Tesla Model S vs. Tesla Model 3 — Which comes out on top?

Tesla Model 3
Tesla Model 3
One of the Model 3’s main rivals is Tesla’s very own Model S. It’s bigger all around, more refined, and more expensive, but a high-end Model 3 falls in the same price bracket as a lightly used Model S. Tesla is well aware of this, so company boss Elon Musk has been trying to anti-sell the car in order to steer buyers toward a Model S.

If you’re not sure whether to get a Tesla Model 3 or a Model S, read on to find out how they’re alike and how they’re different.

Tech features

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.

Performance and range

The most basic version of the rear-wheel drive Model 3 (the one which corresponds to the often-advertised $35,000 base price) offers 220 miles of range from a 50-kilowatt-hour battery pack. It performs the benchmark 0-to-60-mph sprint in 5.6 seconds, and it goes up to a top speed of 130 mph if you give it enough tarmac. Don’t look for horsepower and torque figures; Tesla won’t release them for the time being. The company argues range is a much more important statistic.

You can get a 70-kWh battery pack and quicker charging if you’ve got an extra $9,000 in your pocket. Range goes up to a more usable 310-mile range, 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. The bigger battery pack reduces the 3’s 0-to-60-mph time to 5.1 seconds.

Performance and range for the Model S is all over the board. The most basic model is called 75D. Its 75-kWh battery pack provides 259 miles of range, and it helps propel the car from 0 to 60 mph in a brisk 4.2 seconds. Top speed is reached at 140 mph, though it’s a figure very few owners will ever see.

Tesla Model S P100d
Tesla Model S P100D

The next model up in the Model S hierarchy is called 100D. Built around a 100-kWh battery pack, it sees its range bumped up to 335 miles and its top speed bumped to 155 mph. It’s a tenth of a second quicker to 60 mph. Finally, the P100D is a high-performance version of the 100D. Range goes down to 315 miles, but it posts a jaw-dropping 0-to-60-mph time of 2.5 seconds. That’s about on par with the Bugatti Chiron, and it can fit the entire family plus gear.

Production of the all-wheel drive Model 3 hasn’t started yet, so it’s rear-wheel drive-only for the time being. Every Model S is equipped with Tesla’s dual-motor all-wheel drive.

All Tesla owners can take advantage of the company’s ever-growing network of Supercharger stations. Filling up the battery is free for Model S (and Model X) owners, but Model 3 owners will need to pay every time they plug in. Rates haven’t been announced yet.

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 a lot 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.

Tesla thankfully 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 roof line, but one isn’t a Xerox copy of the other.

The Model S is unquestionably the better option if you routinely haul around 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

The base Tesla Model 3 starts at $35,000 before incentives, which sounds attractive until you look precisely up how to get your hands on one. Waiting times are excruciatingly long. Tesla estimates customers who recently placed an order likely won’t get their car until halfway through next year at the earliest.

The cheapest Model S currently available on the Tesla website is a 60-kWh model priced at $45,000. The company’s inventory of used cars includes every variant of the S released over the past couple of years, and the selection changes on a regular basis. All of them come with free Supercharging, and they’re available right now. You could be driving one a week from today.

If you’re looking to shop new, the cheapest Model S is the all-wheel drive 75D, which starts at $74,500. The midrange 100D is priced at $99,000, while the P100D flagship — which is one of the quickest cars on the planet — carries a base price of $135,000. Customers should expect to wait between 30 and 60 days before receiving a new, custom-ordered Model S.

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