Tesla Model 3 vs Model S used car comparison

Tesla Model 3 vs Tesla Model S: used car comparison

Which is better – the Tesla Model 3 or Tesla Model S? Our guide has the details.

Graham King Cazoo

By Graham King

Published: 14 April 2023

If you had to name one brand that has helped to make electric cars truly desirable it would have to be Tesla.

The American company is famous for the long range, fast acceleration and high-tech interiors of its range of pure-electric cars. The Model 3 and Model S are no exception, but which of these popular models is best for you? This guide aims to help you answer that question.

Size and styling

The Model 3 is a mid-size saloon that’s similar in size to the BMW 3 Series whereas the Model S is a large hatchback roughly the same size as a BMW 5 Series. The Model S is nearly 28cms longer than the Model 3 and slightly wider and taller. 

Both cars share a similar curving shape that’s designed to help them move through the air as easily as possible – and increase their battery range. There’s a clear resemblance between the two, especially around the rear, even though the Model 3 is a saloon and the Model S is a hatchback

There are greater differences at the front because the Model 3’s headlights have a more horizontal look, while the Model S is the only Tesla with a front grille. It’s very slim on more recent models; pre-2016 cars have a much larger, deeper grille.

Tesla Model 3 left; Tesla Model S right

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Interior and tech

All Teslas have a very minimal interior with a huge touchscreen in the middle of the dashboard. In the Model 3, the vertical screen is your only display, showing everything from the speedo to the sat nav – and it controls everything from the windscreen wipers to the sunroof. The touchscreen has shortcut icons that take you directly to features like the climate control and phone. Navigating through the different menus is actually pretty easy and you can also use voice commands. 

The interior of the Model S is a bit more conventional because although it too has a large central touchscreen that you use for most functions (in a portrait-format on pre-2021 cars and landscape on post-2021 cars), it also has a separate driver’s display behind the steering wheel (or ‘yoke’ on some later versions) and pre-2021 cars have manual air vent controls.

If you’re not used to using a touchscreen to control most  of a car’s features, a Tesla might take some time getting used to. But once you get your head around it, the system is easy to use.

Tesla Model 3 left; Tesla Model S right

Equipment

Both the Model 3 and the Model S are very well-equipped. Tesla has changed the trim levels of each car many times over the years but many of the changes relate to  battery power, performance and alloy wheel designs. 

Since their introduction, both cars have had largely the same set of features included as  standard, such as sat nav, Bluetooth, climate control, adaptive cruise control, wireless charging pads, electrically adjustable heated front seats, leather upholstery and a panoramic glass roof.

Boot space and practicality

If you want space for family and friends and their stuff both of these cars are likely to be up to the job. The Model 3 and Model S were designed from the outset as electric cars, and having batteries under the floor and no big engine up front helps to make them unusually practical. 

As you’d expect given its extra size and more versatile hatchback boot lid, the Model S is the more practical choice, although the Model 3 offers all the space that a typical family of four is likely to need.  

You may even come across an older Model S with an extra pair of rear-facing seats in the boot. UK law only allows you to carry children under the age of 13 in these, however, which could limit their usefulness. 

Most Model S cars don’t have the extra seats but instead have a truly enormous boot, giving you a  load space similar to what you get in big estate cars or SUVs, with room for six large suitcases… or two Labradors. 

The Model 3’s boot is quite a bit smaller. It’s also slightly smaller than that of similar-size cars such as the Audi A4, but it should still be enough for most of your regular requirements. The back seats in both the Model 3 and the Model S fold down if you need more load space. 

Like every Tesla, the Model 3 and Model S give you something that no petrol- or diesel-engine rival does – a ‘frunk’. Short for ‘front trunk’, this is an extra storage compartment under the bonnet in the space where you'd normally find an engine. It’s big enough for a couple of soft bags, so it’s genuinely useful.

Tesla Model 3 left; Tesla Model S right

Which is best to drive?

You probably already know that Tesla cars are quick. You might not know, however, that the Model S Plaid can accelerate from zero to 62mph in two seconds. That’s faster than any Ferrari. While the majority of Teslas are not that quick, every Model 3 and Model S can reach 62 mph in less than six seconds – that’s as fast as some sports cars. 

But there’s more to a great driving experience than speed: it’s all about how the car feels. Both the Model 3 and the Model S have light steering and feel relatively nimble through corners. As with all electric cars, they’re very quiet too. You also get a fairly smooth ride in both, although versions of each with especially large alloy wheels can feel a bit firm over bumps.

Each gives you (and your passengers) a good view out, as well as a rear-view camera that helps when reversing into a parking space. The Model 3’s more compact dimensions make it feel a bit more responsive on the open road, however, and make it easier to squeeze through narrow gaps or into tight parking spaces.

Tesla Model 3 left; Tesla Model S right

Which has the best range?

The mileage you get from a fully charged battery in the Model 3 or Model S depends upon the age and spec of an individual car but, on the whole, these cars have excellent battery ranges compared with many used electric cars. The Model 3 has a range of 237 miles to 382 miles, depending on the model you get, while the  Model S has a range of 248 miles to 405 miles. Those are official figures for when the cars were new – what you get in the real world may fall short of this, depending on how a given car has been used.

One of the key benefits of owning a Tesla is that it gives you access to the company’s dedicated network of Supercharger charging stations. There are around 1,000 individual Superchargers at about 100 different sites in the UK, which makes a Tesla a great choice if you regularly make long journeys. The chargers are really fast, too, with some capable of adding 170 miles of range in around 15 minutes.

Safety and reliability

The Model 3 and Model S both come with lots of safety features. Safety organisation Euro NCAP awarded both models a full five-star safety rating. In fact, the Model 3 scored the highest marks of any car assessed in 2018. Both are packed with advanced driver assistance features including automatic emergency braking, lane-departure warning, lane-keeping assistance and a speed limiter.

A persistent claim against Tesla is that its cars don’t have the same kind of build quality as other premium brand cars like Audi and BMW. However, there are plenty of Tesla owners who don’t experience problems with their cars and some issues that do require attention can be fixed just by updating the car’s software.

Dimensions

Tesla Model 3

Length: 4694mm

Width: 2089mm (including door mirrors)

Height: 1443mm

Boot space: 425 litres

Tesla Model S

Length: 4970mm

Width: 2187mm (including door mirrors)

Height: 1445mm

Boot space: 745 litres

Verdict

Both the Tesla Model 3 and Tesla Model S are great cars. Their space and tech are real standouts and their long battery ranges and access to the Tesla Supercharger network gives them an advantage over many used electric cars. 

If space is important then the Model S is the better bet. However, if we had to choose one we’d give the nod to the Model 3. It’s a more convenient size, more cost-effective and has a more high-tech look inside and out.

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