Tesla's first two mass-market vehicles, the Model S and Model X, made a huge impression on the auto industry and consumers. With outrageous performance and cutting-edge technology, these vehicles were aspirational for many due to their rather exorbitant price tags. The latest addition, the 2017 Tesla Model 3, however, delivers many of the factors that make its predecessors so attractive, but at a much more accessible price.
In terms of size, the Tesla measures 184.8 inches long, 56.8 inches high and 72.8 inches wide. That makes the Model 3 similar to an Audi A4 or a BMW 3 Series. There's 15 cubic feet of trunk space, again similar to what other entry-level luxury cars offer.
Tesla has announced two versions of the car. The $35,000 base car has a range of 220 miles, but it won't be available for the 2017 model year. The only 3 you can get is the upgraded long-range model; 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.
On top of that, it's important to note that this initial run of Model 3s will only be offered with some rather pricey features that will push the price close to $50,000. Those looking to own the standard version will have to wait at least until the 2018 or 2019 model year.
Much of the Model 3's design follows the formula established by the Model S and X. The interior is dominated by a standard 15-inch touchscreen display mounted in the center of the dash. There is no traditional instrument cluster, so all functions are controlled and monitored through the center screen. One significant advantage is the 3's compatibilty with Tesla's Supercharger charging network, which greatly enhances its usability for road trips.
Clearly, the 2017 Tesla Model 3 has the potential to ascend past all other non-Tesla EVs. With initial estimates for performance, its 310-mile range combined with the numerous high-tech features, the $50,000 price could very well be justified.
For 2017, the Tesla Model 3 is only available with the long-range battery and Premium Upgrade package, leaving you with a small number of options that include the Enhanced Autopilot upgrade, future compatibility for the Full Self-Driving Capability option, paint colors and larger 19-inch wheels. Even though it's a costly $5,000 add-on, the Enhanced Autopilot feature is one of the cooler Tesla features that we recommend.
The 2017 Tesla Model 3 is a five-passenger sedan powered by a single electric motor that is fed by a long-range lithium-ion battery pack. Total system output is 258 horsepower. A single-speed transmission drives the rear wheels, and its range is estimated at 310 miles. In 2018, Tesla plans to introduce a more affordable standard range model (220 miles) with reduced power, along with an all-wheel-drive option.
The Model 3 is available in one trim level with standard features that include 18-inch wheels, automatic headlights and high beams, front and rear parking sensors, keyless entry, cruise control, dual-zone automatic climate control, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, cloth upholstery, six-way manually adjustable front seats and 60/40-split folding rear seats.
Standard technology features include a 15-inch touchscreen, a navigation system with real-time traffic, voice activation, Bluetooth, a Wi-Fi hotspot, remote control of some systems via a smartphone app, a rearview camera, and a seven-speaker audio system with internet streaming radio and two USB ports. Standard safety features include forward collision warning and mitigation, blind-spot monitoring with collision avoidance, and lane departure warning.
The Premium Upgrade package (mandatory for 2017 models) adds LED foglights, tinted glass, heated and power-folding auto-dimming exterior mirrors, a panoramic glass roof, heated seats, 12-way power-adjustable front seats, a power-adjustable steering column, leather upholstery, wood interior trim, a covered center console, driver-seat memory functions and a premium audio system.
Also available is the Enhanced Autopilot option that adds adaptive cruise control, lane keeping assist, automatic lane changing and self-parking. A full self-driving capability option is also offered for when this feature is eventually activated. Nineteen-inch wheels are available as a stand-alone option.
Each vehicle typically comes in multiple versions that are fundamentally similar. The ratings in this review are based on our full test of the 2017 Tesla Model 3 Long Range (electric motor | direct drive | RWD).
The Model 3 feels sporty and engaging thanks to strong off-the-line performance, intuitive steering, and a balanced rear-wheel-drive chassis that feels coordinated and nimble. The standard 18-inch all-season tires are the limiting factor. Buy the optional 19-inch tires if you wish to maximize grip.
There's ample thrust from the 258-horsepower electric motor, and it moves out in a smooth, seamless way with no shifting interruptions. The rear-wheel-drive layout adds poise and confidence when you lay into it. Ours reached 60 mph in 5.3 seconds at our test track, which is properly quick.
The powerful four-piston fixed-caliper front brakes are easy to modulate, but you'll rarely need to use them because lift-throttle regenerative braking will handle routine braking. Our panic stop from 60 mph took a longish 133 feet due to our car's standard 18-inch all-season tires.
The Model 3's steering feels nicely weighted and quick off center, which makes it a joy on winding roads even without a ton of feedback. When driving straight, it feels connected, and the effort builds rather naturally as cornering loads mount up. Of the three settings, we liked Normal and Sport.
It displays admirable coordination and balance when entering a corner, transitioning through a bend, or feeding on the power while exiting. But the standard 18-inch tires hold it back and can lead to early stability control intervention if pushed hard. Optional 19-inch rubber may have higher limits.
Power delivery is impeccably smooth and accurate, and the throttle is responsive without being jumpy. Direct drive means no shifting, so there's no way that gear changes can ever be out of step with the driver's wishes. The transition from acceleration to lift-throttle braking is easy to manage.
We found the Model 3 to be a pleasant place to sit, and that feeling held up for hours at a time. Its comfortable seats and quiet cabin deserve a great deal of credit. It rides agreeably most of the time, but it can sometimes feel busy and bound up if the road surface is broken or uneven.
