Tesla Model 3 wins Best Urban EV under $100K

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Car Of The Year

The Tesla Model 3 has raised its own benchmark by winning the 2024 Drive Car of the Year Best Urban Electric Vehicle under $100K


In 2024, the Drive Car of the Year judging opened up all categories to allow electric vehicles to compete with regular combustion-engined alternatives. That way, if an electric vehicle is best aligned to the award criteria, we call it as we see it and crown an electric vehicle.

But with more and more buyers looking to make the switch to electric, and wanting to know how EVs stand up against their peers, Drive believes electric vehicles deserve their own category so that those interested in an electric vehicle purchase can find the best one.

As such, the Drive Car of the Year Best Urban EV Under $100,000 is arguably the most hotly-contested arena for electric vehicles. These are the electric vehicles that most people will buy to feel proud of, make a statement, tackle daily driver duties, and even haul the family.

With that in mind, they must feel more premium than entry-level electric vehicles, stock the latest infotainment technology to keep drivers and passengers occupied, have competitive driving ranges, and feel brilliant to drive.

This is a new category for 2024 so there is no incumbent winner to return and defend its championship. Instead, we had a field full of electric vehicles to consider for the award but singled out five cars that have impressed Drive judges on regular testing throughout the year.

BMW’s iX1 arrived at the beginning of 2023 earning praise on launch and in subsequent garage testing, the Ioniq 6 truly cements Hyundai’s position as an electric vehicle-making extraordinaire, and the Cupra Born arrived in May 2023 making waves for its relatively low price tag and long driving range.

To round out the year, BYD introduced the Seal with an incredible boast of equipment and powertrains. But it goes up against a facelifted Tesla Model 3 which addressed many of the shortfalls of its predecessor.

Obviously, it’s a tough competition and there’s little wonder why there are five finalists in this category. Ultimately, the Best Urban EV Under $100,000 must feel like a considered step up from the affordable EVs in terms of cabin presentation, driving impressions, electric vehicle efficiency, and standard features.

Winner: Tesla Model 3

Drive’s pick: Tesla Model 3 Long Range from $71,900 MSRP

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Tesla Model 3 key facts:

  • Priced from $61,900 to $71,900 (range)
  • 4-year warranty
  • Range: 513km to 604km

Why the Tesla Model 3 won:

  • Real improvements in ride and comfort
  • Plush new interior surfaces
  • Incredible real-world energy efficiency 

The updates American manufacturer Tesla has made to its Model 3 have made an already well-accomplished electric vehicle that much better, and the Model 3 deserves its win as the Drive Car of the Year Best Urban Electric Vehicle Under $100,000.

Though Tesla tweaks the Model 3 often with changes between model years, this is the most comprehensive update the car maker has introduced since its launch. Key enhancements for the facelifted Model 3 include refreshed exterior styling, new materials and a brighter touchscreen for the cabin, revised suspension, and comfortable new seats.

Curiously, there have also been some backwards steps that caught the ire of Drive judges – gone is the regular steering wheel stalk for indicators, while the car-maker has also used a touchscreen-based gear-selector slider in place of a physical control. But, these minor omissions were not enough of an indictment on what is a brilliantly-polished electric vehicle.

It’s now much more comfortable thanks to softer suspension and seats, plus it’s now complete with a nicer-feeling interior that should make owners feel proud of their purchase. As well, it’s now even more efficient than before due to slippery new bodywork.

You can travel up to 629km in the Long Range variant, which happens to be our pick of the range. However, there are relatively few feature specification additions to get excited about with the step-up to the pricier Model 3 Long Range. The key upgrade is the quicker all-wheel drive powertrain, and bigger battery capacity, plus a punchy 17-speaker sound system.

It can sprint from zero to 100km/h in a scant 4.4 seconds, plus the Long Range variant ekes-out more than 600km from its circa-80kWh battery.

We’ve always levelled praise at how light and bright the interior of a Model 3 presents, and the cabin quality feels even better with this new update. Touch points are either covered in soft-touch synthetic leather, rubberised grips, or a nice-feeling felt-like fabric. Odds and ends are catered to with copious storage spots, while the expansive 15.4-inch touchscreen is brighter and snappier than ever before.

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It might not have Apple CarPlay or Android Auto capability, but the infotainment system offers all manner of apps, maps, and streaming services to drivers and passengers.

Safety-wise, the Model 3 last scored a full five-star rating in 2019, and the model continues with the ‘Autopilot’ package, which includes adaptive cruise control, lane-keep assist, and lane-centring assist – plus autonomous emergency braking, blind-spot cameras, blind-spot monitoring lights, traffic sign recognition, a driver attention warning, and individual tyre pressure monitors.

Maintenance for the Tesla Model 3 is “condition-based” which means servicing is only required when the car detects a fault.

Vehicle efficiency remains high with a 13.2kWh/100km claim from the manufacturer itself, while we’ve seen figures close to the claim on-test.

To drive, the Model 3 is quick, comfortable, and quiet – the three greatest attributes that any EV-maker strives for. You can still feel slight bumps and imperfections making their way through to the cabin, but ride comfort is hugely improved and overall refinement is high.

It’s also relatively dynamic through corners without becoming difficult to manoeuvre in town and parking spots.

Drive judges are not fans of the new gear selector on the touchscreen or the button-press indicators – they are simply too difficult to use in a hurry and don’t always register with a finger prod. We hope the manufacturer returns to physical controls for these important controls in the future.

Nonetheless, these two missteps do not overcome what is the Best Urban Electric Vehicle Under $100,000.

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Drive Car of the Year – Every category, every winner

Find out everything you need to know about all the Drive Car of the Year 2024 category winners at our DCOTY content hub.

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Drive Car of the Year 2024

All the categories, all the winners – Drive Car of the Year 2024

Tom started out in the automotive industry by exploiting his photographic skills but quickly learned journalists got the better end of the deal. With tenures at CarAdvice, Wheels Media, and now Drive, Tom’s breadth of experience and industry knowledge informs a strong opinion on all things automotive. At Drive, Tom covers automotive news, car reviews, advice, and holds a special interest in long-form feature stories.

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