Photos by Steven Elliott, Software Engineer for autoTRADER.ca

Vancouver, BC – I stood in line on March 31, 2016, at the local Vancouver Tesla store for the Tesla Model 3 – the first Tesla model meant to be a lower-cost electric vehicle – and I paid a $1,000 reservation fee to get in a different, virtual line to purchase the car when it became available. Within 24 hours the number of reservations exceeded 180,000 and ultimately rose to over 400,000. Tesla initially expected to produce 5,000 cars per week in December 2017, but only managed to squeak in at 1,000 per week by the end of December. This amounted to a grand total of 1,550 cars delivered in Q4 2017, which was nowhere near Tesla’s previous estimates.

Now? They are basically six months behind schedule for deliveries. If you’ve followed Tesla’s history, being late with all-new models is the norm, and their customer/fan base is usually very forgiving.

The current situation for Canadians is that we all have an estimated delivery of “late 2018”, whether or not you are an existing owner, no matter where you live. Tesla has stated up front that their priority for shipments would be to existing US customers. The first deliveries would be for employees and friends/suppliers of the company, then customers on the west coast, followed by the rest of the country, and then non-owner reservation holders. Canada would come next, followed by other international markets.

Right now, as far as we know, no Tesla Model 3 has been delivered in Canada. Test units have been spotted in Quebec but there are no demo cars in the showrooms. How did I get to check one out here in Vancouver? Well, that opportunity was thanks to Tesla owner You You Xue, who set out on a three-week tour to show off his newly delivered Model 3 and give people test drives. You You is not a Tesla employee and is not your typical fan boy either.

From my view? He looks to be an outgoing guy who is active in the Tesla community – and wanted an adventure. At the same time, he’s not afraid to criticize Tesla and call them out for their bad behaviour.

When Xue’s Model 3 arrived in Vancouver it had already hit over 16,000 km for the trip. It started in California basically on the day he picked up his car. He travelled from California to Florida, then up through New York and New England, before coming to Canada via Quebec and then Ontario. The Vancouver leg of his trip was on the way back to California, when he hit up the northern states and the Pacific Northwest.

Model 3’s Vancouver stop the last in Canada

Now for the event itself. Originally it was planned for one of the two Vancouver Tesla stores, but given scheduling issues it was moved to the new Tsawwassen Supercharger station. Superchargers are Tesla’s proprietary fast-charging stations, which are free for older models. With the Model 3 this is now a paid service. Currently there are 1,136 Supercharger stations with 8,496 stalls for charging worldwide. This number is increasing rapidly and Tesla says we’ll have them across Canada in every province except Newfoundland starting in 2018.

The event was originally scheduled for Tuesday, then it got moved to Wednesday morning. Then Wednesday afternoon at 5 pm. We arrived at 3 pm to find at least a dozen Tesla vehicles charging or parked at the Supercharger. The local Tesla club had a big tent set up to keep people out of the rain, and held giveaways and signups to join their club.

I would estimate about 40–50 people showed up, composed of existing Tesla owners and non-owners who had reserved the Model 3. For the most part the non-owners were a younger crowd, perhaps understandable given the more-affordable price of the Model 3. Talking to the non-owners, there was a mix of motivations for buying the Model 3: the green nature of the vehicle, not having to buy gas, the costs and hassle of traditional vehicle maintenance, and those who are into tech and/or caught the vision of Elon Musk.

As for the car itself: Xue appeared around 6 pm to much applause, and immediately got the car charging. He gave a speech to introduce himself, set out the rules, and to answer frequently asked questions up front. He was quite candid and confirmed that he was not sponsored by Tesla. He had both praise and criticism for Tesla. On the positive side, he loves his new car. He also has a Model S and openly expressed that this was a better car in almost all ways. He shared that the car did excellent in the snow, and that with proper snow tires you really don’t need AWD.

A slightly controversial topic came up. Tesla has said that all vehicles produced in the past few years include “full self-driving” hardware and that this would be available as a software update in the future. Currently you can pre-purchase this update up front with no expectation of a delivery timeline. Or, if you decide to wait, you can purchase it later a higher price. When asked about this, Xue laid out his arguments, and basically is not a believer. His view is that this could be ten or twenty years out and that we’d be better served just saving our money instead of paying for something we may never get.

