Since Elon Musk first showed the 2018 Tesla Model 3 to the world in March 2016, speculation about the electric equivalent of the BMW 3 Series has, at times, reached levels of obsession. While the first 12 months or so were largely limited to design analyses and hot takes that often seemed to more closely reflect the author’s position on Tesla stock rather than the car’s potential merits, the start of prototype production in late February led to numerous spy shots of both the amateur and professional varieties.
Somehow, the fledgling California automaker managed to keep details under wraps until tonight’s presentation of the first 30 customer cars to their new owners, who have waited patiently since putting down a $1,000 deposit nearly 16 months ago. (The first production car, SN1, became Musk’s property after board member Ira Ehrenpreis gave away his claim to it as a birthday present.)
So what exactly are they getting in exchange for their cold, hard cash (and some taxpayer funds in the form of incentives that drop the net price into the mid-high-20s, depending on state)?
Well, in the case of these first 30 customers, as well as most others who take delivery before the fall, basically a spec car. Given that the Model 3 represents an exponential increase in demands on Tesla’s manufacturing capacity, the automaker is initially offering the new sedan in just one configuration: Rear-wheel-drive with the optional 310-mile battery and premium package. While the Model 3’s previously touted $35,000 base price remains, the two mandatory options add $9,000 and $5,000 to the price, respectively, bringing the total pre-incentive sticker of the Model 3 Long Range Premium to $49,000. Small wonder, then, that the entry level Model S 75 RWD was recently discontinued.
The story behind the bigger battery isn’t just about range, however. Though motor specs are one of the few details we haven’t seen, Tesla claims the Long Range can hit 60 mph in just 5.1 seconds versus 5.6 seconds for the standard 220-mile car, which will become available in the fall once production pace has ramped up and, presumably, at least some pain points have been ironed out. Top speed increases as well, going from 130 mph to 140. Additionally, the Model 3 LR charges substantially quicker, collecting 170 miles of range per hour at a supercharger instead of 130, and 37 miles of range per hour on a 240-volt outlet versus 30.
Meanwhile, the Premium package gussies up the interior with “premium seating and cabin materials throughout.” The one material highlighted is open pore wood trim, but the suede door inserts are also part of the deal, along with the leather upholstery. Other additions include 12-way-adjustable power front seats, power-adjustable steering column, a premium audio system, tinted glass roof, auto-dimming and power-folding heated side mirrors, LED fog lamps to go with the standard LED headlamps and taillamps, heated rear seats with dedicated USB outlets, and a covered center console with twin USB ports and phone docks.
If that makes the base Model 3 sound sparsely equipped, you’re not wrong. While the 15-inch screen remains, the leather is replaced with textile upholstery and the closed center console makes way for an open one, though the dual USB ports remain. The stock audio system offers only FM and streaming capability, the latter of which is easy to access thanks to the standard on-board WiFi and LTE connectivity, as well as the obligatory Bluetooth integration. A rear-view camera is the only piece of external optical gear that comes standard, not counting the Autopilot sensor package, and there’s just one 12-volt outlet to go with the twin USB ports. But at least the rear seats fold in a 60/40 configuration. We haven’t seen a Model 3 interior without the Premium package, and given the set production plan, any examples that exist are almost certainly prototypes, so a comparison is not yet possible. However, even in Premium form, the Model 3’s gauge-cluster-free interior is decidedly minimalistic — perhaps uncomfortably so — as there is not a single button to be found aside from the steering wheel-mounted controls.
Speaking of Autopilot, while the Model 3 comes standard with a suite of seven cameras, a forward radar, and 12 ultrasonic sensors, you’ll have to part with another $5,000 to unlock driver assist functionality like active cruise control and lane-keep assistance via the “Enhanced Autopilot” option (active safety systems like collision avoidance and automatic braking are enabled on all versions, however). Customers can also pay an additional $3,000 for “Full Self-Driving Capability,” which does not yet exist and seems like the sort of thing Tesla would allow you to purchase separately in the future, given that the hardware is already present in every car.
Physically, the Model 3 is slightly larger than the BMW 3 Series, its 184.8-inch length being exactly two inches longer, while its 113.2-inch wheelbase offers a 2.6-inch advantage. At 72.8 inches wide, the Model 3 is also 1.5 inches wider, and with a height of 56.8 inches, 0.3- to 0.5-inch taller. Things stay close on the scale as well, with the Model 3 Long Range weighing in at 3,814 pounds while the smaller battery reduces weight by nearly 300 pounds to 3,549; slightly more than half of that bulk sits in the rear half of the car, with distribution checking in at 47/53 percent f/r for regular Model 3s and 48/52 for Long Range ones. The BMW, meanwhile, weighs in between 3,665 and 3,820 pounds, depending on configuration.
Despite the slightly larger dimensions, the Model 3 offers a nearly identical amount of interior space as the BMW. Headroom measures 40.3 inches up front and 37.7 inches in the back for glass-roof models, dropping slightly to 39.6 inches up front for standard-roof variants. Legroom measures 42.7 inches up front and 35.2 inches in the back, increases of 0.7 and 0.1 inch, respectively, while shoulder room sits at 56.3 inches for front occupants (a 1.3-inch advantage over the 3 Series) and 54.0 inches for rear-seat ones (a 1.0-inch disadvantage). The BMW also has a cargo space advantage, offering 17.0 cubic feet versus the Tesla’s 15.0, though it is not certain if that figure includes the front trunk as well as the rear one.
Underneath, the Model 3 features a double-wishbone front suspension with twin-tube coil-over shocks and a multi-link rear. Steering is variable ratio and, unsurprisingly, electrically assisted, as are the brakes, which also feature electronic force distribution capability. Eighteen-inch wheels are standard, while 19-inch ones are offered as a $1,500 option; both come exclusively with all-season tires, so you’ll need to hit up Tire Rack regardless if you want something with more grip.
Tesla offers six exterior colors: Solid Black is standard and free, while the other five — Midnight Silver Metallic, Deep Blue Metallic, Silver Metallic, Pearl White, and Red — add another $1,000 to the total.
Once you add up all of the available options, including the autonomy pre-payment, you’re at $59,500 before incentives if you want the larger wheels and any color other than black—a long way from the much-hyped $35,000 mark. That’s a hefty chunk of change for a luxury segment car short on luxury features, but the Tesla premium, if you will, doesn’t seem to have deterred too many of its fans in the past. Several hundred thousand plunked down $1,000 for a spot in line within days of the Model 3’s announcement, and excitement does not seem to be waning except among those holding short positions on Tesla’s stock.
What might trip-up matters, however, is that manufacturing plan. Unlike early adopters of the funky Model X, Model 3 buyers are unlikely to tolerate the same level of growing pains this time around, so nailing the execution of its next growth step is of paramount importance. Depositors can always cancel their order, and there is also the small matter of the upcoming electric 3 Series for Team Elon Musk to worry about, but it’s clear that, bare-bones interior and all, Tesla has built “it” and “they” have come — all that’s left is for the company to build several hundred thousand of “it,” and we’ll soon find out if it can do so.
2018 Tesla Model 3/Model 3 Long Range Specifications
|LAYOUT||4-door, 5-passenger, rear-motor, RWD sedan|
|L x W x H||184.8 x 72.8 x 56.8 in|
|0-60 MPH||5.6/5.1 sec|
|TOP SPEED||130/140 mph|