What It’s Like to Ride in a Tesla Model 3
Electric car maker Tesla Motors unveiled its long-awaited mass market car, the Model 3, at one of its classic launch parties in its design studio in Hawthorne, Calif., on Thursday night. You can read all the impressive specs and stats (first and foremost it cost $35,000) all over the Internet today, but what’s it like to actually ride in the car?
At the launch party, Fortune got a chance to go for a ride in the car, which is looking to be a game-changer for Tesla and which already has 180,000 reservations from Tesla customers. It was important for Tesla (TSLA) to show fans and potential customers at the event that the car is far enough along in development for it to have working prototypes, despite that it won’t be shipped until late 2017.
The first thing you notice about the car when you get in it is how roomy it is. Tesla made a design decision to remove what’s called a firewall in a regular gas-powered car in between the front driver and passenger and the car’s engine and gear under the hood. But electric cars don’t have all those moving parts of an engine up front—in Tesla’s case it’s got a “frunk,” a front trunk—so the company quite simply removed that extra space.
The effect of the design choice is that the front seats are moved forward, so the passenger in the front seat is sitting further forward than they would be in Tesla’s other cars. This shift gives ample leg room to the passenger and driver in the front seats, but also enables the back seats to have more leg room, too. Tesla says the Model 3 seats five adults comfortably (three in back and two in front).
The next thing you’ll notice about the Model 3, particularly if you’re sitting in the back seat, is that the rear window is one, sleek, long glass panel that runs from just above the (back) trunk to the middle of the top of the car. Inspiration for this design choice came from the Model X, which has its rear glass styled in a similar way.
The effect of the swooping rear window is that it gives the car a roomier, lighter atmosphere, and adds to that stretched out feeling with the extra leg room inside. It also just looks pretty cool from the outside.
The other major design choice that dominates the exterior of the car is the pointed, sculpted nose. That design choice appears to be largely an aesthetic one.
But we’ll see what customers say about that nose curvature. First glance reviews were mixed on Twitter whether the nose was “fugly” or cool. But the effect of the choice is that it gives the car are little more of a luxury feel, which is unusual for a $35,000 car.
After you close the doors and get situated, the next thing that will hit you is the unusual dashboard. In Tesla’s previous cars it uses a 17-inch screen embedded on the dashboard. But for the Model 3, Tesla is using a 15-inch screen that’s been placed landscape-style and is kind of floating off of the dashboard.
The screen is easier to see at a glance than the more deeply embedded one on the Model S and X, but is it too easy to see? Perhaps it could become a little distracting for a driver.
Given this is a prototype car, some of Tesla’s current Model 3 design decisions could be reworked. The original prototypes of the Model X had some bleeding edge design decisions, like using side rear-view cameras instead of mirrors, which never made it into the final cars.
After the driver started up the Model 3, riding in the car actually feels somewhat similar to riding in Tesla’s other cars, like the Model S and X. And that’s a good thing. A really good thing.
The Model 3 can go zero to 60 in 6 seconds, which is very fast for a $35,000 family car. The car also has that 100% torque you’ll recognize from electric cars in general (when the driver puts her foot on the gas the car zooms off and doesn’t have a delay time that revs up the engine like in a gas-powered car).
For more on Tesla’s Model 3 reservation holders, watch:
Our Tesla driver drove the brief test route that the company had set up, complete with weird fog machines puffing smoke and bright lights flashing around the car. Seems like the company wanted to make the likely boring (and short) test route more interesting with these added touches.
But the driver did get a chance to do a long acceleration, taking the car up to near 60 mph in a few short seconds. That’s when you could really feel that the Model 3 is not a standard low cost electric car. It’s no Nissan LEAF.
The car has dual motors, like the high-end p85D Model S, and it’s also going to come with autopilot as a standard feature. It’s fast and powerful, and full of lessons learned from the luxury cars the Model S and Model X. During Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s brief remarks at the event on Thursday night, he even thanked the Model S and Model X owners because those cars are what made the Model 3 possible.
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While the test ride didn’t get a chance to test the car’s range, the Model 3 also has a 215-mile range on a single charge, which for a $35,000 electric car is quite impressive. Nissan’s original LEAF has a range that pushes 100 miles. GM is coming out with a car that’s got a 200-mile range called the Bolt.
At the end of the day, Tesla has been able to use its decade of electric car technology development, as well as pushing the envelope on its three previous cars, to enable the Model 3 to have impressive and high-end features that can’t be found on any other $35,000 electric car. The Model 3 won’t be delivered well into late 2017, and into 2018 and 2019, but it should be worth the wait.
Tesla is, quite frankly, far ahead of the competition. The Model 3, bang for buck, right now is the best car you’re going to be able to buy for a mass-market electric car at that price point. No surprise that Tesla fans have already plunked down deposits for 180,000 reservations.
Updated at 9:48 AM PST to reflect that the Model 3 reservation numbers are now at 180,000, from 135,000 late Thursday night.