A quick guide to Elon Musk’s latest street legal leccy car.
Much to their competitor’s chagrin – hell had reigned while Tesla ramped up manufactured numbers to meet pre-orders – the new model is delivered on time, and with a few surprises. This is Tesla’s pitch to break into the mass market.
Armed with a press hand-out and some critical faculties, I had a look. Here’s the skinny:
1. LOOKS: The car retains the simple, uncluttered exterior design of its older brethren, agreeably unencumbered by angular lines that go nowhere, miss-matched proportions, or protuberances housing nothing but air intakes that is the lot of design in car fashion. It will wash down as if soap sponging an ostrich egg. To my aesthetic the shape, its proportions and stance, is more appealing than the bigger models, but I’m still of the opinion a new all-electric car for the modern age ought to be clothed in a radical shape and materials. Is a bonnet needed when the magic bit lies sandwiched in the chassis?
2. COLOUR: Black is standard. others on offer you have to order. Tesla has good taste as well as smart economics: you can’t order apple green, burnt orange, or lurid lime yellow to blind pedestrians, and screw your chances of reselling the car. You can plump for metallic silver, blue, a slate grey, (midnight silver), white or red, at an extra £1,000.
3. COST: It’s cheap as chips – well, that depends on how much is cheap to you- the base model from £26,650. The super-dooper model starts at £35,000, the model most will aim for. The former will take you over 200 miles on a full charge, the latter over 300 miles, and accelerate like a sports car.
4. KEY: There’s no traditional key or locks. You unlock the car by a Smart phone. That means nothing to freeze up in a Scottish winter. The car detects the owner’s phone – so long as it has Bluetooth – and automatically unlocks the car, ready to start and go. If you mislay your phone or the battery runs flat, Tesla has a backup in the form of an NFC key card thin enough to store in a wallet. Press the card against the car’s B-pillar to unlock it and place it between the seats on a special spot to be able to start the car. It’s designed for USA valet use, but should be good to get into the car and at least charge your phone so you can properly unlock the Model 3 and go.
4. INTERIOR: The inside is like most conventional cars, shame really, but without instruments, buttons or gizmos – just a not quite in yer face big 15″ computer screen. It sits centre, and proud. It shows a virtual button display, plus mapping, entertainment and cabin controls. You’ll need time to learn how to use it without taking your eyes off the road for more than a split second, otherwise you might as well text as you drive. The rear seats fold down in a traditional 60/40 split. Someone 206cm (6ft 9in) tall can sleep flat along the car with the seats folded, perfect for those days your other half tosses you out the house for paying more attention to your Tesla than to them. The general quality of materials is good.
5. RECHARGING: If you’re in a hurry and need a quick fix it will recharge 130 miles in 30 minutes; leccy boosts are getting faster! If charging from your garage you need a 240V, 32A home charger.
6. PUNCTURE: There’s no spare! Make sure you’re a member of AA, or RAC, or the other service whose name we all forget – yes, that one, the green one. Book trailer recovery service from anywhere. The car comes with 18in alloy wheels as standard, perfect to graze on our high kerb stones and bottomless pot holes, but 19in sport alloys can be added for about £1,500 more and increase the cost to replace them.
7. GIZMOS: All Model 3s come with navigation, 4G and wifi connectivity, voice controls, a reversing camera, dual-zone climate control and two USB ports in the front for keeping that phone-come-key charged. No, it won’t cook an egg or make coffee.
8. EXTRAS: Do you really need extras? What will they do to enhance driving pleasure or safety? Merely impress the neighbours? Extras are where car manufacturers rocket their pockets. The profits are in add-ons that cost you an arm and a leg, most worthless on resale, adding nothing to the car’s value. If you must know, there’s a £5,000 “Premium Upgrade Package” that upgrades cabin materials such as wood, heated seats, power adjusted seats and steering column, a tinted glass roof, heated and power-folding wing mirrors, LED fog lights, a subwoofer and upgraded audio, plus two more USB ports in the rear. Me? I’d want heated seats for quick comfort on cold spells and a glass (probably plastic) roof to let light in on dreich days.
9. SENSORS: The Model 3 comes with a range of sensors to enable the next version of Tesla’s driving assistance system dubbed Enhanced Autopilot. These include one forward-facing radar sensor, seven cameras, 12 ultrasonic sensors and new, more powerful Nvidia Drive PX2 processor. To enable Enhanced Autopilot, owners will have to buy a $5,000 upgrade, enabling traffic speed matching, lane guidance, automatic lane switching and self-parking abilities.
10. SUMMONS: Unbelievably, the car can be summoned to meet you by driving out of a parking space or garage to your side by itself. But it won’t purr or hump your leg.
POST SCRIPT: To my mind, the significance of this (almost affordable) Tesla car is that it demonstrates a new thinking, as the iPhone did to Nokia and Blackberry. An all-electric car has few parts to wear and tear and service. It needs a garage-type infrastructure that isn’t an entire garage and shop. It needs no catalytic converter. It can fit almost any vehicle, any shape. We have to look at alternative propulsion that’s not just another version of controlled explosions in a red hot cylinder.