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3 Areas Where the Tesla Model 3 is a Luxury Car (and 1 Where It's Not)

WIth early quality issues quickly resolved, the Tesla Model 3 can lay claim to the luxury tag in several areas, although there's still room for improvement.


In recent articles on Torque News - and indeed throughout the EV new media - growing sales of the Tesla Model 3 have been reported by way of comparison.

Comparison to other EVs on the market, where Tesla wins easily. Comparisons to premium sedans, where the Model 3 is prompting some execs at German brands to sit up and take notice.

There are even comparisons to affordable sedan models, where Tesla's most mainstream offering placed a respectable 11th of all sedans sold in the United States in 2018. This despite a price point some $20,000 higher than the dominant Toyota Camry at the time, as the lower-priced Standard Range Model 3 only arrived in early 2019.

In our coverage of the car, however, a basic yet apparently controversial question arose: is the Tesla Model 3 a luxury vehicle?

This article looks at a few ways in which the Model 3 clearly delivers luxury, as well as one area where it doesn't quite make the grade, in our opinion.

3 Areas Where the Tesla Model 3 Delivers Luxury

Let's first take a look at the main arguments for the Tesla Model 3 qualifying as a luxury vehicle.

1. Performance
If endless drag strip challenges pitting the Tesla Model 3 against iconic ICE models aren't enough to prove it, simply Google the specs. 0-60 mph takes at most 5.6 seconds in the base Model 3 and is slashed right down to 3.2 seconds in the most expensive Tesla Model 3 Performance.

At either end of the luxury spectrum, from the Audi A3 at the low end of luxury pricing to the BMW M3 at the upper end, the comparable Tesla Model 3 delivers similar or superior acceleration.

Performance is more than just being quick off the line, of course, but every aspect of a Tesla Model 3's driving style seems to deliver. The instant torque of electric vehicles is an advantage across the board, whether from a standing start or the immediate delivery to move from on-ramp to highway speeds. The handling is also comparable, with the low-slung sedan style and low center of gravity delivering a satisfying blend of comfort and exciting driving.

With various driving modes and performance levels, there's a Tesla Model 3 to suit most kinds of driver and it competes directly with the likes of BMW and Audi in terms of an exhilarating driving experience. The Model 3 won't quite deliver the precision handling of a top tier BMW or Mercedes, but the car is clearly snapping at their heels and, in most cases, delivers exceptional performance at a lower price than these manufacturers.

2. Technology
Delivering the latest technology is a hallmark of some luxury categories, of which the automotive sector is certainly one. A car with advanced driver-assist features, the latest infotainment options, and any other functions that can be labeled "tech-forward" will always fare well in the luxury stakes.

White Tesla Model 3 Luxury Car

Tesla delivers on the technology front in spades, to the extent that many industry analysts and fans consider the brand more of a Silicon Valley software company than an automaker.

This isn't simply because the designers slapped a big tablet in the center console and called it a day.

Despite the ongoing wait (and overly optimistic promises) around Full Self Driving, the driver assistance features of Tesla vehicles clearly place the company ahead of competitors.

There's also the fact that this technology continues to receive updates that upgrade the Tesla experience, which brings us onto the next luxury aspect of the Tesla Model 3.

Watch Tesla Model 3 taking a 90 degree turn on an Autopilot after the latest software update and click to subscribe to Torque News Youtube channel for daily Tesla and automotive industry news analysis.

3. Continuous Improvement
Whereas the previous two criteria are well-established luxury considerations, this is one that Tesla is defining in its own right.

Even with all the bells and whistles built into their vehicles at the time of production, no competing luxury sedan offers the experience of waking up to a car with new security features, additional comfort options, or extra entertainment modes, all of which Tesla has rolled out to Model 3 owners in the first six months of this year alone.

While some have raised security concerns about this open approach to updates, it's undeniable that owners love this aspect of driving a Tesla. It shows a commitment to the car that sets Tesla apart from other manufacturers and further emphasizes the company's desire to eliminate dated practices of the auto industry that don't enhance the ownership experience.

