The 2018 Tesla Model 3 is the car that’s meant to take the Silicon Valley electric-car maker to the next level of mass production. Its long and bumpy launch started in July 2017 but has continued well into 2018, with only a few thousand delivered over its first six months. Among those, quality issues seem to be prevalent, from blown battery-pack fuses to touchscreens that don’t work properly. Two versions have been announced: the Long Range model with 310 miles of rated range, and the standard Model 3 with 215 miles.
We haven’t rated the Tesla Model 3 yet because we haven’t driven it, but the basic outlines and specifications of the limited varieties now being delivered are well-known. We’ll review the car fully once we’ve had a chance to spend time behind the wheel. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
Recognizably a Tesla, the Model 3 is roughly the same size as a BMW 3-Series, the definitive sport sedan for decades. It’s a four-door sedan with a small trunk opening, rather than sharing the five-door “hatchback sedan” layout of the larger Model S, though both cars share a fastback shape. Its front end has Tesla’s bluff, rounded nose with a V-shaped Tesla emblem and without any pretense of a grille. The Model 3’s interior is plainer than those of its larger siblings, and its most striking feature is the 15-inch touchscreen sitting above an otherwise empty dash, free of buttons, switches, knobs, or sliders.
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Aside from steering-wheel controls and stalks for lights, wipers, cruise control, and audio settings, every feature in the Model 3 is controlled from the touchscreen or via voice command. This is thought to be a preview of the Model 3’s future use for self-driving ride-sharing service when it’s not being used by its owner. Tesla has mentioned such a service, and tips like the inward facing camera would let an owner record how any temporary occupants behave inside it.
Two ranges, two prices
The two versions with different ranges clearly use battery packs of different capacities, though oddly Tesla has declined to give the capacity figures in kilowatt-hours. Their capacities are thought to be about 50 kwh for the base car, 75 kwh for the Long Range model. While Tesla is currently promising to start deliveries of all-wheel-drive versions in spring 2018, the first several months of Model 3s were rear-wheel-drive only, using a 192-kilowatt (258-horsepower) electric motor powering the rear wheels.
Tesla quotes acceleration times from 0 to 60 mph of 5.1 and 5.6 seconds for the Long Range and standard cars, respectively. There will likely be a much faster “P” performance model at some point in the future, however.
No crash-safety test results have been released either by the NHTSA or IIHS for the Model 3, though Tesla has a good record in getting top safety ratings for the Model S and Model X before it. It comes standard with eight airbags and automatic emergency braking.
All Model 3s include keyless entry, a 60/40 split folding rear seat back, dual-zone automatic climate control, cloth upholstery, an audio system with FM and streaming internet radio, and the central 15-inch touchscreen. They also come with Wifi and LTE wireless connectivity, voice-activated controls, two USB ports, and standard navigation.
Options include heated seats with premium trim and upholstery materials, 12-way power adjustable front seats with memory settings that include the steering wheel and mirrors, a premium audio system, a tinted glass roof, heated and auto-dimming foldable side mirrors, LED fog lights, and a covered center console with smartphone docking to replace the standard open design.
Potential Model 3 buyers should know that as of August 2017, Tesla said it had taken 455,000 reservations—each accompanied by a $1,000 payment. Not all of those will turn into purchases, of course, but Tesla says any car ordered in early 2018 won’t be delivered for 12 to 18 months, depending on configuration and buyer location.