Tesla’s Model 3 isn’t a luxury car, but it’s priced like one

The big number surrounding Tesla’s Model 3 has been $35,000, which is the base price for the electric car. But there’s one big problem: barely anyone will pay that price, if they want a Model 3 with autopilot (which, let’s face it you do), or even a color other than black, according to screenshots of the Model 3 configurator posted in the Model 3 Owners Club.

The truth is the Model 3 costs $40,000 if you want a standard version with autopilot (an extra $5,000) in black with no other options. If you want a different color, add $1,000. And if you want a longer range ($9,000) to get over 300 miles per charge instead of 220, well now we’re at $50,000.

$50,000 for a midrange car.

If you’re new to cars, that isn’t exactly midrange car pricing, having clearly pushed into luxury sedan territory, with the likes of the Volvo S90 ($46,950) and Lexus GS ($46,310) and the Audi A6 ($47,600). Even the Model 3’s direct competition, the BMW 320i, maxes out at $47,175. And again, this is before adding the usual slate of premium options like leather seats, power adjustable seats and side mirrors, and rear USB ports (another $5,000).

Photo: Tesla Model 3 Owner’s Club

So if you’re about to drop at least $50,000 on a Model 3, does it qualify as a luxury car? For most people, no. Not unless you’re willing to spend closer to $60,000 (and at these prices, you’ve reached BMW 5 Series and Mercedes E-Class territory). If you’re willing to spend that much, then there is no issue for you. But if you thought spending the $35,000 would net you a car comparable to a BMW 3 Series, well, it really won’t.

If you purchase a standard Tesla Model 3, the seats must be manually adjusted, as will the steering column. The side mirrors aren’t powered or heated, and there’s no auto dimming. There are no LED fog lamps, and if you want a covered storage area in the center console, you must pay extra. Unless you spend $5,000 for the Premium Upgrade, you’re essentially getting the interior of a base model Toyota Camry. (To be fair, the Camry comes standard with a covered center console.)

If you’re looking for what you’ve seen in the Model S — a premium interior, autopilot, and around 300 miles of range in a color of your choosing — in a smaller form factor, we’ll you’re not getting out without paying at least $55,000. That will be fine for some people, but I doubt the 500,000 people who put down $1,000 to reserve a Model 3 expected the price to increase by $20,000 to reach that mark.

Photo: Tesla

This may be a product of uncontrolled hype, Tesla not doing enough to clarify what the Model 3 would be, or the company going too far to meet that $35,000 benchmark, but it wouldn’t surprise me if regular people get sticker shock once Tesla publicly releases the Model 3 configurator online.

The Tesla Model 3 isn’t a luxury car, it’s a midsized car masquerading as one. If you’re in the market for just another car in your price range, the Model 3 may not be for you. But if you’re looking for a smaller Model S, or the electric car of the future, you’ve found it. Just know it’ll cost a lot more than $35,000.