New Tesla Model 3: price, specs, pictures and 2017 UK release date

2 Jun, 2016 12:00pm Aaron Gold

Latest update: Free access to Tesla's Supercharger network won't be standard

Those lucky enough to have reserved a Tesla Model 3 are benefitting from regular updates on their 'My Tesla' page, and the latest is that the company is well on track for the car's promised 2017 delivery date. The company has also revealed that the Model 3 Configurator will be made available to customers depending on when they placed their reservation, though the update at least shows us one more colour which is likely to be available - a dark blue which we've not seen before.

Tesla's latest accounts show that the company has 373,000 people waiting for their Model 3 after dropping a $1,000 deposit. The company hopes that 200,000 of these orders will be fulfilled in 2017, ahead of the firm's 2018 goal to take annual production to 500,000 vehicles.

• We take a ride in the new Tesla Model 3

The latest news, however, was revealed by Elon Musk at Tesla's annual shareholder meeting, where he announced that the Model 3 would not benefit from the same free unlimited access to the company's Supercharger network. Musk promised that the resulting charges would still make running a Model 3 much cheaper than a conventionally-powered car, but claimed that the low price of Tesla's smallest model made it uneconomical to offer the same perks as with its bigger brothers.

The Model 3 will go head-to-head with the established big sellers in the compact executive car class. Production will being in America in 2017 with first cars expected in the UK in 2018. It will have a starting price of $35,000 (£24,400) in the US but Elon Musk hinted that most models will be sold for closer to $42,000 (£29,400) once options are added. Shifting units is unlikely to be a problem in any case with Tesla reporting that 276,000 pre-orders had been taken for the Model 3 by the end of 2 April, just two days after the reveal.

Rivals for the Model 3 will not be in short supply with cars like BMW’s 3 SeriesAudi’s A4, Jaguar’s XE and the Mercedes C-Class offering similar dimensions with more conventional powertrains. That low price for a fully electric car will set alarm bells ringing across the industry, however. The Model 3 is likely to be closer to £35k by the time it arrives in the UK but with the plug-in car grant factored in, it will still be very competitively priced. However, access to Tesla's Supercharger network will be a paid option - though it's unsure whether this will be a subscription service, or a one-off charge.

Many details on the Tesla Model 3 have yet to be released but we know that the car will offer a minimum range of 215 miles with its advanced lithium ion batteries and all-electric powertrain. Performance wise, the Model 3 will blast from 0-60mph in just 6s as standard but this is Tesla and faster versions will be offered. "Tesla doesn't make slow cars", said Elon Musk. Most recently, Musk has confirmed in a tweet that the Model 3 will be getting Tesla's 'Ludicrous Mode' - a software tweak which unlocks even more potential from the car's electric drivetrain. When employed on the Model S, that car is able to propel itself to 60mph in just 2.8 seconds - though we don't expect the Model 3 to be quite that powerful.

The Model 3 and Tesla’s master plan 

The Model 3 has been part of Musk's plan since the company's inception. In 2006, Tesla published what Musk refers to as the “Secret Master Plan”. Step one: The Tesla Roadster, an expensive low-volume car intended to show the world that electric vehicles could be compelling. Step two: The Model S, a mid-production, not-quite-so-expensive car that would show the world how practical, useful, and downright good an electric car could be. (As for the Model X SUV, Musk regards that as step two-and-a-half.) 

And now we have Step Three: An affordable mass-market electric car in the guise of the Tesla Model 3.

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Tesla Model 3 design details 

Appearance-wise, it's no surprise that the Tesla Model 3 looks like a downsized Model S. With electrical gear taking up so little space, downsizing the Model 3 was mostly a matter of shrinking the ends of the car and shifting the front seats forward to provide more rear-seat room. 

Like other Teslas, the Model 3 offers two boots, front and rear. Unlike other Teslas, the Model 3 has no grille save a small scoop at the bottom edge of the bumper. While this is no doubt good for aerodynamics, it gives the car a rather unfinished look when seen from the front.

Model 3 minimalist interior

The Model 3's interior is incredibly simple in its design. The cabin is dominated by a large touchscreen mounted horizontally rather than vertically as in other Teslas. Speed and gear selection are displayed in the upper corner of the screen, with a strip of climate controls at the bottom. The rest of the screen real estate is split between the map display and stereo controls.

Unlike other Tesla models, that's it for instrumentation—in fact, that's it for anything. Aside from a small squared-off steering wheel, the dash is nothing more than an unadorned strip of black and white, with a centre console bisecting the front bucket seats. It's the kind of interior we expect to see in a concept car, but we’re told it’s very close to the production version.

The Model 3's rear window extends right up over the roof to the car's B-pillars, while a large sunroof over the front seats completes the illusion of a nearly-all-glass roof. The glass roof also improves rear-seat headroom, and the front seats have been pushed forward for more legroom. The six-footers riding in the back get legroom that’s acceptable and headroom surprisingly generous.

