The Model 3’s interior appears to be the most polarizing aspect of Tesla’s latest all-electric vehicle. Some appreciate the minimalist look, while others think that it looks too bare.

After spending some time with the final version of the production car and talking with Tesla designers and engineers responsible for the Model 3, my opinion of the interior has evolved and I am definitely warming up to it. 

There’s no hiding it. The simple interior is a cost saving move by Tesla. Complex interior panels, dashboard, and center consoles are expensive and increase manufacturing complexities.

But there’s also a less obvious advantage to a simple interior built around a touchscreen and that’s the potential to withstand significant design changes in the industry.

We can see major design shifts in the auto industry every 5 to 10 years, but we expect the next 10 years to be most significant for interior design due to the advent of autonomous driving.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk reiterated that he believes future software updates for Model 3, as well as for Model S and Model X, will enable fully self-driving capacity on their latest Autopilot hardware. But unlike Model S and Model X, which were designed years before Tesla’s Autopilot program, the Model 3 was designed with autonomy in mind. Tesla’s minimalistic approach should help Model 3 withstand those changes with a first step, albeit small, toward the transition of interior design for autonomous driving.

During a press briefing on Friday, Franz von Holzhausen, Tesla’s Chief Designer,

“The interior is the most innovative part of the design. We took away everything that is not necessary. What we delivered on the interior is unlike any other car out there. It will age gracefully.”

Straight lines never really go out of style, which is where the model 3’s unique dashboard comes into play. Instrument clusters, buttons, and air conditioning vents are vulnerable to design changes. By removing the instrument cluster, placing all the controls on the steering wheel and a center touchscreen, and replacing vents with a single one running the entire length of the dash, Tesla is removing those vulnerabilities.

The trick is removing those vulnerabilities without making it look cheap. Doug Field, Tesla’s Vice President of Engineering, called it “simple and economical, but elegant.”

I think that summarizes it nicely. After spending some time with the car last week, I was pleasantly surprised by the interior.

Of course, the first thing you experience as you sit down is the actual seat. Tesla has learned a lot about car seats over the years and it definitely shows in the Model 3. If you are familiar with the most recent Model S and Model X seats, it’s highly comparable and certainly much more comfortable than the seats in my Model S P85 from 2012.

I also spent a few minutes in the back seats, which are not bad either. The seats aside, the second row feels very comfortable thanks to the glass roof offering a lot of headroom.

Back to the driver’s seat. Musk previously said that the Model 3 would feature “spaceship-like” steering controls, but I was told that the design team had several innovative design ideas for the steering wheel that were later dropped for a more simple design.

Nonetheless, the steering wheel features interesting scrolls that move on two axes. It can be used to interact with Tesla’s app displayed on the center screen, like the media player or phone. It can also be used in the settings to adjust the side mirrors or the power adjustable steering wheel itself.

Before the launch, some people were wondering about the gap in the dash around the steering column and now we know it’s because the steering can be adjusted.

It actually plays into the design for autonomous driving. While it’s not entirely removing the wheel (one step at a time), the steering can be adjusted both to make the driving experience more comfortable or eventually to get the steering wheel further out of the way on autonomous mode.

The last thing I’d like to mention about the interior is that we have actually only seen the Model 3’s “premium interior”, which is offered as part of a $5,000 “premium package”, and not the standard version for the $35,000 version of the Model 3.

All Model 3 vehicles that Tesla is producing today come with the package, which includes the center console and premium cabin materials, like the open pore wood décor on the dash. The interior will certainly look different without those, but we will have to wait a few months before judging that since Tesla is currently focusing its early Model 3 production on the higher-end version of the Model 3 with the long range battery pack and premium features.

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