1 April 2021

Tesla Model 3 2021 Car Review

It’s the typical observation that once you drive or own a particular vehicle you tend to notice more of them on the road, and that’s exactly what happened when we recently tested the Tesla Model 3.

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Tesla Model 3 2021
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Tesla Model 3 2021
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Tesla Model 3 2021
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Tesla Model 3 2021
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Tesla Model 3 2021
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Tesla Model 3 2021
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Tesla Model 3 2021
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Tesla Model 3 2021

A fellow owner waved as we crossed paths in traffic and we pulled alongside another on the motorway.

Ever since it was released around 18 months ago, sales have continued to grow as this EV becomes more popular with Kiwis. In 2020 alone 511 Model 3s were registered, making it the bestselling EV in New Zealand.

The Model 3 is Tesla’s smaller, simpler and, perhaps most importantly, their most affordable car. Designed and built as the world’s first mass-market electric vehicle, it’s a critical step in Tesla’s mission to accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy.

The Tesla Model 3 combines industry-leading powertrain efficiency, aerodynamics and chassis technology to deliver the longest range of any comparable electric saloon. Its powertrain technology has been designed for ultra-high endurance, and Tesla has proven its technology over more than 10 billion miles of real-world driving across its fleet of vehicles around the globe.

In-car tech

The 15-inch central touchscreen seamlessly integrates media, navigation, connectivity, cabin control and vehicle data into one intuitive interface. Over-the-air software updates not only enhance functionality, they also improve performance and the driving experience of Tesla vehicles. In the same way that we receive updates to our smartphones, Tesla owners receive updates to their car remotely without visiting a service centre.

We found the display screen to be very informative and accurate – it even detects road cones and rubbish bins and lets you know the traffic light colour, warning you when they have turned green. Autopilot is also included as standard, which under active driver supervision, enables your car to steer, accelerate and brake automatically while keeping you in the correct lane. 

The model we reviewed was the Standard Range Plus and was manufactured in Shanghai, which boasts better quality control results compared to Tesla factories in other countries (according to a recent Chinese-market J.D. Power quality survey). The local NZ distributors also told us that they are having very little issues when conducting the new car inspections prior to delivery.

There are also a few small changes made to the interior design from the previous model. The dash trim extends around the doors and there are now twin wireless phone charger pads under the screen (a real winner in our book).  

Finished in Midnight Silver Metallic paint, with the incredibly minimalist interior blessed in black and white ‘vegan’ leather Partial Premium trim option (previously not available on the base model) – both an extra at $1,700 each. There’s also an option, at no additional cost, between 18-inch Aero or 19-inch Sport wheels.

The base vehicle pricing is $74,900 and with all the extras, on road costs and delivery fees, the final drive-away cost is $80,132. This is not bad at all for such a standout car with an estimated range projection of 448km (WLTP).

The car feels solid, which (admittedly) is pretty normal for an EV as the battery is often located under the floor in the middle of the car. This also means the centre of gravity is low, which translates to great handling performance and a smoother ride.

Built for safety

The Tesla Model 3 is built for safety, with standard active safety features and hardware built to provide visibility that a driver cannot access alone. Eight surround cameras allow for 360-degree vision, while twelve ultrasonic sensors provide detection of surrounding objects. Forward-facing radar sees through heavy rain, fog, dust and beyond the vehicle ahead. This all, in turn, helps to prevent accidents by providing simultaneous visibility in every direction.

The Tesla Model 3 achieved a 5-star ANCAP safety rating with the highest ever score in the latest Safety Assist tests.

Where can I charge it?

For most Tesla owners, home charging provides plenty of range for daily travel. For longer distances, the excellent Tesla Supercharger network allows Tesla owners to conveniently charge on major routes in New Zealand. When planning a road trip, charging locations can easily be located throughout the country on the AA Time and Distance Calculator.

All Model 3 customers have pay-per-use access to the Supercharger network, which is reserved specifically for Tesla owners and is growing constantly. Plus, with the Destination Charging program, Tesla owners have access to an additional network of chargers at business, travel and leisure destinations.

In New Zealand, the Model 3 also comes with a built-in CCS Charge Port for compatibility with third party fast charging networks, giving drivers greater charging flexibility.

Our verdict

We just love the Tesla Model 3. It’s sleek on the outside, and is clean, simple and quiet on the inside. The Model 3 is an instant hit, not with just those motorists concerned with emissions and doing their bit for the environment, but also with most design savvy motorists, and even more so with those who get to sit in it. The seat comfort is a regular comment of those who are lucky enough to take a seat in the soft leather and well bolstered seats. The full glass roof is design perfection and gives off a spacious feel in a small car.

Servicing is a breeze with owning a Tesla, too, as they have reduced mechanical complexity with less moving parts than a car with an internal combustion engine.

With no annual service required, owners only need to bring their cars in to Tesla to check certain components at specific intervals, which keeps vehicles on the road for longer.

The Model 3 has a four-year/80,000km warranty and the battery/drive unit is covered for eight-years or 160,000km.

At a glance


Tesla Model 3 Standard Range Plus


Permanent Magnet Synchronous Motor


From $74,990 (+ORC)

ANCAP safety rating



50kWh Lithium-ion


Direct Drive


508 km (NEDC)/448 km (WLTP), 0g/km CO2

Towing capacity

910kg (Braked), 750kg (Braked)


Single Motor RWD

Seating capacity


Luggage capacity/payload

542 litres (seats up)

Safety systems

  • Eight surround cameras with 360-degree view
  • Forward facing radar (160m visibility) 
  • 12 Ultrasonic sensors detect nearby cars, prevents potential collisions and assists with parking
  • Lane Change Control/Lane Departure Warning
  • Cruise Control with active speed limiting 
  • Crash avoidance with braking
  • Blind spot sensor
  • Front Collision Warning

Find out more on how the AA can help you when buying a new car:

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