Tesla has finally started shipping Model 3 in significant numbers, and as a Roadster owner, an early reservation holder and a California resident, I’ve been lucky enough to get one of the first batches of cars sent to non-employees, and have been spending the last two days driving it, giving test rides, and trying to figure out everything I can about the car over the course of this busy holiday weekend.

Without getting too into the weeds (yet), I want to share some of my early impressions.  I’ll post more details in the coming days and weeks of ownership.

The other day we asked for your questions about the car, and while I’ll touch on a few things about that in this article, I’m not going to answer all of them now, and will do a “your questions answered” article once I’ve had a little more time with the car. (*update: here’s the post: Tesla Model 3 – Your questions answered)

While we’ve had a chance to drive the car before, that was just a short drive around the factory.  Fred’s impressions from that drive largely match mine, so far, but his was a very early model while Tesla was only just starting to deliver to employees and now Tesla is finally ramping up production and getting cars in the hands of customers, so I’ve got the “real deal” so-to-speak, with a VIN in the mid-2000s.

Fit and Finish

I’m going to answer this first because it’s one of the more common questions people have about this car.  Many people have shared photos of inconsistent body panel gaps on release candidate Model 3s.  I don’t particularly care about this too much myself, because as long as the car looks good and is fun to drive and has nice technology in it, I don’t need everything to be perfect down to the sub-millimeter level. But many people do care, and this can be seen as a symptom of poor manufacturing processes as if things don’t fit together well, a car can have service issues down the road.

After seeing my car and three other “first batch to the public” cars up close in the last couple days, I can report that the cars by and large do not seem to have significant issues with panel gaps.

Early Model S had a lot of issues with inconsistent panel gaps, but as Tesla built more and more of them, this problem has been disappearing.  Many thought that the same would happen with Model 3 – that early cars would have issues, and later cars wouldn’t.  The fact that these “first-batch” cars to the public do not have these issues shows that Tesla is not just getting better at making the Model S, but better at making cars in general.

At the few car meetups I’ve been to this weekend, everyone I’ve asked has observed the same – that the fit and finish seems much improved from what they expected after seeing early Model S cars and release candidate Model 3s.

Driving experience

On to the driving.  The first thing I noticed is that the handling is superb.  The car feels very “pointy” – it’s extremely responsive on turn-in, and feels much more nimble than a Model S due to its ~1,000lb lower weight.  There is virtually no body roll due to the low center of gravity.  The steering in sport mode feels perfect and responsive, though there are comfort and standard modes as well if you prefer lighter weight on the steering wheel. Keep in mind here my daily driver is a Roadster.

I need to underline that whole paragraph.  This car’s handling is really great.  I love it.  I really really love it.  It’s my favorite thing about the car so far.

Acceleration feels similar to a ~70D.  It’s not as “punchy” as my Roadster or any “P” Model S, but it’s still got great pedal response and good power through the range.  Regen is strong but still a little weaker than the Chevy Bolt and less than I’d like; it’s possible that it will be stronger in the future all-wheel drive version of the car.

On my first drive of the car (in Southern California), in mixed driving, I averaged an impressive 246 Wh/mi, which translates to an effective range of ~305 miles.  It should be easy to get more than 310 miles of range with a little effort and under the right conditions (especially with aero caps attached).

Rear visibility for the driver leaves something to be desired.  The trunk lid is quite high, which obstructs the rear view significantly.  I usually like to sit low in the car, but adjusted the power seat upwards because rear visibility is poor.  This is particularly true at nighttime, when this can obstruct the driver’s view of a following car’s headlights, making the following car almost invisible.  As a workaround, it’s possible to drive with the rear-view camera on, and the touchscreen button to activate it is in the most convenient position for the driver to reach.  I believe this may have been an intentional UI decision by Tesla to make up for poor rear visibility.

Comfort

Interior room is ample.  Headroom and legroom are not going to be a concern for the vast majority of passengers, the headroom is positively cavernous and the glass roof makes the rear feel very open.  As for width, with three below-average sized passengers in the back, the shoulder room was “okay, about as good as you’d expect from a sedan this size.”  This is a real five-seater.

The car is very quiet inside, even at highway speed.  Bluetooth calls are clear and easy to understand both for the driver and for the person on the other side of the call.

Suspension is tight, and if I were looking for something to nitpick, ride quality would be it.  A tight suspension is good for performance driving and responsive handling which Model 3 has in spades, but a tighter suspension also makes the ride a bit harsher.

Technology

The screen is is smaller and has fewer functions than that of the S/X, but it is much more touch-responsive and has a snappier user interface.  Switching the map view from streets to full satellite view happens almost instantly, dragging and zooming the map is smooth, and there’s no lag when interacting with touch buttons needed while driving.  This is good, because a touchscreen interface can require more attention than physical buttons, and lag just increases the time the driver isn’t paying attention to the road, so minimizing lag is very important and Tesla has done this very well in the Model 3.

The steering wheel buttons serve a variety of uses, though there are some functions missing – in the S it’s possible to adjust fan speed or other settings with the right scroll wheel, but that function is not available on the 3.  Hopefully this will be added in an update soon, because right now the right scroll wheel doesn’t do enough.  The right scroll wheel does activate voice commands, and responsiveness to them has been improved significantly.

Bugs

It’s an early production car so there are bound to be a few bugs.  These have been reported on fairly widely, largely sourced from the Model 3 Road Trip facebook page where several problems have been documented – and we’ll hear all about those when Fred interviews You You Xue, the driver undertaking the trip, when he gets to Montreal later this week.  So far, I have only experienced one of these bugs – the audio system made cracking sounds after hanging up a bluetooth call, which I solved by rebooting the screen by holding down the steering wheel buttons for a few seconds.  Early owners should get used to this gesture while any kinks are worked out, but Tesla will surely fix most of them soon with over-the-air updates.

Wrap-up

There are a lot of details I’ve left out of this post which I’ll cover later in a more full review.  Tesla really got a lot of small design features on this car right – from the vanity mirrors, to the frunk space, to the cupholders, everything seems very well-thought-out.  Coming from the proof-of-concept Roadster (which I still love), and having spent plenty of time in the somewhat-idiosyncratic Model S (no lighted vanity mirrors, no door/map pockets, no place to hang the dry cleaning, etc), the Model 3 finally feels like a “real car,” and an exceptional one at that.

EV fans have all spent the last few years with a strange mixture of excitement, hopefulness and nervousness, wanting the Model 3 to be everything we hoped for but fearing that it might miss that mark, or that there might be other problems with Tesla which result in the car being less than promised or expected.  But, from early impressions, Tesla seems to have done it.  The car is great.  You can all take a breath now.