Tesla Model 3 specs and price

With the car's introduction scheduled for the end of next year (“I feel fairly confident,” hedged Musk) we didn't learn many more details than we knew going in. The Model 3 will have a base price of US$35,000 (about £24,500), which includes hardware for the Autopilot system (with all safety features as standard fit) but its cheaper price means you'll have to pay to use Tesla's Supercharger network.

Nought-to-sixty times for the base rear-wheel-drive car will be under six seconds but our ride in the dual-motor four-wheel-drive car revealed performance that felt far in excess of that. Body lean was well controlled too - no surprise with the battery and motor mounted so low - but until we get our own hands on the wheel we’ll reserve judgement on the handling.

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Range will be at least 215 miles per the stringent standards of America's Environmental Protection Agency. What was left unsaid? Musk made no mention of charge times or price points for the higher-performance dual-motor version. 

Tesla Model 3 production and the Gigafactory

While Musk says Tesla's existing plant in Fremont, California, is capable of building 500,000 cars per year (in its past life as a joint GM-Toyota plant, it produced around 350k per year), and that is Musk's goal by 2018. The issue is that every electric car needs a battery, and in order to build a half-million electric cars per year, Musk says Tesla would have to absorb the entire world's current lithium-ion battery production.

That is the job of Tesla's new Gigafactory, currently under construction (and already producing parts) in the Nevada desert. Once up to speed, Musk claims the factory will produce 50 gigawatt-hours of batteries—“More lithium ion batteries than all the other factories in the world combined.”

Tesla Model 3 pre-orders and Tesla customer loyalty

With the assembled crowd cheering nearly every sentence Musk uttered, one got the sense that the details of the Model 3 are largely unimportant. Not unlike Apple, buyers believe in Tesla and they are ready to purchase whatever the company deigns fit to sell them. Hours before the announcement, would-be buyers lined up at Tesla dealerships to put down a £700 refundable deposit in order to secure their order. 

As the car was revealed, Musk announced that they had already taken 115,000 orders. Online reservations opened as Musk took the stage, and less than two hours after he left, the number was closing in on 135,000. By the end of April 2nd, two days after the Model 3 reveal event, 276,000 orders had been taken for the car. Now, that number stands at 373,000. If all these translate into firm sales that's over $10bn (£7bn) of revenue for Tesla.  

We spoke to would-be buyers who had queued up at a dealership in Burbank, California, and waited nearly three hours to put down their deposits. 

“I've been waiting for a longer range electric car because 90 miles isn't suitable [for me]”, said Bob Antonopolous, a laywer from LaCanada, California. He currently owns a Chevrolet Volt, the American version of the Vauxhall Ampera. So why a Tesla Model 3 and not General Motors' upcoming Bolt EV?

“It's the range and their track record,” he said. “The Model S had Consumer Reports' highest score ever when it came out. I'm impressed with the technology and the company, and I'm not willing to bet against Elon Musk on too many things right now.”

The Tesla Model S made headlines in America when Consumer Reports, America's leading consumer ratings magazine, announced that the Model S they had purchased scored 99 out of a possible 100 points, the best score in the magazine's 80-year history. When the magazine upgraded to a P85D, the new car broke both the record and the scoring system with an unprecedented 103 points.

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Despite the high rating, Consumer Reports refused to give the Model S a “recommended” rating because of reliability problems. Tesla surveyed 1,400 owners and found reports of frequent issues ranging from bad drive motors to leaky sunroofs, enough to rate its reliability as “worse than average” (though owners also noted that Tesla was quick to sort out the cars under warranty.) Despite the problems, 97% of owners surveyed said they would buy another Tesla. Such is the allure of this brand.

Why do Americans, who are such sticklers for quality and reliability, love Tesla and all that it does? Perhaps it's the ethic that drives Elon Musk and his company. “It's very important to accelerate the transition to sustainable transport,” Musk told the assembled crowd at the Model 3 reveal. “This is really important for the future of the world.” 

Tesla Model 3 name revealed

Back in 2014, Elon Musk, the CEO and founder of electric car brand Telsa, exclusively revealed a new electric BMW 3 Series rival, called the Tesla Model 3, to Auto Express. We had heard some talk about a Tesla Gen III model named 'Model E', but Musk told us exclusively what the name of the new car was - and why it had to be changed.

“We had the model S for sedan and X for crossover SUV, then a friend asked what we were going to call the third car,” Musk told us. “So I said we had the model S and X, we might as well have the E.

“We were going to call it model E for a while and then Ford sued us saying it wanted to use the Model E – I thought this is crazy, Ford’s trying to kill sex! So we’ll have to think of another name.

“The new model is going to be called Model 3, we’ll have three bars to represent it and it’ll be S III X!”

• Full interview with Elon Musk: Telsa boss talks EVs with 500-mile range, plus a colony on Mars

What do you think of Tesla's plan to attack the compact executive car market with the Model 3? Can it succeed where so many have failed? Tell us your thoughts in the comments section below or join the debate on Twitter and Facebook