Tesla Model S vs Model 3: Which is Better for You?


Tesla’s car offerings are all fantastic options, but choosing between specific models can be a difficult decision. Two of the most similar options are the Model S, the luxury model, and the Model 3, the more economically-priced option. There are some critical differences between the models that could be deciding factors for potential buyers.

The Tesla Model 3 is significantly cheaper than the Model S. It has a less luxurious interior and is generally less tuned for performance than the Model S. Both cars are electric. The Model S is a luxury option, and the Model 3 is meant to bring electric vehicles to a more affordable price point.

Between differences in price, range, power, and interiors, there is a correct choice for everyone. To get into the specifics and decide on each of these factors and more, keep reading.

The Price of Each Model Is Vastly Different

The price point differences between the Model 3 and the Model S are likely the largest decision factor for most potential buyers. While both cars are firmly in the upper tier of pricing compared to other sedans, the Model 3 is significantly more affordable.

The basic Model 3 starts at $37,990 and the basic Model S starts at $84,990. That is a significant difference in price between the two, as the Model S is over $45,000 more. Even the highest-end version of the Model 3 is cheaper than the basic Model S. 

There are some critical differences between the two cars that build-up to the difference in price, including range, power, luxury, and other additional offerings. These prices are also new, so purchasing a used Model S may actually end up being a better deal than a new Model 3 if a good deal is found.

It is also worth noting that many states include some discounts when purchasing electric vehicles that could translate to saving a few thousand dollars. This will vary depending on when you are buying and where, but it is worth looking into. All of the prices listed here are from Tesla’s website before any additional savings are added.

The Price of a Model 3 Is Hard to Beat for What It Offers

A Tesla Model 3 offers a significant bundle of value for its price point and, for the majority of people, will make more sense than a Model S. It is available in three different packages:

  • Standard Range Plus
  • Long Range
  • Performance

Each of these three different trim packages follows the regular route of car trims and increases in price and features with each one. Despite the somewhat confusing name, the Standard Range Plus is the most basic trim available on a new Model 3. It is also the cheapest and costs $37,990.

The Long Range trim increases the range of the Model 3 and increases its power and acceleration. It also updates the interior to a fully premium version and starts at $46,990. This is an excellent option for customers interested in a more extended range and slightly more premium feel without entirely breaking the bank.

Finally, the Performance trim of the Model 3 costs $54,990 and is the closest in specs to a Model S. It includes a significant hike in available power, a slight loss in the range from the Long Range spec, and carries the premium interior over.

Most reviewers recommend simply purchasing the base Model 3 for prospective buyers, as it is still a superb vehicle for a fraction of the cost. Alternatively, if you are interested in the increased power or range without jumping up to the Model S, the higher packages may be worth it.

The Model S Is A Luxury Offering with A Price Tag to Match

The Model S is much more expensive than the Model 3 but aims to provide the sports car and luxury features that make it worth the price. While affording one is difficult for most people, the car’s pricing is well in-line if compared to competitors.

Like the Model 3, the Model S also comes in three different trim levels. These are:

  • Long Range Plus
  • Performance (no longer offered since the Plaid release)
  • Plaid

The bottom two trim levels are the most common and likely the best choices for prospective buyers, while the “Plaid” edition boasts some serious upgrades, including in the price.

The Long Range Plus package is the basic Model S and features everything most people love about Teslas. An incredible range, quick acceleration, beautiful and futuristic interior, and many bells and whistles are standard for all the models. While this version does not accelerate incredibly quickly compared to Tesla’s other offerings, it still includes a respectable 0-60 time. 

For those who want the luxury of a Model S without caring too much about the performance, the Long Range Plus package is an easy choice. It starts at $84,990.

Outdated: The Model S’s Performance package introduces the rapid acceleration that many people understand from Tesla, getting from 0-60 is just 2.3 seconds. It loses some range to do so but maintains all the other fixings from the Long Range Plus Model and checks in at $91,990.

