Tesla Model 3 First Drive Review

When the Tesla Model 3 appeared in production form last summer, the hype was already at a fever pitch after months — years, even — of anticipation. With hundreds of thousands of reservations already on the books, it appeared this could be the car that transforms Tesla from a startup to a true competitor. Then, crickets, for most customers anyway.

Model 3 production is off to a slow start, but the first units produced are top-of-the-line, far above the $35,000 base price. The long-range battery ($9,000) normally provides 310 miles of driving range, but the 19-inch wheels ($1,500) reduce that to 290 miles. The high-end interior includes heated power seats, premium audio, tinted glass roof, power heated and folding mirrors, LED fog lights, and integrated smartphone docking. Our tester was also equipped with Advanced Autopilot, worth $5,000, which to quote Tesla,

Our first impression of the Model 3 as it sat in a crowded parking lot was that it actually blends in pretty well. While a Model S (or especially a Model X) will grab our attention as it passes through our peripheral vision, this more affordable Tesla is far less likely to turn our head from a distance. We found this to be the case on the road, too, despite the 3’s current status of rarity.

Upon closer inspection, though, the Model 3’s quirks make themselves apparent right away. The novel exterior handle that emerges from the bodywork, and the push-button door opener on the interior remind you this car is different every time you get in or out of it.

Right away, we looked the car over for these oft-maligned remnants of poor build quality. Frankly, based on our experience with this single vehicle, they’re overstated, at least from a visual standpoint. If we hadn’t been hearing about it, we wouldn’t have noticed that the panel gaps (many of which are along curves in the sheet metal) are marginally wider than other vehicles. We didn’t see any chrome strips that didn’t line up, something we’ve noticed on GM vehicles.

The inside of the Model 3 is roomy. Six-footers can sit behind six-footers and be happy. Space in the frunk is limited to shorter luggage — it’s prefect for a hefty gym bag but unsuitable for paper grocery bags. The room behind the rear seats is ample for that. One beautiful thing about the Model 3 is the way the space opens up when you fold the rear seats down.