- We spent several hours taking the Tesla Model 3 on a first drive.
- Ben Zhang, Business Insider’s senior transportation reporter, and I each took a turn at the wheel and put the car through its paces.
- What impressed us most about the Model 3 wasn’t its technology — it was how much fun the car is to drive.
I’ve driven every car Tesla has ever made, from the original Roadster to the Model X SUV. I’ve sampled Ludicrous Mode acceleration, experimented with Autopilot self-driving tech, and even once ” target=”_blank”run out of gas” in a Model S.
And while it’s true that I’m very much looking forward to the bonkers-fast next-generation Roadster, ever since last July I’ve been salivating about some more seat time in the Model 3.
The Model 3 is Tesla’s car for the masses, with a base price of $35,000 and range of over 200 miles. It has been touted for years, finally arriving in 2017 — and is now roasting in what CEO Elon Musk calls “production hell.” Tesla has something like half a million advance orders for the car. Thus far, it has officially delivered about 3,000.
But does being bad at making the Model 3 mean that the car itself has problems?
Well, there have been some complaints about early build quality and some technical glitches. But because Tesla started rolling out the Model 3 without going through a manufacturing prototyping process at its Fremont factory, and has endured battery supply challenges at its factory in Nevada, the Model 3 is clearly something of a beta release. Tesla is building the plane after it has taken off.
When I got my first crack at the Model 3, last July in California at a launch event, I was quite impressed. But I only drove the car for about 15 minutes.
This week, Tesla let us borrow a bright-red Model 3 for a few hours, and my colleague Ben Zhang and I headed west of Manhattan to New Jersey to really put the 3 through its paces. We aren’t ready to review the car just yet — that will come later when Tesla gives us a test vehicle that we can live with for a week.
(Hollis Johnson/Business Insider)
But we are able to offer some first-drive impressions, beyond what I could come up last year. The upshot is that the Model 3 is a dandy little ride, and once Tesla gets the whole carmaking thing figured out (rapidly, if possible), we think owners will be delighted.
OK, here’s a caveat. Our tester was a well-equipped $55,700 Model 3. Wait, isn’t the car supposed to cost $35,000? Well, yes, but right now Tesla is building only the $44,000 premium version, and for the moment it’s rear-wheel-drive only; the dual-motor all-wheel-drive version will follow. On the plus side, the more expensive Model 3 has a range of about 300 miles on a single charge (the cheaper version will serve up over 200).
We managed to chop about 100 miles off a full charge in three hours of driving, but we weren’t holding back. So for many Tesla fans and EV enthusiasts, the Model 3 has the range to be a perfect daily driver, especially if the owner can plug into 220-volt level 2 charging at home overnight (Model 3 has access to Tesla Supercharger network, but unlike the Model S and Model X owners, fast-charging for Model 3 owners and leasers isn’t free).