Tesla is nearly synonymous with the electric car movement, with its flagship Model S standing proud as the luxury vehicle to be beat.

Many manufacturers have risen to the challenge, with Mercedes, Chevrolet, and Volkswagen filling the roads with fierce competition. But even more of a threat to Tesla’s Model S is the manufacturer’s own Model 3, a far more affordable alternative that leads the pack amongst electric cars.

That’s no small feat. The Model 3 represents an early attempt to make long-range electric cars available to millions of consumers looking to switch from fossil fuels.

So how exactly do the two Teslas stack up against each other? We took a close look in a Model S vs Model 3 showdown to break down the pros and cons of both vehicles and help you decide the best choice for you.

Model S vs Model 3: A bit of background

The Tesla Model S is a real trailblazer. Before this car, Tesla was a minor player, an entertaining sideshow with the Roadster. With the Model S, Tesla suddenly became a serious car company. It was the first electric vehicle to enter the market in any serious way, and it was arguably the driving force for the whole electric vehicle movement.

The Model S finally made us believe we really could have electric cars, right now, without any major sacrifice. It also brought us Autopilot, which is another revelation that has forced the entire automotive world to up their game and bring their own systems to the table, with self-driving cars now becoming a reality.

Then came the Model 3.

Currently in its second phase of production, the Model 3 is the car that Elon Musk has had in mind since day one. It’s the volume seller, the car that will cement his legacy.

The high-tech Model S changed the world, but the Model 3 could take it over. It’s the electric car that anybody can own — or at least get a ride in using a ride share app.

None of this is hypothical. The Model 3 was introduced last year and is already outselling the competition. As reported by Clean Technica, Tesla’s Model 3 outperformed all other small and midsize luxury cars in the last quarter. And not by a little. The Model 3 sold 16,000 units, more than twice as many as the next most popular vehicle in its class, the Mercedes C-Class.

Model S vs Model 3: What’s under the hood?

In a lot of ways, the Model S and Model 3 aren’t competing. They appeal to different car owners, as is the whole point.

Tesla’s Model 3 is a mass market, affordable electric vehicle.

Tesla describes the Model 3 as “a mass market, affordable electric vehicle” as compared to its predecessor, a “premium sedan.”

But what does that really mean? Is it just a matter of comfort? Nicer seats and better display screens? Well, that’s part of it. The Model S certainly sweetens the deal to make the extra expense feel worth it. For one, you get over 15,000 custom configurations to choose from, compared to the Model 3’s fewer than 100.

But what else divides these two giants of the electric car industry? Let’s look a little closer.

Model S

  • 0-100kph in 2.7-4.4 seconds.
  • 416-539km range.
  • Free, unlimited supercharging.
  • Seats five adults and two children (in rear-facing seats).
  • Powered rear lift gate.
  • 30 cubic feet of front and rear storage.
  • Two digital displays: a driver display and a 17″ centre touch screen.

Model 3

  • 0-100kph in 3.7-5.9 seconds.
  • 354-499km range.
  • Pay-per-use supercharging.
  • Seats five adults.
  • Manual trunk.
  • 15 cubic feet of front and rear storage.
  • One digital display: a 15″ centre touch screen.

Model S vs Model 3: Price

Okay, no more beating around the bush. We’ve made it clear that the Model 3 is cheaper than the model S, but what does that really mean in dollars and cents.

The Model S starts at $65,200, and goes up well above $100,000, depending on your preferences and configurations.

The Model 3, on the other hand, starts at $38,900.

(Keep in mind that these are Tesla’s prices after incentives and gas savings, so double check your local incentives and dealerships.)

This is the big one! This is the difference that not only pushes the Model 3 ahead for consumers on a budget but also makes Tesla a serious contender in the industry, pushing it way ahead of the competition, as noted above.

But money isn’t everything, and there are still reasons to opt for the Model S.

Model S vs Model 3: Interior

Here’s where the driving experience comes in. The interior is what most drivers will see and experience most of the time. The engine specs can tell you a lot about performance, but the actual feel of driving one of these all happens inside.

Oddly enough, the two are fairly similar inside.

The early Model S was criticized for being too stripped down for a luxury car, but Tesla stuck with minimalism. Tesla has even doubled down with plans to streamline the Model S even more.

The Model 3 is a slightly more stripped down affair, with a single, smaller screen, less seating, and less trunk space.

The size will certainly make a big difference, functionally, but if you were hoping for a luxury car that shows off in the Model S, you’ll likely be disappointed — or just as happy going with the Model 3.

Model S vs Model 3: Safety

On the safety front, once again, these cars are neck and neck. For all the valid criticism aimed at CEO Elon Musk, the man doesn’t skimp on safety.

The Model S and the Model 3 both received five-star ratings across the board for their crash protection. In Tesla’s words, each model is “designed to be the safest car in its class.”

Apart from the basic crash protection, most of Tesla’s safety equipment is active and incorporated into the Autopilot system in both models.

Model S vs Model 3: Wrap up

One the one hand, comparing Tesla’s Model S vs Model 3 is like comparing Apples and Oranges, on the other hand, it’s kind of like comparing an Apple MacBook to an Apple MacBook Pro. One may be the budget version of the other, but it’s certainly useful to see what the added expense gets you.

So, with that in mind, it’s safe to say that the Model 3 is an extremely strong competitor to its older bother, the Model S. It foregoes a few bells and whistles in favour of an affordable ride, but it maintains most of the features you really want in an electric car, or a Tesla specifically.

The choice is yours! If you want a luxury car, or just to let the world know what you’re made of, maybe the Model S is right for you. I’d opt for the Model 3 myself, as someone who values a great bargain. (Not that I can afford the Model S anyway, mind you.)

What do you look for in an electric vehicle? Have you tried the Model S or model 3? What did you think? Let us know in the comments!