The Model 3 stands poised to revolutionize the transportation industry, but even for Tesla it's a bit of a departure. When the Model S hit the streets in 2012, it set a new template for what an EV could be and, while the Model X innovates in some key ways (and has some crazy doors), by and large it fits very much in the same template.
The new Model 3, however, has some substantial differences from those cars that came before. Let's run through some of the most notable ones.
One of the biggest differentiators in the Model 3 compared to its predecessors is the dashboard. Or, more correctly said, the lack of a dashboard. The Models S and X both feature an LCD situated behind the steering wheel to give typical information like speed, navigation cues and to provide space for the government-required idiot lights that appear should you leave a door open or get a flat tire.
In the Model 3, that's completely gone. All that information is integrated into the large, central touchscreen, which is also substantially changed from the previous cars. Where the S and X have a vertical, 17-inch display, the Model 3 has a horizontally oriented 15-inch model, which is actually raised out of the dashboard and positioned to put it within easy reach of the driver.
This display includes a speedometer (in the upper-left) and all navigation information, plus multimedia and everything else. This has a number of benefits, most notably simplifying interior design as the car is released in both left-hand-drive and right-hand-drive (UK, Japan, Australia, etc.) versions. This, plus the removal of the second display, will save Tesla a fair bit of money -- important given the $35,000 MSRP here.
But, it remains to be seen just how intuitive this will be in day-to-day use, particularly when using the standard Autopilot functionality, which on the S and X relies on the dashboard to communicate information to the driver.
Hatchback -- or the lack thereof
While the Model S is labeled a "sedan," the way the rear opens makes it more of a hatchback. And, the Model X of course is an SUV with a hatch of its own. So, it isn't surprising that many expected the Model 3 to follow suit.
However, the real surprise is that it has a trunk. A proper trunk, as in only the metal raises. The glass stays in place, meaning if you own a couple of slobbery Labradors, getting them into the back is going to be a bit more of a challenge than on Tesla's most recent two models.
Why no hatch? Well...
The Model 3 features a radical glass roof that's made to look like a single pane of glass running all the way from the windscreen to the trunk. (There's actually at least one split, but it's hard to detect.)
Now, this doesn't mean it's a seamless view, as there are structural supports running across, but it does create an amazingly airy perspective. And, thanks to the low dashboard facilitated by the removal of gauges, you get the sensation that you're sitting right over the nose.
This is similar to the optional glass roof in the Model X, but it is significantly different, most notably in that one of those structural supports runs directly over the front seats. This mean you don't get quite the same feeling of flying as you do on the Model X, but it's still a very nice place to be.
215 mile range -- and up?
The Model 3 will do "at least" 215 miles on a charge, which is reasonably good news to start. That's slightly lower than the base 70 Model S, which is officially rated for 230 miles, and the 70D Model X, at 220. Both of those cars offer larger, optional battery packs to provide even more range, which leaves us wondering just what the maximum range of a top-spec Model 3 will be.
Battery pack size
OK, we're speculating a bit here, but it's been suggested that the Model 3 is rolling on a smaller, 60 kilowatt-hour battery pack. That's about what you'd expect given the smaller, lighter car and slightly reduced range, but an engineer told us that they've made a number of efficiency improvements since the Model S and X. That may mean the battery pack here is even smaller.
OK, we saved the big one for last. If you want to get yourself in a base Model S, a 70 with no options, you're looking at $70,000. The Model 3 starts at just $35,000. Yes, half as much.
That's a game-changer for Tesla, so much so that it's hard to imagine the Model 3 not having a huge cannibalizing effect on Model S sales. Apple's never been afraid of cannibalizing its own products, and it could be said that's worked pretty well for it...