Elon Musk has officially unveiled the production Tesla Model 3, delivering on his promise to develop an affordable EV for the masses. With more than 200 mi (354 km) of range in base form, a pared back interior and the cool factor associated with buying a Tesla, the Model 3 looks good on paper. But hitting the promised US$35,000 price is going to take some restraint.
When he announced plans to build the Model 3, Elon Musk promised to deliver an EV with usable range for $35,000. Turns out Chevrolet had the same idea and beat Tesla to the punch with the Bolt, but we'll leave that aside for now. Credit where it's due, Musk has delivered a 200-mile electric sedan for $35,000 – but you'll need to show restraint to drive away with a car for that price.
The base car takes less than two hours to fully charge on a Supercharger, while range replenishes at around 30 mi (42 km) per hour when hooked up to a 240V, 32A home plug. Thankfully, the car accelerates faster than it charges, hitting 60 mph (97 km/h) in just 5.7 seconds from standstill.
People regularly covering longer distances will likely want to tick the box for the Extended Range package, which adds $9k to the list price, but boosts range from 220 to 310 mi (499 km). It also cuts the 60 mph (97 km/h) sprint to 5.1 seconds, and slightly improves charge times. Few owners are likely to care, but top speed jumps from 130 to 140 mph (209 to 225 km/h).
Regardless of what battery is under the floor, the Model 3 interior looks absolutely brilliant. Telsa has dropped the digital instrument binnacle and vertical touchscreen combination of the Model S and X, replacing them with a freestanding central touchscreen responsible for giving the driver information about essentials like speed, along with infotainment. We'll be interested to see if this layout is easy to use, or whether it proves distracting.
The focus on minimalism extends to the air vents, which are neatly integrated into the rear of the dashboard. Despite what some media would have you believe, Tesla isn't alone in trying to hide their vents – the Audi A4 and VW Passat have both been designed with the same goal – but there's no denying the pared-back look in the Model 3 has been well executed.
Navigation is standard, as is dual-zone climate control and keyless entry. Along with the two keycard-style keys, Tesla says its smartphone app can be used to unlock the car, and can also be used to remotely activate the climate control. Eight airbags are included, and Musk used his presentation to highlight how well the Model 3 performs in crash tests compared to the (seven-year-old) Volvo S60. Auto-emergency braking and pedestrian avoidance are both standard as well.
While we're talking about the body, it's worth mentioning the styling. The chrome glasshouse and grille-free nose are clearly linked to the more expensive models in the Tesla range, while little touches like the flush doorhandles help make the car look premium in a way comparable German sedans simply don't. The sloping rear window isn't a hatchback, but Tesla says the car will comfortably swallow a bike with the rear seats folded – just like the Chevrolet Bolt or, if you're into sedans, every single modern midsizer.
Although we're impressed with the inclusion of AEB and pedestrian avoidance as standard, there are plenty of ways to make your Model 3 more expensive. Paint that isn't black will set you back an extra $1,000 and bigger (19-inch) wheels are $1,500, but most people are likely to splash out on the Premium Upgrades package.
Textile seats are standard on the Model 3, and leather seats aren't available without speccing the Premium Upgrades package for a not-insignificant $5,000 on top of your $35,000. The package also brings power adjustment for the driver and passenger seats, punchier audio, a tinted glass roof and a covered center console.
Those who want Autopilot, one of the biggest selling points for the current Tesla range, will need to drop another $5,000 upfront. All cars are fitted with the eight cameras, forward-facing radar and ultrasonic sensors required for the company's semi-autonomous cruise control, but the functionality is software locked if owners don't want to spend the extra money.
In other words? You could conceivably buy a Model 3 for $35,000, but very few people are likely to drive away for that price. That isn't unique to Musk's latest creation – German luxury brands were the pioneers of expensive options packages and stripped out base models – but prospective buyers are likely to be disappointed they'll need to pay upwards of $40,000 for the full, Autopilot-enabled Tesla experience.
Tesla is clearly expecting people to go hard on the optional extras. Elon Musk told the assembled media that the company will be focusing on cars with the extended range pack early in the production schedule, which means anyone who wants the $35k electric car they were promised will have to wait until late this year, or potentially even 2018.
Production will start slowly. Tesla plans to build just 100 cars in August, but should pump out 1,500 in September and, all things being equal, should be running at 20,000 cars per month by December.
We're excited to see if Tesla can nail the tricky realities of mass-producing an affordable car – if it can, the Model 3 has the potential to accelerate the EV revolution in ways the similarly-priced Chevrolet Bolt hasn't been able to.