The future is now. Tesla has come a long way from the launch of the original Roadster, or even the landmark Model S. But its mission remains the same: make electric cars that can beat gas-powered rivals at their own game.

The 2020 Tesla Model 3 takes that vision further, especially now that the full model lineup is available. The Standard Range Plus version is now the cheapest Tesla available, and it still gets 283 horsepower and 250 miles of range. Rear-wheel drive gives that trim the best miles per gallon of gasoline equivalent (MPGe) rating on the market — an EPA-estimated 141 MPGe combined.

The all-wheel-drive Long Range and Performance models get two motors and larger batteries, for a total range of 322 miles. Either way, the Model 3 goes a long way toward making electric car ownership practical. Tesla’s range is among the best among the market, and with a growing network of charging stations, there are fewer reasons to stick with gas.

It’s even easier to switch when the Model 3 drives this well. A low center of gravity and precisely tuned steering are the perfect complement to plentiful power and instantly available torque. The Model 3 may look futuristic, but don’t be fooled – this is a good old-fashioned sport sedan.

Ironing out the kinks. When it launched, the Model 3 was criticized for a lack of quality control. Those issues have been ironed out mostly. As the (relatively) affordable member of the Tesla family, the Model 3 was never going to be as opulent as its more expensive siblings. By and large, the sacrifice isn’t too great.

Interior space is still plentiful, and the trunk’s 15 cubic feet of capacity are plenty. The details, like a quick and intuitive climate control system, are impressive.

But compared to similarly priced cars, the Model 3 feels cheap inside. The console feels flimsy, and hard plastics abound in the cabin. Textures are uniform, and despite the striking design, nothing speaks to a feeling of luxury. Build quality remains only average, which is hard to stomach at this price.

The same is true of road noise. It’s possible that we’re too used to the sound of combustion engines, but we were more aware of road noise in the Model 3. At least the sound system is a good one.


Tesla Model 3

Extreme minimalism. The Model 3 is relatively mainstream on the outside, although the sealed front gives away its intentions. The interior, however, is as futuristic as they come. Unbroken panels of dark and light look either streamlined or drab, depending on your taste.

Even more noticeable than the aesthetics is the interface. In the Model 3, Tesla has entirely purged buttons from the cabin. Instead, everything is controlled through the giant 15-inch tablet on the dash. Vents are adjusted via touch-controlled sliders, and everything from navigation to radio is accessed via voice commands or a series of taps and swipes. Even the speedometer is displayed on the central screen.

The system is responsive and relatively intuitive, but it’s not without drawbacks. The biggest is a lack of smartphone compatibility. Tesla provides some built-in streaming services, but there’s no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto.

Extreme tech, too. Tesla has made headlines for its autonomous driving technology at least as often as its powertrains. The Model 3 isn’t autonomous, but it comes close.

Every Model 3 comes with a sophisticated suite of safety features. This includes the usual suspects like automatic emergency braking and blind-spot monitors, but it also means an adaptive cruise control system capable of steering for short periods.

Getting the “Full Self-Driving Capability” treatment means shelling out an extra $7,000. The upgraded functionality still doesn’t make the Model 3 autonomous, but it adds some cool features like parking-lot summons. By and large, the technology is helpful and integrated well.

Elon Musk might be out to eliminate keys as well as buttons. The Model 3 uses the driver’s phone as a virtual key, with only an RFID keycard as a backup. Useful convenience, or harbinger of technological dependence? You decide.

Final thoughts. The 2020 Tesla Model 3 is another step toward a fully electric future, and for that we applaud it. It’s hard to dread the arrival of that future when its messengers are so efficient, practical, and enjoyable.

The Model 3 makes a few missteps. Spotty build quality was easier to forgive in the early days, but Tesla needs to step it up if they want to take on established luxury brands. We’re not entirely sold on the single-touchscreen interface, but many buyers may be.

Aside from those faults, the Model 3 is a star. Our favorite is the middle Long Range version, but none disappoint.

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