Did Elon Musk Trick Us into Believing the Tesla Model 3 is Affordable?
Plenty of reservation cancelations say maybe. And about those options…by Robert Moore, on
Ever since Elon Musk told the world about his intentions of making the Model 3, he has marketed it and boasted it as an affordable mass-market vehicle, even claiming that it would be a car just about anyone could get into. It was a long time coming, but on July 28th, the first Model 3s were delivered in a big handover party in Australia. Tesla’s main homepage also live streamed the festivities. As part of that handover party, we finally got the long-awaited word on specifications as well as official pricing. Now, at a glance, the Model 3 does look pretty affordable – it’s an EV sedan that in base form will cost you $35,000 and offer a range of 220 miles. That’s not bad, and it’s on par with cars like the Nissan Leaf and pretty close to the Chevy Bolt EV. No big deal, right? Well, there is, because the Nissan Leaf and Chevy Bolt EV both have more amenities inside without such a bland look, and the options for the Model 3 could make it quite the expensive little car.
So, let’s talk about that a little more. At $35,000 you get the most basic vehicle ever to be labeled as an entry-level model. This thing has no instrument cluster, no head-up display, and no real character inside. Of course, that 15-inch display provides all of the information you might need and controls all major functions of the interior, but it’s basic. The cabin is only attractive because it’s different, and to be honest, it even looks a little cheap. But hey; it’s a cheap EV, so that’s to be expected. You’re not going to get wood trim, a personal chauffeur, and a gorgeous blonde to go along with the car with a price tag like that. If you’re buying a $120,000 Porsche, then maybe you should negotiate for some extras. The question is, how many people will really settle for the base model? Would you really want to, knowing you only get 220 miles of range? I mean, let’s get real, it doesn’t even come with Tesla’s biggest selling point: Enhanced AutoPilot. So, is it affordable? Well, keep reading to see for yourself.
$35,000? Not if You Want to be Cool
It’s okay as a base, entry-level model, but that specific model isn’t one too many people are going to want
The nice thing about that massive tablet that serves as the nervous system of the Model 3 is that it does actually serve quite a few purposes that liven up the cabin of the car a bit. It doesn’t do anything for aesthetic purposes, but it does provide some features. You get dual climate control, FM and internet radio, maps and navigation, Bluetooth, and there’s even a backup camera, powered mirrors, and a Wi-Fi hotspot with LTE connectivity. Sure; some of these things are standard in other “affordable” cars, but not all of them at once, so there are some merits to consider here. On top of that, it’s quite safe and – as pointed out by Musk at the handover party – it even does better in side impacts than a Volvo XC60 – a car that’s often referred to as one of the safest in the world.
With that said, this is the point I’m trying to make: It’s okay as a base, entry-level model, but that specific model isn’t one too many people are going to want. It might be okay for those with lower incomes or those who prefer the minimalist approach, but options are always enticing, and those options are what will get you into trouble and move you far away from the “affordable” nomenclature that has helped make the Model 3 so desirable to this day. First, let’s look at the specs:
|Tesla Model 3 Standard||Tesla Model 3 Long Range|
|EPA estimated range per charge:||220 miles||310 miles|
|Charge time (Supercharger):||130 miles in 30 minutes||170 miles in 30 minutes|
|Charge time (240-volt source):||30 miles in 1 hour||37 miles in 1 hour|
|0-to-60 mph time:||5.6 seconds||5.1 seconds|
|Top speed:||130 mph||140 mph|
So, if you go with the entry-level model, you’ll pony up $35,000, but if you want the long-range model, it will cost you $9,000 more, bringing your sticker price up to $44,000. Now, for that $9,000 all you get is the larger battery. It offers up 90 more miles of range per charge and can suck in enough just over the course of a half hour to travel 170 miles (supercharger network only.) It can hit 60 mph 0.5 seconds faster and tops out at 140 mph instead of 130 mph. That’s really not a lot for $9,000 and, when you do the math, that means you pay $100 for every extra mile of range you get with the bigger battery.
Unless you want to go with the standard 18-inch wheels and the Solid Black exterior finish, you’re going to have to pay up
So, unless you want to go with the standard 18-inch wheels and the Solid Black exterior finish, you’re going to have to pay up. The wheels will set you back an extra $1,500 for a set of 19-inch rollers while any of the five color options will set you back another $1,000. So, even if you don’t go with the long-range battery, but want some fresh color and new wheels, you’re already up to $37,000. If you want a decent sound system, 12-way from seats, heated seats, or wood trim, you’ll need to pony up an extra $5,000. Of course, you’ll also get tinted glass, LED fog lights, and there’s even a dock for two smart phones to go with two USB ports for rear passengers. However, this option official pushes things beyond the affordable bracket. This package alone makes the Model 3 $40,000. Add in the larger wheels and different exterior color and you’re up to $42,500. Add the long range battery to that, and suddenly you’re up to $51,000.
