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Just a few years ago, speculators were impressed by how the Tesla Model 3 began outselling the Tesla Model S. But many of them, along with auto critics, weren’t so sure about the sustainability of those trends. Some even went as far as to assume that “pent-up consumer demand” was all that fueled the Model 3’s explosive success. Nevertheless, approaching Q3 2021, the Tesla Model 3 not only continues to outsell the Tesla Model S but seems to have become the company’s linchpin.

The confounding difference in sales between the Tesla Model 3 and Model S

A black Tesla Model 3 car is on displayed during the 19th Shanghai International Automobile Industry Exhibition
The Tesla Model 3 | Zhe Ji/Getty Images

“Confounding” is the perfect adjective to describe speculators’ initial confusion in how well Model 3 sales have outperformed the Model S. In a recent report published by GoodCarBadCar, Tesla Model 3 sales figures in the United States grew from a meager 1,667 units sold in 2017 to 206,500 units in 2020.

On the contrary, in a separate GoodCarBadCar sales figures report regarding the Tesla Model S, 18,645 units were sold in 2015, the year it debuted.

Between 2016 and 2018, sales continued a steady ascent with 29,950 being the highest number of units sold. In 2019, the number of Model S units sold plummeted to 14,425 but rebounded above 20,000 units sold in 2020. As Q2 gives way to Q3, the Model 3 is poised to continue outselling the Model S through Q4. Its more affordable price — as promised by Elon Musk, CEO and product architect of Tesla Incorporated — has played a huge role in allowing the Model 3 to outsell the Model S.

Additionally, it received many more updates and refreshes compared to the Model S which finally received an upgrade for 2021. But even with the much-needed upgrade, the Model 3’s estimated MSRP of $38,490 as per Tesla’s website is far more attractive to potential buyers. This holds especially true for those who are first-time Tesla EV buyers and not keen on spending nearly $79,000 on something they’re not yet sure about.

How does the Model 3 stack up against the Model S despite being $40,000 less?

It goes without saying that there are definite differences between the Tesla Model 3 and the Tesla Model S. The primary contrasts mostly come in the form of overall driving performance and driving range. The Model S is only offered in “Long Range” and “Plaid” trims.

However, the Model 3 comes in three trims including the “Standard Range Plus,” the “Long Range,” and “Performance.” The Model 3 Long Range is the most contiguous model to the Model S Long Range—albeit by a long shot.

The Model S features significantly more cargo capacity at 28 cubic feet; the Model 3 only provides you with 15 cubic feet of cargo capacity, being that it’s the smaller of the two. Both EVs are all-wheel drive (AWD) but the Model S Long Range gets an EPA-estimated 412 miles on a single charge; the Model 3 Long Range has an EPA-estimated range of 353 miles on a single charge. 

If speed and performance mean a lot to you, the Model S has a top speed of 155 mph and can accelerate from 0-60 mph in 3.1 seconds; the Model 3’s top speed is 145 mph with a 0-60 mph time of 4.2 seconds, according to Tesla’s website.

If you’re willing to sacrifice range for better performance, the Model 3 Performance is capable of running neck-to-neck with the Model S — a top speed of 162 mph and a 0-60 mph time of 3.1 seconds. Nonetheless, the EPA-estimated range plummets down to 315 miles. But even with such a drop in range, the Model 3 smashes all non-Tesla competitors, hands down.

The Model 3 is the best-selling luxury EV sedan globally, says Musk

The Tesla Model 3 has enjoyed a long run in the limelight. According to The Driven, “In Tesla’s earnings call on Monday (US time), CEO and co-founder Elon Musk underlined the success of the Model 3 globally, overtaking mainstays in the premium car segment.”

Musk stated in the earnings call that “The Model 3 became the best-selling premium car in the world . . . In fact, it is the best-selling luxury sedan of any kind in the world. The BMW 3 Series was for a long time the best-selling premium sedan, it’s been exceeded by the Tesla Model 3.”

While you can’t go wrong with either vehicle, it’s clear that the lower price point sways shoppers toward the Tesla Model 3.