Tesla is a car company unlike any other; doing business more like a tech startup than an automotive brand. That’s served them well for their high priced S sedan and X utility. But, things have not gone smoothly for the entry-level Model 3. Still, they are coming out of the factory in decent numbers now, so its high time to find out if it’s a must have gadget, or truly the car of tomorrow…today.
It’s fitting that Tesla chose Model 3 as the name for their entry-level EV, as they are looking to do for battery electric sedans what the BMW 3 Series has done for sport sedans, become the new benchmark for others to follow.
Other than lacking an upper grille slot, the compact Model 3 bares a strong resemblance to the larger Model S. Its slick front end leads to a very big windshield; where the arching roofline flows hatchback-like to a very short rear deck and tall back end.
Body panel fitment is not as great as what you’d find in the typical luxury car, let alone a Hyundai Elantra; but we hear improvements are being made as production continues to ramp up.
The interior is surprisingly pleasant; new era minimalism at its finest. Just a long linear dash with air vents, a steering wheel with two stalks, and a horizontal touch screen jutting out of that IP. No buttons, dials, knobs, to be found, save for some programmable scroll wheels on the steering wheel.
All info is displayed on that 15-inch center video panel, and there’s a wealth of it; however, it is fixed and cannot be tilted towards the driver, requiring you to take your eyes off the road a lot. Making things worse, there’s quite often a glare on the screen that keeps you from seeing it clearly.
All seating positions are rather comfortable; and both rear and front trunks offer plenty of space for storage.
On the road, the ride is well composed, with a solidly tight but not jarring ride. It indeed drives much like a European sport sedan.
Our test car came courtesy of local owner Bill Clarke, and the excellent driving experience is his favorite aspect of the car.
BILL CLARKE: “The Model 3 is a great vehicle as a driving vehicle; it feels tight, responsive, very powerful. The handling is similar to a BMW in my opinion; I like that nice, tight German feel to a car. The power is almost as much as the Model S that I had previously, so a nice quick responsive car.”
JOHN DAVIS: There is a somewhat noisy rear suspension, mostly noticeable because of the lack of engine noise. But, Bill’s right on; with an output of 271-horsepower the Model 3 is quite fast. A typical 0-60 run takes about 5.0-seconds.
There’s also lots of windshield to look through, giving you a wide angle view of all that lies ahead. And, with our car’s Premium Package, the full length glass roof means everyone on board can sight see.
This rear-driver also had the Long Range battery pack, which is the only one available right now. Tesla doesn’t provide exact specs, but it is rated in the neighborhood of 70-kWh. Base 50-kWh models, as well as twin-motor all-wheel-drive versions, will be added into the production mix later this year.
There’s 310 miles of range with the bigger battery, so we’d go with that. Range for the base model is 220-miles.
Just as in its larger kin, the Model 3’s charging port is integrated into the driver’s side tail light cluster. Still cool, no matter how many times we see it.
We are definitely not sold however, on the no key aspect. We actually had an app snafu with our test car, and even the backup proximity card wouldn’t let us get the car started quickly.
The government gives the Model 3 MPGe Ratings of 136-City, 123-Highway, and 130-Combined. For a near perfect Energy Impact Score, responsible for just 2/10 of a barrel of oil use annually and zero CO2 emissions.
The $35,000 mass market Model 3 that garnered all of the original hype and down payments has yet to emerge. Only the bigger battery model is available right now. That means with other extras like the Premium Package and Auto Pilot, this “3” can easily top $50,000. So, it’s still mostly an early adopter proposition.
Still, the 2018 Tesla Model 3 is the best convergence of high technology and the practical automobile that we’ve yet seen. And, it does drive great! Yet, it remains to be seen if it truly is the game changing car of the future. But, one thing is for sure; it is here right now, and will be the populous EV benchmark for years to come.
0-60 mph: 5 seconds
EPA: 136 MPGe city / 123 MPGe highway
Energy Impact: 2/10 of a barrel of oil/yr
CO2 Emissions: Zero