Now, there’s not really a point in owning a Tesla unless you have experienced the joy of making others on the road nervous with your enhanced autopilot system, right? On the Model S and Model X, these systems came standard, but on the Model 3… you’ll have to make it rain for the self-driving EV gods. Enhanced Autopilot will set you back another $5,000. So, a completely base model with AutoPilot only is still $40,000 while adding on that Premium Upgrade Package, wheels, and a new exterior finish brings your total up to $52,500. Add in the long-range battery, and now you’re up to $61,000… Yikes! But, that’s not all folks. If you spring for the Full self-driving capability option – one that you can’t even use yet, but will be able to once software is improved and regulatory approval is given – will set you back another $3,000. So, if you max out your options on a Model 3, you’re going to pony up at least $64,000 Without the long-range battery, you can get away for $55,000. You could ditch that premium package and get your price down to $50,000, but then you have a very bland interior.
|Tesla Model 3 options:|
|Exterior paint options:||Solid Black (standard), Midnight Silver Metallic ($1,000), Deep Blue Metallic ($1,000), Silver Metallic ($1,000), Pearl White Multi-Coat ($1,000), and Red Multi-Coat ($1,000)|
|Wheel options:||18-inch Aero design (standard), 19-inch Sport design ($1,500)|
|Premium Upgrades Package ($5,000):||adds components to the exterior and interior, including premium heated seats, upgraded cabin materials, open pore wood trim, two rear USB ports, 12-way adjustable front seats, custom power adjustable driver profiles for the front seats, steering column, and side-view mirrors, premium audio (more power, plus new tweeters, surround speakers, and a subwoofer), tinted glass for the roof, auto-dimming, power-folding, and heated side-view mirrors, LED fog lights, and center console with covered storage and docking for two smartphones|
|Enhanced Autopilot Package ($5,000):||adds safety and convenience features, including adaptive cruise control, lane-keep assist, automatic lane change, freeway-to-freeway transition and exit, and self-parking|
|Full Self-Driving Capability ($3,000, requires Enhanced Autopilot Package):||will enable full autonomous driving capability sometime in the future|
Does That Pricing Seem Right?
Now, if you’re one of those save-the-environment, engine-hating liberals who gets a woody for all-electric cars, then chances are the price probably doesn’t mean much, and you’ll be more than happy to pony up $50,000 or $60,000 for a $35,000 car, but to put things into perspective, let’s look at what else you can get for that kind of money. Oh, and by the way – a leaked document from the EPA shows that the Model 3 delivers a mundane 279 horsepower, so keep that in mind as well.
If we’re diving into the $50,000+ range, you can easily go for the Mercedes E-Class. It only offers up 241 horsepower and 273 pound-feet of torque, and it’s not all-electric by any means, but it does sport an attractive exterior design and a plush interior with everything that you’ll have to pay $60,000 for in the Model 3. Of course, it doesn’t have that massive screen, but it does get real wood trim, an instrument cluster, plush seating, and all the other niceties you expect from a German-built car. You can get into the base, E300 for $52,950 and you can go with the AWD model for $55,540 – you don’t get AWD with the Model 3, so let me just throw that out there. Of course, if money really is no object for you – and I assume it’s not if you’re willing to pay $64,000 for a Model 3 – you might as well just spring for the Mercedes-AMG E43 at $71,600 and get yourself a gas guzzling 3.0-liter that’s good for 396 horsepower, 384 pound-feet of torque and a quick sprint to 60 mph in just 4.5 seconds – that will beat out the Model 3 any day of the week and you’ll look good doing it.
|Mercedes E300||Mercedes-AMG E43|
|Engine||2.0-liter inline-4 turbo||3.0-liter V-6 biturbo|
|Horsepower||241 HP @ 5,550 RPM||396 HP @ 6,100 RPM|
|Torque||273 LB-FT @ 1,300-4,000 RPM||384 LB-FT @ 2,500-5,000 RPM|
|Transmission||9G-TRONIC 9-speed automatic||AMG-enhanced 9G-TRONIC 9-speed|
|0 to 60 mph||6.2 seconds||4.5 seconds|
|Top Speed||130 mph||155 mph|
Read our full review on the Mercedes E-Class.
In the premium, mid-sized sedan segment, you could also opt for something like the BMW 5 Series. It’s attractive exterior design trumps that of the Model 3 any day of the week, and there’s enough heritage there to make you shed a tear if you’re the emotional type. The interior is plush and full of German DNA. We’re talking a leather wrapped steering wheel, floating infotainment display (not quite as large as the Tesla display, obviously) wood trim on the dash, doors, and center console, and perfectly tailored seats with more than enough padding to keep your posterior happy on long trips.
The base model will set you up with a 2.0-liter four-cylinder that delivers a meager 248 horsepower and a six-second sprint to 60 mph. It’ll run you $51,200 or $53,500 if you want AWD. If you can get past the fact that it doesn’t have a battery pack and electric motor, it’s certainly a more attractive offering even if it is a little slower. There’s also a hybrid version of this model that runs $52,400 or $54,700 with AWD. It’s not all-electric mind you, but it does offer some decent fuel economy that will make going against your EV beliefs a little easier.
