Tesla Model 3

Style

For the Model 3, Tesla translated the sleek design language of the award-winning Model S into a smaller format—about the size of a BMW 3-Series. It’s well-proportioned and elegant. The Model 3 keeps a fastback profile while replacing the liftgate with a conventional trunk lid. The absence of a traditional grille makes for a clean front-facing design, although some critics believe the front fascia falls too abruptly from the hood.

Tesla fans will immediately notice the car from the brand’s finer design features, like its unusual flush exterior handles. Despite all the individual innovations—inside and out—the overall design pretty much blends with current trends and is not likely to attract attention on the road or grocery store parking lot.

Tesla Model 3

Most of the drama occurs on the inside. From the cabin, curved glass extends from the windshield all the way to the trunk. Inside, the expansive glass adds a panoramic sense of space that makes the small sedan seem bigger than it is. The most radical design decision for the Model 3 is its dashboard and console configuration, which takes minimalism to a new level among mass-market consumer vehicles. The Model 3 has no instrument cluster and no climate control knobs. You won’t even find visible air vents. All controls and instrument gauges—including basic info like vehicle speed and changing the AC’s airflow—are located on the car’s sizeable horizontal touchscreen.

Given Tesla’s need to make a transition from a maker of niche luxury vehicles to a mass auto manufacturer, there has been great scrutiny placed on how well the Model 3s body panels align with one another. Critics are quick to point out wider-than-normal gaps. That may be true on some Model 3 cars, but those inconsistencies are unlikely to be noticed by everyday drivers.

Performance

The Model 3 is one of the fastest cars in the compact class. The long-range 300-plus mile model being produced in 2018 accelerates to 60 mph in about five seconds—with the more affordable Standard versions needing about another half-second to reach that speed. As a rear-wheel-drive car from Tesla—a company that prides itself on demonstrating the maximum power output of electric powertrains—it stacks up well against gas-powered performance competitors like the BMW 3-Series and Audi A4. The dual-motor, all-wheel-drive Performance version has breathtaking acceleration to 60 mph in 3.2 seconds and a top speed of 162 miles per hour.

Tesla Model 3

Due to its battery pack, the Model 3 weighs about 300 pounds more than a BMW 330i. Its low center of gravity and stiffness give it an edge on handling. As a smaller and lighter car than the Model S, it’s arguably Tesla’s most nimble car on the road. Reviewers give the Model 3 high marks for precise steering and tightly controlled road manners.

Some reviewers have complained that the steering is numb and the braking is weak. Testing by Consumer Reports indicated a slow braking response—in fact, the organization said it was “far worse than any contemporary car.” A subsequent over-the-air update from Tesla improved the car’s braking distance by almost 20 feet, putting it back in line with competitive models. The Model 3 doesn’t provide the one-pedal driving experience—in which an EV’s regenerative braking brings the car quickly to a halt when you lift your foot off the accelerator pedal. You need to hit the brakes to come to a complete stop.

Performance options include a $5,000 self-driving feature. A single tap on the gear selector activates cruise control, and then a second tap activates arguably the industry's best lane-keeping system.

Efficiency/Range

It's hard to keep track of the available variants for the Model 3 and other Tesla vehicles. As of this writing, there are four choices for range for the Model 3:

  • 220-mile Standard
  • 240-mile Standard Range Plus
  • 310-mile Long Range Dual-Motor and Dual-Motor Performance
  • 325-mile Long Range Rear-Wheel Drive

The Standard versions use a 50-kWh battery pack, while the long-range Model 3s come with 75 kilowatt-hour battery. All of these variants provide way more daily range than average drivers need.

At 325 miles, the Model 3 Long Range RWD provides more range than any other EV (except for the Long Range Model S's 335 miles). With an official E.P.A. efficiency rating of about 130 miles per gallon equivalent, the Model 3 beats out the BMW i3, Nissan LEAF, and Chevy Bolt on efficiency. (Only the Hyundai Ioniq Electric is more efficient, with 136 MPGE.)

Tesla Model 3

Charging

For Model 3 owners with a $750 Tesla wall charger and 50-amperage capability at home, the car’s 16.5-kW onboard charger will add about 50 miles of range for every hour that it’s plugged in. That beats the 25 miles or so that most EV drivers experience from a standard charger (and about 40 amps of service).

With the most affordable Model 3 providing 220 miles of driving range—and the average commuter traveling about 40 miles per day—most drivers will have plenty of energy reserve on a daily basis. The 310-mile version, of course, is even better. Either way, you will probably discover that you only need to charge every few days (unless you have a regular long commute).

