The Model 3 represents a big step for Tesla. Previously only the domain of the wealthy, the Model 3 aims to bring Tesla badges into the mainstream. But taking big steps can also mean stumbling, and Tesla has hit its fair share of roadblocks. Quality issues and timeline delays have left many Model 3 owners (and many more would-be owners) frustrated. If it delivers on all the big promises, the 2018 Tesla Model 3 could be a game changer. Whether it will remains to be seen.

Best Value

For best value, we would ideally recommend a base, non-Long Range model. The base Model 3 offers 220 miles of range and starts at a BMW-3-Series-slaying price of $36,000 (after a $1,000 destination charge).

But, because the standard Model 3 looks like it won’t even enter production in 2018 – and it’s reserved out well after that – it’s hard to recommend. We would also love to recommend all-wheel drive, but that hasn’t made production yet, either. For now, your only choice is a Model 3 with a Long Range battery and rear-wheel drive, and even for that you’ll have to wait several months. The Model 3 does have the standard features to take on the Germans: an LTE WiFi hotspot, standard navigation, voice activation, a state-of-the-art infotainment system, keyless entry, and dual-zone automatic climate control.

But if you want some of Tesla’s signature features – like their much-discussed active safety tech – you’ll have to add packages that begin at $5,000. With these restrictions, the least you can currently pay for a Model 3 is $45,000, and the final sticker will likely exceed $50,000. That’s a far cry from the promised base MSRP.

In an effort to stick to the Model 3’s mission, we would keep ours simple:

  • Model: 2018 Tesla Model 3
  • Engine: 192-kW electric motor
  • Output: 271 hp / 307 lb-ft
  • Transmission: Single-speed automatic
  • Drivetrain: Rear-wheel drive
  • Fuel Economy: 130 MPGe (miles-per-gallon equivalent)
  • Options: None
  • Base Price: $36,000 (after $1,000 in destination fees)
  • Best Value Price: $36,000

Performance

Tesla Model 3

The Model 3 offers sophisticated and efficient performance. Oddly, Tesla has refused to release exact battery specs, but even the base model will go from zero to 60 mph in 5.6 seconds. The Long Range battery adds a few extra horses and boosted range, with around 310 miles on a full charge. In the corners, the Model 3 is well-behaved and capable, if not particularly sporty. When Tesla gets around to all-wheel drive, a high-performance version will likely follow. Fuel economy, of course, is as good as it gets.

That efficiency comes from the Model 3’s aerodynamics, aided by high-pressure, low-resistance tires. Tesla sets up those tires with no toe-in (i.e., no inward angle), which helps lower rolling resistance but also makes the steering wander a little on straightaways. The steering is on the heavy side, which makes the Model 3 feel like a bigger car than it is.

Style

The Model 3 shares the fastback shape of the Model S, but the new car is a true sedan and has more unconventional styling. The nose is short and without any substitute for a grille, leaving only a blank panel with the Tesla badge. The high-tailed shape is elegant while remaining aerodynamically exceptional, although the “Aero” wheel covers have been less popular aesthetically. The interior is equally bold, dominated by a 15-inch touchscreen above the dash. No buttons, dials, or switches surround the screen – everything runs through touch or voice commands. It’s unusual but effective and futuristic, and the interior feels spacious and elegant. Visibility is excellent, and the materials on upper trims are deluxe.

But the car’s modern design is severely undercut by quality issues. Not every Tesla owner has experienced these issues, and many report being happy with their Model 3s. But many others have found unexpected defects. Our test car had a host of flaws, including a defective command screen, persistent creaking and buzzing, steering vibration, misaligned body panels, and door trim that didn’t align. These are issues that don’t occur even on cheap cars. Many Tesla buyers are willing to overlook a few mistakes here and there, but we’re not convinced.

The Best and Worst Things

The Model 3 could still turn out to be a revolutionary car. It brings Tesla’s trademark performance and efficiency in a futuristic design. As is, however, the Model 3 feels low on consistency and high on price – a combo that means we’re still waiting on promises to be kept.

Right For? Wrong For?

Tesla Model 3

The Model 3 is the right car for early adopters who want the sedan of the future. The sacrifices are multiple: choices are limited, wait times are long, and quality control may be an issue. For many buyers, none of this will matter. Getting into the first mainstream Tesla is an exciting prospect, and it may be worth waiting for.

For buyers who are content with the sedans of right now, options still abound. Quintessential picks like the BMW 3-Series are at least as dynamic as the Model 3 (albeit less efficient), while offering a wide range of options. For the time being, alternatives are also much cheaper. Teslas remain a luxury vehicle; budget-minded buyers should shop elsewhere.

The Bottom Line

The 2018 Tesla Model 3 shows flashes of brilliance and plenty of potential, but it’s marred by quality issues and a bumpy production timeline. It remains to be seen whether Tesla can follow through on its ambitious goals. The car we were delivered was good – it just wasn’t the mass-market Tesla we were hoping for.