Updated 19 Sept 2020
This guide talks you through the choices when buying a new Tesla. Like this whole site, it tries to give an unbiased view rather than just repeat what Tesla’s own web site publishes. We also have a short guide buying a used Tesla which may be preferable if that is what you are planning to do.
It's important to know that Tesla rarely build to order. They build batches of cars and match customer orders to what they have built. As a result, you can be waiting for a particular specification car for some time while other buyers can order and take delivery fairly quickly. Tesla also appear to match production to orders manually, and as cars are listed for public sale almost as soon as they arrive in country, it is even possible that new buyers get inventory before custom orders as they order an inventory car before it has been matched to an existing order. Consequently we would advocate buying an inventory car over custom order, just check the options and how long the car has been available to ensure you are buying the latest stock and spec. We provide all these details in our extensive inventory listings, including some Tesla stock not yet on their main listings page. Access to the listings are available from the top of this page, and for most countries we also offer a free email notification service for when new cars appear.
Tesla currently have 4 models available to order, the MS, a large executive hatch, the MX, a large SUV, the Model 3, the entry level compact saloon and the MY, the compact SUV. For detailed side by side comparison of features check differences between the S3XY models. Which is right for you will of course depend on your requirements and budget, but we set out the main factors below.
This was the much anticipated low cost Tesla. Delivery lead times are now often less than 6 weeks with pre built inventory becoming increasingly available. We are somewhat surprised that use cars are often as expensive as new orders and we believe the perception of long wait times is causing this, however unless you have a very specific requirement this is rarely the case.
The M3 is the smallest although still a 5 seater, is a saloon/sedan and while the boot/trunk is fairly large, it misses out on the practicality of the hatch found in the MS and MY. It is also the first Tesla to be made with the CCS power connector for Europe as standard, this is backward compatible with the Type 2 AC charging sockets, plus the CCS rapid chargers. It is also the fastest charging Tesla as the supercharger infrastructure improves and moves to V3 with rates reported as high as 250kw for short period on the Long Range and above models.
The Performance model is the best enthusiastic driver's car across the entire range especially with the introduction of the track pack 2. With the launch of the Model Y, many buyers looking for a more practical car are switching to that in the markets where it is available.
There are a few indications that Tesla's move to mass production with the M3 and it being built to a price has resulted in a number of areas in the design have fallen a little short. These are exposed when looking at the MY which has features such as heat pumps and better use of production tooling and component design etc. Some of the MY developments are starting to make their way back to the M3 and we suspect the heat pump will start to appear in M3 cars in the 2021 model year change (although Tesla make many changes throughout the year). That's not to say it's not good, but the MY is a step on again in terms of the depth of engineering in the cars.
The MY is slightly larger than the M3 while still narrower than the MS and MX. It's extra height and hatch give it more practicality and its said to be available in 7 seat configuration from 2021. For owners not interested in the M3 Performance we suspect this will be the value for money model and hold its value better. It is also the first Tesla to have a heat pump which should improve efficiency and various reviews which have dismantled the car have commented on how much more mature it is as a design compared to the M3.
Lead times for the MY in the US are currently relatively low. We expect lead times to be longer when it is introduced to new markets although this may also be linked to new factory capacity in Germany which once up to speed should mean there is good availability. We suspect it will be late 2021 before the car is available outside the US and possibly Canada.
The MS is the car that started it all in terms of volume production. It was face-lifted in 2016 and has had incremental changes each year, the most noticeable being uprated suspension making it extremely capable, changes to the motors enabling '1 foot driving', and greater efficiency. While many M3 owners dismiss it due to it's apparent age, the technology is as good if not better than the M3 with the exception of the battery design resulting in a slightly slower maximum supercharger speed.
The car is large, seats 5 easily, the previous 7 seat option has now been dropped, has good storage and unless you need the space of the Model X satisfies most owners needs. It has a couple of potential downsides like the inability to tow, but these only matter to a small number of potential owners.
While we rate the Model S and have had one ourselves for 5 years, we now feel the design for the price is starting to show it's age more than ever, and Tesla must be getting closer to refreshing the car. They have increasing competition in the premium end of the market and we suspect a new performance platform with the roadster will be shared with the MS lifting it's capabilities way beyond where they are today, especially in terms of handling. It's therefore hard to recommend a new MS at the current prices and Tesla periodically reduce the prices or offer discounts on individual cars to help sell them. We would certainly say avoid a custom order and paying full price at the moment. Our inventory guides show the discounts available on new inventory cars.
