The Tesla Model 3 might be the newest and “affordable” vehicle in the electric automaker’s lineup, but as I pushed my foot down on its accelerator, I thought, Yeah, this thing’s still a Tesla. There’s the silent driving, the signature rapid acceleration, and the semi-autonomous Autopilot function built right in. The company has been reminding customers that the Model S, its luxury car rolled out in 2012, will remain the flagship sedan and have the fanciest features. But if you’ve lusted after that expensive Model S, you’ll likely be satisfied with the Model 3 too.
This car feels like an automotive tipping point, a sign that electric vehicles—and hopefully, the infrastructure that supports them—have finally come into their own. Time will tell whether Musk & Co. can hit their deadlines and keep production lines humming—Elon Musk revealed Friday at the Model 3’s coming out party that over half a million people have now plonked down $1,000 to reserve their own—but for now, it looks quite nice.
Initially, Tesla is building just two configurations of the car, to keep things simple on the production line. The base will be the $35,000 version, with a range of 220 miles and acceleration from 0 to 60 mph in 5.6 seconds. The “long range” version will go a claimed 310 miles between charges, and do the 0 to 60 sprint in 5.1 seconds—but it’ll set you back $44,000. (In a break from tradition, Tesla won’t talk kilowatt-hour battery sizes, saying that customers understand range in miles better.) Both models come with just one electric motor driving the back wheels. The twin motor—the all-wheel-drive option—will follow in a few months.