Tesla Model 3 sparks off fierce rivalry

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James Richardson
Chris Haining

Apr 11, 2017

3 Series rivalling electric Model 3 has futuristic looks and technology

These spy shots of the Tesla Model 3 testing provide the clearest view yet of how Tesla’s all-new entry-level electric car will look in its production form – outside and in.

The images follow Tesla founder Elon Musk posting a short teaser video the company’s account and appear to show the new car being tested in the company of a BMW 3 Series, which is itself rumoured to be offered in all-electric form soon. The two cars appearing together supports rumours that the BMW – often regarded as the best-handling executive saloon – has been chosen as a benchmark for the Model 3.

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The photos show that the Model 3 has a relatively conventional, if fairly tall, hatchback shape, with a steeply sloping roofline similar to its Tesla Model S bigger brother, as well as a matching grille-less nose treatment. It also has a very distinctive bonnet that’s set lower than the Tesla’s swept-back headlamps.

Meanwhile, close-cropped images give us our first decent glimpse of the Model 3’s interior. They show a large landscape-orientated touchscreen dominating an otherwise clear dashboard on which the traditional air vents have been replaced by a single hidden full-width slot. Rumours have suggested that the Model 3 will use technology similar to bladeless domestic fans for interior ventilation.

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The Model 3 will compete directly with the BMW 3 Series, Audi A4, Mercedes C-Class and Jaguar XE in the hard-fought compact executive car market. Prices are set to start at £35,000 and nearly 400,000 prospective buyers have placed deposits so far. The new model will be smaller, less expensive stablemate for the Tesla Model S saloon and Tesla Model X SUV.

Deliveries are expected to commence later this year or in early 2018. The first production cars will use a simple rear-wheel-drive layout, with more powerful – and expensive – four-wheel-drive models coming later.

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Tesla Model 3 Power, charging time and range

Two sought-after commodities – high performance and a long range between battery charges – have been key to Tesla increasing global interest in all-electric cars. Tesla has promised the Model 3 will offer a “minimum” range of 215 miles thanks to its advanced lithium-ion batteries and its charging times are likely to be similar to those of the Model S or Model X. This means it’ll take between about three and six hours to charge fully, depending on the type of charger you’re using.

Elon Musk has confirmed that the first Model 3 cars to be delivered will be rear-wheel drive using a single electric motor, the same configuration as the entry-level Tesla Model S. Four-wheel-drive versions with dual electric motors will follow later, with more power and a longer range between charges.

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Following Tesla’s previous form with the Model S, it seems likely that quicker versions of the Model 3 will be made available later. A tweet from Tesla founder Elon Musk seemed to confirm that the Model 3 could receive the software tweak enabling the ‘Ludicrous Mode’ that provides astounding acceleration in the Model S. Musk has quipped that his company “doesn’t make slow cars” and the Model 3’s 0-62mph time is claimed at less than six seconds.

Unlike the Model S and Model X, however, owning a Tesla Model 3 won’t grant you free access to the company’s network of Supercharger rapid charging stations. The Tesla’s Supercharger network of charging points is scheduled to have 7,200 locations worldwide by the end of 2017, with up to 15,000 additional ‘destination charging’ points becoming available at shopping centres, airports and car parks as part of a Tesla-sponsored initiative. As with other electric cars, buyers will still be able to subscribe to other electric-car charging point companies, as well as charging from their own domestic electricity supply.

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Once paid for, the Tesla Model 3 should be relatively cheap to run. Being a zero-emissions car, it’s exempt from road tax, while charging at home shouldn’t cost more than a few pounds if done overnight. This, combined with a significantly lower purchase price than the Model S and Model X, as well as a low Benefit-in-Kind (BiK) company-car tax rating, is likely to make the Model 3 popular with company-car buyers.

Quite what that purchase price will be, we can’t be certain just yet. Tesla boss Musk has stated that it’ll start at $35,000 in the US and that equates to (at the time of writing) to around £28,200. Expect this to be closer to the £35,000 mark once various taxes and charges have been added on.

Production of the new car will begin in 2017, with first UK cars likely to arrive in 2018. Full production won’t be possible until the company’s new ‘Gigafactory’ lithium-ion battery plant is fully online. Once that happens, it’ll produce more lithium-ion batteries than all other battery factories around the world combined.

Design

With the sporty elegance of the Model S being widely praised, it’s no surprise that Tesla chose not to abandon this look for the Model 3. The fastback shape is retained and the 3 also carries over the smooth nose of the latest facelifted Model S, with headlights extending back into the front wings. The wheels are pushed right out to the corners, allowing a huge amount of interior space.

Interior & technology

The Model 3 differs from its Model S and Model X sister models by having a landscape rather than portrait-orientated central display screen. It has all the same functionality as the screens in the current models, but here it also acts as the driver’s instrument cluster, with speed and battery level showing on the central screen – there are no instruments directly in front of you. It’s a striking feature in what is a remarkably clean, simple and minimalist interior, with the air of a concept car.

One notable point of the interior design is the absence of conventional ventilation ducts for the climate-control system. In place of conventional vents, the Model 3 is said to make use of a single lateral slot that runs the entire width of the dashboard, based on technology similar to the bladeless fans now seen in offices and homes.

Tesla is promoting the interior space of the Model 3 as one of its chief selling points. The wheels are forced out to the corners and the battery and motor are very compact and cleverly packaged. This, together with the front seats being mounted further forwards than in the Model S, should allow space for five adults to travel in comfort.

Tesla claims that no conventionally powered car of a similar size offers more interior space. In fact, Musk has said a seven-foot surfboard can be carried inside, in case the considerable combined volume of the Model 3’s two boots isn’t enough.

Rear-seat occupants are bathed in light from a rear window that extends right into the roof and as far forward as the B-pillars, while the front seats are lit by a large sunroof, creating the illusion of an almost wholly glazed roof. 

Musk claims safety is one of Tesla’s primary concerns and the autonomous driving capability that’ll be standard in the Model 3 is expected to contribute greatly towards a five-star Euro NCAP rating. This is in spite of recent concerns about collisions potentially caused by owners relying too much on the Tesla ‘Autopilot’ system.

First impressions

We had the opportunity to sample this car with a passenger ride in the company’s demonstrator and we can confirm that performance should be very impressive indeed. The dual-motor model with four-wheel drive that we sampled felt significantly quicker than the sub-six-second 0-62mph time promised. It seemed very stable in corners, too – no doubt assisted by the low-mounted electric motors and batteries.

Price & release date

The first UK Model 3s are expected to be delivered in late 2017 or early 2018. Bearing in mind the car’s promised US sticker price of $35,000 (about £28,000 at the time of writing), we expect UK cars to cost in the region of £35,000 – although this assumes the UK government will continue to offer a grant for private buyers of electric cars.

There’s a high probability of high-performance versions of the 3 arriving later, priced to compete with cars like the BMW M4 and Mercedes C63 AMG.

Customers who’ve placed Model 3 deposits receive regular updates on a ‘My Tesla’ web page, and as their car gets closer to production, they’ll gain access to an online configurator, allowing final choice of colour and options.