One Area Where the Tesla Model 3 Loses Its Luxury Appeal

Although the interior of the Model 3 is unique in terms of minimalism and technology, it doesn't deliver much in the way of cabin luxury. While the materials are better than its limited competitors in the affordable EV segment, the Model 3 isn't going to impress anyone who's grown used to the refinement of the various German manufacturers we've already mentioned.

For example, here's how Torque News reported interior quality issues affecting early Tesla Model 3 units.

Tesla has certainly tweaked and fine-tuned the production process to iron out early quality issues. There remain several niggling complaints, however, that detract from the cabin's otherwise refined feel.

The widespread gloss black finish of the center storage area, for example, is a magnet for dirt and grime. Even the most fastidious owner has to polish this area several times a day to keep it in line with the rest of the cabin's crisp, clean finish.

The storage binnacle in this area is also a pain to close, with the magnets requiring just the right level of pressure to remain closed. Again, no big deal in an affordable vehicle but another aspect that detracts from the overall quality of the Tesla Model 3's interior.

Elsewhere, seasoned drivers of luxury sedans have noted that the steering wheel feels less than premium, while some complain that the comfort of the rear seats leaves a lot to be desired. I've generally found them to be adequate in the few journeys I've taken back there, but every little nod to comfort matters.

I'm the first to admit that counting these interior niggles against the Tesla Model 3 is nitpicking. The aspects raised earlier in this article are more than enough to compensate for any minor cabin complaints, in my experience, but again the bar is raised when compared to more luxurious rides. If you're coming from the cabin of a high-end BMW or a Mercedes, these are the kind of minor items that could detract from the overall driving experience.

Comparing the Tesla Model 3 to established luxury cars is reasonable by some measures, as even the most affordable Tesla undeniably delivers excellent performance and futuristic driving experience.

When it comes to the interior, however, only Tesla's refined minimalism and focus on touchscreen technology keep the car in the reckoning.

Given that Tesla trades on its vehicles being the future of transportation and consistently outperforming competitors on specs like 0-60mph time, it's fair to compare sales of the Model 3 to luxury sedans like the Audi A4/A5 and the BMW 3-series.

On that basis, while Tesla is winning the battle on the sales front, there are still areas inside the car where it could make some improvements to truly be considered a luxury ride.

What do you think, does Tesla deliver on all the aspects of luxury that matter to you? If not, what is the Tesla Model 3 missing and which manufacturer do you think delivers - or will deliver - a true luxury EV?

Let us know in the comments below.


John Goreham    July 29, 2019 - 7:12PM

No premium seat material. No ventilated seats. No Android Auto. Head-up display? Rear camera mirror? There seems to be a long list of features that even top-trim affordable brands offer for around $30-40K that Tesla doesn't even offer in the luxury-priced Model 3 (yet). I've begun to refer to the Model 3 as a "premium/performance" vehicle that is "luxury-priced."

Steve Birkett    July 29, 2019 - 11:28PM

In reply to by John Goreham

Grace, space, and pace, or so Jag used to define their luxury... I'd give it to Tesla on at least two of those counts. But yes, it seems to be a contentious area, as the Model 3 delivers much more than a $40K car should in some respects, yet skimps in others. Even my Bolt EV has the rear camera mirror and a heated steering wheel, both of which we'd consider luxurious in certain ways.

HTSS (not verified)    August 13, 2019 - 3:29PM

In reply to by John Goreham

You can call a Tesla Model 3 with any name you want, but the truth is more people with $40-50k would buy a lot more Tesla Model 3 than BMW 3 series, Mercedes C-Class, Audi A4, any Lexus or Infinitive.

Remember, Tesla sold some Model 3 Standard Range Plus for $37k the first half of 2019. And Tesla sold a lot more of this version compares with "affordable brands" with V6 engine and upgrade interior package at $40k.

Majority of Tesla Model 3 owners bought it because of performance/handling/high tech, not the higher quality leather interior and a bunch of knobs/switches ...

