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Review: Tesla Model 3: Elon Musk's mass-market car is a magic carpet ride

Charles Fleming, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Automotive News

The dashboard attracts considerable attention -- because there isn't one. Gone are standard dash gauges like speedometer and tachometer, along with the usual readouts for oil pressure and water temperature. Gone too are the standard dials and knobs, and the vents for heating and AC.

Instead, the dash line is one long "air blade." All the vehicle information normally relayed through dashboard dials is contained in a single, centrally mounted, 15-inch touch-screen display.

On the left side of the screen is a section containing essential driving details. On the right are navigation and entertainment choices. Directly in front of the driver is nothing but windshield.

It is from this central touch screen that the driver adjusts audio choices or volume, selects temperature or fan speed, sets windshield wiper intervals, turns on the defroster, accepts telephone calls or chooses seat heating.

The only permanent switch inside the vehicle is the emergency flasher, apparently mandated by law. The only fixed buttons are a dial in the steering wheel that can be used to adjust the mirrors or raise and lower the audio volume, and the buttons used to operate the windows.

Some drivers will complain that the use of the touch screen requires them to take their eyes off the road, for something as simple as turning on the fog lights or opening the glove box -- for which there is no switch or button.

 

Others will appreciate the absence of clutter and may buy Tesla's argument that a fixed switch is forever, while a touch-screen-based system can be continually improved and updated, wirelessly, with the car never leaving the owner's driveway.

Some pre-ordering Model 3 customers have been dismayed to discover that their base model cars won't include Autopilot, which under certain conditions will do all the steering, braking and accelerating required for safe driving. Instead, the base model contains what Tesla calls "automatic emergency braking and collision avoidance." Autopilot will cost an extra $5,000.

As I found when I drove the Model S and the Model X, the driver-assist Autopilot package is beyond the best in its class. Though it balked periodically -- the system seemed confused by freeway interchanges -- Autopilot maneuvered seamlessly across 100 miles of Los Angeles roadways without any unnecessary drama.

There is other cool technology aboard the 3 too. The voice-activated command system is top notch, as is the backup camera. The keyless ignition system allows the operator to start the car remotely and set the inside temperature or choose charging times. The nav screen will identify the closest charging stations and their charging rates.

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