New Car Previews

Preview: 2018 Tesla Model 3

The surprise appearance of the Tesla Model 3 on the show floor just prior to the opening of the Canadian International AutoShow (yes, their spelling) came with another, even more welcome revelation: unlike at the LA auto show’s media days late in 2017, this particular Model 3 in Toronto was actually unlocked and ready to be poked, prodded and photographed inside and out – unlike at any Tesla store currently in the country.

Unlisted in any auto show preview, it was not quite the first Model 3 in Canada, nor even the first appearance in Canada we’ve covered. But unlike that unofficial customer-led road trip around North America, this Model 3 appearance was officially sanctioned by Tesla, with representatives from California as well as Canadian retail outlets available to demonstrate features and answer questions.

Unfortunately for show goers, the car will be locked on public days, said the representatives. Though if I was one of the many thousands of Canadians (out of over 400,000 Model 3 reservation holders) who paid a $1,000 refundable deposit on this car, or even stood in line like for the latest hot electronic gadget, I’d bring some evidence of this enthusiasm for the brand to show them – just in case. 

Canadians still waiting for Model 3, even display models

This is the electric vehicle that was (or is) supposed to help bring all-electric to the masses, though more the ‘entry-luxury’ masses really, until they start filtering out into the used car market. Still, it is the least expensive Tesla available, or will be when the first models arrive to its first Canadian customers, a planned date recently moved up from late to mid-2018.

The move will also provide access to Tesla’s vaunted Supercharging network to many more drivers, with the rapidly expanding network of Tesla-built quick charging stations continuing to be one of the brand’s key advantages over mainstream EV efforts.

So back to this particular Model 3, sitting as the newest yet least expensive vehicle in the show’s Auto Exotica section, surrounded by seven-figure Bugattis, Koenigseggs (okay, one of each), and six-figure Bentleys, Aston Martins and Lamborghinis, among other exotic brands. Compared to the vehicles surrounding it here, the fully loaded Model 3’s as tested price of US$57,500 is relative peanuts, even at its current C$71,667 equivalent.

But that’s still much more than the oft-repeated US$35,000 target base price of the Model 3 (or C$43,626), which has yet to be seen or made available anywhere. The first few months Tesla has only produced highly loaded launch edition versions that currently start at roughly US$49,000 (just over C$61,000), which includes the longer range battery (up to 496 km, from 352) for US$9,000, and a premium interior upgrade package.

Canadian Model 3 prices have not yet been officially set, but Tesla reps insisted that the company doesn’t play games with currencies, and basically sets each international market price to the equivalent cost in US dollars for similar equipment and local variables (tariffs, etc.). 

Interior comfortable, roomy, and almost totally screen-based

Getting into the Model 3 is simpler than in other Tesla models, though less wow factor, as it doesn’t have the touch sensitive door handles that emerge out of the door at the presence of the owner – or keyholder’s – hand. No, these flush handles are similar to current Jaguar designs, which are opened by pushing in one end, then grabbing the other end with the same motion. A solution which seems less flashy but also less susceptible to foul weather foul ups.

Once inside, one major difference from most cars is the almost totally transparent roof, which makes it almost difficult to distinguish where the windshield ends and when the optional front clear roof begins. All Model 3s have clear roof panels over the rear seat, which also merges seamlessly with the rear windshield, providing expansive views for both front and rear seat passengers.

From the outside, however, the roof looks like highly tinted glass, keeping some semblance of privacy even with nosy truckers or high-riding pickup owners around. Plus it reduces solar heating even after all-day parking lot summer sun baths.

The other aspect you’re instantly amazed at is the mighty 15-inch horizontal touchscreen, mounted prominently on top of the centre console – and literally nothing else, anywhere, when it comes to controls.

Trying to adjust your steering wheel? There’s an app for that. Find the right adjustment mode on the screen’s central menu, and the steering wheel will rise and fall vertically with one scroll wheel, then in and out with the other side. Looking for the speedo? Yup, check that screen again, where the figure shows up prominently on the left hand side of the screen.

There’s only two steering wheel stalks on the Model 3, and one is a unique ‘gear’ selector that replaces the transmission shifter, and the other turn signal and wiper controls. No multi-button explosion on this steering wheel, although its modernist ethos make you wonder if you’ll miss easy phone and station-flipping access while driving.  

Roomy rear seat, doubly so for the trunk(s)

Accessing the rear seat takes some more bending than usual with the sweeping rear coupe roofline, but once you’re back there, your head has plenty of room for cowboy hat fans. Apparently, the standard front non-glass-roof model has notably less headroom, which is unusual in most cars. The rear perches themselves are done up in a soft leather, with a laid back seating position. Most impressively, the driver can direct the majority of the music to anywhere in the rear or front seats, as well as pinpointing climate-controlled air back there.

Speaking of air, you won’t find one air vent in the Model 3. There’s a single but hidden airblade that runs across the dash, which in our tester was covered by an open pore wood trim piece that runs along the entire interior width of the car, adding a touch of natural beauty to the largely modernist/minimal design theme inside.

Like the Model S, there is a frunk up front, though the 3’s is notably smaller, while the Model 3 has a more or less regular sized trunk. Sadly, the trunk opening is quite tight, but there’s a good-sized well under the trunk floor that’s perfect for hiding gifts for family members. The two USBs back there help provide that future-ready ambiance, even if it’s only at the front where two separate cell phone adapters can provide power and an instant connection to an Android or Apple device, even if you’re headphones are inside.

In the end, Tesla’s upcoming Model 3 is not your usual Canadian debutante. Those mainstream automakers have tripped over themselves with electrification announcements since its highly hyped debut. Granted, they may not have rushed to replicate all of Tesla Model 3’s features and market advantages, including its longer range and quick chargers in particular. But the photos and videos of lineups outside Tesla stores to reserve the Model 3 has made it very difficult for any automaker to continue arguing there was no consumer demand for electric vehicles.

That makes the Model 3 successful at one Tesla's stated goals already, even before a single one is delivered in this country.