Tesla Model 3: First Ride

Tesla Model 3

CARS.COM — Tesla’s more affordable Model 3 four-door hatchback, introduced last night at the company’s Design Facility in Hawthorne, Calif., could be as many as 20 months from delivery, but I got the opportunity to check out a prototype and even go for a brief ride-along in one. Here are my up-close impressions:

Related: Tesla Autopilot First Test

Exterior

The Model 3 looks sharp; I prefer its proportions to Tesla’s bulky Model X, and it even looks better to my eye than its sleek Model S. The sharpened creases on the fenders help offset its high greenhouse and keep it from looking bulbous. The headlight clusters are especially attractive. Although the lower part of the front bumper is body-colored, which looks monotonous, a sharp line helps to divide it and gives the Model 3 the appearance of having a grille, even though one isn’t actually present.

Interior

Tesla said the Model 3 is classified as a midsize sedan and should fit five adults comfortably, but this seemed  an overstatement when sitting in its rear seat. I tried to squeeze in the back with two adult males, and I had plenty of legroom and headroom, but our shoulders were uncomfortably jammed together. I would say that four adults will fit comfortably in the Model 3 for an extended trip.

A gigantic rear window runs from the trunk to nearly the middle of the roof. Aside from two thin supports, the roof is made of glass, which gives the cabin an airy feeling.

Another interior highlight is a large touch-screen at the top of the center console. Unlike in the Model S and X, however, this screen is horizontally oriented and takes up a wider swath of the dash. It is mounted in a floating position a few inches forward of the dashboard; this position makes the whole screen easily reachable from either front seat. There is no instrument panel forward of the steering wheel; all the driver’s information has moved to the screen as well.

In fact, the Model 3’s dashboard has taken minimalism to a new level. There are no buttons or switches of any kind; all the functions and information come via the screen. If the display has enough usability, this is a viable solution, but we’ll need more time with it to say for sure.

On the Road

Guests didn’t get to drive the Model 3, but on the short riding loop, the driver briefly buried the accelerator on a closed-off stretch of road outside the studio. Even with me and three other passengers in the car, the Model 3 pulled away with that familiar jolt of instant torque found on electric vehicles. While it didn’t quite snap my head back like the Model S or X does in Ludicrous Mode, it was impressive nonetheless.

There was no handling test, but we do know the Model 3’s battery pack is underneath the car, keeping the  center of gravity down. That also means that the Model 3 has the same dual-trunk setup as its Tesla counterparts: a front trunk under the hood and additional cargo space under the liftgate.

We look forward to driving the Model 3 someday, but our first up-close experience suggests it’s everything Tesla fans had hoped.

 
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