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Tesla Model 3 first drive experience: a smaller Model S with a minimalist look

As Tesla delivered the first few Model 3 production units today, I had the chance to drive one around the Fremont factory.

This is one part of a series of posts from the Model 3 unveiling. You can read the other parts here:

Here’s a quick report on my short time with the highly anticipated electric car.

The first few vehicles produced by Tesla are being delivered to executives and employees and a few of them were nice enough to allow reporters to drive them around the Fremont factory earlier today. Unfortunately, we were not allow to take pictures or film the test drive.

Nonetheless, I got to drive a brand new Midnight Silver Model 3 with 19″ ‘Sport’ wheels (the non-aero ones).

The first thing that comes to mind when seeing the vehicle in person is that it is indeed a Tesla. It might be half the price of the Model S, but it does look and feel like a ~20% smaller Model S with a design refresh. Of course, that’s just how it looks, but it also features several updated systems, including a new architecture.

A walk around shows nothing new that we haven’t seen in the countless recent sightings, but the glass roof is definitely a standout feature – it looks great in person, especially from the back:

Now you have to actually get in the car. Tesla is parting ways with its concept of using a key fob that looks like the car and instead, it will rely primarily on the owner’s phone.

Tesla’s app will take an increasingly more important role and the Model 3 will be Bluetooth connected to your phone in order to automatically unlock the doors as you approach.

If your phone is dead or you don’t have it on you for whatever reason, Tesla provides a keycard with a NFC chip. You just have to swipe on the B pillar and it will unlock the doors:

Now once you are inside, you can admire the minimalist interior of the Model 3.

While the center 15″ touchscreen almost jumps in your face, the long straight dash almost steals the show:

I didn’t have a lot of time to play with the user interface of the screen, but it almost looks exactly like each of Tesla’s current apps but in different formats to fit on the horizontal display:

The left side is definitely more animated when in drive. The renders of the Model 3 and surrounding vehicles appear on the screen like they do on the instrument cluster of current Model S and Model X vehicles with Autopilot.

The area which shows charging information above changes when the car is in drive to display gears and speed of the car. There’s also a very small animation of the power consumption.

I wasn’t comfortable with looking at it too much while driving, but I have to assume that drivers could get used to it after an extended period.

The car was so new that it was still calibrating its Autopilot sensors when I drove it, which means that I couldn’t activate Autopilot.

But I was assured that it was the latest version currently available in the new Model S and Model X vehicles. The biggest difference is the way the driver activates it since it is now on the gear selector, as we recently reported.

You need to tap down twice in order to activate the features where it is available.

As for the driving experience itself, it felt a lot like a Model S 60 with a 0-60 acceleration of 5.1 seconds.

Despite being about 1,000 pounds lighter than the Model S, it felt very solid with sharp handling, especially in “sport” steering mode. It benefits from the same architecture as its predecessors with the battery pack laying flat close to the ground between the axles.

I honestly didn’t have enough time with the car to form a valuable opinion on the driving experience, but my first impression is that it feels solid for a vehicle of its size and again, very comparable to the base Model S in term of driving.

I did notice that the regenerative braking is significantly weaker than I anticipated, but I am now used to the regen of my Model S P85, which is quite strong.  It is possible that regen strength could get stronger on future dual-motor versions of the Model 3, or a performance version if it ever comes.

This one part of a series of posts from the Model 3 unveiling. You can read the other parts here:

Stay tuned for more coverage of the Model 3 from the night.

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