(Pocket-lint) - A lot has been said about the Tesla Model 3. It's one of the most exciting electric cars on the roads, anticipated both because it brings Tesla to a price point that many more people can afford to own, and also because it's radically different from other cars.
While the Tesla Model 3 shares a lot with the Model S and Model X in terms of its general approach, the interior reflects a minimalism that we only normally see on concept cars. A vision of the future? Perhaps.
When it comes to the Tesla Model 3, you'll have probably heard the headlines - affordability, Autopilot, blistering speed. You'll have seen that central screen on the dash, but we thought we'd dive a little deeper into this unique car, to give you a better picture of what's going on.
There's no key, but there's a great app
That's right. While many cars are now embracing the notion of keyless entry and driving, Tesla goes a step further with the Model 3. There's no physical key.
The car has been designed to work with your phone and while you get a card that will open the door (there are no door locks that you can see), the aim is to hand that duty off to your phone. You don't need to open the door with a tap, it works by proximity - if you want it to.
That means you walk to the car and when you arrive the doors are unlocked and when you leave the car you'll hear the blip to confirm that it's locked as you walk away. If you unlock the car and don't get in, it will re-lock itself again after a short period.
It means there's one less thing to remember when you leave the house - just remember if you're using the card to lock the door by tapping the car on the B pillar before you leave it.
Exploring the Tesla app
The car and the app are like hand and glove - and more so than many other car apps. We tested the app on Android and have found that the app is stable and useful, contributing a lot of useful functions.
Aside from unlocking the doors - or the trunk/boot or bonnet/hood - the app also tells you where the car is and what state it's in. You can sound the horn or operate the lights remotely as well as check the internal temperature and control that to precondition the car before you get in.
It's also really useful for checking the battery state, so you know how much range you have, at a glance. From v10 software onwards, the app will also let you monitor the progress of updates too.
Installing the app also brings a seamless sharing quality, as (on Android) the Tesla app becomes a share location from mapping apps. Fire up Google Maps, search for what you want and then share it to Tesla - and it's sent to the car, setting the navigation to take it to where you want to go.
Yes, companion apps are getting increasingly common on modern cars, but they often feel like an optional extra. The Tesla Model 3 feels like it's been designed for smartphone user and that gives it immediate tech appeal.
Let's talk about Summon
Summon is where Tesla really draws away from any other car on the market right now, enabling something that's a little closer to science fiction. Summon, essentially, is remote control from your phone, allowing you to back the car out of a tight space or park it in a tight space.
It's little different from some of the automatic parking options that some cars offer, although you don't need to be in the car. There are conditions, of course. You're not allowed to do this on public roads (although regional laws will vary) and your car needs to be the right spec for it to work.
But it's a system that's evolving, with the v10 software bringing in an enhanced version called Smart Summon that will actually get itself out of the parking space and bring the car to you. You'll need the full autonomous driving option or Enhanced Autopilot - but it's the stuff of the future. That option isn't coming to the UK right now, but drivers in the US will now have it.
Be gone - buttons!
If we said the Model 3 had a spartan interior, we'd have to leave you to decide whether to capitalise or not. On one hand it's heroic - free from clutter, minimalist, clean - and on the other there's basically nothing apart from the screen.
The steering wheels get a couple of controllers (unlabelled), while on the steering column you have the gear shifter/drive mode selector - which also accesses Autopilot. The indicator stalk also flashes the headlights and will manually run the windscreen wiper, with a long press to clean it.
There's basically nothing else apart from the screen.
The air vents are especially clever because they are built into the body work and rather than moving some $1 plastic bit of garbage (as you do on every other car in existence), you instead change the airflow by swiping it around on the display. Yes, it takes a few taps to do this, rather than just hitting the thing directly, but it's a novel solution. (The rear has a couple of more regular air vents.)
There's a couple of hidden USB sockets and a hidden 12V plug for accessories but ignoring all the design and everything else, having a button-free interior brings a huge advantage: as everything is controlled through the display, Tesla can add or change functions with a corresponding button causing a problem. For example, Tesla could introduce a new driving mode via software, something that wouldn't be possible if there was a manual selector already in place showing those driving modes.
It's basically a giant iPad
With no driver display, all your feedback comes from this display, meaning it's your speedo too. The display is really split into two sections - the side nearest the driver shows pertinent information for the driver - speed, drive mode, all the warnings or indicators for things like lights - as well as live data map coming form the car's cameras and sensors, showing how close you are to things, pedestrians, road lines etc.
