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The Tesla Model 3 has arrived – like a comet across the California sky.

Just after midnight Eastern Time Saturday morning (9 PM Pacific) Tesla CEO and circus-master Elon Musk delivered the first 30 production models of the all-electric sedan – perhaps the most anticipated new car in a generation.  The customers – reportedly all Tesla associates – received their steeds before thousands of their peers at Tesla’s Fremont, California manufacturing plant and thousands more watching online via live feed.

The Model 3 is the first Tesla under $40,000 to travel more than 200 miles on a charge. The third step in Tesla’s so-called “master plan” after the premium Model S sedan and gull-winged Model X SUV, the Model 3 aims to bring the Tesla brand to the heart of the luxury market. Musk announced two versions of the Model 3 – a “Standard” version beginning at $35,000 with 220 miles of range, a zero-60 time of 5.6 seconds, and 130 mph top speed. A “Long Range” version, which features a larger battery, starts at $44,000 with a range of 310 miles.

Fully loaded, a Premium-trim, Model 3 Long Range will sticker for $59,200. Available features include the Premium’s heated and electronically-controlled leather seats ($5,000), 19-inch wheels, Autopilot self-driving feature ($8,000), and five colors other than standard black ($1,000 each).

Driving a red Model 3 on stage – its Porsche-like face naked of any grille ornamentation - Musk was met by thunderous applause before easing into his trademark, halting, off-the-cuff remarks explaining the car.

“We’re going to be in production Hell for six months or longer,” he laughed, anticipating the enormous demand for a startup automaker that has already been deluged with nearly 400,000 Model 3 orders – or more than five times as many 3-series as BMW sold in the US last year.

Musk gave few details of the car, but a number of journalists got a chance to drive the Model 3 in Fremont for 15 minutes each before the unveiling - including Tim Stevens, editor-in-chief of The Roadshow by CNET.

"It has the same road qualities as the Model S with really brisk acceleration," Stevens said in an interview. "The handling is really nice. Though some people are going to take time to get used to the lack of instrumentation."

Stevens reports that there are no gauges behind the steering wheel – unlike the Model 3’s Model S and X predecessors. All the car’s operating information is contained in a single, 15-inch horizontal tablet (not vertical as in the Model S) display that hovers in front of the long wooden dash. Digital speed and mileage readouts occupy the upper 25 percent of the tablet. There was speculation that the car would get a heads-up display - similar to the projected displays found on Audi, Cadillac, and BMW chariots -  but Stevens says there is none.

“There is not much of an instrument panel,” said Musk, “because cars will be increasingly autonomous so you won’t really need to look at an instrument panel. You’ll be able to do anything you want – watch a movie, talk to friends, go to sleep. Every Tesla has all of the hardware for full autonomy: 8 cameras, 12 sonar, 4 radar.”

Stevens says the Model 3 feels like a smaller, cheaper version of the lightning-fast, 200-mile-range $68,000 Model S - the best-selling large luxury sedan in the US. Tesla has become a cult brand not only because of electrification but because of its unique approach to design. All Model 3s will come standard with a full glass roof. Keyless entry is not by a fob in your pocket - but by a Tesla app downloaded to your smart phone.

Two mouse wheels are mounted on the steering wheel that control most car functions including side mirror adjustments. The cars will be regularly upgraded by over-the-air software features. Unlike the more expensive Model S and X models, however, the Model 3 will not have a lifetime powertrain warranty.

While the Model 3 aims to bring a long range, luxury EV to a wider audience, it is not the first EV to market with 200-plus mile range for under $40k. That honor goes to the Chevrolet Bolt EV which debuted in 2016 and went on sale in select states earlier this year. While Chevrolet does not have the brand cache of luxury-maker Tesla, it is banking on its ute-like hatchback packaging being more in tune with today’s sedan-averse, buying public. Tesla’s service capabilities are also lacking compared to Chevy which has an extensive national dealer network.

The Bolt, which starts at $36,620 with a range of 238 miles, boasts a longer range than the Standard Model 3. It also has a few tech gizmos up its sleeve that the Model 3 is lacking such as regenerative paddles on the steering wheel and smart phone app capability.

Tesla says initial sales of the Model 3, however, will only be the 310-mile Long Range model which boasts a bigger battery than the base version which will come this fall. Both versions are rear-wheel-drive only with no word on an all-wheel-drive, dual-electric -motor system as is available in the Model S.

The Model S P100D in "Ludicrous" mode has achieved neck-snapping 2.5 zero-60 times due, not only to a bigger, 100 kWh battery, but also AWD traction.

Anticipation for the Tesla has been through the roof with over 370,000 people putting down a $1,000 deposit for the car (including the author of this article). Tesla promises that it will produce 20,000 Model 3s a month out of its Fremont, California plant by December with production hitting 10,000 a week in 2018.

The Model 3 and Bolt will gain more competition soon from models such as an all-electric BMW 3-series and all-new Nissan Leaf.

Henry Payne is The Detroit News auto critic. He can be reached hpayne@detroitnews.com. Find him on Twitter @HenryEPayne

SPECIFICATIONS: 2018 Tesla Model 3

Vehicle type: Electric, rear-wheel-drive, five-passenger sports sedan

Price: $35,000 base ($59,200 Long Range model fully-loaded) before state and federal government incentives

Power plant: lithium-ion battery

Power: Rear motor, AC induction

Transmission: One-speed direct drive

Performance: 0-60 mph, 5.6 seconds in Standard model (manufacturer). 5.1 seconds for Long Range model. Top speed: 130 mph (Standard), 140 mph (Long Range)

Weight: 3549 lbs. (Model 3 Standard), 3814 lbs. (Model 3 Long Range). Construction: Steel/aluminum chassis

Range: 220 miles (Standard), 310 miles (Long Range). 130 miles of charge in 30 min. (on Tesla Supercharger). 30 miles of range per hour (on home charger, 240V outlet)

Colors: Solid Black, Midnight Silver Metallic, Deep Blue Metallic, Silver Metallic, Pearl White Multi-Coat, Red Multi-Coat

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