2018 Tesla Model 3
Especially after time in our other two nominees, the Model 3 feels lean, relatively taut, and sport-sedan quick. The combination of the proportions and how you sit within the vehicle—with a very low hood, easy sight lines, and a low belt line in front, reminds us of the E46-era (1999-2005 model years) BMW 3-Series. The steering is light and precise and the regenerative braking, in its standard mode, is like driving in a low gear, leaving you to dab the brakes only occasionally. You don’t hear any wind noise at highway speeds, although coarse highway surfaces create some cabin din—much more than the Jaguar I-Pace.
Interior space and packaging are excellent. The front seats are supportive sport-sedan buckets, with a wide range of adjustability. Once we got used to the odd thumbwheel-and-touchscreen adjustment for the steering wheel and mirrors, we found a nice, upright driving position with enough head room to spare. Rear leg and head room are just enough for two adults, and the long glass roof helps it feel less confining. Trunk space is mammoth for this size of vehicle—we fit three small suitcases without having to puzzle it. The frunk isn’t all that usable, but there is one.
And that central speedometer, at the edge of the large, tablet-like screen that everyone frets about? We were used to it in about 10 minutes.
2018 Tesla Model 3
The Model 3’s touchscreen system requires looking down from driving tasks and tapping, swiping, and zooming just as you would with a tablet. But to its credit, each time we’ve tried this system in a Model 3 it’s been very quick—near free of the latency that can leave your eyes checking back down to make sure the screen did what it was supposed to. There’s a cheerful simplicity to how key vehicle functions are seldom more than one level deep. A term that keeps coming up is “Apple-like,” but with today’s iOS that probably gives Apple more props than it deserves.
Some of the Model 3's features, like its RFID-card keyless entry system and lack of an on/off button to press, make certain conventions instantly obsolete.
There are some gripes. Most of them have to do with assembly quality and the quality of the trim. The center console area, for instance, feels like what you'd find in a base-level mainstream sedan costing less than half the amount. And we still haven’t seen a Model 3 that’s put together as well as we’d want of a vehicle that costs $50,000 or more, but even this latest one we drove, via Turo, was a January delivery.
All this waiting, all this drama. The Wall Street shorts, production hell, Elon Musk’s tweets. Despite it all, the car is good. Very good.
Is that enough to win the top nod for the year? Check back Monday.