— We got a chance to poke around Tesla's new Model 3 at a showroom near this week's Chicago Auto Show. See our video above; below is an adapted script.
Few car companies have created quite as much buzz in recent history as Tesla, a California automaker responsible mostly for very expensive and very fast cars like the Model S and the Model X. But here we are with the all-new Model 3. Now, this is the Tesla that's more affordable; this is the Tesla that competes with sort of bread-and-butter luxury sports sedans like the 3 Series and Mercedes-Benz C-Class. But there's still a lot that's different about it, and we're going to take you through that.
Related: Tesla Model 3 Videos Show Control Screen in Action
We'll start off with size and styling. Now, the Model 3, unlike the Model S, is a lot shorter. You can tell there are tighter overhangs; it's about a foot-and-a-half shorter bumper-to-bumper than the Model S. Speaking of bumpers: The front one — as you can tell in the video — wears no grille. This being an electric car, it doesn't need as much ventilation. There is some ventilation down lower, but just a very simple face similar to what you see on the Model S.
Around to the side are a lot of cameras, if you look closely. There's one behind the front fender; there's another camera up on the B-pillar. Overall, Tesla says there are eight cameras, 12 ultrasonic sensors and forward-facing radar built into every single Model 3, even though some of them aren't even turned on yet. Tesla says they're supposed to enable the car to have kind of full autonomy — full self-driving capabilities — under the automaker's Autopilot program at some point in the future.
Go around to the back, and you'll find some cool stuff, as well. The Model 3, unlike the Model S, is a traditional sedan. But the trunk, the way it comes up, gives you a lot of access to the cargo area because of how far the trunk lid rises. It just comes all the way out from halfway down the C-pillar. It just gives you a lot more access back there. You'll notice there's no spare tire. Instead, there's a kind of well down there, where Tesla has some charging hardware. All of that hardware is going to plug in to the available charge port.
You get up to the roof: Every Model 3 has a glass roof standard. Underneath it, the rear passengers really can pretty much see everything up there. It's similar to what you get in the Model X facing forward. In the Model 3, that's the visibility you get looking back.
A clear section over the front seats is optional. If you don't get that, there's actually just headliner material in its place, we're told, even though the glass roof above that remains.
As you look around inside the Model 3, it's very simple. Some might think it's actually too austere, but as far as materials quality and consistency — everything is really up to snuff compared with what you'd get in some of these other cars in the general $30,000 and $40,000 price range in terms of graining and soft stuff where your arms and your elbows and your knees land.
All the action happens through a 15-inch, horizontal display — distinct from the 17-inch, vertical display in the Model S because that also accompanies a gauge display. Not the case in the Model 3. Everything happens through the big display, although the left side of the screen has, we're told, things like the speedometer, all your driving instruments kind of within your line of sight.
The driver can operate everything from a home screen, including Google Maps, which is very responsive. It all works through a 4G LTE connection, and pretty much everything else but the kitchen sink is included. Everything from volume to phone controls to climate, whatever you want to do. There's even some very cool stuff in terms of what you can control — the air vents, for example. Passengers can control the direction of the air vents — which, by the way, are all up along the dashboard itself, kind of embedded. And you can either create two of them or you can put them together and just have one direction kind of moving around.
Speaking of all these features, some of the stuff that you'd expect physical controls for: There aren't any because they're repurposed from these steering-wheel controls, which can do various things, including obviously stereo volume and tuning. But they can also do things like mirror adjustments. So basically you can use these controls — you have to use these controls — to change your mirror angles. The steering wheel column — if you want to go up or down with the steering column — you use the controls again to do that. Just lots of stuff is embedded into this screen.
I'm sure that you'd learn it eventually, but at first glance it seems like there's a lot of learning you'd have to do even just getting into the car. A few features that curiously are missing for such a high-tech car: Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and wireless smartphone charging. None of those are available in the Model 3, Tesla says.
Among the few controls that aren't embedded in this screen are window switches and a button to get out of the car; that activates the door handle, basically. There's an override lever in case it's not working for some reason. To get back into the car, there are manual door handles on the outside as opposed to the ones that motor out toward you to present themselves as with the Model S and the Model X.
The Model 3, being an electric car, doesn't have all the drivetrain architecture. And so what you don't get is a floor hump across the floor — making for lots of room to kind of stretch out for rear passengers. I'm 6 feet tall; with the driver's seat positioned where I'd need it to drive, I actually still had really good legroom left over. I do wish the seat sat a little bit higher off the ground, though, as sitting in the backseat felt a bit like squatting — although if it sat higher, that would mean that over bumps in the road, my head might hit this glass ceiling (which looks pretty cool, probably doesn't feel very good).
The Model 3 has had a very slow rollout to the market. Painfully slow, if you're waiting in line for one of these cars. But Tesla says it has finally started to get through the initial rollout to Tesla employees, and now it's selling them as we speak to Tesla owners — current Tesla owners are actually getting deliveries of the car. And people who don't own a Tesla, who are new Tesla owners, they're still waiting, but hopefully that wait will start to move along sooner rather than later. How long is that wait? Well, if you signed up right now and put down a deposit, Tesla says there's a roughly 12- to 18-month wait for the Model 3. And cars that are actually close to its $35,000 starting price before tax incentives — that's going to be toward the tail end so far of what we're looking at. So there's still a lot of waiting to do. Stay tuned.
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