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Tesla Model S 2018

Apr 21, 2018
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Pros:Clean looks, a distinctive yet practical interior layout and solid performance create what seems like a perfect package.

Cons:Serious usability issues exist. Some will be polished away with over-the-air updates, but others will remain.

Overall:Tesla’s affordable EV isn’t exactly affordable yet, but it sure does drive nice.

 This is what you’ve all been waiting for — or, the somewhere north of half a million of you who put down $1,000 to preorder one, anyway. This is the Tesla Model 3, the long-awaited solution to Tesla’s biggest problem: It sells cars that most people can’t afford. It’s the Model 3 that stands poised to move Tesla from hallowed, aspirational startup to legitimate, skeptic-free corporate success.

That’s a lot of pressure to put on a single, $35,000 car, and from my first impressions behind the wheel of the Model 3 it was clear the car was going to be good, but there’s one problem already: The car you’re looking at actually costs $56,500. That moves it from being a competitor of the $37,495 Chevrolet Bolt EV and up into the range of a nicely equipped BMW 3 Series — or even a base 530e. How? Let’s start there.

Typically at Roadshow we don’t talk about configuration until the end of a review. But since price is such a huge part of the Model 3’s allure, I’m going to get it out of the way right up front.

The Tesla Model 3 theoretically starts at $35,000. For that you’ll get a car with a healthy 220 miles of range and a 0-60 time of around 5.6 seconds. That performance is on par with a $40,000 BMW 330i, and a few tenths quicker than the $45,600 BMW 330e hybrid. 

However, for now at least, you can only get the Model 3 Long Range, with its 310 miles of range, and that starts at $44,000. There’s a good chance you’ll want to add another $5,000 for the Premium Package, which adds modern necessities such as heated seats. Tesla’s much-hyped Autopilot driver assistance package is a further $5,000, and if you want to add the future “full self-driving capacity,” that’ll be $3,000 more.

Add another $1,500 for the wheels and, finally, $1,000 to get the red multi-coat paint. On the car we tested, it adds up to a final sticker price of $56,500, plus a further $1,000 destination charge. Yes, you could get away for as little as $44,000 right now, but then you’d be rolling on a car with no heated seats, and when you’re talking this much money… that just feels wrong.

If I were buying, I’d skip the paint and find my own wheels to save $2,500. I’d also take the gamble and leave off the future self-driving option, giving me a price of $54,000. Just for comparison’s sake, a BMW 530e hybrid starts at $52,650.

After configuring and paying for the thing, an owner’s first experience with a Model 3 will be unlocking it, and believe it or not that’s a task requiring some explanation. When you take delivery of your Model 3 you won’t receive a traditional, metal key or even a fancy wireless fob with squishy buttons like on the Model S and X. Instead, you get a pair of black, chrome-embossed cards that use the same RFID technology that many hotels use.

Just tap the card onto the B-pillar and, open sesame, the door unlocks. Tap it again on the center console to enable the ignition. It sounds simple enough, and indeed it is, but if you’re thinking this is decidedly less convenient than having the car recognize a wireless key fob as you approach, you’re not wrong. Thankfully, there’s another way to open the car.

It takes just a few taps to pair the Model 3 to an Apple or Android phone. Then the car willrecognize you as you approach, unlocking whenever you get near and, optionally, locking again as you depart. You can also launch the Tesla app on your phone to unlock the trunks or flash the lights, and while that’s more cumbersome than pushing a dedicated button on a key fob, it does at least mean one less thing to carry everywhere. One less thing to lose, too.

In practice this works pretty well, but on a few occasions I was left standing by the car for a couple of awkward seconds waiting for it to unlock itself. There seems to be some lag in the system that hopefully Tesla will tune out in a future OTA update.

Since it’s a Tesla, you can control a whole lot more through the app too — including preconditioning the temperature and checking charging status. But, crucially, you can’t use the summon feature that wirelessly and autonomously pulls the Model S or X out of a parking spot. That, I’m told, will come later.

 

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