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Tesla Model 3 arrives Down Under on teaser tour

Practical Motoring has been up close and personal with the Tesla Model 3, after three examples of the all-new medium-sized electric vehicle (EV) were imported to Australia.

Tesla Australia confirmed it is holding “thousands” of orders for three model grades of the Model 3, so it invited these thousands of customers to its Sydney (Martin Place), Melbourne (Chadstone shopping centre) and Brisbane (Fortitude Valley) stores for a first preview.

All three examples are a middle-specification with rear-wheel drive and a long-range battery claiming up to 500km between recharges. Beneath it sits a rear-driver with a short-range battery good for around 350km between recharging, while above it sits a dual-motor all-wheel drive grade plus a ‘performance’ version taking the 0-100km/h from 5.6sec to 3.5sec.

Although this country is actually the first outside the US to show off the Model 3, a couple of downsides remain – pricing is only said to be parity with Stateside figures plus local taxes and charges, making for a $50,000-to-$100,000-plus range; and not even those who have placed a $1500 holding deposit for the vehicle have been told what exactly it will cost.

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In fact, those holding deposits – which are fully refundable at any time – only secure a generic Model 3, with customers unable to yet select model grade, colour, trim or optional equipment. They have only been told that right-hand drive production will not begin until mid-2019 for a still-ages-away late-2019 delivery date.

So this really is a preview of a vehicle between 12-and-18 months away from owner’s hands.

Anyway, compared with a base Model S, which now costs $139,210 driveaway locally, the Model 3 is 284mm shorter with a body length of 4694mm. It also trades away the liftback body style for that of a traditional sedan, and in the flesh it looks exactly like a 3 Series rival.

Of course without a front engine and rear exhaust hardware, you get both a front boot and a rear underfloor compartment in addition to the actual boot, which is frankly enormous.

Tesla has been clever with the packaging, too, because inside the Model 3 feels only a little smaller than the Model S. No doubt the sloping rear roofline is aerodynamically superb, but it could affect rear headroom – except Elon Musk’s crew has made a rear glass roof standard, which allows for extra airiness above without the bulk of padding and steel above. Rear legroom is likewise really excellent, especially for the centre rider owing to a flat floor.

As with ‘S’, the ‘3’ has frameless doors. But unlike its older and bigger sibling, the newer and smaller model gets traditional door handles that still sit flush with the body, but no longer electrically pop out on approach. Up front, and gone are the Mercedes-Benz-based indicator, wiper and transmission stalks, and although the design is simple, it isn’t simplistic.

Of course that enormous, 15-inch touchscreen takes centre stage, but the slimline and single-strip vent that runs across the length of the dashboard can be entirely controlled from the screen as well. Rather than fiddling with manual vents, hit ‘climate’ and the screen shows a picture of a human body on each side of the car – simply press which part of the body you want cooled or heated, and the vents will electrically swivel to direct air there.

It’s simple, and brilliant, as is the integrated USB charging cables in the lower dashboard (although Qi wireless charging isn’t available). Perhaps most surprising is the fact that the Model 3 doesn’t necessarily feel any cheaper than Model S inside. There are still soft-touch dashboard plastics and the door handles are covered in thick, quality leather on the red-coloured and premium-pack-equipped Model 3 brought to the Sydney store.

Incidentally, that premium pack includes 12-way electrically adjustable and heated front seats, leather interior trim, open-pore wood décor, two rear USBs, electrically adjustable steering column, custom driver profiles, premium audio system with tweeters and subwoofer, front tinted glass roof, LED foglights, auto-dimming and power-folding side mirrors, plus the aforementioned smartphone cables. The only other option fitted to the imported left-hand drive Model 3s on display are 19-inch alloy wheels, up from 18s.

A full suite of cameras is also standard on this mid-sizer, for a full range of Autopilot driver assistance capabilities.

We’ll have more on the Tesla Model 3 once Australian pricing and more accurate timing has been communicated


Dan DeGasperi

Dan DeGasperi