updated: Tesla Model 3 release date, news and features
Update: Reservations started in Australia last night (PST). Many have waited in line to reserve a Model 3 across the globe. Hundreds are lined up at the Bellevue, Wash. Tesla store by 7:30 am PST. The big unveil happens tonight at 8:30 pm PST.

Tesla was founded 13 years ago and shipped its first car in 2008 – the Roadster. At a base price of $109,000 (£86,950, AU$191,888), it was a long shot away from Elon Musk’s vision of an affordable EV.

It took four years before the first Model S reached buyers, which now starts at $70,000 (£50,000, AU$97,245) before incentives and is still not very cheap.

Now that the Model S and X are out the door, Tesla is ready to unveil its first affordable car – the Model 3. Sadly, the Model 3 doesn’t insert itself between the S and X, so there’s a missed textual seduction opportunity.

Cut to the chase

What is it? Tesla’s most affordable EV with 200 miles of range
When it is out? The unveil is happening on March 31 at 8:30 pm PT, 11:30 EST, 3:30 am GMT (April 1) and 1:30 pm (April 1), and production begins late 2017
How do I watch it? A live-stream will be available on the Tesla website
What will it cost? Starting at $35,000 (£30,000)

What is it?

The Model 3 is the first affordable Tesla, expected to start at $35,000 (£30,000) before any government tax incentives. It should qualify for the $7,500 federal tax credit for US buyers, which brings the price below $30,000 before state incentives.

Depending on the state you live in, more incentives are available to bring the price down even further.

Tesla Model S interior

Tesla is targeting an electric range of 200 miles with the Model 3, which isn’t quite as far as its siblings, but plenty of range to commute to work or go on a mini-roadtrip. As an owner of a 2015 Nissan Leaf rated for 84-miles of range, 200 miles would save me the trouble of having to charge in public for 95% of my driving and let me drive from Tacoma, Wash. to Portland Ore. without stopping to charge.

I’ve made the trip to Portland once in a Kia Soul EV (standing for “electric vehicle”) and took twice as long, just to stop every 45 miles to use a CHAdeMO charger for 20 minutes, for a typical trip that takes me 2.5 hours by gasoline car.

When can I see it?

Tesla plans to unveil the Model 3 at a private event on March 31 at 8:30 pm PT, 11:30 EST, 3:30 am GMT (April 1) and 1:30 pm AEST (April 1) to press and select owners. The event is being held at the Tesla Hawthorne, Calif. facility and not its Fremont headquarters.

Tesla Model S

A teaser was released on Twitter that shows a silhouette of the Model 3, but no clear images of the car have been released or leaked. Judging by the stylings of the Model S and X, expect the 3 to look similar, albeit in a smaller sedan frame.

What about the competition?

The Tesla Model 3 competes with luxury gasoline and mainstream electric vehicles. On the luxury side, it’s base price puts it in the crosshairs of the BMW 3-series, Mercedes C-class, Audi A4 and Lexus IS – all gasoline sedans. There’s also the all-electric BMW i3 and plug-in hybrid electric (PHEV) Audi A3 Sportback e-tron, which have higher base prices but shorter pure-electric range.

The mainstream competition consists of current available EVs, like the Ford Focus Electric, Kia Soul EV, Volkswagen e-Golf and Nissan Leaf. Competition gets tougher if you expand to include PHEV’s from Chevrolet, Ford, Hyundai and Kia.

But that’s not all, because the competition from EV makers heats up, too. Chevrolet announced the Bolt EV, with 200 miles of all-electric range at CES 2016 and availability by the end of the year. Nissan is expected to replace the aging Leaf with a newer, longer-range model in the near future, and Hyundai’s upcoming all-electric Ioniq is expected to have 110-miles of range, too.

How do I buy one?

You can reserve your Model 3 starting March 31st at your local Tesla store as soon as it opens. Online reservations begin at 8:30pm PT when Tesla pulls the wraps off the Model 3.

It will cost $1,000 (£1000 and AU$1,500) to reserve a Model 3. The deposit is fully refundable if you change your mind, and you can can apply it towards a Model S or X at any time.

Tesla expects production to begin in late 2017, giving the Chevrolet Bolt a one-year head start. North American buyers will get the first Model 3’s, starting from West to East coasts. Europe and Asia-Pacific regions are next, while right-hand drive markets (i.e. the UK) are last.

Our thoughts

The Tesla Model S was a revolutionary car that changed the public perception of EVs. It has insane performance and over 250 miles of electric range, when mainstream EVs couldn’t even push 100 miles then. But, despite the price, the interior wasn’t quite up to snuff, and I found the suspension tuning lacking around an autocross course compared to luxury brands.

Tesla Model X

With the Model 3, the EV landscape has drastically changed. Chevy expects to ship the Bolt by the end of this year as an model-year 2017 vehicle with 200 miles of range, giving it a long head start. However, a base Model 3 has a $2,500 base price advantage, but we do not know what level equipment you get yet.

If the Tesla Model 3 can have a fraction of the performance and gadgetry of its bigger brethren while maintaining a rear wheel drive layout, that would be enough reason for me to pick it over the Bolt. But we’ll have to wait another week to find out.

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