That seems reasonable to me, although personally I believe full self-driving is inevitable and will happen much sooner than that.

And now it’s finally here, in person

I was excited to check out the car itself. My first impression was that it was small. It’s about BMW 3 Series-size and appeared considerably smaller than the Model S that it was parked next to. The external fit and finish appeared to be good – no evidence of things like panel gaps and other visual misalignments. That shouldn’t be noteworthy but it is something Tesla has struggled with in the past, with the release of the Model S and Model X.

Before we got started, Xue explained how to open the doors. That seems like an odd thing to have to explain, but like many things on a Tesla, this is different to what you are used to. Instead of a key fob you can use your phone to open the car and start it. You also get two key cards which are much like the ones used for security doors. You simply tap the pillar with the card to get in. Then there’s the door handle itself. It’s completely recessed. You need to push in on one side which then rocks open the handle itself. It’s a bit odd but something I could get used to.

The first hands-on demo was seeing the trunk and “frunk” – the forward trunk where there would normally be an engine. The frunk isn’t huge but is a viable storage space for things like groceries. It’s also a bit of a novelty as everyone expects to find an engine there. The trunk has a pretty narrow opening: this is not a hatchback and the glass area is not integrated into the trunk lid.

I can see how things like golf clubs and groceries can fit in there, but I’d be concerned that larger items like full-size suitcases and packages would not fit. The trunk does have a lower storage area as there is no spare tire to take up that space. The seats lay flat as well – and one person asked about sleeping in the vehicle with an air mattress. The verdict was out on that (and it’s not a super appealing prospect anyway).

The back seats appear roomy with people over six feet tall able to sit comfortably. This model has the all-glass roof that gives you a bit more headroom than the standard version.

As for the front cabin, the most notable thing is the absence of a traditional gauge cluster. This has been replaced by a horizontally mounted touchscreen in the centre dash area. Getting used to this was a top question for Xue and he said he got comfortable with it in about a day. Things like speed are left-aligned so that you can glance over to see them.

This doesn’t mean there aren’t any buttons for the driver. The wheel has stalks on both sides plus two little scroll-wheel-type dials where you normally have things like volume controls. The stalks control the usual things like turn signals, cruise control, and drive mode.

Overall the interior was very uncluttered and sleek – if almost plain. I liked it but I can see how some would miss the standard gauge cluster and manual knobs and controls.

We weren’t able to stick around for the test drive, having already stood around for a few hours in and out of the rain. But we know from other reviews that it’s very quick and much like the larger and more-expensive Model S, if not quite as ferocious in acceleration. If you haven’t experienced the amazing acceleration of an electric car, you should give it a try. Tesla officially states that the 0–60 mph time for the Model 3 is 5.6 seconds but new owners report far better in their own tests.

Overall, I had one major issue with the Model 3 and it’s basically a showstopper for me. I’m 6'5" tall and have a fused spine. What that means is that I cannot bend my back. Getting into the Model 3 driver’s side was simply not possible – even after we tried multiple adjustments, like pushing the seat back all the way and moving the steering wheel up. This is true for me in many smaller cars such as the Porsche 911, but at the same time I have no problem getting into and being comfortable in a Nissan Leaf. I’m not completely ready to give up and will have another go when the Model 3 eventually arrives in showrooms. Or perhaps I could win the lottery in the meantime and get a Model X.

The Tesla Model 3 is impressive as it gives you the range and similar performance of a pricey Model S at about half the cost. If Tesla can work through their backlog of orders quickly enough, I think it would have a real chance of success in the market, particularly due to their extensive high-speed charging network. That’s a big “if” given the slew of EVs scheduled to come on the market in the next two years. It’s a great time to be an EV fan.

Shortly after that rainy evening in Vancouver, Xue completed his tour, having travelled 20,821 km across 36 states and three provinces. He gave 450 test drives and demoed the car to approximately 5,000 people. Meanwhile, Tesla announced it would finally start to have the Model 3 in their showrooms, starting with a few locations in California. I’d like to think that Xue’s epic road trip helped spur that decision.

Disclosure: I have a Model 3 reservation, own some Tesla shares, and a really cool SpaceX hoodie.