Exclusive: Tesla Model 3 Review

We have driven the much anticipated Tesla Model 3. While its now looking uncertain on whether or not this will be Teslas car for an entry to India, it is certainly the most logical one. The Tesla Model 3 surprises with its capability on the road.

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The Tesla Model 3 is a compact car, and has rather simple styling.

The name Tesla gets everyone's attention - be it for the cars like the Tesla Model 3, Model S or Model X - or indeed the man behind them - Elon Musk. And the Model 3 is of particular importance to where the Tesla brand will go. After all, given that Tesla Motors has a higher valuation than even SpaceX, the volumes-driving Model 3 becomes the make or break product in many ways. In India there has been tremendous curiosity and intrigue about all of that, and a lot of inexplicable anticipation about the arrival of this brand of all-electric automobiles to our country. Mr Musk had hosted Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2015, and soon after promised that the brand would come to India - on twitter where all things are apparently true - nothing as yet suggests it is happening anytime soon.

Yet were it to happen, the car in question would undoubtedly be the smallest EV (electric vehicle) in the range – the Tesla Model 3. In fact when its bookings opened online, several Indians had also booked it by putting in the  $1000 down payment. While most have cancelled and received a full refund, others still live on in hope. To them I say – it's worth it. Yes I have driven the new Tesla Model 3, and I can tell you straight away it lives up to the hype. And while I obviously mean that in terms of the cool and the tech, I also think it does on driveability. Surprised? I know I was.  
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The Tesla Model 3 gets full LED headlamps

The Tesla Model 3 is a compact car, and has rather simple styling. The face is almost bland and inexpressive, yet futuristic because of the lack of too many styling details – so there's no grille or air dams. The profile is a bit hatch cum coupé like, almost invoking the Toyota Prius in some ways – not the best thing to relate it to I know. The rear is also clean, and the taillights stand out – you know from a mile it's a Tesla. And the compact proportions tell you it's the Model 3. But those proportions belie the kind of cabin space you get.
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The rear of the Tesla Model 3 is clean while the tail lamp design is simple and yes they too are LEDs

Quite generous for a car this size. This was always meant to have been a BMW 3 Series rival, and up until the previous generation 3 Series that was a very valid argument. The new recently unveiled 3 Series though is a slightly larger, much sportier and more ample sedan than its predecessor, but here is how the numbers stack up in dimension terms anyway – Model 3: Length 4690 mm, Wheelbase 2880 mm, Height 1440 mm, Width 1930 mm / BMW 3 Series (G20): 4709 mm, Wheelbase: 2851 mm, Height 1442 mm, Width 1827 mm.
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The Tesla Model 3 is compact but there's more wheelbase on offer compared to the new Gen BMW 3 Series

Tesla offers the Model 3 in three variants, but given the options available on each, the actual options go into multiples of three! The broad variants are – the entry level single-motor option (with 400 kms drive range), the dual-motor long range with all-wheel drive (500 kms range) and the Performance variant which makes the dual-motor go faster (0-100 kmph happens in about 3.4 seconds!) and gives it a top speed of 250 kmph. While it would have been great to have the latter, I was quite pleased getting my hands on the dual-motor version at least. And there is a badge at the rear that tells you it is this variant. The big deal on this car is its cabin, and again I got lucky, as my car for the day has the optional white interior – for which (you guessed it!) you have to pay extra! Also an optional extra – the 19-inch wheels on this car. 

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The Tesla Model 3's floor pan battery pack gives it low centre of gravity, and a solid, planted feel

So, if the exterior is clean, the insides are even more so. Minimalist hadn't been defined well enough I reckon until the Tesla Model 3 came along. Very clean dash, with the massive screen at the centre as its main standout feature. That is a whopping 15-inch screen! It is quite like the iPad Pro, though larger than the largest iPad on the market! Unlike on the Model S, the screen is positioned in landscape layout. The dash can be plastic finished, or you can opt for wood/ carbon fibre/ colour trim options – by paying extra!

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The Tesla Model 3 gets a massive 15-inch screen at the centre as its main standout feature

My test car is of course finished in white panelling. The seats and trim are well finished – a doubt for many – given all the sourcing, production and rollout delays (and other issues) that have plagued the Tesla Model 3. The doors can be opened using a button release, mounted on the grab handle – and that takes some getting used to, but works well. There is a mechanical release just below that though. The power window buttons and two scrollers on the steering wheel are the only buttons you will see in this very spartan cabin. There is no instrument cluster either, and you see the speed readout at the top left of that giant iPad-like screen.
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The Tesla Model 3 does not get an instrument cluster

On to the car's on-road performance. This is where the surprise element comes in. Having driven the Model S in the past, I had pretty low expectations to be honest. But the Model 3 is bang on target. Let me put it this way – all the experience and learnings that Tesla may have had through its first two products – the Model S and Model X, shine through on this car. Its floor pan battery pack gives it low centre of gravity, and a solid, planted feel.

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The power window buttons and two scrollers on the steering wheel are the only buttons you will see in this very spartan cabin.

The 3 is a revelation for its ride quality and handling. The car corners sharply with ease and on point. The steering also delivers the precision and stiffness you don't expect. And what's more, you can change the steering stiffness – there are three modes, though keeping it on the mid setting is best. The car's agility is supplemented by the torque you get from this motor, as well as the quick power delivery. This is a fast car. Much faster than the German counterparts, and here I am talking about their performance versions! I hadn't expected the Model 3 to be so much fun to be honest!

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The Tesla Model 3 gets usable boot space too of 425 litres

There is a track mode, and a slip-start mode – for safe and quick starts on icy or slippery surfaces. Traction control can only be manipulated to that extent. I drove only on public roads and a short highway stretch. But boy would I like to get this car on a track! Tesla's much touted self-drive mode is fun enough, and effective, but I was having too much of a good time to hand over the driving duties! On the whole the Tesla Model 3 is taut, confidence inspiring and exudes a sense of being a well-built, high quality product. Again that is not something associated with Teslas off late, and in particular with the Model 3, given the negative press I referred to earlier. So is it impressive? Yes. 

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Tesla's much touted self-drive mode is fun enough, and effective

And do I think we need it in India? Well as a flagship for the EV wave that will come at some point – yes. And maybe we don't need the supercharger, and can make do with the home wall box or even a simple three pin option – no doubt both will mean longer charge times. But that is fine since it could be plugged in overnight for instance. Given the announcements from several carmakers about bringing in EVs by 2020, the acceptance will also only grow. And Tesla already has a halo around it – meaning the pull factor is already there in India.

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The 19-inch wheels are offered as an option on the Tesla Model 3

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Now, the question is can Tesla really ramp up production to 500,000 units a year – and then work out an effective price for a completely built import or figure a local assembly option. Too many questions still to pave any path to India. But I strongly believe that if Tesla survives the onslaught of all global majors starting to offer EVs within a year or two – worldwide, then coming to India is a matter of when, and not if. So if not the current Model 3 – the facelift perhaps? Let's live in hope!
 

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