Tesla’s Model S and Model 3 are both electric and packed with cutting-edge technology. While they overlap in some areas, they’re completely different cars that share very few common parts. The S is much older, considerably bigger, and a lot more expensive than the 3, which likely explains why it’s outsold by its smaller sibling.
Here’s how Tesla’s two sedans compare on paper.
Tech is one of Tesla’s most important selling points, and neither model disappoints. Both cars can be configured with the brand’s Autopilot suite of electronic driving aids. It keeps the car in its lane, automatically changes lanes, navigates freeway on- and off-ramps, and even parks the car on its own. It’s available as an extra-cost option on the 3 and the S. The Tesla sedans also benefit from an over-the-air software updating system, navigation, and keyless entry, among other features. Keep in mind you’ll have to pay a monthly fee for some of these advancements.
The Model 3 and the Model S are both compatible with Smart Summon, a clever — and contentious — piece of technology that lets motorists use their phone and a purpose-designed app to literally summon their car out of a parking spot. The sedan needs to be within its owner’s line of sight, and the feature doesn’t work if it senses that the phone controlling it is more than 200 feet away; you can’t order your car to leave your garage and pick you up at an airport 30 miles away. Note that using Smart Summon requires an option called full self-driving, and some older variants of the Model S weren’t offered with it because the technology wasn’t ready yet.
Keep in mind neither model is autonomous; there is not a single driverless car available commercially in 2020. Regardless of which one you choose, you’ll need to keep both hands on the wheel and both eyes on the road at all times.
Performance and range
The most basic, rear-wheel drive version of the Model 3 offers up to 250 miles of range. It performs the benchmark zero-to-60mph sprint in 5.3 seconds, and it goes up to a top speed of 140mph if you give it enough tarmac. Don’t look for horsepower and torque figures; Tesla won’t release them. The company argues range is a much more important statistic in the electric car world, an assertion most of its rivals disagree with.
You can get all-wheel drive if you’ve got an extra $9,000 in your pocket. Range goes up to a more usable 322 miles, though the 3’s base price also goes up to true luxury car territory — and within a stone’s throw of a used Model S. Adding a second motor reduces the 3’s zero-to-60mph time to 4.4 seconds. Finally, the Performance model keeps the 322-mile rating, but puts a much bigger focus on — you guessed it — performance. Expect to hit 60mph in 3.2 seconds, which is seriously quick, and you can reach 162mph if you plan on visiting your local race track.
The Model S range is simpler. Tesla ditched its alphanumerical naming system, so the entry point into the lineup is called Long Range Plus. It offers up to 402 miles of range thanks to a recent software update, which is more than any Model 3 variant (or any EV on the market), and it reaches 60mph from a stop in 3.7 seconds. The flagship Performance model has a maximum driving range of 348 miles, and it takes 2.4 seconds to hit 60mph, which makes it one of the quickest cars in the world. Tesla hinted an even quicker model is around the corner.
Tesla regularly makes changes to its trim level hierarchy, so your mileage may vary. Model S and Model 3 owners can fill up the battery by plugging into a Supercharger station, but those who take home the smaller sedan will need to pay every time they plug in. Tesla bills owners either by the kilowatt-hour or by the minute. The Model S is once again available with free, unlimited Supercharging — at least for the time being.
Interior and exterior design
The Model 3 takes interior design to the next level. Its most striking visual aspect is the dashboard, which is dominated by a horizontal screen you’d expect to find in the television aisle at Best Buy. It replaces nearly every single button, switch, and gauge normally scattered across the cockpit. It’s a unique solution that makes the Model 3 considerably easier to build. It’s worth noting every part of the 3’s interior was designed in-house by Tesla.
The Model S is futuristic, but it looks more conventional inside than its smaller sibling. For starters, components like the massive vertical touch screen, the instrument cluster, and the air vents are exactly where you expect them to be. But since the Model S was Tesla’s first mass-produced car, the company sourced components from other manufacturers when possible. You’ll immediately recognize the switchgear if you’ve ever driven a late-model Mercedes-Benz. It’s starting to show its age, too, which is hardly surprising considering it made its debut in 2012.
Tesla avoided the Russian doll approach to design its German rivals are stuck in. Its sedans share a handful of defining styling cues, like a grille-less front end and a fastback-like roofline, but one isn’t a Xerox copy of the other.
The Model S is unquestionably the better option if you routinely haul people or gear. It offers space for five adults plus two jump seats suitable for small children, and up to 30 cubic feet of trunk space. Note the jump seats and the trunk space are mutually exclusive. The most you’ll fit in the Model 3 are five adults and 15 cubes of your stuff.
Pricing and availability
Tesla pledged the Model 3 would start at $35,000 before incentives, and it might have built a handful of cars at that price, but the entry-level model advertised on its official website costs $37,990 as of July 2020. The good news is that the excruciatingly long wait times have become more reasonable as the company whittles down its backlog of orders. The firm estimates customers will need to wait between five to nine weeks for a new Model 3.
The two Model S variants are priced at $74,990 and $94,990, and delivery takes between five to nine weeks. The company’s inventory of used cars includes every variant of the S released over the past couple of years, however, and the selection changes on a regular basis. They’re all available right away.