Promising to take his EV game into the affordable arena, Elon Musk unveiled the all-new Tesla Model 3 last night to a mixed gathering of media and owners at the Space X facility in Hawthorne, California. Like other Tesla reveals, this one was pretty light on specifics. But based on tidbits shared by Musk and a brief, albeit enlightening, check ride in a prototype of its first “volume” model, there’s no denying this sleek compact 5-passenger sedan has the potential to be a serious player when it does finally make it into showrooms sometime late next year.

Also: Class of 2016 -- New Cars Ready to Roll

The unveiling came at the end of a day when Tesla dealers began taking reservations for the new Model 3 and interest among true believers on-site and around the country was impressive. By the start of the event, over 115,000 potential buyers had popped for a $1,000 refundable deposit to secure their spot in line for an unseen car pegged to start at $35,000. Reservations have since ballooned to nearly 200,000, although how many of those ultimately convert into actual sales remains to be seen.

A 215 mile range, Supercharger capable

As for its performance, Musk pointed out the Model 3 will have a minimum per-charge range of 215 miles and accelerate from 0-60 mph in less than 6.0 seconds – because “Tesla doesn’t build slow cars.” He also noted it will come with the complete suite of the company’s Autopilot safety technologies and earn NHTSA 5-Star safety ratings in all categories. Equally important, every Model 3 will be capable of using the automaker’s Supercharger quick-charging stations (which are set to double in number by the end of next year to 7,200 globally) as well as the network of Destination Charger outlets located at various hotels, restaurants and shopping centers planned to quadruple to 15,000 during that same period.

Interspersing a number of familiar Tesla styling cues with its own distinctive take on exterior aero optimization, Model 3 looks pleasantly purposeful and rides on an entirely new platform that’s designed to be adaptable to other body configurations including a crossover/SUV. Constructed largely of steel and aluminum while shunning carbon fiber and expensive composites to help control costs, the car features a standard steel suspension setup but will offer air springs as an option. There was no word on the power unit or floor-mounted lithium-ion battery pack – and both are reportedly new – but like the model S, the Model 3 will offer single- and dual-motor configurations.

Also: Kelley Blue Book Best Buy Awards of 2016

The cabin of this new Tesla has a modern minimalist character and sufficient space that Musk claims will let it seat five “comfortably,” although we didn’t get a chance to personally sample what appears to be a decently scaled rear seat that resides under a large panoramic glass roof panel. A centrally mounted 15-inch touchscreen dominates the Model 3’s dash and provides all pertinent driver data while also serving as the sole source of command and control functions for all other on-board systems. Like the Model S, this newcomer has both front and rear cargo stow areas which reportedly will have more capacity than any gasoline-powered car of similar size.

Quick and composed

Not surprisingly, our Model 3 check ride took place in a well-optioned dual-motor prototype with air suspension. Like Model S, it proved quietly capable in basic cruise mode and during the few seconds of max-acceleration and quick lane changes, felt quick and composed enough to appear to be competitive versus rivals like the BMWi3, upcoming Chevrolet Bolt, redone Nissan LEAF, Hyundai Ioniq and Volkswagen eGolf.

Musk indicated that more detailed information about the new Model 3 will be released as we get closer to its official on-sale date. But the biggest question that remains is timing. Tesla has been famous for seeing actual vehicle intro dates lag well behind their original projections. Given its mission to be the firm’s first true high-volume player -- and the limited patience of the general public that still soft on the appeal of EV’s in general -- it’s critical the Tesla Model 3 actually shows up as and when promised.

More EVs and Plug-in Hybrid Vehicles…

2017 Chevrolet Bolt will open near $30,000 and offer 200-mile-plus range

The 2017 Hyundai Ioniq will offer EV, Hybrid and Plug-in power choices

2016 Nissan LEAF offers more range and new features


New Car Spotlight


Free Dealer Price Quote

Get the best price and be more prepared with your free, no-obligation price quote