You can also get a V-6 model with 335 horsepower for $56,450 or $58,750 with AWD if you can overlook the need for fossil fuels. You’ll be driving a more stylish and better-equipped vehicle than the Model 3, and if you’re going to pony up $60,000 for that little EV anyway, why not just go with the Bimmer?
|BMW 530i||BMW 530i xDrive||BMW 540i||BMW 540i xDrive|
|Engine||2.0-liter four-cylinder||2.0-liter four-cylinder||3.0-liter six-cylinder||3.0-liter six-cylinder|
|Horsepower||248 HP @5,200-6,500 RPM||248 HP @ 5,200-6,500 RPM||335 HP @ 5,500-6,500 RPM||335 HP @ 5,500-6,500 RPM|
|Torque||258 LB-FT @ 1,450-4,800 RPM||258 LB-FT @ 1,450-4,800 RPM||332 LB-FT @ 1,380-5,200 RPM||332 LB-FT @ 1,380-5,200 RPM|
|0-60 mph||6.0 seconds||5.8 seconds||4.9 seconds||4.7 seconds|
|Top Speed||130 mph||130 mph||130 mph||130 mph|
Read our full review on the BMW 5 Series.
So, we’ve looked at some other “premium” vehicles that run about the same price, and you obviously get a pretty fair offering, but what about if we dip down into that affordable market again? Take the Chevy Impala, for instance. It’s not exactly billed as a premium car, and you won’t find much for wood trim inside, but on the range-topping model, you will find healthy doses of leather, a nice touchscreen interface, a semi-digital instrument cluster, some chrome garnishing, and some comfortable and stylish seats. The interior design is a lot more attractive than that of the bland Model 3, too. You have a choice of a 2.5-liter four-banger or a 3.6-liter V-6 with the latter offering 305 horsepower and 28 mpg on the highway, But, the real kicker is the cost. The range-topping Impala that comes with everything the Model 3 offers in its best, $60,000+ form (minus the EV drivetrain and massive screen, of course) for just $36,720. So, unless you’re really into driving an EV and like to wear a cape that says save the world on it, the Impala is certainly worth a look, especially if you like to hang onto your money.
|Engine||Ecotec 2.5L DOHC I-4||3.6L V-6 VVT DI (LFX)||3.6L V-6 VVT DI (LFR)|
|Horsepower||196 HP @ 6,300 RPM||305 HP @ 6,800 RPM||260 HP @ 4,800 RPM|
|Torque||186 LB-FT @ 4,400 RPM||264 LB-FT @ 5,300 RPM||247 LB-FT @ 4,800 RPM|
|0 to 60 mph||8.7 seconds||6.0 seconds||6.5 seconds|
|Top Speed||132 mph||150 mph||145 mph|
Read our full review on the Chevy Impala.
We’ve covered a lot of ground here and, admittedly, I’m a little biased toward cars that drink that delicious and expensive fuel. Not because I hate the planet or because I have range anxiety, but because I’m old school and in my mind, cars are still supposed to have engines that suck on that liquid gold we call petrol.
The Model 3 really isn’t that bad, and $35,000 is, indeed, affordable for most people, but at the same time, the car is very basic in that form
Now, in base form, the Model 3 really isn’t that bad, and $35,000 is, indeed, affordable for most people, but at the same time, the car is very basic in that form. While it will have Wi-Fi and navigation and all of that, the interior is bland, and you’re stuck with one exterior color unless you want to pay. Just adding the long-range battery or even the Enhanced AutoPilot system will in move it beyond the $40,000 mark which isn’t necessarily within that affordable bracket. For a little more than the entry-level price of the Model 3, you can step into a pretty attractive and well-equipped model from Chevy, Ford, Honda, or Toyota.
For what you would pay with all of the options, you can step up into a luxury offering from Brands like Mercedes, BMW, or Audi. Granted, none of these have all-electric capability or can even be had in that way, but I suspect that once all of the other automakers bring their EVs to market, Tesla will find the Model 3 isn’t nearly as attractive an option as it is now. And, it appears as if some are already noticing this as, after the handoff party, the number of reservation cancellations quickly jumped north of the 60,000 mark – not a huge blow when there’s an estimated 500,000 reservations or so, but it’s still quite telling.
So, did Elon Musk trick us into thinking that the Model 3 was an affordable car? Well, I have to say no, as if you’re willing to forgo that options list and deal with a basic car, it is quite affordable. But, that’s a technicality because we all know that most people won’t want the most basic vehicle you can get. But, what do you think? Is a tricked-out, long-range Model 3 worth paying $60,000 or more for? Do you feel like Musk tried to trick us? Let us know in the comments section below.
Read our full review on the Tesla Model 3.
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