The basic US price equates to £25,000 at today’s money, but it won’t be by the time the Model 3 arrives, partly because cars are cheaper in the US and partly because all cars at the start, and most of them, presumably, thereafter, will have the big battery ($9000) and a Premium Upgrade package (including uprated trim, better audio, more storage, a tinted glass roof, heated, powered seats and so on, at $5000).
Our test car, also given metallic paint, 19in wheels and ‘advanced Autopilot’, rolled up at $57,000 (£42,000). Autopilot currently does what software and legislation allow it to: act as an adaptive cruise control system with lane-keeping assist.
What's the Model 3 like inside the cabin?
It’s pretty simple to operate. Once on the open road, you tap the gearlever, which will already be in ‘D’, to ‘D’ again to activate the radar-controlled cruise. Via the right nipple on the wheel, you can adjust the distance it’ll leave to the car in front. A double pull to ‘D’ also activates the steering assist.
There’s a graphical display on the monitor of where other traffic is, and it’s one of the most aware systems I’ve tried. Tesla says the hardware is already installed for when full autonomy is permitted.
The car has eight cameras, 12 ultrasonic monitors and the forward-facing radar, and a new software programme could enable it to operate autonomously. Tesla thinks this is all a car will need for Enhanced Autopilot, for use on a freeway and when parking, and indeed even for full self-driving (another $3000).
Meantime, though, download an app onto your smartphone and slip a card into your wallet and that’s all the key the Model 3 requires.
The door handles are conventional, rather than the automatic pop-out versions on the larger Teslas, and they open conventional doors onto one of the airiest interiors this side of a car with no roof.
An uncovered sunroof at the front and a rear window that stretches up into the roof give good head room, while across the dashboard sweeps a big wooden panel, above which is one big, heavily diffused air vent. Fit and finish are fine.
Centre stage is a 15.0in monitor that could have been swiped off your work desk. There are column stalks, two multifunction buttons on the steering wheel and a hazard-warning switch on the roof, required by law. And no other buttons. Everything is controlled via the touchscreen.
Genius or infuriating? Honestly, a mix of both, but mostly genius.
The touchscreen is quick to respond, software downloads occur every few weeks once you’ve approved it via the app, sat-nav mapping is by Google Maps so traffic monitoring is brilliant and the whole menu system is intuitive.
The downsides are that if you don’t want things to happen automatically or you want to change something – headlights, air conditioning, door mirrors – it’s rarely the work of a moment. And given that there’s inevitably some body movement, you have to brace your hand against the screen's edge. But if you’re a touchscreen convert, it’s as good as it can be.
I’m not sure the seats are. They’re flat and a touch unsupportive, although the driving position’s generally sound. The wheel stretches out electrically – go to a sub-menu, use one of the steering wheel nipples to adjust it – and is, at two turns between locks (although slower around straight-ahead than when lock’s applied) easily responsive. You can change the weight if you want – light, medium or heavy – but medium is best.