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Tesla Model 3: specs, prices and full details on the new electric BMW 3 Series competitor

Will Beaumont
9 Aug 2017

Tesla CEO reveals the two battery options - 50kWh and 75kWh - for the Model 3 with a flagship performance version to follow.

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Deliveries of early Tesla Model 3 cars are underway as Tesla tries to ramp up production at its Californian Gigafactory. In a bid to secure extra funding to expedite production of the all-electric 5-door, Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla, outlined to (potential) investors the battery variants that will underpin the Model 3 range.

The powerpack options offered from launch, referred to as standard (50kWh) and long-range can travel a claimed 220 miles and 310 miles respectively. Neither will be lacking in performance as both dispose of the 0-60mph sprint in under six seconds, the latter almost breaking the five second barrier - perfectly respectable in the context of the compact executive saloon segment.

 

Musk clearly thinks there’s room for improvement in terms of performance, however, hence his confirmation of a hot Model 3 that will further expand the EV producer’s offerings in the performance saloon segment beyond the Model S P100D. Musing about this potential M3 rival, Musk dashed expectations of the 100kWh featuring in the junior saloon due to packaging restrictions. Divulging little else, he said a minimal battery increase is more likely for the flagship derivative which is expected to be four-wheel drive.   

Although finished cars are charging on US customer driveways, the Model 3 isn’t expected in the UK until early 2019 thanks to order books full with over half a million names. Tesla though, is doing its best to meet demand by progressively mobilising spare production capacity. 100 orders are expected to be fulfilled this month, with build numbers increasing twenty-fold by December 2017, when the plant will be running at full capacity. 

 

Tesla Model 3: What is it?

The Model 3 sits underneath the Model S executive car and the Model X SUV as an entry-level model for the electric automaker's range. With a likely starting price of around £35,000 in the UK it’s firmly in compact executive territory, and will therefore compete directly with more conventionally powered rivals like the BMW 3-series or Mercedes C-class.

It takes the form of a five-door fastback - think Audi A5 Sportback or BMW 4-series Gran Coupe - but where the Tesla sets itself apart from the competition is with a fully electric drivetrain. While not quite capable of delivering Tesla Model S-style acceleration it will allow the Model 3 to rival its more conventional alternatives for performance, with Tesla quoting a 0-60mph time of 5.6s seconds for the standard car or 5.1s for the long-range version. In terms of range, your choice between these two launch models will mean either 220 or 310 miles. 

Elon Musk confirmed via Twitter that a Performance version will be released in 2018, likely donning a dual motor set up, although Musk is being cautious about creating too many variants early on in the Model 3's production to avoid the production and quality issues that plagued the Model X SUV.

> Tesla Model S review

The Tesla Model 3 has a big job on its hands, convincing the world that this American upstart is capable of producing a quality, mass-market product that could be considered alongside accomplished rivals. It must also prove that electric power is the way forward – that existing infrastructure can handle an increasingly electrified world.

And lastly, it must stand up to scrutiny on the road. The Model S, brutally fast and supremely smooth though it is, is an ‘evo’ car more for its performance than the manner in which it can tackle a series of corners. Will the smaller, more affordable Model 3 out-point a 3-series or Jaguar XE on the road? For that, we’ll have to wait and see.

Tesla Model 3: Performance and 0-60 time

Tesla has not produced a slow car yet, and the Model 3 looks set to carry on the legacy. With a top speed of 130mph and an official 0-60mph time of 5.6s, the standard car can certainly mix-it with compact executive rivals and is roughly in the same ballpark as a BMW 330i. Go for the long range version and the top speed is 140mph and the sprint increment lowers to 5.1s. 

This won’t trouble the Model S P100D but Musk has put fans at ease on Twitter earlier in 2016 when he confirmed that the Model 3 would have its own version of Tesla’s ‘Ludicrous mode’ – also seen on the Model S and Model X. We’re expecting to see two and four-wheel-drive versions of the Model 3, with four-wheel-drive models benefitting from dual motors to provide increased performance but the first cars are all rear-wheel drive.

Tesla Model S: Performance and 0-60 time

Dimensions and technical specs

At 4,694mm long and 1,849mm wide, Tesla’s Model 3 is wider and longer than a BMW 3 Series - It has a wheelbase of 2,875mm too (the 3 Series’ is 2,810mm). The highlight figure, however is the kerb weight of 1,610kg that isn’t too far in excess of the 1,475kg the conventionally-engined BMW 3 Series tips the scales at.  Not bad given all the batteries the Tesla needs fit onboard.

Weight distribution is split 47%/53% front to rear and a variable, speed sensitive power steering set-up takes care of the steering. The suspension system uses double wishbones at the front and an independent multi-link arrangement at the rear. 

Inside, there’s a 5-seat interior that isn’t as room as that of the larger Model S and X. There’s combined a total of 425 litres of space in the front and rear luggage compartments, a little less than the 480 litres a 3 Series can get in its boot. 

