Tesla Model 3 Features, Pricing—and a First Drive! ""

By | July 29, 2017

Model 3 Blue Driving

The Tesla Model 3 is the most anticipated car of the year . . . and perhaps the latter half of the decade. Tesla fans have been waiting for this car since 2006, and it’s finally here—and we’ve driven it. We drove a production Model 3 (a red one owned by Tesla’s chief designer, Franz von Holzhausen) for 10 minutes around Tesla’s Fremont, California, factory, so take our limited impressions with a grain of salt.

Model 3 Interior Dash - Desert view

We’ve seen the Model 3’s exterior, but once you open the Aston Martin–esque door handles with a push-pull motion and slip behind the wheel, it’s clear the inside is where the real innovation lies. There are no visible vents: Just two minimalist stalks, a shifter on the right and turn signals/wiper controls on the left, sprout from the steering column, and a giant screen dominates the center of the cockpit. Behind the steering wheel is nothing but windshield. It’s disorienting for the first few minutes and then you never notice it again. Let your worries about the lack of an instrument cluster fade away.

Von Holzhausen’s team has continued its war on buttons that started in the Model S, only now there’s no stalk on the wheel to move the steering column up and down, nor are there dedicated buttons for the sideview mirrors. Instead, a button press on the 15-inch touchscreen brings up a controls menu, allowing the driver to adjust the mirrors and steering column from the scroll wheel and d-pad controls on the wheel. Each driver gets a profile, meaning you set it and forget it.

Model 3 Dashboard - Head on view

Also missing is a traditional key. Instead, the car connects to your cellphone via Bluetooth Low Energy and authenticates the driver that way. Walk up to the car, and it unlocks and turns itself on. If your phone dies (or you want to hand off the car to a valet), a credit-card-sized near-field-communication card unlocks the door with a tap on the B-pillar. It’s the future.

Driving on the streets around Tesla’s Fremont factory for 10 minutes is hardly a thorough road test, but the car feels plenty zippy and handles well. Plant your foot on the go pedal and the rear wheels chirp, then you’re off.

The best way to sum up the Model 3 is to call it a mini–Model S, and we mean that as high praise. The Model 3 is less powerful, smaller, more spartan, and—crucially—more affordable. The car starts at $35,000, delivering an EPA-estimated 220 miles of range with the standard battery, or 310 miles from the optional, $9000 long-range battery (which also allows for slightly faster charge speeds, both from Tesla’s Supercharger high-speed charging network as well as commercial and residential Level 2 chargers). The longer-range battery adds 265 pounds to the curb weight, so there’s no software upgrade to be had here.

Tesla is moving away from the battery-capacity-driven naming scheme that has graced the Model S and X since their launch. Gone are the 60/70/75/80/P100D nameplates, in favor of the “standard” 220-mile and “Long Range” 310-mile battery options. Tesla says the change away from kilowatt-hour measurements is to make things easier to understand for the mass-market Model 3.

The standard battery offers a claimed zero-to-60-mph time of 5.6 seconds and a top speed of 130 mph, while the Long Range version zips to 60 in 5.1 seconds, according to Tesla. Top speed with the bigger battery is 140 mph, although driving that fast is sure to drain the battery in a hurry.

The Model 3 is available in six colors (Solid Black, Midnight Silver Metallic, Deep Blue Metallic, Silver Metallic, Pearl White Multi-Coat, and Red Multi-Coat). However, Musk is channeling Henry Ford a bit, as picking any color aside from black results in a $1000 charge. Eighteen-inch wheels are standard, with 19-inchers available as a $1500 option.

A $5000 Premium package upgrades the interior with heated seats, open-pore wood trim, two rear USB ports, 12-way power front seats, a power-adjustable steering column and mirrors, an improved audio system, a tinted glass roof, and a slick center console with covered storage and a clever dock for two smartphones. Enhanced Autopilot is $5000, while what’s touted as Full Self-Driving Capability is another $3000. Of the latter, Tesla says: “In the future, Model 3 will be capable of conducting trips with no action required by the person in the driver’s seat. This feature is dependent upon extensive software validation and regulatory approval, which may vary by jurisdiction.”

Even without the self-driving capability, our first impressions are very positive. Assuming Tesla can build enough Model 3s and keep the build quality up—both big ifs—Elon Musk has a hit on his hands.

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