5 Things You Need to Know About Tesla’s Revolutionary Model 3 Before Dropping $35K

Is it really as good as it sounds?


Elon Musk‘s circus came to town last week and left the townsfolk buzzing with his city slicker promises. The Tesla Model 3 electric car will cure what ails you, he barks.

It might. Eventually. But for now, many of the Tesla Model 3’s promises fall short of reality.

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1. You can’t really buy one for $35,000.


Yes, the Model 3 has a base price of $35,000 before options. But you, and everyone else who buys a Tesla is going to want some of those options, if not all of them. Check the boxes for the $9,000 long-range battery, the $5,000 Premium Upgrade Package, the $5,000 Enhance Autopilot, the $3,000 Self-Driving software, $1,500 19-inch wheels and $1,000 metallic paint and that affordable $35,000 Model 3 suddenly becomes a $60,000 proposition.

Tesla will build only fully optioned models at first, because that is where the money is and because those cars will best represent the brand’s image. They say they will get to the lower-configuration models later.

But what they’ve done in the past is quietly drop lower-specification versions of the Model S that were supposed to provide a lower-cost option for buyers. There is no reason to think that won’t happen again with the Model 3.

2. You can’t really get one.


Tesla says it has orders for half a million Model 3s. It also says it will build 100 cars this month. At that rate, it will take a while for your order to get to the top of the pile. Fortunately, Tesla plans to increase its production rate. Unfortunately, that will take time, and full production will depend on Tesla’s Nevada battery plant also cranking up to full speed to provide power cells for all those Model 3s Musk is promising. Meanwhile, you’re not likely to get a car.

3. You can’t charge it for free.


Isn’t it cool how Tesla owners can roll into one of the company’s Superchargers for a quick, free battery top off? Well, Model S owners are topping off for free. Model 3 drivers will be paying for their electrons.

4. It doesn’t drive itself.


Not in the $35,000 version it doesn’t. You have to pay $8,000 for the Enhanced Autopilot and the Enhanced Self-Driving Capability. But that self-driving capability “will be available in the future,” according to Tesla. So the Model 3 can’t drive itself now. And in the future? “This feature is dependent upon extensive software validation and regulatory approval, which may vary by jurisdiction.” Which is lawyer-speak for “maybe never.”

5. It won’t beat a Lamborghini in a drag race.


Customers attracted to Tesla by notions of sub-3-second 0-60 mph blasts that leave Lamborghinis in the rear-view mirrors will be disappointed to learn that the Model 3 is a lover, not a fighter, and it accelerates to 60 mph in 5.1 seconds in its fastest configuration. Which is an excellent number. You just won’t be starring in any viral YouTube videos demolishing exotic Italian supercars in drag races.

None of these things make the Tesla Model 3 a bad car or even a bad value as a purchase. They are just areas where overheated hype may inflate expectations beyond the reality that will eventually arrive, so be prepared.