The other side has a larger section for content. Most of the time that's likely to be mapping and navigation, with other controls opening over this section - and leaving the driver's information clear. That means someone can be selecting music on Spotify and you can still glance at the display and check your speed for example.
Across the bottom is a dock of buttons to control things like climate, seat heating and so on - the sort of stuff that would normally have a physical button. Then there's an icon for music and car settings controls, along with a pop-up menu that will take you to stuff you'll probably use less often.
It's very easy to use. Coming from a conventional button-based car it takes a little while to adapt to tapping on the display to access things, but because it's so big, it's intuitive and easy to use. Take changing the car options - this is a few taps away, there's no hierarchical system to work through to get there, so it's quick and easy.
We've looked in detail at this software previously, so you can find a lot more information right here.
The double-edge sword of software only
As we said before, doing everything through that display means Tesla can add things or change things easily. The addition of Joe Mode on v10 software (to quieten down the system sounds) or Netflix is a perfect example of this. While many manufacturers are now promising to update over the air, there's the sense that Tesla are happy to make much bigger jumps.
This also means that in some cases you can buy a Tesla at one spec and then have software features unlocked. This has happened in the past - and as long as it's not hardware dependent, then being able to change the features by subscribing to something new via software adds flexibility. It also means that if you're buying a second-hand Tesla, the software updates will likely mean it's a better car than when it was originally sold.
On the Model 3, however, everything is software, including the indicator noises. That means that if, for some reason, the software isn't working properly, you don't get those noises, so you don't know if you're actually indicating.
While the software is stable, we've seen a few hiccups from time-to-time. Resetting the display sorted this out, but as we said, while that's happening, you don't get access to any controls, media or anything else. Importantly, however, the car still drives exactly as it should, even if that display system is restarting.
Data, connectivity and your phone
We've already said that phones get a great app and plays it part in the system. You can also sync your contacts and calendar with the car. Syncing your calendar will see a reminder of your appointments that day when you get in the morning.
What you don't get is Android Auto or Apple CarPlay. Those smartphone-based systems cannot take over the Tesla's display, but we feel this is one of the cars where that doesn't matter - it provides you with the services you'll probably use anyway, like TuneIn and Spotify, letting you sign-in natively in the car, rather than via your phone.
The car has its own data connection and that not only provides data to the car and that link to the app in your phone, but allows it to stream media too. It's been suggested in the past that some cars might not have unlimited data forever, but at the moment it's not quite clear what changes might be coming down the line. There is the option to connect to Wi-Fi so in the future it might be that you connect to a Wi-Fi hotspot on your phone if you need to.
Where the Model 3 and Tesla's software doesn't quite give you everything from your phone is in contacts - there's no access to addresses so if you want to drive to a friend's house, your best bet is to share that location from your phone. There's also no support for messages and notifications. Android Auto and Apple CarPlay like to give you notifications and allow you to speak replies to messages, but there's nothing like this from Tesla.
Tesla does have a voice system which can do things like finding radio stations, music and navigation, but it doesn't quite go as far as you can with Google Assistant. With that said, you could use Siri or Google Assistant to read your messages from your phone.
Is the lack of notifications or messages a huge loss? Not really. From a safety point of view it's better not to have these things always distracting you from the road, so we can't say we really miss them.
The fun stuff
Entertainment is one of the big talking points around Tesla and software. There aren't any other cars on the road that include games - but at the same time, part of life with a Tesla may include sitting at a Supercharger from time to time.
While Netflix being added in the v10 update is the talking point, one thing that these fun apps offer is engagement for children. Kids love cars, but there are few cars that they love as much as a Tesla, because it does fun things. That's as important for entertaining the driver waiting to charge as it is ensuring that future generations know what Tesla is all about. Mission accomplished.
Many of the Easter Eggs you can't access when you're driving, but there are some that you can, mostly a little rude or seasonal novelty. It's a bit of fun, a reminder that while Tesla is hugely serious about things like speed, there's a sense of humour - a lighter side.
It also helps that the audio system is really good - this really gives Netflix a lift and while it might sound like a gimmick, it's really effective and we've enjoyed watching it.
The interior of the Model 3 might seem a little alien if you're coming from any number of mainstream cars. After a couple of days, you'll find that you don't miss any of the buttons and controls that previously dominated interior design. There's a light and airy interior, free from clutter.
Yes, there are situations where more controls might be better, but with most things happening automatically - wipers, lights - there's very little need to have an extra button or stalk to control these things.
We think it would be good to have a separate indicator sound generator just so you can always hear that no matter what else might be going on, but on the whole, the setup of the Model 3's interior and its entertainment and information systems is as refreshing as the powertrain that drives it.