone would buy one over the current, and future, competition.

2024 Tesla Model 3 SpecsRWDLong Range AWD
Base Price (as tested)$40,630$48,880 ($57,130)
Powertrainsingle-motor rear-wheel drive | 57.5-kWh batterydual-motor all-wheel drive | 82-kWh battery
Horsepower271394
Torque310 lb-ft377 lb-ft
Seating Capacity5<<
Curb Weight3,891 pounds4,030 pounds
Cargo Volume21.0 cubic feet | 3.1 cubic feet (frunk)<<
0-60 mph5.8 seconds4.2 seconds
Top Speed125 mph<<
Max Charging Speed170 kW250 kW
EPA Range272 miles341 miles
Quick TakeThe Model 3 is still a good car but, now that its competition has caught up, it isn’t as special as it used to be.
Score7/10

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