Finally, the Plaid trim is distinct from everything else that Tesla currently offers. Massive increases in performance and the addition of a third motor raise the price of this Model to $139,990. This is a model exclusively made for enthusiasts. 

Power and Luxury Are Distinct Factors for Choosing

After getting over the initial differences in price, one of the first questions that many people have is how the cars differ in performance. While both offer impressive power and luxury that matches their price points, the Model S still offers the best of the best. 

If the price is of little to no concern and you simply want to accelerate quickly and enjoy the ride, the Model S is an easy choice. This is primarily due to the differences in how the cars are meant to be used. The Model S is intended to operate as a sports car, while the Model 3 is a luxury sedan. 

The trim level of each car plays a significant role while comparing power, but less so when looking at luxury offerings. Tesla keeps most options available across the board, but some specific options like carbon fiber are exclusive to the Model S. 

The power of either choice is a bit of a shock to traditional car enthusiasts, as it provides a wildly different feel. Due to the electric motors, acceleration and driving in the cabin are generally silent, with no engine sounds to speak of (because it doesn’t exist). It creates a different feel behind the wheel that can be a bit of shock to some but adds to the luxury for others.

Source: CNET

The Model S Is A Fantastic Electric Sports Car

Generally speaking, the Model S is the obvious choice for anyone looking for the best track times or handling from a Tesla. While the base Long Range Plus model suffers a bit in acceleration when compared to the highest end Model 3, it is still an excellent option for the fun of it.

This is especially true when each car’s handling and luxurious feel are compared; anyone who wants a carbon fiber interior, or the fiercer look of a Model S, will have to pay some extra cash for it. 

For those who want to enjoy blazing acceleration, the Model S Performance package is the most reasonable choice. It has a 0-60 acceleration of just 2.3 seconds, almost a full second faster than the quickest Model 3 available. Additional handling control and body exterior also help to maintain acceleration through a variety of conditions.

Finally, the Plaid edition of the Model S is one of the quickest cars on the planet, nevermind in the electrical sphere. Tesla touts it as having “the quickest 0-60 mph and quarter-mile acceleration of any production car ever” (Model S builder), listing the acceleration as under 2 seconds. Simply put, it is more power than almost anyone would ever need, but terrific fun for enthusiasts.

Much of the power from the Plaid edition comes from the car’s third motor. Every other Model S package comes standard with a dual-motor setup, which already provides incredible strength. This inclusion simply elevates the highest trim Model S to another level fitting for its increased price point.

The Model S also promises a smoother and more consistent ride than the Model 3, with better handling and suspension. For those interested in the feel of a high-end sports car with an electric engine and a quiet cabin, the Model S is the car to beat, especially in a track setting.

The Model 3 Works Perfectly for A Bit of Fun

The Model 3 has a significant amount of competition in the power sphere when compared to the Model S. Put simply, it does not hold a candle to the amount of power available through a Model S. However, that does not mean that it is still not a powerful and fun car in its own right.

The Model 3 is still one of the quickest and top speed-having cars in its tier for the price point. Even the base Model 3 comes standard with a respectable 5.3 second 0-60 time and a 140mph top speed. On the top Performance trim, those numbers improve to a 3.1 second 0-60 and a 162mph top speed.

Any Model 3 would fit right in on a track, although the Performance model is really the one to get for any enthusiast looking for some extra fun. At the least, those particularly interested in luxury and acceleration should avoid the basic Standard Range Plus model. It loses out on Tesla’s dual-motor all-wheel drive, replaced by a single rear-wheel drivetrain that introduces much less power. 

The drivetrain difference is vital for those looking for full power distribution or all-wheel drive benefits, such as extra control around corners. Especially for drivers who live in areas where harsh weather such as snow and rain are expected, having power come from the front wheels as well also increases the safety of the car.

The Standard Range Plus trim also loses out on a fully premium interior, a noticeable lack in quality. This is especially noticeable on older Model 3 base models, where the seats are cloth instead of leather. However, this does not really take away from the basic Model being the best value for most Model 3 owners. 

