Why a Tesla Model 3 is the best affordable electric car

It's the top-selling electric car in the land, and thoroughly deserves this title against price-point competitors from Hyundai, Kia, Mazda, Mini and Nissan.

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Mike Costello
Mike Costello
Comparisons Editor

The number of Australians in the market for an electric car remains quite small by global standards, but interest and awareness are on an upward trajectory.

Fittingly, there’s a growing array of (relatively) affordable options out there. Plus, the adoption of government incentives like those now active in the ACT and Victoria should stoke this along further.

But despite this expansion of choice, there are still precisely zero products from so-called ‘legacy’ car manufacturers that do a better job than a Tesla – the O.G. of EV specialists – for similar coin.

Tesla remains a step ahead despite the established brands pulling their proverbial fingers out. And trust me on this, I’m neither an Elon Musk fanboy or Teslarati consumer. Quite the opposite.

Granted, a subset of inner-city Aussies might be happy with the affordable MG ZS EV at $43,990 drive-away, or a base Hyundai Ioniq or Nissan Leaf at just over $50,000.

But at the next rung it looks like the Model 3 is the smart choice every day of the week. Let’s look at price first.

A base Tesla Model 3 Standard Range Plus variant costs $62,900 RRP which is equal to about $68,000 on the road after you’ve paid your taxes.

I calculated the drive-away prices of Tesla’s price-point (ish) competitors at the entry level using each brand’s website calculators and found the following. Values are approximate and depend on where you live:

How about total battery capacities? We know batteries are the most expensive component of EVs, costing somewhere between $180 to $200 per kWh of storage capacity.

  • Hyundai Kona Electric Elite: 64kWh
  • Kia Niro S: 64kWh
  • Nissan Leaf e+: 62kWh
  • Tesla Model 3 Std Range +: 54kWh
  • Mazda MX-30 E35 Astina: 35.5kW
  • Mini Cooper SE Classic: 32.6kWh

There isn’t a perfect correlation between driving range and battery storage though. You have factors such as motor efficiency, aerodynamic rating, vehicle weight, and more. So what are the driving ranges on the worldwide WLTP lab test?

  • Hyundai Kona Electric Elite: 484km
  • Kia Niro S: 455km
  • Tesla Model 3 Std Range +: 448km
  • Nissan Leaf e+: 385km
  • Mini Cooper SE Classic: 233km
  • Mazda MX-30 E35 Astina: 200km

So far then, the Tesla can’t better the Kia and Hyundai when it comes to battery capacity and claimed driving range. But there’s more to this picture. How about power and torque from the motors?

  • Tesla Model 3 Std Range +: 211kW and 375Nm
  • Nissan Leaf e+: 160kW and 340Nm
  • Hyundai Kona Electric Elite: 150kW and 395Nm
  • Kia Niro S: 150kW and 395Nm
  • Mini Cooper SE Classic: 135kW and 270Nm
  • Mazda MX-30 E35 Astina: 107kW and 271Nm

And what about the driven wheels and acceleration times?

  • Tesla Model 3 Std Range +: Rear-drive and 5.6 sec
  • Nissan Leaf e+: Front-drive and 6.9 sec
  • Mini Cooper SE Classic: Front-drive and 7.3 sec
  • Hyundai Kona Electric Elite: Front-drive and 7.6 sec
  • Kia Niro S: Front-drive and 7.8 sec
  • Mazda MX-30 E35 Astina: Front-drive and TBC

Which of course partly correlates to weight. EV batteries are heavy (nearly 500kg for a 60kWh pack), so keeping weight down is tough. But lighter cars are more agile and efficient.

The fact the Tesla is the biggest car here with the third-longest range, and yet is the third-lightest, is worth noting.

  • Mini Cooper SE Classic: 1365kg
  • Mazda MX-30 E35 Astina: 1442kg
  • Tesla Model 3 Std Range +: 1625kg
  • Nissan Leaf e+: 1736kg
  • Hyundai Kona Electric Elite: 1743kg
  • Kia Niro S: 1791kg

On that note, what about vehicle length, width and height? In that order they go:

  • Tesla Model 3 Std Range +: 4694mm x 1933mm x 1443mm
  • Nissan Leaf e+: 4490mm x 1788mm x 1540mm
  • Mazda MX-30 E35 Astina: 4395mm x 1795mm x 1545mm
  • Kia Niro S: 4375mm x 1805mm x 1570mm
  • Hyundai Kona Electric Elite: 4205mm x 1800mm x 1570mm
  • Mini Cooper SE Classic: 3850mm x 1727mm x 1432mm

While there is no precise correlation, the longer a car’s wheelbase the greater the rear seat legroom generally is. Again, the Tesla wins.

  • Tesla Model 3 Std Range +: 2875mm
  • Kia Niro S: 2700mm
  • Nissan Leaf e+: 2700mm
  • Mazda MX-30 E35 Astina: 2655mm
  • Hyundai Kona Electric Elite: 2600mm
  • Mini Cooper SE Classic: 2495mm

So to summarise, these vehicles are priced drive-away between $61,500 and $71,000.

The Tesla is the fastest, has the most power and torque, is the longest, has the most boot space and longest wheelbase, and the best efficiency when calculating battery storage versus WLTP range. It nearly matches the Kia and Hyundai despite having 10kWh less storage.

Atop this, the Tesla Model 3 is also the only car with a ‘frunk’, meaning an open boot under the bonnet area, since it’s not based on a combustion vehicle architecture.

It’s also alone in coming with a glass roof, has by far the largest touchscreen (15.0-inch), and gets you access to Tesla’s Supercharger public charging network which had a headstart on brand-agnostic providers.

There’s also the not insignificant fact that we found the Tesla’s handling and regenerative braking systems to be superior, too.

So in short, taking away subjective factors such as design and brand, the base Model 3’s specs really do put it ahead of its current competitors.

Of course, with ground-up EV rivals such as the Polestar 2, Hyundai Ioniq 5, and Kia EV6 coming, it should strike while the iron is hot. Frankly I hope Tesla doesn’t dominate EVs forever, but right now I tip my hat…

MORE: Australia’s electric car launch calendar
MORE: What cars are in every brand’s electric future?

Hyundai KonaKia NiroMazda MX-30
VariantEliteSE35 Astina
List price$62,000$62,590$65,490
Drive-away estimate$67,200$67,490$71,000
Battery64kWh64kWh35.5kWh
WLTP range484km455km200km
Power150kW150kW107kW
Torque395Nm395Nm271Nm
Drive wheelsFrontFrontFront
0-100km/h 7.6 sec7.8 secN/A
Length4205mm4375mm4395mm
Width1800mm1805mm1795mm
Height1570mm1570mm1545mm
Wheelbase2600mm2700mm2655mm
Weight1743kg1791kg1442kg
Boot/s 332L451L311L
Mini CooperNissan LeafTesla Model 3
VariantSE Classice+Std Range +
List price$55,650$60,490$62,900
Drive-away estimate$61,500$64,990$68,000
Battery32.6kWh62kWh54kWh
WLTP range233km385km448km
Power135kW160kW211kW
Torque270Nm340Nm375Nm
Drive wheelsFrontFrontRear
0-100km/h7.3 sec6.9 sec5.6 sec
Length3850mm4490mm4694mm
Width1727mm1788mm1933mm
Height1432mm1540mm1443mm
Wheelbase2495mm2700mm2875mm
Weight1365kg1736kg1625kg
Boot/s211L405L542L

MORE: Australia’s electric car launch calendar
MORE: What cars are in every brand’s electric future?

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Mike Costello
Mike Costello
Mike Costello is the Comparisons Editor at CarExpert.
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