On Friday, I had the privilege of attending the Model 3 handoff event where Tesla delivered its first 30 Model 3 cars. It was a special moment for Tesla, for Elon, and for all Tesla employees, owners and fans. You could feel the excitement in the air from the over 1000 employees who had gathered around to be part of the night's event.
However, you could sense Elon downplaying the Model 3 somewhat. He barely talked about the Model 3 features, besides range and acceleration. And he emphasized a slow and painful production ramp. Most of this was for necessity, as I speculate Elon doesn't want to dampen Model S/X sales especially during the next several months where they will only be producing limited numbers of Model 3.
While Elon couldn't (or wouldn't) divulge in all the Model 3 details I was hoping for, I was left trying to put together the pieces myself by talking with as many people as possible who had test driven the car. The short version: the car is amazing and drives like a smaller Model S.
I had ridden in a prototype Model 3 over a year ago during the initial reveal and was able to ride in a production one at this weekend's event. The prototype from last year had a sparse interior and it felt unfinished. But the production Model 3 I rode in had a spectacular interior; it felt luxurious with just the right amount of minimalism. I actually prefer the Model 3 interior over the Model S/X interior. They did a great job with re-inventing the interior of a car and in many ways it felt like a next-generation Tesla. I like how the dash sits a bit lower than the Model 3. There are no traditional vents, and barely any buttons (I don't recall seeing one). Everything is so clean inside. It feels great to be inside, and it feels like the future.
The front seats had a lot of leg room, as did the rear seats. I met someone 6' 2" who sat in the rear and said he had plenty of head and leg room. My ride in the prototype last year was in the rear seats, but this time around I got to sit in the front passenger seat. And I was surprised that it felt almost as roomy as a Model S.
It's difficult to tell a lot from a short ride, but it felt like a smaller Model S. I could tell that the Model 3 could turn more nimbly and was easier to steer in that sense. It seemed like I was able to feel the road (bumps and everything ) a bit more with the Model 3 compared to a Model S. The engineer that hosted us also shared the same sentiment saying that the Model S was a bit more smoother than the Model 3. But he also said he absolutely had fallen in love with the Model 3.
I think the slightly rougher feel (compared to a Model S) was partially due to the production cars having 19" wheels at the event. They seem to pick up more of the road than the 18" wheels Tesla is also offering. I also think the lack of air suspension probably adds a bit less dampening as well. But overall, I think people will be extremely happy with how the car rides and feels. If someone is doing a lot of freeway driving, I think the Model S would definitely be a smoother and more comfortable car. But for someone doing more local/city driving, the Model 3 will out-handle the Model S and would be more fun to drive.
A few Tesla employees confirmed to me that the main key will be your smartphone. It appears that they will be relying on a connection between your smartphone and your car in order to unlock the doors. Also, there's a credit card key that will act as a backup. The credit card is amazingly thin. It felt even thinner than a typical credit card. But you will need to physically swipe the card against a B pillar (the pillar between the front and rear seats) to gain access to the car.
In the rear of the car, there is an armrest that folds down from the center of the seats and on the armrest there are cupholders. There are also pockets on the doors.
In order to open a door from inside, you need to push on a button (there is no handle from inside), and it opens the door.
To enter the car from the outside, you need to push on the top corner of the handle and then pull out the other side to open the door. Most of the employees I talked with said it takes just a few tries before you get used to it.
I wasn't able to see the frunk (front trunk), but a Tesla employee told me that it fits just a carryon luggage and nothing else. So it's very small.
I was able to see the rear trunk, and it looked quite large. I think most people will be pleasantly surprised as it's quite deep.
Overall, I think the Model 3 will be a big hit. Tesla really nailed the exterior and interior design. It's simply gorgeous. And from what I can tell, the driving and handling feels like a smaller Model S, which means it's going to simply outperform all its competitors.
My goal over the next couple months is to try to test drive the Model 3 for several hours. I know it's going to be a challenge since Tesla likely won't have Model 3 test drive vehicles for quite a while. So, I'll need to find an employee who took early delivery and is willing to let me drive their car for a few/several hours. If you know a Tesla employee with an early Model 3 (or you know someone who knows someone), please let me know. I'd love to get in touch with them. And of course, if I'm able to get an early test drive I will be sharing my experience with all of you.
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