Last updated 28-Sep-2023
The Tesla Model 3 Highland was announced in Sept 2023 and initially went on sale in just a few countries, mainly Europe and Australasia, with deliveries due to start in late 2023. The car includes a number of significant updates over the previous model which we detail below.
The original Model 3 was launched in 2017 and was the first truly mass market car Tesla offered following on from the acclaimed success of the Model S and the Model X. Through its life the original Model 3 went through some significant changes including changes to the motors and batteries and the inclusion of a heat pump. The interior was also mildly reworked. The car was not perfect though, many found it noisy, the suspension was more go cart like than refined, and some of the materials and finishes were far from premium. The build quality, especially in the early years, also left a lot to be desired although this steadily improved. The Highland version set about creating a step change in quality above the outgoing model while still retaining the price point in the market.
The battery and the motors are unchanged on the RWD and Long Range models which are the only models announced so far. There is talk regarding the Performance model and whether it will have the uprated motors from the Model S to create a Model 3 Plaid, while some think Tesla may not bring out a Model 3 performance. However, until announced, talk of a Model 3 Performance is purely speculation, and based on the number of incorrect rumours over the Highland car in general, are probably best ignored. Irrespective, we are doubtful Tesla would re-use the Plaid motors in the Model 3, certainly not at the front, due to packaging contraints. The Model S and Model X could not be built in Right Hand drive form because the motors and steering rack could not be accomodated. They may of course be looking at another high spec motor, but as we say, it's all just speculation at this point.
However, we do know about range which has increased. The WLTP (Worldwide Harmonised Light Vehicle Test procedure) testes report the Rear wheel drive (RWD) model version now has a range of 513km/318 miles up from 491km/305 miles, whereas the Long Range All Wheel Drive (LR AWD) model has a WLTP range of 629km/390 miles up from 601km/373 miles. We expect the US EPA ratings to be about 10% down on these figures, not because the cars will go less far in the real world, but because the EPA testing cycle is more pessimistic than the WLTP one. We have seen some reports that the range has increased by 10+%, we're not sure where those figures come from as the math indicate a circa 4% increase, although still welcomed. Like all EVs, the real world range before charging is unlikely to be close to the figures above, as much as anything because few people would consider driving from full to empty in an EV.
While it's unlikely to be an issue for many, the top speeds has also been reduced down to 210km/h or 120mph, down from 145mph in the case of the LR AWD. The performance to 60mph or 100km/h has also not changed on either car although we do wonder if the acceleration profile has changed because of the reduced top speed, something that may be apparent when overtaking. We await meaningful real world tests.
The principle reason for the increase in range, given the battery and motors are unchanged, is down to a reduction in drag. Tesla have both improved the aerodynamics of the car shape, it now has a lower and sleeker front end and added new lower drag tires and wheel design. The wheel and tire choice have long been known to have a material effect on the efficiency of the car. The overall effect is a reduction in the coefficient of drag (Cd) figure to 0.219 v from 0.225 on the outgoing model.
Probably the biggest and most significant change is the update to the steering wheel and the removal of the control stalks. Tesla first did this with the Model S and Model X where they moved the indicators and autopilot controls to the steering wheel, whilst the drive select control moved to the screen, albeit with an option for this to be automated. We have already seen this split opinion amongst buyers, and we are not personally convinced the change is a good move. We have struggled using a Model S with this configuration, and while others claim you get used to it we don;t see it offering any material benefit.
The screen is also said to be brighter although in our experience it's rarely at 100% anyway.
There have been a number of changes with respect to comfort. The seats are said to be more comfortable and are now ventilated in the front. The app, as before, allows you to control features of the car and you can have the car reach the desired temperature before you get in.
One of the criticisms of the old car was noise and Tesla have worked hard to improve this, including added acoustic glass all round. We'd also like to see more sound insulation within the body, for example the door panels and boot lining, and reduce the noise entering the cabin from the suspension which was particularly poor in the outgoing model. Tesla claim to have improved this. Whilst Tesla claim the new car is notably quieter than the old car, some early reviews have struggled to notice much difference so we need to wait for more real world reviews of production examples. We still expect there to be an improvement over a older Model 3 from say 3 or years ago.
Rear passengers don't miss out either. While the ventilated seats are only in the front, the rear seats are said to be more comfortable and there is now a small 8" rear screen allowing users to control basic functions like heating and seat cooling, whilst also able to watch videos.
Finally, ambient lighting has been added. This feature allows owners to customise the interior lighting and create a personalised mood. This enhances the overall cabin ambience and is in line with many other car models.
Tesla have always been known for good quality HiFi although we've have been more neutral on the performance, in part because the cabin noise has often meant the volume needs to be louder than we would like and quiet passages of music compete with cabin noise. The Highland model is said have improved with 17 speakers on the LR model, up from the previous 14. The LR model also has dual subwoofers and dual amplifiers. If the sound has improved, and the cabin noise isolation improved, we would to see a notable improvement in audio quality across a wide range of music tastes.
Tesla have improved Bluetooth connectivity and the microphone, although again, any improvement in background cabin noise would improve microphone performance.
There are however no improvements to peak charging rates with the RWD still limited to 170kw and the LR model to 250kw. Whether higher charge rates can be sustained for longer is still to be seen.
The autopilot hardware is now HW4, but there is no front bumper camera which many predicted. There are also still no parking sensors (although we believe some regions such as Australasia still get them) and the same issues with some of the EAP features can be expected.
The rear trunk has been increased in size, now offering 594 litres, up from the previous 561 litres. Otherwise things are pretty much as they were before, the centre console has had a very light make over, and the door bins look similar to the latest Model Y door bins with soft materials lining them.
The list price appears to be more or less the same as the outgoing model, certainly no more than a 1-2% difference. That said, the outgoing model is/was widely available with discounts and/or cheap rate finance for most of the last 6 months on new inventory. In practical terms, if you have the choice of an old or new model as a new purchase, the new model will probably be about 10-15% more in real terms, although discounting end of line cars is an industry norm. Overall its welcome that Tesla have more or less held the list price.
The only models announced so far are the RWD and the Long Range AWD. The Performance model has not been announced yet, although we suspect this is just a matter of time. As stated above, we are doubtful this will be a M3 Plaid. In some markets there was a Long Range RWD version, but we don't expect to see this variant any time soon.
Availability is also limited. Europe Left Hand Driver countries, Australia and New Zealand can all order the Highland model, whereas the US, Canada and Right-Hand Drive European countries cannot (as of late Sept 2023). Deliveries are expected from October, we doubt many, if any, will be achieved in quarter 3 other than a token number for the purposes of quarter 3 headlines. We believe the bulk of the deliveries will start in 2024 in all markets.
There is much to like about the Highland model. The improvements to the cabin are worthwhile, and the small increase in range is to be welcomed. The big unknown is how well the public will react to the loss of the control stalks from behind the steering wheel. We know the Model S and Model X sales have suffered in general and we suspect this is in part due to the design change.
New drivers to the Tesla brand historically experienced an enjoyable test drive, seduced by the easily accessible performance and smoothness of an EV drive train. We fear their first impression will be dominated by trying to use the indicators and this will detract from their overall first impression, and as they say, you don't get a second chance to make a first impression. Time will tell, but we are doubtful anyone will buy a Tesla over an alternative car because of the steering wheel controls, whereas we feel some will put off because of the lack of stalks. Consequently, we can only give the update a qualified thumbs up.
Ways you can support tesla-info