4 Big Things We Learned From the First Ever Tesla Model 3 Test Drive

After Thursday's relatively tight-lipped event, we got a closer look.

Tesla Motors

Late Thursday night, at around 11:50 p.m. Eastern, Elon Musk personally revealed the Tesla Model 3 to the masses. The event was live streamed on Tesla’s website, and a Periscope stream of the first test drive followed the conclusion of the event.

The unveiling itself was a spectacle. After his informative introduction about the state of Tesla, Musk asked if the audience was at last ready to behold the Model 3. Their resounding yes meant it was time for a classic April Fools’ Day gag: Musk apologized, saying they weren’t quite ready, then explained that he was kidding. It was, by Musk’s standards, an altogether not awkward moment. “It’s April Fools’ Day somewhere,” he laughed.

And then it began. A promo video showcased almost sensual close-ups of the great gas supplanter’s newest electric vehicle. Then, aptly enough, three Model 3s rolled out onstage, each, somewhat disappointingly, being driven: one red, one silver, and one slate. Before the crowd of cell-phone toting oglers, three spotlights ignited at once to illuminate the cars of the future. All Model 3’s will have Autopilot.

Spotlights illuminate the three Model 3s.

A cameraperson wandered around stage, offering cinematic shots as Game of Thrones–esque music reverberated through the room. And then we got our first glimpses inside the car. With those images and with the livestreamed first test drive after the fact — with, yes, “Life is a Highway” playing within the car itself — we have a bit more than the book’s cover upon which we can place our judgments. Here’s what we learned:

The Model 3 Has a 15-Inch Landscape Display With a Redesigned Interface

The Model 3 seems to have a very stripped down interior.

The Model 3’s center display is altogether different than that of the Model S. (Though no indication that Musk’s foreshadowing about iPhone apps being “projected” onto Tesla displays will come to fruition just yet.) The Model S center display is 17 inches and portrait-orientation; the Model 3’s is 15 inches and landscape-orientation. Due to the reorientation, it’s higher up on the dash.

Notably, this display is the only display: there’s no familiar speedometer, etc. display behind the steering wheel.

The Model 3 Looks Fast as Hell

In the first test drive, the driver did a continuous urban loop as he answered questions for the livestreamers. There was one straightaway in the course, and he repeatedly pushed the pedal down. And it looked like, if you were in that car, you’d get your head whipped back. “At Tesla we don’t make slow cars,” Musk said at one point in the presentation.

Two classic Musk moves.

The Model 3 Will Have Many “Expansion Packs,” One Could Say

In general, the starter specs will be a lot more lame than what you’ll get with the add-on features. The starter battery will take you 215 miles; the high-range battery specs are unannounced. Tesla will offer both dual-motor and rear-wheel-drive cars. Tesla is expecting that air suspension — as seen in the Model S — will be optional, the test-drive driver said.

Musk, at the unveiling, seemed to preempt criticism on this front. We don’t yet know many specifics about the Model 3 — what options purchasers will have — but it’s safe to bet that the mere $35,000 entry-level version will be relatively stripped down. Musk wanted to reassure the audience that, regardless, it was still an incredible car — a better car than anything else you can get for that price, he said.

Palms raised is not exactly confidence-inspiring re: that price tag, Mr. Musk.

And we have more information upon which we can base this speculation. Musk, at Tesla’s last quarterly report in February, 2016, said that he considers the Model X to be the “best car ever.” (Elaborating, he said: “I’m not sure anyone’s ever going to make a car like this again. I’m not sure Tesla will ever make a car like this again.”) No less, he considers the X a learning experience. He said Tesla put “too many great things all at once” into the product, and that “in retrospect, it would’ve been better to do fewer things at first, then roll in new features over time.… There was some hubris, there, with the X.”

He also said, in that February investor call, that Tesla “took basically every action we could to suppress demand for the X” because production couldn’t keep up. Luckily for those who waited in lines and made Model 3 reservations today, Musk added that he anticipated the production lag would change this year.

Model 3 Is “Quite Close” to Production-Ready

The Model 3 driver said that Tesla was “quite close” to having production-ready Model 3s, but that it has “a lot of work to do in the time we’ve got left.” He began to elaborate before he was interrupted with a follow-up question: the passenger wished to know what, specifically, remained to get it 100-percent production-ready. “It’s a real production development process, so, things like… crash safety has to be done, all the production tooling has to be done.”

It’ll be a mad dash to the end of 2017, when Tesla predicts (or hopes) it’ll begin shipping Model 3s, but the representative was confident that it’ll finish strong.

Musk with the three 3s.

Tesla Motors

Watch the full video from the test drive here.

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