Andreas Stephens (not verified)    July 30, 2019 - 7:25PM

Tesla is aiming to bring an affordable (not a luxury) car to the masses. Elsewhere, it is being pilloried for not having reached the promised US$35,000 price point fast enough. I have no doubt, that Tesla will continue to improve its battery technology and make it cheaper over time. When it does, it will have the ability to add further "LUXURY" to its cars - i.e. reinvest some of the battery cost savings into other areas of the car. Meanwhile its ICE competitors will run out of puff (pardon the pun) and no amount of luxury features will make up for their undesirable pollution and poor performance. All imho - as an EVangelist.

Steve Birkett    July 31, 2019 - 12:29PM

In reply to by Andreas Stephens (not verified)

I think your point actually adds to the credit Tesla should receive for the Model 3. In a lot of ways, they're redefining what it requires to be in the luxury category and perhaps even dragging it down to a lower price point. The tech has always been secondary to materials and finish for legacy automakers. Tesla puts technology at the top of the list, closely followed by performance, and plenty of affluent buyers seem to agree with their priorities.

Andreas Stephens (not verified)    July 31, 2019 - 6:30PM

In reply to by Steve Birkett

I agree with your observation. One other thing to note is safety - Tesla also puts safety ahead of many other considerations. Elon once mentioned that conventional car makers often design their safety features around standard industry safety tests, while Tesla always strives to simply make their cars as safe as possible.

HTSS (not verified)    August 13, 2019 - 3:36PM

In reply to by Steve Birkett

"plenty of affluent buyers seem to agree with their priorities."

When someone test drive the low end Tesla Model 3 Standard Range Plus at $37 5 months ago he/she would not think about all other brands such as BMW, Mercedes ... He/she would make a deposit for it then wait few weeks/months for it.

The sale volume of Tesla Model 3 does show how many American love it.

Dorian (not verified)    August 1, 2019 - 3:21PM

I just purchased a Tesla 3 after driving a 2003 Toyota Hylander (16 years). I am totally blown away by this car. It has exceeded my expectations. Luxury? Yes! Can there be improvements? Of course! But overall... NICE!!

Dorian (not verified)    August 1, 2019 - 3:23PM

I just purchased a Tesla 3 after driving a 2003 Toyota Hylander (16 years). I am totally blown away by this car. It has exceeded my expectations. Luxury? Yes! Can there be improvements? Of course! But overall... NICE!!

Conn Ryan (not verified)    August 7, 2019 - 6:37PM

Having driven 5 series, E Class and A7’s all my adult life I’ve an order in for a P+. I’m really struggling with the lack of a luxury feel off this car.

The doors feel light, the boot mechanism is low budget as is the frunk, the paint shop seems like it’s run by trainees and spare parts are non existent. Think I’ll give Elon a few more years to perfect his trade...

HTSS (not verified)    August 13, 2019 - 3:43PM

In reply to by Conn Ryan (not verified)

"I’m really struggling with the lack of a luxury feel off this car."

A Tesla Model 3, especially the low end Standard Range Plus at $37k, is not a performance car that people love to seat in, it is a car to drive especially on winding mountain roads.

After you drive a Tesla Model 3 on winding mountain roads only a better car to be driven is a Porsche 911. Neither car is bought for its luxury material in the interior, they are bought to be driven HARD. When people love driving hard they only care about how the car is driven.

Jim (not verified)    September 23, 2019 - 11:48PM

Odd they ignore one of the biggest Luxuries in the Tesla, the smartphone app lets me adjust the interior climate remotely and without starting the car. So on a hot day the car is already cool, that’s huge. The sound system and quite ride are also luxurious

Anne Marie J Rouse (not verified)    May 29, 2021 - 7:17PM

I just bought my first Tesla coming out of a Mercedes CLS-550 and the interior "lack of luxuriousness" is really noticeable. It's a huge difference. The seats seem smaller and not sure if that's real leather? why is there no center console? weird! The glove box is kind of "off it's kilter" as in, when I open it, it's fine, but when I go to close it, it's not lining up and you have to maneuver it to get it closed. Seems cheaply put together. Yes I LOVE the giant touchscreen and all the technology with the app and all that, that does kind of make up for it but, they could have tried a little harder to give it that luxury feel most of us have grown accustomed to.