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I Took a Ride in Tesla Motors, Inc.'s Model 3. Here Are 3 Takeaways

By Daniel Sparks - Apr 11, 2016 at 11:08AM

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It's definitely worth $35,000. Here's what made the Model 3 stand out.

It was clear there was some significant pent-up demand for Tesla Motors' (TSLA 1.66%) Model 3 before it was even unveiled. On the morning of the event, when the electric-car maker began accepting deposit-backed reservations for the vehicle, lines of hundreds of customers had formed at Tesla stores as they tried to get their order early in the queue. And before Tesla had showed the 3's design that night, the company had already garnered around 100,000 orders.

Amid all the hype, you can bet I was ready to get in the vehicle and take it for a spin when the company offered event attendees test rides. While Model 3 was still clearly a prototype, with a number of tweaks undoubtedly to come, the electric car didn't disappoint.

Model 3 test ride. Image source: Author.

Here are three takeaways from my test ride.

1. Performance is stellar
Despite being half the price of its Model S, the Model 3 didn't seem to compromise on performance.

"At Tesla, we don't make slow cars," Musk said during the event unveiling. "And, of course, there will be versions of the Model 3 that go much faster."

Model 3's acceleration was incredible -- true to the sporty instant torque of its Model S and X. Off the line, I was sucked back into the seat.

Seeming to be a bit faster than the base version of Model S, I suspected the Model 3 prototype could have been a dual-motor version of the Model 3. I later learned from one of Musk's tweets after the event that it was. Fortunately, however, Tesla says it won't cost the same additional $5,000 it costs to add dual-motor all-wheel drive to a Model S to upgrade Model 3. Even more, apparently the production dual-motor version of Model 3 will be "a lot faster" than this prototype, Musk explained on Twitter:

The base Model 3 will have a zero-to-sixty mph time of "less than six seconds," Musk said during the unveil. "... I want to emphasize these are minimum numbers. We hope to exceed them."

2. It's spacious
Perhaps the most surprising thing about Tesla's Model 3 was how spacious it seemed. Sitting in the back, the backseat easily exceeded Model S' headroom and seemed to rival its leg room.

"The Model 3 also fits five adults comfortably," Musk said at the Model 3 event. "That 'comfortably' is the important part here."

There were two key ways Tesla achieved spaciousness in the back seat despite its smaller overall size than the Model S. First, the company moved the front seat forward by compacting the instrument panel, giving the backseat more leg room than a car this size would have otherwise. Second, Tesla made the rear roof area a single continuous pan of glass, adding significant head room, as well as a feeling of openness that comes with a glass roof.

Model 3. Image source: Tesla Motors.

Model 3 has the "best roominess of any car this size," Musk asserted during the unveiling.

3. It's compelling
At half the price of the company's Model S, and considering it is Tesla's first more affordable vehicle, it was surprising how much value was packed into the vehicle. Overall, there was a feeling that Tesla didn't make any compromises.

Model 3. Image source: Tesla Motors.

The styling and design is fresh, unique, sporty, and functional. Performance is outstanding. And its minimum range of 215 miles on a single charge is more than enough for daily driving -- and plenty to enable long-distance travel on Tesla's robust Supercharger network.

After driving the Model 3 prototype myself, I got to see first hand why -- within a week of the unveil -- 325,000 people handed Tesla a deposit to reserve their own. Of course, almost all of these reservation holders didn't even get to ride in the vehicle. But my experience with the prototype suggests they won't be disappointed when they get their own ride.

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