2017 Tesla Model 3 Sedan First Drive | Edmunds

2017 Tesla Model 3 Sedan First Drive

The Most Anticipated EV of All Time


Around the world, more than 500,000 people have plunked down $1,000 deposits to get their hands on a 2017 Tesla Model 3, making it one of the most anticipated new cars of all time. And today we finally got our first look, and some seat time, in the finished Model 3, along with detailed specifications and pricing information.

We even got to hear some candid insights from an obviously tired Elon Musk about its development prior to the official handover of the first 30 production cars.

Production Challenge
Musk made no bones about the daunting nature of the production ramp-up that lies ahead before Model 3 sedans can be delivered in great numbers. "It's going to be quite a challenge to build this car," he admitted. But he went on to say that with more automation, a simpler design and by relocating powertrain and battery production to the Gigafactory in Nevada, the Fremont, California, factory can indeed produce the 500,000 Model 3 sedans.

Tesla may have handed over 30 cars today, but since these are going to employees it seems likely they'll be quasi-development cars that will be watched closely — or at least more closely than a random customer car. The rest of us will be waiting longer, with most deposit-holders getting a crack at the online configurator (which has not launched yet) sometime next year.

Musk said that between now and the end of December the production rate will ramp up from essentially zero to a hoped-for 5,000 Model 3s per week, which works out to an annualized production rate of 250,000 per year. But Musk freely admitted that any number of unforeseen issues could make the coming months a headache. Even if everything goes right, the planned maximum production rate of 10,000 per week won't come until next year at the earliest.

2017 Tesla Model 3 Sedan

The Car
Two versions of the car were announced. The $35,000 base car has a range of 220 miles, and while horsepower figures were not announced, Tesla says it can go from zero to 60 mph in 5.6 seconds and has a top speed of 130 mph. It'll charge at a rate of 30 miles per hour when connected to a typical 240-volt, 32-amp Level 2 home charger, and it'll be able to take on 130 miles' worth of energy during a half-hour of Supercharging.

But the initial deliveries will be of the upgraded long-range model that starts at $44,000 (a $9,000 battery upgrade, essentially); it has a rated range of 310 miles, can accelerate from zero to 60 mph in 5.1 seconds and will top out at 140 mph. This bigger battery charges somewhat faster, too. Thirty minutes of Supercharging will add 137 miles of range, and it can absorb as much as 37 miles per hour if using a higher-capacity, 40-amp Level 2 home charger or the supplied NEMA 14-50 cord adapter when backed by 240-volt, 50-amp electrical service.

At first, all Model 3 sedans will be rear-wheel-drive. Dual-motor versions will come later, but Tesla is starting out simple in order to ease into production. Pricing and performance remain unknown.

2017 Tesla Model 3 Sedan

Eighteen-inch wheels and tires are standard, with sport wheels and 19-inch all-season tires a $1,500 option. Other options include the $5,000 Premium Upgrades package, which includes updated interior materials, a panoramic glass roof, two extra USB ports for the rear seat, 12-way power heated seats, a center console with dual smartphone docks, and a premium audio system among other things.

Enhanced Autopilot costs an extra $5,000, but all Model 3s will come with the hardware pre-installed. You can pay for it now or wait until later if you don't want to bulk up your purchase price. A similar pay-later upgrade of $3,000 will activate full autonomy, but that's a future play that'll have to wait until the software and legalities get worked out. But Tesla is saying that any Model 3 purchased now will come with the necessary hardware to enable later activation.

2017 Tesla Model 3 Sedan

A Quick Drive
Our drive only lasted 15 minutes on a 5-mile loop of public roads encircling the Fremont plant, but the Model 3 driving experience was better than we expected. Our test car had the long-range battery, 19-inch wheel upgrade, the Premium Upgrades package, plus $1,000 worth of Red Multi-Coat paint, all of which put the total as-driven cost at $51,500.

We opened the doors via flush mechanical handles and settled into nicely shaped leather seats. The steering wheel felt nice and chunky in our hands, but more than anything the view out the front proved expansive thanks to the 3's ultra low dashboard. Cooled air comes out of an inconspicuous door-to-door slot, and its airflow configuration is one of numerous features that are controlled via the massive landscape-oriented touchscreen, which has a speed readout in the upper-left corner.

Even with three Tesla minders riding along, the Model 3 was properly quick when we rolled onto the go-pedal. The familiar seamless Tesla feeling of thrust was there, and the 5-point-something seconds of acceleration was more than enough. Deceleration was equally smooth via lift-throttle regenerative braking, but the brake pedal's response was also smooth and linear in more abrupt traffic stops. The air suspension we saw on earlier prototypes does not appear on the options list, and indeed all the Model 3 sedans we saw had a coil spring suspension that proved to be well-sorted and composed. We couldn't really judge handling performance to any real degree, but the Model 3 gave off an encouraging feeling of lightness that our Model S never quite managed.

Make no mistake, this was a very brief drive on city streets. There's a lot we still don't know. We never saw the $35,000 base car without the Premium Upgrades package, for example. But this initial experience left us thinking that Tesla just may have pulled it off — if it can build as many as it says it can and meet the quality expectations of mainstream car buyers.

Elon Musk seems to think Tesla has done it. Before he left to finish preparing for the night's party he said, "We finally have a great affordable electric car. That's really what this day means."

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