Elon Musk is the very definition of that most overused of corporate doublespeak terms, the disruptor. It’s his reason for getting up in the morning.
Sending rockets to Mars? Reinventing the banking system? Totally upending the very paradigm of car manufacturing? For Musk, that’s just a regular Tuesday.
It’s this renegade attitude that resulted in the Tesla Model 3, a project that’s been on Tesla’s drawing board since the company began in 2003. The premise? A simple, affordable electric car that's accessible to everyone.
Musk once said that the “auto biz is hell,” acknowledging that the real-world compromises required to bring to the Model 3 to life have been harder to overcome than he thought.
That original premise has dictated its design; while the overall aesthetic is in line with the Model S and Model X, the 3 is designed with one eye on the final price and the other on ease of use. It’s a tricky balance to get right.
However, the final design – penned by US-born Franz von Holzhausen, whose previous credits include the Pontiac Solstice – is a nod to the present, an acknowledgment of simpler times and a cheeky wink to a future where style will always be in fashion.
Classic proportions are intersected with new-world solutions, like the huge panoramic windscreen and boot-lidded fastback design.
The front end is unapologetically Tesla, proudly eschewing any frame of reference to engine cooling or convention with its smooth snout, but the rear three-quarter design is bound by the requirements of people and luggage.
Inside, too, the shocking simplicity of the barren interior is offset with futuristic seat design and that all-pervading portrait-aligned touchscreen.
The 3’s price may be higher than the figure he first conceived, but the Model 3 has people talking about electric cars like no other in the history of EVs – and not just car nerds, either.
“As a mass-market car, Tesla has played it pretty conservatively,” notes Paul Beranger.
The renowned auto designer also noted that the design of this car is “very, very simple.”
“It’s very clean, which is very much a Tesla signature,” he says. “The interior carries over that exterior simplicity in spades.”
WhichCar Style Award 2020: the finalists
Our judging panel is briefed to review each finalist through the prism of design, technology and innovation. It’s fair to say that the very notion of the Model 3 challenged our panel early on, with many struggling to reconcile the hype with the Deep Blue metallic reality parked quietly in Canvas House.
“It’s totally bipolar, this car,” says judge and real estate disruptor Marty Fox. “It’s a combination of hectic and plain.”
“The simplicity is actually a bit confusing and confronting for me,” agrees Woman’s Day editor-in-chief Fiona Connolly (below).
Others, though, are able to peer straight into the soul of the simple yet powerful Model 3.
“What I like about the Tesla is that it knows what it wants to be,” says Alex McBride, founder and CEO of The Fifth Watches. "It feels cohesive in its design and in every sense. When I first looked at it, I thought it was plain and boring, but then I drove it and experienced it, and it all made sense.
“It's a real light bulb moment for me.”
The proof of the EV concept, though, is in the driving – and it’s where the Model 3 jumped from the websites and into the consciousness of our judging team in no uncertain terms.
“I can’t believe I loved it,” says Marty, shaking his head. “It makes me feel a bit sick that I love it. I get my energy from driving, and this is almost a Zen moment for me.”
Recording artist Arrnott Olsen makes a telling remark about the Model 3’s lack of auditory output. “You might call the noise it makes the sound of the future,” he observes. “It is unapologetic about what it is, and it is extremely comfortable.
“On the outside, it is clean and simple, but underneath there is a lot more going on.”
Veronica Maine consultant Beth Levis agrees. “Its minimalism is its biggest feature," she says. "Clean lines, streamlined…it’s like a new modern minimalist hotel where you can’t find the button to turn the light off!
“For me, it’s like moving from a PC to a Mac – it takes a bit of time to get used to the change, but once you do, it’s fine. It’s a very intuitive car.”
Alex notes that the Model 3 isn’t the final word quite yet. “The Tesla can’t be all things. It can’t really go for those long drives up to Sydney and back – well, easily, anyway," he counters. "You can’t do absolutely everything in it.”
Marty, though, believes that once someone has had the experience of driving the Model 3, it will be a difficult one to forget.
“I think once you fall in love with this kind of driving," he says, "it will be hard to go back to a ‘normal’ car.”
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