Early reviews heap praise on Tesla's Model 3, with a few caveats

Key Points
  • Early reviews of the Model 3 praise its sleek design, smooth ride and quick acceleration, and mold-breaking interior.
  • Some reviewers were ambivalent about the car's instrument panel, and cited some issues around build quality.
Early reviews heap praise on Tesla's Model 3, with a few caveats

Reviews of the Tesla Model 3 praise the car as a futuristic, mold-breaking car that may be the best electric vehicle at its price point. But that doesn't mean it's perfect.

Overall, Tesla's first attempt at a less expensive car than their higher-end S and X models has received strong acclaim for its smooth, quiet ride, uniquely minimalist interior and dashboard, and body design.

But some reviewers have taken issue with aspects of the car's unorthodox features, such Tesla's choice to forego a traditional instrument cluster in front of the driver in favor of a large monitor in the center of the dashboard. Some reviewers say they heard of or experienced a few flaws in the car's build quality.

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Tesla has loaned out almost no press cars, so reviewers typically borrowed cars from owners, or rode in one at a Tesla event. And while the Model 3 is advertised with a starting price of $35,000, the company has begun production with more expensive versions that have longer range and added features. Many of the cars reviewed were priced more in the mid-$40,000 to mid-$50,000 range.

As Tesla always said it would, the car lacks many of the "bells and whistles" of the pricier Model S. It does not offer the performance of Tesla's ridiculously quick Model S P100D car (which sells for $150,000). But the Model 3 can go from 0-60 miles per hour in 5.1 seconds, Tesla has said. For reference that is more than a full second quicker than the $37,495 electric Chevrolet Bolt, which hits 60 miles per hour from a standstill in 6.5 seconds.

Tesla Model 3 exterior view.
Source: Tesla

But overall, reviewers say the car is quick, handles well and is fun to drive.

"It's one thing to discover driving joy in a sports car that was painstakingly engineered to tickle the pleasure neurons of autocrossers and track rats," said Road & Track. "Finding that in a family sedan — a car aimed at entry-luxury four-door buyers, the silver drones of white collar office parks worldwide — is an unexpected delight."

The design of the Model 3 is "derivative, in a good way," said USA Today in one of its two reviews.

The car does bear a close resemblance to the Model S, with some important differences. First, it is shorter — around the size of a Honda Civic, said a review in Jalopnik. It is also not a hatchback, though its trunk is quite large, said a review by Autotrader.

In addition, the car is "bigger than Nissan Leaf, Chevy Bolt and most of the rest of the competition, so it might be in a class of its own," said Autoweek.

The interior is simple and spare."The Model 3's dashboard is an exercise in fanatical minimalism," said Road & Track.

Knobs, buttons or other controls are mostly absent. Almost everything is controlled through a large horizontal touchscreen centered on the dashboard. This gives the cabin a clean, minimalist look reviewers extolled.

Tesla Model 3 interior rear view.
Source: Tesla

However, the "spare, stark layout of the Model 3's cabin makes the touch screen look tacked on, rather than neatly integrated," said Consumer Reports. Some reviewers said they would have preferred to not have to use the touchscreen for some functions. But using the screen might be no problem for people who used smartphones before they learned how to drive, Jalopnik said.

Tesla model 3 touch screen dashboard.
Source: Tesla

The Autopilot user interface could have been better, said a reviewer at The Drive, who drove the car across the entire U.S. in an "electric cannonball run" that ran just over 50 hours.

Reviews did mention that there has been talk among early buyers of build quality issues, and there are a few reports of defects. There were issues with the steering wheel freezing up and the display showing glitches while the car is charging, said one owner. At least one reviewer reported that some owners have criticized gaps between door panels on the vehicle.

Tesla Model 3 backseat interior.
Source: Tesla

"It appears that the Model 3 is definitely showing some issues of a first-year car," said GQ.

However, a reviewer at Jalopnik had a hard time finding flaws in the build quality of the vehicle he drove.

Many Tesla owners who do find flaws may forgive them. Consumer Reports at one point gave Tesla's other sedan, the Model S, an average reliability rating, citing a number of issues, from reports of squeaks and rattles to stories of owners replacing the entire powertrain. Despite this, Tesla owners are exceptionally satisfied with their cars and are loyal to the brand, Consumer Reports said.

Tesla, though, will have to convince many more consumers to buy the Model 3 if they want to transition from niche car maker to the mass market.

"Nearly 500,000 early adopters have put down $1,000 deposits for a Model 3," said USA Today. "That's a good start, but true success will require a zero to be added to that figure."

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