In terms of long-distance highway trips, Tesla offers access to about 500 Supercharger sites in the United States. These high-speed fast-chargers are capable of bringing a Model 3 battery pack to 80 percent of capacity in about 40 minutes. This opens up new possibilities for interstate travel for many EV drivers. Unfortunately, Tesla doesn’t offer use of the Superchargers to Model 3 owners for free. While rates vary according to location, you might think of charging costs via a Supercharger as being roughly equivalent to what people pay at the pumps. Charging at home is more likely to be about one-third of that cost—or about $1 per gallon equivalent. Of course, your mileage and cost may vary.

One of the advantages of having an EV with a big long-range battery is that it charges faster from empty. In other words, the rate of replenishment at a public fast-charger goes fastest when the battery is mostly out of charge. The rate starts to taper as electrons are increasingly squeezed into the cells. By the time the pack gets nearly full, the rate begins to crawl. So the best strategy is to arrive at a Supercharger with an almost empty big battery, and then unplug when it reaches close to 80-percent state-of-charge.

Passenger/Cargo Room

The Model 3 is a roomy five-seater—with more interior volume than most cars in its class. This is accomplished by the car’s lack of an engine and the placement of its large battery pack beneath the cabin floor. As with other EVs, Tesla moved the front seats closer to the nose of the car—adding leg room in the back. Still, it’s a compact vehicle so it won’t be as comfortable for relatively large rear passengers as the Model S or Model X. Some reviewers have complained about a noisy cabin, including wind noise and rattles from various loose components.

The rear trunk is relatively spacious for a compact. Space generously opens up when the rear seats are folded down. The front trunk—or frunk—is a fun feature, providing the means to quickly stow an extra duffel bag where most people expect to see an engine bay.

The user experience of getting in and out of the car, or in fact most common interior controls, is unusual. There’s no key. You use a credit-card shaped device, or a paired phone to open the doors and start up the vehicle.

The Model 3 has power-window switches, electronic door-release buttons, two control buttons on the steering wheel, and two column-mounted stalks for turn signals and shifting. Otherwise, there are no conventional gauges, knobs, or buttons. Instead, there’s just a horizontal floating 15-inch center-mounted touchscreen with well-organized graphics. While most functions are intuitive, it’s odd at first for many Model 3 drivers to have a dark space in front of the steering wheel. The need to glance to the right for basic vehicle info including speed is also unaccustomed. Avoiding distraction from the road while pinching and zooming on that screen (or looking at map-based directions) can be a challenge.

The lower-priced version of the Model 3 with "Standard" rather than "Premium" interior is somewhat stripped down. There are cloth seats with manual adjustments for seats and steering. The audio equipment is basic, and the car lacks high-tech features like Autopilot-capability and some streaming audio. You'll need to buy your own floor mats.

Tesla Model 3

Safety

In September 2018, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) released its safety rating for the Tesla Model 3—issuing a perfect five-star safety rating in every category.

The Tesla Model 3 attained a Superior front-crash-avoidance rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). The IIHS gave the car's headlights a coveted Good score. The IIHS has not crash-tested the Model 3, but it is likely to earn the agency's Top Safety Pick+ rating.

The Model 3 has an expansive list of safety features, including automatic emergency braking, active cruise control, and lane-keeping assist.

Price

Tesla's pricing structure is confusing and in flux. The Standard Range non-premium version starts at $38,900, with a fully loaded model reach nearly $50,000.

As of this writing, there are three Long Range versions, starting as low as $57,490 and climbing all the way past $70,000 for a loaded Dual-Motor, Long Range Performance model.

It's best to go directly to the Tesla website to explore the latest prices and what features are included. Premium Upgrades for $5,000 add heated power front seats, leatherette upholstery, a panoramic glass roof, and a premium audio system. Black exterior paint comes standard, but other colors increase the price by at least $1,500. Selecting the Autopilot package adds at least $3,000.

It’s important to note that Tesla reached its limit for the $7,500 federal EV tax credit. So, for the first half of 2019, the tax incentive for a Tesla buyer is $3,750. After June 30, the tax credit for Teslas is cut in half again to $1,875 before it completely disappears starting Jan. 1, 2020.

Tesla Model 3

Purchase Process

All Tesla orders begin with selecting your specific model features and placing a $2,500 deposit via Tesla's website. The company has worked down its long waiting list of pre-orders. Wait times now range from two weeks for Long Range variants to as much as eight weeks for the Standard non-premium Model 3.

Tesla Model 3 specifications

Availability: Now
Base MSRP: $39000
Est. tax credit: $7500
Technology: Electric Vehicle
Body type: Sedan
Seats: 5
EPA Range: 220 miles pure electric
Battery size: 50 kWh
Charging rate: 16.5 kW

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