The Tesla Model 3 electric car has been revealed. And we’ve been among the first fortunate few to have been allowed a ride in one.

While our ride (from the back seat) was less than five minutes in all, and the car, thus far, is only in design prototype form, we managed to notice a few more details and form some impressions about what could make the Model 3 a strong entry in the market well after the hype subsides.

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The numbers are promising: at least 215 miles of range, with both Supercharging fast-charge technology and Autopilot active-safety and autonomous tech for all versions; seating for five adults; and some impressive cargo space to boot (in front and rear trunks, actually).

Our quick ride was also especially informative, as our car was piloted by a man intimate with the vehicle’s development—Doug Field, VP of vehicle programs (and former Apple VP). Taking the driver’s seat of the other Model 3 at the event was chief technical officer JB Straubel.

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Considering that Model 3 production is still about a year and a half away and first deliveries won’t be made until late 2017, this pure-electric sedan looked surprisingly close to final form in some respects, like seating, yet still obviously in need of final finishes in other areas.

Tesla Model 3 design prototype - March 2016

Tesla Model 3 design prototype - March 2016

That said, here are several key takeaways:

It feels like a sport sedan. The center of mass of the vehicle feels very low. Field whipped the Model 3 around a corner and slalomed a bit, with the car feeling very planted and confident through it all. Of course you have all the instantaneous torque of an EV, and the extra punch that we've come to expect in a Tesla. 

Seating is every bit as good as described. In his presentation of the Model 3, CEO Elon Musk had some great things to say about the seating and noted that they’d pushed the dash further forward, which nudged the front seats ahead and allowed more legroom for rear occupants. The strategy works, and at a very tall 6’-6”, I had no issue with headroom or legroom.

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Tesla Model 3 design prototype - reveal event - March 2016

Tesla Model 3 design prototype - reveal event - March 2016

The glass roof is like no other. Forget sunroofs and huge panoramic roofs; this one’s better. In addition to having special layered laminated glass, with UV treatment, this setup looks great from the outside and doesn’t steal headroom inside.

It’s lighter than the Model S. There’s a mix of high-strength steels and aluminum to help keep the body strong while reducing weight, but the Model S is largely aluminum, while the Model 3 has more steel, and it’s a bit lighter than the Model S. It feels like it drives and rides that way, too, and it should enable a lower battery capacity to achieve the same range.

The lack of a gauge cluster is going to take some getting used to. Field noted that you can locate the speedometer and the gauges you want in the top left corner of the screen. But at night especially, this could be an especially odd quirk to accept.

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Tesla Model 3 design prototype - reveal event - March 2016

Tesla Model 3 design prototype - reveal event - March 2016

The screen looks interchangeable. The big, horizontally oriented standalone touch screen looks mounted in a way that would allow the subbing in of a different-size or different-shape screen.

What else are we curious about? We’d like to see how the trunk will open and close (a detail they weren’t ready to demonstrate), how the seats fold down, and experience how the driving position is going to feel (it looks quite scooped-forward). But I suppose that will have to wait some months, or years.


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