What Is A Sleeper Or Stealth Tesla Model 3 Performance?

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As new buyers are researching Tesla and deciding which Model 3 version to buy, some of the options can be a bit confusing. And if you delve into the various social media groups and discussion forums, things can get even worse. One particular version of the Model 3 which is a bit of a unicorn is the so-called “Stealth” or “Sleeper” Performance model. And to describe what that is, first let’s go through a brief history of the Tesla Model 3.

The Model 3 is (or has been) available in multiple trim levels since its introduction in 2017. First up was the Long Range Rear Wheel Drive version with a single motor in the rear and a range of over 300 miles. Next came the All Wheel Drive dual motor version of the Model 3, which includes the long range battery pack and features two motors: one in the front and one in the rear. A variant on the All Wheel Drive model is the Model 3 Performance. This car is basically identical to the Model 3 Long Range All Wheel Drive, but the motors were supposedly tested and “binned,” with the best performing motors being set aside to use in the performance model. There has been some speculation that this may no longer be the case, and the motors are actually identical to those in the AWD version. But in any case, the Performance Model 3’s software enables the motors to operate at a higher performance level than those in the standard AWD version. This allows the Performance model to accelerate much quicker than the AWD model (a full second faster in 0–60 MPH). There are (or were) some additional options available on the Performance model, but we’ll get to that later.

Model 3 for the Masses

After the Model 3 AWD and Model 3 Performance had been out for a while, Tesla introduced a limited edition “mid-range” RWD model with around 260 miles of range and premium interior features such as enhanced navigation and premium sound system. This was priced at around $45,000, and later lowered to $42,000. At the time it was released, the mid-range Model 3 allowed many Tesla buyers to qualify for the full $7,500 Federal tax credit in the United States, without having to purchase the more expensive Long Range battery. The mid-range Model 3 was phased out in March, 2019. In February 2019, Tesla released the long awaited Model 3 “Standard Range” at the promised base price of $35,000. The range of the Model 3 Standard Range (SR) is 220 miles, and it includes a single rear motor. Though it was briefly possible to order the Standard Range model online, now it is only available via special order by calling or visiting a local Tesla showroom. Tesla also introduced a “Standard Range Plus” (SR+) version, which has almost 10% more range than the base model (originally 240 miles; raised to 250 miles in October, 2019) and also comes with a basic version of Tesla’s Autopilot feature built in. This version is being offered (at the time of publication of this article) for $38,990 and can be bought online.

The Model 3 trim options available today include Standard Range, Standard Range Plus, Long Range All Wheel Drive (AWD), and Performance (Long Range AWD). All models except the Standard Range base model now include the basic version of Tesla’s Autopilot feature as a standard feature. Of course, there are various upgrades and options available, including premium paint, premium interior, and the “Full Self Driving” (FSD) feature. Full Self Driving is not available yet, but having the feature does allow owners to use the “Smart Summon” feature to pick them up on their driveway or in a parking lot. FSD also enables a more enhanced Autopilot option called “Navigate on Autopilot,” which allows the car to travel from on-ramp to off-ramp of a highway with minimal driver intervention.

Blue Model 3 in the Adirondacks
The “stealth” or “sleeper” Model 3 Performance looks virtually identical to base Model 3, but packs some extra oomph “under the hood.” Photo by Chris Boylan.

But it’s the Performance variant of the car where things can get a bit confusing. When Tesla first started offering the Model 3 Performance, the base Performance version had the standard 18-inch Aero wheels that we see on the other versions of the Model 3. Tesla offered a “Performance Upgrade Package” (PUP) for $5,000, which included larger 20-inch wheels, upgraded brakes with larger red calipers, a rear spoiler, and aluminum pedals. These versions became known as the P3D- (base Performance with 18-inch wheels) and P3D+ (upgraded Performance with 20-inch wheels/larger brakes). The base Performance model also became known as the “stealth” or “sleeper” performance model, because it looked identical to a base Model 3. Performance Models can be differentiated from non-Performance models with the underline under the “dual motor” badge on the rear of the car (also in the Tesla app). But early deliveries of the Performance model lacked that badge, and some owners have taken to “debadging” their Teslas in order to keep spectators guessing.

The confusing part comes in a few months after the Performance Model 3 was introduced. Tesla decided to stop offering the Model 3 Performance without the PUP upgrade. In late September 2018, the $5,000 PUP upgrade was rolled into the base price of the Model 3 Performance. After that announcement, the only way to get a Performance Model 3 was with the 20-inch wheels, upgraded brakes, and spoiler. However, there were still several “sleeper” Performance Model 3s that had been manufactured and not delivered to an owner. So, at some point in 2019, Tesla began offering a “Performance” upgrade to those who were buying a Model 3 Long Range AWD. This was not available to order on the website, but could be added after making the deposit but before taking delivery. The cost was only $2,000 above the price of the AWD car, and this allowed buyers to get the quicker 3.2-second 0–60 mph time as well as access to Tesla’s “Track Mode,” which allows the Model 3 to perform better on the controlled conditions of a racetrack.

The Model 3 Performance is identified in the Tesla app with a red underline under the text "dual motor"
The Model 3 Performance is identified in the Tesla app with a red underline under the text “dual motor.”

If indeed the “sleeper” Performance Model 3 is really only different from a standard Model 3 Long Range AWD in its software, there is some speculation that Tesla may allow owners of a Model 3 Long Range AWD to “unlock” the Performance option in the future via a paid software upgrade. This would allow existing owners of the Model 3 Long Range AWD to get better performance from their cars just by plunking down a credit card and getting a software update. This would be a brilliant move on Tesla’s part since it would allow the company to raise additional revenue at no additional cost.

Why Would You Want a Sleeper Model 3 Performance?

The sleeper Performance model has all the benefits and range of the Model 3 Long Range AWD, but has noticeably better acceleration, for just a little more money. Regarding the higher trim Model 3, the sleeper model is significantly cheaper than a full Performance model. Also, the 18-inch aero wheels are more fuel efficient than the 20-inch wheels and able to handle road defects like potholes much more gracefully. We’ve seen multiple stories of the 20-inch wheels blowing out tires and even cracking rims when hitting potholes. And replacing those rims can be an expensive proposition. While it is possible to add custom (non-Tesla) 18-inch or 19-inch wheels to the full Model 3 Performance, that also incurs an additional expense (and time). The Tesla spoiler (or an aftermarket one) can be added to a stealth Model 3 Performance if desired, and the aluminum pedal covers are available on Amazon for under $20.

The full Model 3 Performance is probably better suited to track racing, due to its larger/heavier-duty brake calipers. And some do prefer the aggressive look of the 20-inch wheels with their low-profile tires. But if your main use case is commuting, traveling long distances, or driving around less-than-perfect city streets, a sleeper Performance model may be a better choice than the full Performance model. The only problem right now is being able to find one (and no, you can’t have mine).

Note: article updated to mention the mid-range Model 3 which was available for a brief period from the fall of 2018 to Spring, 2019.

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Chris Boylan

is an EV and alternative fuel enthusiast who has been writing about technology since 2003.

Chris Boylan has 72 posts and counting. See all posts by Chris Boylan