The Tesla Model 3 is finally (kind of) here. The first 30 Model 3s to roll off the production line were handed over to Tesla employees with reservations at an event this past weekend, and the company now begins the uphill climb of filling the 500,000 other preorders. The introduction of the production version of the Model 3 also meant we finally learned exactly what this car will be capable of. So how does it stack up against the competition?
There are certainly more electric vehicles, plug-in hybrids, and even hydrogen fuel cell cars available than there were when Tesla got started, but there are just four cars with more than 200 miles of range: the Tesla Model 3, the Model S, the Model X, and the Chevy Bolt. Let’s leave the extremely pricey Model X out of the equation here and focus on the other three to get the best sense of how the Model 3 measures up.
Tesla Model 3 vs. Tesla Model S vs. Chevy Bolt
Specification Tesla Model 3 Tesla Model S Chevy Bolt
Base price $35,000 $69,500 $37,495
Battery ~50–55kWh, reportedly 75kWh 60kWh
Range 220 miles 249 miles 238 miles
Fast charging 130 miles / 30 minutes at Supercharger 170 miles / 30 minutes at Supercharger Optional (90 miles / 30 minutes)
Home charging (240 volt) 30 miles / hour 52 miles / hour 25 miles / hour
Top speed 130 mph 140 mph 93 mph
0–60 mph time 5.6 seconds 4.3 seconds 6.5 seconds
Horsepower N/A 382 hp 200 hp
Drive Rear-wheel drive (AWD optional in 2018) Rear-wheel drive (AWD optional) Front-wheel drive
Wheels 18 inches (19 inches optional) 19 inches (21 inches optional) 17 inches
Displays One 15-inch, center-mounted horizontal touchscreen One 17-inch, center-mounted vertical touchscreen, one 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster One 10.2-inch, center-mounted touchscreen display, one 8-inch digital instrument cluster
Connectivity Wi-Fi / LTE / Bluetooth Wi-Fi / LTE / Bluetooth Wi-Fi / LTE / Bluetooth
Warranty 4 years / 50,000 miles 4 years / 50,000 miles 3 years / 36,000 miles
Battery warranty 8 years / 100,000 miles 8 years / infinite miles 8 years / 100,000 miles
Apple CarPlay No No Yes
Android Auto No No Yes
Over-the-air software updates Yes Yes Yes
Keyless entry Yes Yes Yes
Remote start Yes Yes Yes
Lane keep assist Optional (part of $5,000 Enhanced Autopilot package) Optional (part of $5,000 Enhanced Autopilot package) Optional
Adaptive cruise control Optional (part of $5,000 Enhanced Autopilot package) Optional (part of $5,000 Enhanced Autopilot package) No
Collision avoidance / automatic emergency braking Yes Yes Optional
Legroom (front) 42.7 inches 42.7 inches 41.6 inches
Legroom (rear) 35.2 inches 35.4 inches 36.5 inches
Headroom (front) 39.6 inches 38.8 inches 39.7 inches
Headroom (rear) 37.7 inches 35.3 inches 37.9 inches
Shoulder room (front) 56.3 inches 57.7 inches 54.6 inches
Shoulder room (rear) 54.0 inches 55.0 inches 52.8 inches
Hip room (front) 53.4 inches 55.0 inches 51.6 inches
Hip room (rear) 52.4 inches 54.7 inches 50.8 inches
Cargo volume 15.0 cubic feet 31.6 cubic feet 16.9 cubic feet
New order delivery date 12–18 months 1 month Immediate (based on dealer availability)
This chart tells a big part of the story here, but certainly not all of it. For one thing, Tesla’s not selling the $35,000 base model right away. The company claims that in order to quickly ramp up production, it needs to focus on the longer range (310-mile) battery first. It’s also requiring people who want those first deliveries to add on the premium trim package. So if you are one of the early Model 3 reservation holders and you want your car as soon as possible, you’re going to have to pay at least $49,000. And even when the base-level Model 3 becomes available, you’ll only be able to order it in black. Otherwise the price goes up at least $1,000 before you add on any other options.
Here’s how the Model 3 stacks up against similarly-priced luxury sedans
Of course, not everyone who’s considering buying a Model 3 is dead set on transitioning to an electric car. Some people are looking at the Model 3 as a competitor to cars like BMW’s 3 Series, or the Volvo S90. Does the Model 3 hold up against any of those, even with all the options?
The Chevy Bolt has a higher base price than the Model 3, and it’s also missing some desirable safety features like lane keep assist and collision avoidance, as well as the option for fast charging. In order to get those more advanced safety features, you have to buy the “Premier” trim version of the Bolt, which brings the price up to $42,760. Adding the option for DC fast charging will bump the price to $43,510.
Of course, all of these prices can change depending on whether you can get help from a federal or state tax credit. The US government has been partially subsidizing the cost of clean vehicles like EVs and plug-in hybrids in order to help grow the market, and they can take a significant chunk out of the price of these cars.
A $7,500 federal tax credit is available for each of these cars, but the state credit changes based on where you live. In California, for example, you could receive up to $2,500 in addition to the federal tax credit, bringing something like the Model 3’s base price down to $25,000. The state credits scale depending on which tax bracket you’re in, though, and there are other factors that could change the total amount. It’s worth investigating how your own state handles these clean vehicle rebates. (This post from Edmunds is a good place to start, as is this interactive map from Plug-in America.)
"That’s a nice federal tax credit. Shame if something were to happen to it..."
There’s a bigger catch here, though: the full $7,500 federal tax credit only applies for the first 200,000 eligible vehicles that a manufacturer sells. After that, the rebate decreases by 50 percent every six months until it’s retired. Tesla has sold over 100,000 vehicles and will likely hit the 200,000 mark sometime in early 2018. With such a vast backlog of preorders, it’s hard to say how much of the federal rebate will be available to new reservations, or whether it will be available at all by the time they complete their orders.
The Bolt might be in safer territory here. Chevrolet has much more manufacturing capacity than Tesla, but sales of the Bolt have been slow since the car became available at the very end of 2016. Chevy makes other rebate-eligible cars, like the Volt, which has sold fairly well and been around for longer. But its parent company GM isn’t expected to reach the 200,000-car mark until 2018 or 2019 at the earliest.
All this aside though, there are pluses and minuses to each of these three EVs. The Model S is the most capable, but the most expensive. The Model 3 is potentially the cheapest, but also the least available. The Bolt is a great middle ground, and is available now, though it doesn’t come with the same kind of luxury touch that Tesla is known for. What’s certain is that the competition is only going to increase. We’re likely to see a handful of EVs with 200 or more miles of range hit the market in the next year or so, with the 2018 Nissan Leaf leading the charge.