The leather seats that are part of the Premium Upgrades package are broad but not flat. They are supportive but not hard. The adjustments are simple but effective. We liked the fit and feel much more than any Model S and Model X seats we've sampled, and we remained comfortable all day.
It swallows large and small bumps with equal ease, and it glides along nicely over reasonably smooth asphalt. But the suspension doesn't breathe freely over lumpy surfaces and can feel stiff-legged on cracked concrete roads. The Model 3's tires run at a fairly high pressure, and it can feel like it.
Noise & vibration
Immensely quiet and still. There's very little propulsion noise because the electric motor is under the trunk floor, and we didn't notice much wind noise flowing over the roof and around the mirrors either. The standard 18-inch all-season tires seem good at keeping quiet as well.
Electric heat means no waiting, and preconditioning the cabin is easy when plugged in. Front vents are contained within a door-to-door slot that looks like a styling element. Unique yet straightforward touchscreen controls allow driver and passenger to readily alter the air stream. Has rear vents.
The Model 3's interior is more attractive than we ever expected of such a simple design, and its driving position, roominess and visibility are all fantastic. The touchscreen doesn't block your view, but it does absorb your attention for too many routine tasks that should be doable without looking.
Ease of use
Far too many controls divert the driver's attention away from the road and onto the touchscreen. You must look away to change the wiper speed (never appropriate, even in auto mode) or alter the cruise control speed. The same goes for the side mirror tweaks and tilt-and-telescoping wheel adjustments.
Getting in/getting out
The doors open wide, but there's a knack to the nifty push-in/pull-out door handles that we're not sure everyone will like. The sills are a bit high and require a wee bit of foot lift, but the roof doesn't present much of a ducking problem. The front and rear are virtually the same on all points.
The seat and pedals are in perfect agreement, and the telescoping steering wheel has a ton of range. The feel and grip of the steering wheel rim are excellent, and the view out commanding. Our one gripe: We'd like a gap between the brake and dead pedal to allow the occasional leg stretch.
The optional Premium Upgrades glass roof does amazing things for headroom, and front legroom is abundant. This smaller Tesla still feels wide, and the abundance of glass only enhances the feeling of space. Rear legroom is decent behind a 6-footer, but toe room can be snug behind a tall driver.
The view out is expansive thanks to a low cowl, low door sides and slender pillars. The over-the-shoulder blind spot isn't very big, and backup camera coverage is broad with a large display. But we'd like slightly larger side mirrors, especially since their positions are hard to tweak when underway.
The Premium Upgrades package includes nice-looking leather and wood materials. Most of our car's panel fits are true, but one hood seam isn't flush. Our car was delivered with a broken vanity mirror and a loose seatback cover. Note: Ours is a very early-build car, among the first 1,200 made.
The Model 3's trunk can hold far more than you'd expect thanks to a very broad pass-through and SUV-like fold-flat rear seats. We were able to fit an extra-large mountain bike in easily. Inside, cabin storage is plentiful, something we can't say about the other Tesla models we've owned.
Other Tesla models come up short in this area, but not the Model 3. It has a decent-size center console armrest and, because it uses a column shifter, it has two more hidden storage compartments ahead of the central cupholders. There are decent-size door pockets with molded bottle holders, too.
The Model 3 is a sedan with a trunk, but it's nearly as commodious as a hatchback. The trunk is broad, but there's also a deep well under the false floor. The rear seats fold utterly flat, and the aperture between is quite large. In a pinch, you could actually lie down and sleep quite comfortably.
Child safety seat accommodation
The three top anchors are very easy to access under flip covers on the fixed parcel shelf. The lower LATCH anchors are tucked tightly between the seat cushions, so you must take care to avoid scratching the leather as you hook a seat up.
The Model 3 scores an A for its sound quality, navigation display, and the Autopilot traffic-aware cruise and lane management system. But it earns a D-minus because Tesla's chosen way to bring your smartphone into the audio environment involves Bluetooth audio and fiddling with your phone while driving.
Audio & navigation
The large Google-based navigation display is beautiful and easy to control. The Premium Upgrades package includes an upgraded audio system with fantastic wide-spectrum sound. But it demands undue attention to switch between modes. It has FM, HD and internet radio but no AM or satellite radio.
Tesla lags far behind in this area. There's no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, but we're even more disappointed that an iPhone's music library doesn't come up on the screen when plugged in via the USB port; those are for power only. It's Bluetooth streaming audio or nothing — a huge hassle.
Our Model 3 is equipped with the Autopilot option, and it is the premier adaptive cruise and lane keeping system you can currently buy. The sensitivity of the collision alert and lane departure warning is easily customizable, but the adaptive cruise following distance is buried in the touchscreen.
The standard voice button didn't recognize names in our paired phone's contact list very well. We found ourselves using our phone's own voice search instead. It works best when you are looking for music outside your phone environment, such as on the Slacker and TuneIn services the vehicle supports.
edmunds expert review process
This review was written by a member of Edmunds' editorial team of expert car reviewers. Our team drives every car you can buy. We put the vehicles through rigorous testing, evaluating how they drive and comparing them in detail to their competitors.
We're also regular people like you, so we pay attention to all the different ways people use their cars every day. We want to know if there's enough room for our families and our weekend gear and whether or not our favorite drink fits in the cupholder. Our editors want to help you make the best decision on a car that fits your life.