This is the beast. The MX is the largest, and while more recent than the MS much of the underpinnings are identical.
5, 6 or 7 seat configuration, folder seats, high driving position. It's the least efficient of the 4 cars as you would expect from the size which makes the smallest battery size a stretch for some, especially in winter.
It has some kudos and while much of the car is similar to the MS facelift, it seems to be ageing slightly better, but like the MS we suspect it will be updated fairly soon. There is also competition from cars such as the Jaguar i-pace and offerings from Audi and others which are available for less.
Because Tesla rarely build to order they have reduced the number of models and options considerably. The choices today largely boil down to interior and exterior colour and choice of wheels, other options are typically software enabled.
The exterior looks have remained pretty much unchanged since 2016 when the MS was face-lifted and the MX launched. The Model 3 adopts many of the brand design features and its fairly clear they all come from the same family.
Colour and wheels are the only options now and its certainly an area where the look of a car can change considerably depending on the chosen options. Dark large wheels can make it look menacing, smaller silver wheels can almost make the cars look like a toy. The previous options of sunroof on the Model S have gone, so there's now little in the way of options to select when buying new after you've picked the colour. We'd advise against the coloured wheel options as you can buy the standard wheels and get them repainted for much less money.
While the basic interior has changed little since 2017. The material choice is has varied with leather, fake leather, 'vegan' and cloth seats all been available over the years. When buying however there is really just a choice of one of the interior packs, a combination of material colour, trim and headlining.
The various cabin components have all been tweaked over time to give a better finish, there is now a centre console (introduced during 2016) and rear cup holders, and while it's no premium German car some like its more minimalist styling. The MS rear is good and 3 can sit comfortably in the back. The MX has a range of rear seating options but some report the individual seats on the 6 seat option to be a little tight, as is the 3rd row. The M3 is the smallest and as you'd expect, rear seats have less room than in the larger cars.
The fabled high tech cars are actually a mixture of quite old technology and fantastic innovation.
Autopilot boils down to 3 choices for new owners; Not to buy it (although it can be enabled later), Autopilot (AP) or Full Self Driving (FSD). In 2019 they changed the feature fix between AP and FSD in part because nothing was really available on FSD and in part to lower the entry price or allow AP to be bundled into the car price. AP now offers adaptive cruise and lane keeping, but you need to go to FSD for the summon, lane change under AP and navigate on autopilot. FSD is very much personal choice although we feel the enhanced features above the basic AP are still not implemented very well and it will be a long time before they are truly beneficial features at which point they can be purchased. FSD is therefore best left to those enjoying the beta test days.
The other good stuff includes over the air software updates which as mentioned above can be variable, but it does benefit the car in terms of feature improvements over time.
It's worth pointing out what the car doesn't have. It currently doesn't have surround car view, head up display, Apple Car play or android auto. Some new owners have been surprised at some of these omissions. Even some safety features are missing like flashing rear brake lights in the event of an emergency stop, although Tesla is planning to release this in the future.
There are Performance options on all the cars. The M3 Performance is the best drivers car and the MS is the best rapid executive car. We could debate whether the performance models of the MY and MX are worth having especially as the M3 LR now has a performance upgrade option closing the gap.
We'd also be slightly wary about the M3 Performance. This doesn't have a ludicrous option, and is currently slower to accelerate than both the MX and MS Performance cars with ludicrous. We suspect that at some point Tesla will boost the performance of the M3 performance making the current model depreciate significantly.
The battery choice is now largely a question of range. The shortest range is the M3 SR+ and we'd advise buying the Long Range if possible as we believe a comfortable 200 mile range in winter will be the minimum future drivers will look for and residual values may fall most as a result. As mentioned above, performance models are a consideration for the M3 and MS, but otherwise the Long Range cars are in our opinion the smart choice.
It is often said that Tesla do not discount. We would clarify this and say Tesla do not negotiate the proce on a given car, but they do discount from time to time and out Guide to saving money when buying a Tesla talks about the best timne of year to buy and how to find the best prices.
Depreciation is also a common question as the cost to buy the car is often less important than the cost to own the car including depreciation. Depreciation has been historically quite varied with long periods of time where a car seems to hold its value and then an event may cause a significant drop in price. We're currently seeing quite low depreciation on the M3 and MY however a significant announcement or launch of a new model, either by Tesla or a competitor could change things over night.
Our brief thoughts on the cars to buy and why: