Tesla Model 3 RWD review: the top electric car in Australia?

A red and black Tesla Model 3 sits in a parking lot

Toby Hagon

Posted March 22, 2022


The Tesla 3 has traditionally struggled to maintain quality standards along with its quirkiness. But it seems the tech giant is growing up ... while keeping the fart sounds (we'll get to that later).

Only a few years ago Tesla was a niche brand.

These days it’s big business and has muscled itself into being the world’s most valuable car maker. 

On the luxury front it’s also now fighting with the big boys on sales. In 2021, Tesla had the second best-selling car in the country and by far the most popular premium car.

Last year the US-based electric vehicle start-up outsold Lexus and Volvo and early in 2022 it has likely outsold Mercedes-Benz and Audi, though we can't be sure without Tesla's 2022 sales figures.

So, what’s all the hype about? And is the Tesla excitement justified?

We jumped behind the wheel of the latest update to the sole model in the Tesla line-up, the Model 3.

 

The Tesla Model 3 RWD is Australia's top electric vehicle.
The Tesla's taut suspension means occupants do feel the bumps.

Meet the Tesla 3 Rear-Wheel Drive

There are three flavours of Tesla Model 3. The more expensive variants - called Long Range and Performance - get two electric motors and genuinely brisk performance. 

The car we’ve tested here is the most affordable, now known as the Rear-Wheel Drive (formerly it was the Standard Range Plus).

As the name suggests, it drives only the rear wheels using a single electric motor. 

The RWD previously sold for $59,900 before on-road costs, following a succession of price reductions since it went on sale in 2019.

But there have been two prices rises in 2022 that have added $4000 to the asking price, making it $69,361 drive-away in Victoria. 

Those eligible will be able to get $3000 back from the government as part of the EV rebate.

Join the queue 

The big challenge could be getting hold of one. During October of 2021, buyers had to wait only a few weeks for a Model 3.

Wait lists have been stretching to the point where the brand is now quoting delivery in six-to-nine months for people ordering now. 

That may explain why Model 3 prices have crept up recently. If people are queuing to own them and some buyers on the second-hand market are prepared to pay above the retail price (which they have) then Tesla clearly doesn’t have an issue upping the price.

It helps that petrol-powered cars from rivals - such as the Mercedes-Benz C-Class and BMW 3-Series - have been getting more expensive. 

Same same, but different

To the casual observer, the Model 3 doesn’t look any different to when it launched three years ago. There are subtle differences, such as black door handles. And with the arrival of this RWD model, Tesla has tweaked the lights. 

But the body and basics are unchanged.

There are other key changes with the car that come from software. Tesla pioneered over-the-air software updates, so like a smartphone, new features and upgrades to the system can improve it over time. 

It may be something as quirky as adding a new game to the infotainment system (we’ll get to that) or altering the drive system to improve efficiency. Either way, there’s a good chance the car you buy today will in some ways get better with age.

The latest update to the Model 3 RWD also added gear to the already extensive list of equipment. 

A heated steering wheel and heated rear seats are two of the extras that join electric front seats, a panoramic sunroof, 18-inch alloy wheels, dual wireless phone chargers and a power operated boot lid.

A heated steering wheel joins electric front seats and dual wireless phone chargers as standard gear.
The rear seats in the Tesla Model 3 RWD are now heated.

Get ready for different

Anyone unfamiliar with the Tesla brand may take time to acclimatise with a Model 3. Like switching from a PC to a Mac, you’ll need to adjust. 

The way it works is very different from anything from the traditional brands.

There’s no key, for example, with a thing that looks like a credit card your entry ticket to driving. Owners will also hook up their smartphone, so all they have to do is approach the car and it unlocks. 

There’s also no start button; once your bum is on the seat the car is operational and ready to roll.

And if you enjoy the lighter side of motoring then you can instruct the indicators to make fart sounds (the kids love it!) or even play arcade games when the car is stopped. 

Too quirky for quality? 

The interior of the Model 3 is minimalist to the extreme. 

There’s very little glitz, with a strip of wood - the only thing livening the plain dash.

The small diameter steering wheel has two thumbwheels, each of which is responsible for plenty of the car’s functions. Want to adjust the mirrors, steering wheel, audio volume and cruise control speed? It’s all done via those thumbwheels. 

The 15-inch touchscreen is also a key part of the car.

The right-hand side doubles as the instrument cluster and can also provide visualisation of how the Autopilot driver assistance software is working with funky graphics that show the movement of traffic around the car. 

That screen also controls everything from navigation, phone, and audio functions, all of which are done with Tesla’s own connectivity, rather than utilising Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, as most other brands do.

It’s also vegan, eliminating the use of animal products on the seats (the leather-look finish doesn’t try too hard to replicate the real thing) and in glues. 

Quality has long been a Tesla bugbear. While the company was innovating in its vehicles, it was playing catch up on how to mass-produce vehicles to a globally acceptable standard.

Early efforts were sub-standard, but since the shift to a Chinese manufacturing facility, the anecdotal evidence suggests things have improved.

The Tesla Model 3 RWD now has a standard panoramic sunroof.
The Tesla Model 3 RWD will hit 100km/h in around 6.3 seconds after launch.

Tesla 3 RWD performance

The latest Tesla Model 3 is slower than the one it replaces – not that most will pick it. 

Our independent testing found it was only about 0.3 seconds slower in the dash to 100km/h, but at 6.3 seconds (versus a claim of 6.1 seconds) it’s still brisk.

What you don’t get by looking at the numbers is how effortlessly it does it. Brush the throttle and it lurches enthusiastically; there’s always loads in reserve to zip through traffic. 

The aggressive regenerative braking – which feels like you’re pressing the pedal – requires finesse when lifting off the throttle.

The Model 3 RWD is also slick through corners. Grippy Michelin tyres hang on nicely and the steering is direct. 

Suspension is taut so you’ll feel the bumps, but it’s well controlled and competent.

Topping up 

There’s another plus to Tesla ownership which may not be top of mind when perusing the car yards - charging. The Model 3 uses the same default Type 2/CCS charging plug chosen by most EVs sold in Australia these days. That means it can use the rapidly expanding EV charging network.

But it can also use the vast Tesla charging network that can only be used by Teslas (the chargers do a digital handshake with the car to establish they are allowed to use them). 

While fast-charging Tesla electricity is often more expensive than alternatives, it at least provides another option when you’re not charging from home.

All of which adds up to a compelling EV, albeit with its quirks.