Last week saw the delivery of the first 30 Tesla Model 3s to eager customers, as well as the first chance for many journalists and reviewers to get hands-on with the cars. There were at least three big questions ahead of the Model 3’s debut:
- Does it feel like a Tesla? In other words, has the company figured out how to make something that, when you’re sitting in it, feels as special as a Model S, for a much lower price tag?
- Is the weird instrument display—a single, center-mounted flat screen instead of gauges above the steering wheel—actually going to work for drivers?
- And most importantly . . . is it fast?
While full reviews will have to wait, early test-drives show that the answer to those questions is yes—mostly.
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Motor Trend, in a full-throated tribute, called the Model 3 “the most important vehicle of the century.” Reviewer Kim Reynolds describes the car’s “gush of torque” and “scalpel-like” handling, suggesting that the advantages of electric engines over gas have translated to the lower-priced vehicle. Of the display, Reynolds said “It’ll take a lot more miles than this to decide if the single off-center screen completely substitutes for a conventionally located gauge cluster, but I’m already adapting to it.”
Our own Kirsten Korosec praised the subtle refinement of interior, including hidden air conditioning vents and the car’s vast sense of space, thanks in part to its glass roof.
Mashable’s Lance Ulanoff gushed at the “wonderful” upholstery material of Tesla’s own design, while calling the nontraditional instrument array “disconcerting.” He also noted the responsiveness that comes, in part, from the car’s battery-anchored low center of gravity.
The Verge’s Tamara Warren felt a “glee factor” when driving the car—and noted that yes, it has a cup holder.
Based on a much shorter ride, the Washington Post’s Peter Holley described the sense of entering “uncharted territory,” saying the minimalist interior feels the way a car based on contemporary technology should. Holley found the off-center instrument display to be “safer and more intuitive” than a traditional layout.
Wired, while echoing most of the broader praise, also highlighted a marketing pitfall that Tesla hasn’t yet convincingly avoided. “If you’ve lusted after that expensive Model S," reviewer Jack Stewart writes, "you’ll likely be satisfied with the Model 3 too.” Despite warnings from Elon Musk himself, some high-end buyers could make exactly that decision, cannibalizing Model S sales.
Most of these impressions, it should be noted, were based on upgraded versions of the Model 3, with real-world prices from $44,000 up to about $59,500. The bare-bones $35,000 Model 3 will, not surprisingly, have a little less range, a little less acceleration, and fewer features. There’s also plenty of uncertainty about build quality and reliability as Tesla spins up to produce a half million preordered Model 3s as quickly as it can.
Such issues may have been foreshadowed in the experience of a Wall Street Journal reporter, whose test drive included hiccups that may have been software glitches or, as Tesla later claimed, driver error.
Nonetheless, the consensus seems to be in—this is the car of the future, and everyone else just has to catch up.