Tesla hopes to enter the hearts—and driveways—of millions of people around the world with the debut of its first mass-market electric vehicle, the Model 3. The company handed over the key (cards) to the first 30 owners of the much-anticipated car at a glitzy launch event on July 29.
What’s the word so far?
It’s hard to find a bad review.
So far, no country outside of China is buying electric vehicles in large numbers. But Tesla plans to change that, manufacturing 400,000 of the cars per year by 2018. To sell those, car buyers will need to see the Model 3 not just as a different type of car, but as a better one. The biggest competition for the Model 3 is not other electric vehicles; it’s gasoline engines.
The early word from reviewers looks promising for Tesla. Their verdict: the Model 3 is not only impressive by electric vehicle standards, it’s a spectacular car by any measure. Any qualms tend to focus on a slight learning curve for dashboard controls, limited fast-charging infrastructure, and the cost for some of the premium features. No doubt issues will arise, but this is Tesla’s honeymoon.
Quartz rounded up the (sometimes breathless) highlights from the major reviewers about the new car.
The Model 3 feels like an automotive tipping point, writes Wired’s Jack Stewart. Tesla’s debut could mark the point at which almost anyone—not just Tesla fans and the environmentally conscious—could see themselves driving an electric vehicle.
The standard $35,000 Model 3 (before tax incentives) has a 220-mile range, five-seats, and can hit 131 miles per hour for a price equivalent to the median US car price. The more powerful $44,000 long-range version can travel 310 miles on a single charge. At that price, Engadget’s Andrew Tarantola writes, ”the Model 3 really feels like the car that will bring electric vehicles as a whole into the mainstream.”
Motor Trend showered the Model 3 with superlative praise. “The Tesla Model 3 is […] the most important vehicle of the century,” the magazine writes. “Yes, the hyperbole is necessary,” it continues, likening the Alfa Romeo Giulia X’s performance to a “wet sponge” compared to the Model 3.
Business Insider also did not hold back. ”I’ve driven pretty much every other all-electric car you can buy, and I can safely say that the Model 3 has no competition,” wrote Matthew Debord. “There isn’t anybody who’s going to sit in the driver’s seat of this car and not want it, if only briefly. The Model 3 stokes immediate desire, and the lust lingers.”
“The car sprints like an Olympic 100-meter champion,” raves USA Today. The $35,000 standard version hits 60 mph in 5.6 seconds with a top speed of 130mph (the upgraded version is slightly faster). The Model 3 has a smaller battery pack so it can’t perform the same theatrics as its premium cousins (an extra fast “Ludicrous” mode).
But that didn’t seem to faze reviewers. High-torque electric propulsion means the Model 3 still has a significant acceleration advantage over internal combustion engines. Tesla’s engineers also apparently took advantage of the car’s low center of gravity (the battery pack fits neatly under the chassis) to give it crisp handling. “The Model 3 is so unexpected[ly] scalpel-like, I’m sputtering for adjectives,” sputters Motor Trend.
The Model 3 comes with the same eight cameras, radar, ultrasonics, and plenty of computing power that the premium Model X and S offer. Although it costs more to activate Autopilot and advanced self-driving features, the car already has the ability to take over highway driving and other chores for drivers.
Testing the semi-autonomous Autopilot, TopGear’s Charlie Turner called it “a system that still feels like witchcraft.” In what is likely to become a standard feature in many cars, the gear shifter has an extra setting: Park, Reverse, Neutral, Drive— and Autopilot.
Tesla says it designed the interior of the car for the day when cars will drive themselves, and there’s no need for myriads buttons and displays. Appropriately, the Model 3 exterior feels “like a cockpit from the future,” says Mashable. The challenge was to provide expansive interior space, even as it shrunk the car compared to the Model S. “Subjectively it succeeded,” judges Motor Trend.
Tesla replaced the typical automotive dashboard with a “stylish, Scandinavian” touchscreen console, a horizontal 15-inch display that gives drivers all the information they need. Few buttons exist besides some thumb controls on the steering wheel. Multiple storage areas are tucked into the front of the car, as well as two smartphone charging docks. The individual vents for hot or cold air are replaced by thin openings in the dash blowing air into the cabin, and controlled by touching the screen and swiping where more AC or heat is desired.
Tesla delivered on its promise to deliver a base Model 3 at $35,000 (or just $27,500 after federal tax incentives) with enough style to please most Tesla aficionados. “It’s clear the Model 3 has inherited a lot of its family DNA from those machines while cutting back on enough bells and whistles to bring the starting price down to $35,000,” writes USA Today.
If owners want more splash, it will add up. An enhanced Autopilot costs $5,000, while a future release of “Full Self-Driving Capability” will cost $3,000 sometime in the future. Adding in all the extras such as larger battery pack, bigger tires, custom paint colors, full-glass reward windshield and other amenities would cost $59,500 pre-incentives.
But for those willing to splurge, writes Business Insider, the Model 3 “is going to blow many, many minds. This is easily the most attractive entry-level luxury, all-electric car on the market.”