New Tesla Model 3 versus used Tesla Model S: driving & performance
The 75D is hilariously fast despite being one of the ‘lesser’ Model S variants, while the Model 3 feels perfectly judged for UK roads
So it is with these two Tesla marvels, but the reality is that the four-wheel-drive Model S with its dual motors and 362bhp punches up the road with a bombastic disregard for what your stomach was expecting such a heavy-feeling car to do. Given that this was, for many years, the ‘entry-level’ Model S, it feels anything but entry-level, and our tested time of 4.3 seconds from zero to 60mph backs that up.
Sure, it still delivers its shock-and-awe in the form of straight-line pace and stoic neutrality. It’s not a sports car, nor is it as textural or involving as some comparable rivals like a BMW M5 or Mercedes-AMG E63, but there’s fun to be had in the Model S, even on the most boring of roads.
The Model 3 is a very different creature. Its shorter wheelbase and the rear-wheel-drive setup of the Standard Range (the other variants get four-wheel drive and longer range) makes it feel a notch closer to a sports car than a cruiser. The 245bhp on tap feels spot-on for delivering hearty pace without being intimidating, and the way it jinks neatly through corners with predictability also makes it impressively usable on a decent country road.
It also falls short of the more entertaining handling character you can enjoy in a BMW 3 Series, or even some of the smaller performance alternatives like an Audi RS3 or BMW M2. But it's still fun in a zestier way than the more brutal Model S.
Both are accomplished commuters, with ride comfort that’s unlikely to bother you, even if you cover a lot of scruffy town roads. The Model S is perhaps a touch lumpier than you’d expect of a car with standard air suspension, while the Model 3’s chunky tyre walls and forgiving suspension do a fine job just about everywhere.
The new Model 3 gets adaptive cruise control, autonomous emergency braking, blind-spot warning and lane-keeping assistance, as well as the usual suite of airbags (not including a driver’s knee airbag). The full 'Autopilot' semi-autonomous driving mode is a £5,800 option; it means the car will stay in lane, steer and even change lane or leave the motorway onto a slip road when you indicate, provided the systems see that it’s safe to do so.
You do have to remain alert and in control – it remains only semi-autonomous, even if it's the most advanced autonomous driving mode in current mainstream production.
The Model S got fewer standard safety systems when it was first launched, but many used cars have the full enhanced Autopilot features that give it the same level of autonomy as the 3 and make it one of the safest cars around. Both scored five stars in Euro NCAP crash tests, although the S was tested under a more lenient scoring process.
Driving & performance scores
In This Review
- 1IntroductionThe Tesla Model 3 has few if any direct rivals, but what about a used Model S? We put a Model 3 Standard Range up against a secondhand Model S 75D
- 2Range & chargingThe Model 3 is one of the fastest charging cars on sale, and delivers a similar real-world range to a used Model S
- 3Running costs & warrantyYou get a longer warranty on a new Model 3, but its mileage is limited where the Model S’ isn’t. Both are well equipped, but aren’t cheapWith the exception of pre-2015 Model S’ with 60kWh packs, all Model S variants come with an eight-year battery warranty that has no mileage limit. The Model 3’s battery pack is also covered for eight years and 100,000 miles, but it comes with a guarantee that it’ll be refurbished or replaced if it drops below 70% of the as-new performance within the warranty period. Both cars are well equipped. Our Model 3 test car came with no optional equipment at all, yet had all the comforts and conveniences you could want of an executive car, while finding a used Model S with an appealing spec isn’t hard at all. Adaptive cruise control, keyless entry, LED headlights, full sat nav, over-the-air software updates, heated seats and leather upholstery are included on both. The full 'Autopilot' semi-autonomous driving system is one expensive option that adds a lot to the value of a used Model S, or will cost £5,800 to spec on a new Model 3. For the price of a high-spec Model S 75D, you can also easily be looking at the Long Range or Performance versions of the Model 3, which get satellite-view navigation, different (and better-looking) wheel design and an upgraded sound system. Not to mention hysterical pace and four-wheel drive. Notably, the Model S falls down next to the Model 3 on monthly costs, which could really be the deciding factor for many. A fairly modest deposit of £6,000 will see monthly costs for a Model 3 Standard Range drop to around £400, while even a used Model S (if you go through the Tesla approved used finance channel, at least) is likely to be closer to £800 per month. Our sister site BuyaCar also has a small selection of used Tesla cars for sale. Warranty and battery cover The Tesla gets a standard manufacturer warranty of four years or 50,000 miles, which is pretty low on the mileage side, but does cover a longer time period than most rivals. The batteries are covered for eight years; the Model S has no mileage limit while the Model 3 gets cover for 100,000 miles but also has a performance promise of at least 70%. Depreciation The Model 3 is predicted to hold 69% of its value after three years and 36,000 miles, which equates to £25,645 and is a fairly remarkable rate of retention. For context, a new BMW 320d M Sport is predicted to hold 45% and be worth £17,173. It’s worth bearing in mind that comparatively small loss in value if you’re considering paying on finance; those with the means to buy the Model 3 outright could well find it’s cheaper to do so and then sell on. Buying a used Model S means that you’ve already dodged the worst of the loss in value, of course. Looking at how other Model S’ – even those with rear-wheel drive or smaller batteries than the 75D we’d go for – are still holding their value, so depreciation is likely to be impressively slow. Especially in comparison with the generally very poor resale values of big executive cars. Company-car costs Going electric is a guaranteed way to cut your company-car tax bills, and the Model 3 is one of the best going. In 2020/21 business users didn’t have to pay anything in Benefit-in-Kind, while in 2021/22 it costs just £169 a year. If your company will fork out the lease or purchase costs to get you into a Model 3, then it’s an absolute no-brainer. Running costs & warranty scores
- 4Driving & performance - currently readingThe 75D is hilariously fast despite being one of the ‘lesser’ Model S variants, while the Model 3 feels perfectly judged for UK roads
- 5Interior, comfort & practicalityThe Model 3 has nothing on the Model S for space and practicality, and many will prefer the more conventional dials of the S as well
- 6VerdictThere's no bad car here, so you can pick which one suits your lifestyle and budget best, but the Model 3’s lower costs sway it for us