The Tesla Model 3 is good, but it's not perfect -- here's what needs improvement

Hollis Johnson/Business InsiderGood, not great.
  • We recently spent a few hours with the Model 3,Tesla’s all-new mass-market car.
  • The Model 3’s roll-out has been troubled, but we were impressed with the vehicle in the time we had it.
  • But impressive as it is, the Model 3 has some flaws.

The Tesla Model 3 is, in our admittedly limited experience with the vehicle, a pretty cool car.

After having driven it for about three hours in total, we were impressed. We’ll be spending more time with Tesla’s all-important, all-electric car for the masses later this year.

But until then, our thumbs are up.

That said, as impressive as the Model 3 is, it isn’t perfect.

Here’s why:

Photos by Hollis Johnson.

The center touchscreen.

Hollis Johnson/Business Insider

The standout interior feature of the Model 3 is the 15-inch horizontal touchscreen – the nerve center of the car.

Nearly all vehicle functions are accessed through the screen. Tesla did this for three reasons: to be radically cool, to make the Model 3 easier to build, and to look forward to a time when cars drive themselves and require only some type of interactive screen.

Critically, stuff that was once located on an instrument cluster in front of the driver – the speedometer, for example – has been relocated to the left side of the touchscreen.

In practice, I found that this wasn’t a problem to get used to. But what would be a problem is the screen going dead. A blackout isn’t supposed to happen, according to Tesla, but with this all-in-one-place approach, it could.

You could still drive the car. My experienced motorists can estimate their approximate speed from experience. But you would lose control of numerous features, from the cabin temperature to the audio system.

In the end, a real attention-grabber, and a big play from Tesla to rethink the vehicle interface. But also a significant risk.

The price tag.

Hollis Johnson/Business Insider

The base price is supposed to be $US35,000. But Tesla isn’t making that version of the Model 3 yet.

It’s only building the premium-level $US44,000 Model 3. And once our tester was optioned up, it was $US57,500.

That’s not a mass-market price. That’s a luxury price.

The trackballs on the steering wheel.

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Minimalism is the name of the game inside the Model 3, right down to the multipurpose trackballs – a mere pair of them – on the steering wheel.

Steering wheels from other automaker have become veritable button-fests, so Tesla is again bucking the trend here.

But the use of the Tesla trackballs can be a bit confusing, specifically because they can adjust audio volume, but also the steering wheel and the side-view mirrors, depending on which infotainment-system screen or menu you’re in.

The back seats.

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The Tesla-designed seats are fine – comfy and supportive – but in back the design is a basic bench layout. This is no-nonsense, but in the $US57,500 vehicle we sampled, a bit austere.

The key card.

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No key fob for the Model 3! Instead, you’re provided with a valet card that can unlock and activate the vehicle if placed in specific locations, sort of like a building-security card.

Nice idea, easy to fit into a wallet, but somewhat fiddly to actually use.

I kept worrying that I was going to lose it between the seats or try to use it to pay for coffee.

The app-based starter key.

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Most owners will reserve the card for valet duty and set up the Tesla app on their phone to activate the Model 3 and monitor its functions.

That means the card is backup, should you run out of charge on your phone, lose it, or have a malfunction.

On the plus side, one less thing to carry around and lose in a key fob. On the other, many folks are going to have traditional keys anyway, so why not offer a fob?

It’s sort of like Apple getting rid of the headphone jack. And although I think this is flaw, it does eliminate losing the fob and having to pay hundred of dollars to a dealer to replace it.

The lack of free Supercharging.

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The charge port is concealed behind the left read tail light. A small hatch pops open when you’re ready to plug in.

Tesla S and Model X owners have had free lifetime access to Tesla’s high-speed Supercharger network, meaning free electricity for longer trips.

Model 3 owners won’t get that perk (and new Model S and X customers don’t have unlimited access anymore).

If you have a Model 3, you have to pay a fee. Tesla explains here.

OK, I suppose you could say this isn’t a flaw. But Supercharger access for Tesla owners has really been a great selling point for years. Not having it for Model 3 somewhat lowers the value proposition, especially if you get the pricey trim level.

The hidden air vents.

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You can’t adjust the air vents manually. Instead, you use the touchscreen.

They’re concealed in the dashboard, behind a slot that runs all the way from left to right. The strip of wood has actually been designed to function like a wing to shape the airflow.

Again, supercool and high-tech, but in practice, slightly annoying to use. I constantly tweak the vents in a car, so for me this feature is over-thought. Just give me old-fashioned manual controls and set up the vents so I can see where they’re aimed.

Some interior components.

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Generally speaking, the Model 3 is a nicely appointed if austere vehicle in the inside.

We couldn’t find much to complain about. The buttons in place of door handles was one decision we considered to be too minimalist, perhaps, for its own good.

And I thought the latches for the seat belts looked kinda cheap for a car with premium aspirations.

The long, long wait to get one.

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If you reserve a Model 3, with a refundable $US1,000 deposit, you can expect delivery in 12 to 18 months, according to Tesla. And that’s assuming the company’s production ramp on Model 3 goes well, and that there aren’t any major bottlenecks with fulfilling the over 400,000 existing pre-orders.

It’s also impossible to go to a Tesla store and drive home with a Model 3. That familiar process is further complicated by Tesla’s direct-sales, no-dealers system. In fact, in some states, you can’t even go to a Tesla showroom and order a vehicle.

This will all probably change in a few years, when Model 3 production increases, used Model 3’s hit the market, and a national solution to the Tesla direct-sales challenge is developed. But for now, if you want a Model 3, you’d better enjoy deferred gratification.

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