It’s been nearly seven years since initial deliveries of the Tesla Model 3 began, and the EV industry has matured significantly in the intervening years. Not only has the number of electric options drastically increased, but technological improvements have made most early plug-in models practically obsolete. 

This is not the case with the Model 3, however. The 2017 launch of Tesla’s mass-market sedan—and that of the Chevy Bolt EV—ushered in the modern era of affordable long-range EVs. Because of this, anyone in the market for an electric sedan can genuinely cross-shop any early-build Model 3 with the 2024 refresh. 

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Tesla's Model 3 gets a needed upgrade. Is it enough?

The Model 3 remains an outstanding choice in the EV market, but like much of Tesla's lineup, it's getting old. New improvements may not be enough to stave off competitors from Hyundai, BYD and others. 

Often referred to as the “Highland” model, the newest entry boasts a number of refinements to the vehicle styling and ride quality. But are the differences enough to justify the price tag when thousands of earlier Model 3s are now available for under $20,000? 

That’s what Thomas and James dive into with their latest Throttle House vehicle comparison. They rented a 2018 Model 3 to see just how it holds up against Tesla’s latest iteration. 

The first thing to stand out is the excellent front end facelift. More than just a minor refinement, the newest Model 3 has sharper lines, slimmer headlights, and an overall more appealing design. 

2024 Tesla Model 3 (Highland)

The reduction of the vehicle’s often criticized snout might be the most welcome change. This brings the Model 3 more in line with the current Tesla Model S, along with a few design cues reminiscent of the upcoming Tesla Roadster. James describes the overall exterior design improvements as “the frog has become the snake.”

When sitting behind the wheel, the most noticeable difference is in the sound dampening. Improved tires and insulation result in far less road noise. The ride itself is also described as being more refined and up-market thanks to the new front suspension geometry.

The sound system, adjustable mood lighting, heated and cooled seats, and the rear passenger display are all given very high marks as well. Most importantly, the fingerprint magnet piano black plastic has been removed from frequently touched surfaces. 

Not every change is for the better, however. While the ride quality has been improved, performance has not changed in any noticeable way. Straight-line acceleration is as enjoyable as ever, and the car performs very well on the highway. When taken into winding mountain roads, the steering feels numb and the vehicle’s weight becomes noticeable in the curves. Both reviewers also noted that despite the road noise reduction, the steering wheel is surprisingly noisy. It creaks with every turn, disrupting an otherwise pleasant driving experience.

2024 Tesla Model 3 (Highland) interior

The removal of the steering wheel stalks are cited as the most glaring new design issue. For extended highway driving the new haptic buttons on the steering wheel should suffice. But the lack of true tactile feedback and odd placement make them unpleasant to use. Similarly, the removal of a traditional gear shifter in favor of touchscreen controls is a major issue for Thomas. Both reviewers give the nod to the 2018 model when it comes to ergonomic design.

The current long-range model starts at $47,000 and does not qualify for the current federal tax credit. Upgrading the paint and wheels alone brings the MSRP above $51,000. This makes it more difficult for the hosts to justify the newest model when compared with a lightly used older model. 

While the 2018 model may not be quite as refined and luxurious, the overall driving experience is essentially the same. With used prices currently in the low $20,000’s or less, a used 2018 could save the buyer $30,000 with very few sacrifices and a few distinct advantages. Still, even with only 50,000 miles on the odometer, their loaner was not in the best physical condition, pointing to possible build quality issues.

2024 Tesla Model 3 (Highland) interior

Both Thomas and James note the uncomfortable seats where padding is packed down and no longer adequate. Some exterior chrome detailing has come loose while the interior lining near the driver’s door is hanging on by a thread. Yet the excellent driving experience manages to shine through. For many, it would be difficult to justify the latest model when you can get the same driving experience from a lightly used example. 

Are you in the market for a Model 3 this year? If so, are you thinking of pulling the trigger on the refresh or saving some money and picking up a used model? Let us know in the comments below.

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