When Tesla asks if you want to take a ride in the future, you don’t turn them down. Hot on the heels of the Tesla Model 3’s big reveal tonight in LA, I was invited to go for a spin in the brand new “affordable” electric car.
With the car still in the prototype stage, unsurprisingly Tesla wasn’t particularly keen to allow unruly press to take the wheel themselves. Instead, I was taken for a brief test ride with a Tesla engineer at the helm.
Still, even a small sample of the performance suggests the market for $35k+ cars is going to get a lot more competitive in the next few years. Acceleration had that sudden surge of instant torque that we’re increasingly familiar with from electric cars, though admittedly the particular prototype is a dual-motor one, whereas the entry-level car will be rear-wheel drive.
It seems fairly nimble, too, or at least as much as you can tell from a few flicks from side to side on the short stretch of road that Tesla had closed outside its SpaceX facility.
Inside, it’s arguably even more space-age than the exterior. Dominating the center console is a huge, 15-inch touchscreen. Unlike the panel in the Model S and Model X it’s in landscape orientation; that allows Tesla to spread more information across different portions of the screen, suited to driver or passenger side.
So, the car’s speed and other driving-focused information is pushed up into the top corner of the touchscreen, so that the driver can glance down to see them. Navigation monopolizes the center portion, and the audio controls are off over on the passenger-side. Of course, since it’s all digital it can be completely reconfigured depending on need.
By shifting all of the displays and controls to the center stack, Tesla can do “interesting things” with HVAC airflow, which is pumped in through practically-invisible slits in the dashboard. Overhead, there’s a huge panoramic glass roof, a single stretch back from mid-cabin to the rear spoiler. It’s definitely one of the most eye-catching features.
Best of all, according to Tesla all of the interior – the vast acres of glass, the big touchscreen, and the minimalist surfaces – are all intended for production.
The outstanding questions are still considerable, of course. Not having driven the car myself, I can’t speak to how responsive it feels; even had I been allowed, there’s a long way to go between these demo cars and production models.
Real-world range is another huge consideration. Tesla says the Model 3 should run for 215 miles before you need to plug it in, but that’ll need to be tested out on the road rather than taken at its word.
Still, free access for every Model 3 owner to the Tesla Supercharger network is a huge deal, and something rivals like Chevrolet’s Bolt will struggle to compete with.
Elon Musk has described today’s event as just the first stage in the Model 3’s big reveal, with the second part closer to production. “You will see the car very clearly,” the outspoken CEO said of the EV on show today, “but some important elements will be added and some will evolve.”
There’s plenty of time for tweaks and changes. Production isn’t due to kick off until 2017, with first deliveries late in the year.