The Model 3 still includes a fantastic amount of power and luxury for its price point and likely wins on value even in this category. However, for the simple best of the best, the Model S takes home the crown. 

Range and Battery Life

One of the biggest concerns that many people switching to an electric vehicle have is in driving range and battery life. This is a good concern to have, but thankfully, both the Model 3 and Model S have great ranges with possible upgrades. Regardless of your choice, the likelihood of running out of range on either is slim.

Additionally, more and more places are receiving supercharging stations every month as Tesla increases its network worldwide. While recharging is still a valid concern for people living in rural areas, anyone near a city should bear no worries. 

Tesla also offers a home charger (in multiple voltages) that can be installed on the side of a home or in a garage for easy charging so that the car is always ready to go. Just plug it in when you get home from work and it’ll be ready to go in the morning. Even the Department of Energy recommends this option.

Regardless of the general non-issue this is becoming, it is still important to consider, and the Model 3 and Model S do have some different offerings available. The Tesla Model S actually has the most extensive range of any currently available electric vehicle, while the Model 3 offers a few other options.

Tesla Model S Has the Best Range on The Market

The Tesla Model S has a long-range available on each trim option right now, allowing for an extension for anyone who truly needs to go long distances. The Long Range Plus trim, also known as the basic Model S, has a range of 405 miles, far more than almost anyone will need in a day.

Regardless of which Model S is chosen, worrying about the range is an unlikely issue. All Teslas also feature regenerative braking, where efficiently going down hills slightly recharges the battery to squeeze out a few extra miles. When combined with the growing Supercharger network and an already high base range, it is rare to run out of range or battery life. 

The Model 3 Has A Variety of Options That Will Satisfy Most People

The Tesla Model 3, generally speaking, has lower ranges than the Model S but still boasts numbers more than serviceable enough for most people. The basic model of the Model 3 has a smaller range of 250 miles. While this is still likely more than enough for anyone to do their daily commute and any errands, it can become an issue for going on weekend trips or longer affairs. Taking a look around for local supercharger stations may become an issue.

This is mostly fixed on the Premium and Long Range packages of the Model 3, with each of them promising up to 322 miles on a full charge. This is still less than the lowest range of the Model S, however.

There are reports of Model 3 ranges coming in noticeably lower than the estimated amounts. Car and Driver has reported a few times that it takes some not-insignificant effort to actually reach the advertised range on their Model 3s, for example. Still, the differences are usually only in the range of 10 to 30 miles lost; enough to complain about, but likely not enough to make an enormous difference in purchase choice.

Those looking for the best bang-for-your-buck ratio for battery range are best suited to go with the Model 3 Long Range model, but the Model S once again reigns supreme in this category if prices were more similar. 

Other Considerations

There are plenty of additional comparisons that go into buying any car. While Tesla tends to homogenize their models more than some other companies, there are distinct differences between the Model 3 and Model S that do not fit into the larger categories above. 

However, they can still influence your decision between a Model S and Model 3. While many people consider them less important than the categories mentioned above of price, power, and range, they are still essential to consider.

Safety

Both the Model 3 and Model S are two of the safest cars available today, but the Model 3 tends to win out on the details in this category. It has received a perfect 5 out of 5 star rating by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and has the lowest probability for injury out of all cars that have ever been tested.

Driving around in a Model 3 is one of the safest ways to get around on America’s roads, and it is one of the categories where it wins over the Model S even when not accounting for the price differences. 


However, the Model S is still one of the safest cars on the road; the same study that showed the Model 3 being so safe also found the Model S to be in the top percentage of cars. However, due to its position as a sports and luxury car, it has received some knocks for potential fires after crashes at high speeds.

Both cars come equipped with standard safety features like automatic lane assist and adaptive cruise control, two elements that also go into the well-known “autopilot” feature of Tesla’s vehicles. 