Tesla Model 3: Range and charging

With the Model 3’s advanced lithium ion batteries and efficient powertrain, the Model 3 can deliver a range of 220 miles or 310 miles measured by the EPA standards used in the USA. European figures are likely to be higher on paper, but the EPA numbers offer the most accurate glance into the car's real-world range.

Either way those numbers are less than its Model S sibling, but they're still more than the majority of other more affordable electric cars on sale today. A Nissan Leaf, for comparison is capable of up to 107 miles on a 30kWh battery (by EPA standards), while the EPA range for a BMW i3 with the optional range extender is 180 miles. In Europe, only the updated Renault Zoe is likely to get close - with its 41kWh battery pack, Renault claims a 250-mile range on the NEDC cycle (though Renault estimates closer to 186 miles in real-world, fair-weather use).

> Faraday Future FF-01: 1035bhp electric hypercar revealed

Expect to see greater ranges from models with larger batteries in the future, but the Model 3 won’t worry its bigger brother as the smaller body isn’t large enough to fit Tesla’s 100kWh battery pack. Charging times are impressive however, with a Tesla Supercharger capable of giving the standard car a 130-mile top-up in 30 minutes. With a standard home charger, you’re looking at 30 miles of range added per hour of charging. 

Somewhat worryingly for some potential owners, Elon Musk announced in 2016 that the Model 3 would not benefit from the same free charging as the Model S and Model X. While those cars have unlimited access to Tesla’s range of Supercharger fast charging stations for free, the Model 3 will be required to pay for access – though it’s not been confirmed yet whether it will be a subscription service, a one-time fee or a pay-as-you-charge model. This is presumably to avoid clogging up the network with all the thousands of Model 3s Tesla intends to sell. 

Tesla Model 3: Design

The Model 3 is vital to Tesla’s future. It forms the latest stage of what CEO Elon Musk refers to as the company’s ‘Secret Master Plan’. Step one was the Tesla Roadster, intended to show that electric vehicles didn’t have to be as awful as the few that were available at the time (such as the REVA G-Wiz).

Step two was accomplished with the Model S. It’s this car that’s launched Tesla into the world of car manufacturing as a major player – positioned as it is as a mid-market, luxury executive which shows that electric cars can be practical, useful, and affordable.

And now we're on step three: the Tesla Model 3. An affordable mass-market car, which the company hopes will become as much of a viable choice for normal car buyers as any combustion-engined vehicle.

Positioned as it is under the Model S, the Model 3 is understandably smaller – but it does retain its bigger brother’s styling details. The overall shape is very similar, with a long, low body made up of smooth curves. That’s all thanks to the flexibility of the electric drivetrain, which takes up very little room.

Round the front, the Model 3 does have a curiously unfinished look due to its lack of a grille. Admittedly, the grille details on its sister cars are purely cosmetic, as the electric drivetrains don’t require as much cooling – but it does rather stick out in a world still largely populated by combustion-engined cars.

The Model 3 will be a five-seater car, and like its Model S and Model X siblings it will have two boots, one at the front and one at the rear.  It offers up an incredibly minimalist interior – every function is operated through a single 15.4” screen in the centre of the dashboard. This screen will contains driving instrumentation, with speed and gear selection displayed in the corner nearest the driver. The rest of the screen is given over to maps, media, and climate controls.

The Spartan interior doesn’t have any visible air vents, but it’s been speculated that a slim gap in the dash will provide ventilation for the whole car, aiding the hushed environment within.

Tesla Model 3: Prices, specs and rivals

In the US, the Model 3 has a base price of $35,000 but the long-range model comes in at $44,000. All Model 3 cars come equipped with Tesla’s Autopilot technology, a collection of semi-autonomous driving tech, and every car will also be unlocked for ‘Ludicrous mode’ – the driving mode which unlocks the full potential of the battery and motor.

Tesla doesn't do 'trim levels' as such - the Model S and Model X come very well equipped as standard, and it looks to be a similar story with the Model 3. Certainly all cars will be fitted with the enormous central screen inside, dual-zone climate control, wi-fi internet connectivity, keyless entry and voice activated controls. There’s a Premium Upgrades Package for $5,000 that adds the 12-way power seats, heated rear seats, upgraded trim materials and a tinted glass roof with UV protection. The software to make use of the Autopilot technology also comes at an extra cost with the Enhanced Autopilot package costing an extra $5,000 and the Full Self-Driving Capability  option needing an extra $3,000 on top of that. 

Tesla currently has around 400,000 pre-order deposits for the Model 3, which were priced at $1,000 each. If each of those translates into a firm sale then Tesla will net itself over $10bn in revenue.

The Model 3 will be entering a market sector dominated by established model courtesy of the German trio -of Audi, BMW and Mercedes- whose respective offerings account for the majority of sales in this segment, although the new Alfa Romeo Giulia has certainly staked a claim as worthy alternative.  

 

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