While not technically a safety feature, autopilot is a key part of owning a Tesla for many potential buyers that can increase safety on the road. Remember that Tesla’s autopilot is still not fully autonomous and requires the attention of the driver. Its advanced features are impressive but, as with any car, should not be relied on at all times. 

Warranty

The warranty on both cars is largely similar and in-line with standard cars at their range. The Model 3 includes a limited warranty of 4 years or 50,000 miles and a powertrain warranty of 8 years or 100,000 miles. These numbers are standard, but some manufacturers, such as Toyota, tend to offer longer options. 

The Model S includes a slightly better warranty on the powertrain, increasing to 8 years and unlimited miles. The limited warranty is the same as the Model 3, and this does not change between trim levels. Neither car includes any unique benefits such as complimentary maintenance or extended warranties.

It is also worth noting that Tesla is notorious for its position on repairing their cars outside of authorized dealers and technicians. Often, even small repairs like door handle fixes can cost a fair bit of money and cannot be done at home. This is not an issue for many owners, but those who care about fixing their own cars may be annoyed by this position.

Source: Car and Driver

Build Quality

Teslas have gained a bit of a poor reputation for lower than expected build quality and quality control. Things such as:

  • Misaligned hoods
  • Door handle jams
  • Wonky software

May make people feel they have been a bit cheated for the price. This is especially true on the Model S, where price point competitors such as BMW and Audi tend to include more polished interiors. 

These issues are often attributed to Tesla’s position as a relatively new carmaker, so expecting the tight construction of companies such as Toyota or Honda could be a bit much. However, when paying close to or over $100,000 for a car such as a Tesla Model S, it is fair to expect a high-quality product. 

While the mistakes are less egregious on the Model 3, they can still appear. Luckily, build quality issues are covered by the standard warranty and should be fixed with little to no hassle, assuming the fault is not the driver’s. 

Even with the known issues, most Teslas do not run into quality issues and instead are wonderfully constructed cars. 

Luxury Feel and Space

The interiors of the cars are incredibly similar, which is not a bad thing. Both are highly minimalistic and unlike almost any traditional, non-electric car on the market. However, this is a slight mark against the Model S; for a car that is often double the price, a slightly more luxurious interior is usually expected. 

A few options such as carbon-fiber lining and a better screen differentiate the cars from each other but, in general, most people may not be able to tell the difference between a Model S and Model 3 interior. 

Legroom and interior space are similar between the two cars, able to comfortably fit adults in all seats, although the back can quickly become cramped. The Model S includes more headroom and a slight bump in legroom, but perhaps not as much as expected. Ultimately, the comfort level between the two cars is roughly the same for drivers and passengers alike.

When it comes to space, the Model S boasts more, as it is the larger car. The Model S has roughly 26 cubic feet of space, while the Model 3 has 15. Both vehicles are incredible at fitting more than expected, featuring extra features like 60/40 foldable seats to expand trunk space and a front storage area where a traditional engine would be (called a “frunk” by Tesla owners and enthusiasts).

Source: Kelly Blue Book

Recap

The Tesla Model S and Model 3 are incredible electric cars that boast power, range, comfortability, and luxury. For most people, the Model 3 is likely the best option, as it is significantly cheaper and includes similar features across most categories. The benefits of the Model S include higher acceleration, longer range, and a sleek, aggressive look.

Depending on the trim level chosen for the car, price, power, and range can differ dramatically, making the choice have multiple levels. The basic Model 3 is likely the best option for most people, while the Performance package on the Model S makes sense for those who wish to splurge.

In smaller categories such as safety, quality, and warranty, the cars also end up just about washing out. The Model 3 is the safer choice, especially for those with children or who plan on using the back seat. The Model S has a slightly higher build quality and better warranty on the powertrain. 

Fabville

Kevin has been involved in the custom automotive scene since he bought his first mini-truck in high school and began modifying it. He also has interest in sustainability, DIY projects, and various forms of fabrication. Seeing improved technology of batteries, he has made a concentrated effort over the last few years to transition away from fossil fuels. From lawn care to automotive.

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