2013 Tesla Model S Review

The future is now

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2013 Tesla Model S Review
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From huge losses posted every fiscal quarter to the promise of a brighter, cleaner (and profitable) future, the Tesla story is one that’s genuinely intriguing.

FAST FACTS

1. The fully electric Model S is a luxury sedan than can seat five, or seven thanks to a rear-facing jump seat.

2. Like a choice of engine, three different battery packs are available including a 40 kWh pack with a 160 mile range, a 60 kWh pack with a 230 mile range and a 85 kWh with a 300 mile range.

3. The most powerful 85 kWh pack delivers 362-hp and 325 lb-ft of torque for a 0-60 time of 5.6 seconds, while a performance model ups output to 416-hp and 443 lb-ft and a 0-60 time of just 4.4 seconds.

4. Pricing starts at $49,900 and tops out at $84,900 after a $7,500 tax rebate.

Ready to write it off from the beginning as a billionaire’s pet project, we tested the Tesla Roadster several years back and it restored our faith in electric cars. Not only did it have usable range, but it was also quick beyond belief and very entertaining to drive.

However, the Roadster is now the past. Production ended on that model last December and so today we will look towards the future, to see if Tesla’s latest offering will excite us and convince us that electric motoring is a viable everyday alternative for a much larger segment of the population.

We caught up with Tesla and its new Model S zero-emissions luxury sedan during the brand’s tour across the continent, dedicated to showcasing its products to potential clients and the automotive press.

AN ORIGINAL

This product differs quite a lot from the Roadster, because first of all, it has its own chassis – not one borrowed from Lotus. The chassis is question was designed by Huibert Mees, who’s past credits include the Ford GT supercar.

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And with their own chassis, Tesla could now design the car to look the way they want it to, rather than just modify the styling of an existing car. To execute that part of the project Tesla hired Franz Von Holzhausen, who used to design Mazdas for a living.

SPACIOUS, FUNCTIONAL AND BEAUTIFUL

So the new car has its own platform and styling, and also unlike the Roadster, the Model S is a practical family sedan. Actually, call it a family fastback, because the trunk-lid and rear-glass are joined, underneath which you can either have a large cargo area, or the optional rear-facing jump-seats to carry two children.

Otherwise the spacious cabin can comfortably seat five people, and since in this electric car the battery and motor are neatly tucked underneath the floor, under the hood you’ll just find more cargo space.

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So the Model S is a practical design, but it is also attractive. Seeing it in person, we could not find a single awkward angle to this design. True, the styling is reminiscent of the Jaguar XF, though that’s not a bad thing – especially when the Model S looks better.

Open the door (procedure: press on the flush mounted door handles, which then pop out automatically and then pull on them) and you’re greeted by one of the nicest, cleanest interior designs and layouts you’ll ever see. It’s like a concept car interior, only better built.

A COMPUTER ON WHEELS

If the idea of a fully electric luxury sedan doesn’t sound futuristic enough to you, the 17-inch touchscreen certainly looks like what you might expect from a car in the distant future. This multi-function screen looks a lot like an Apple iPad but was designed and built by Tesla. It controls everything in the car from the audio system, to navigation, to surfing the net, to climate control. It even unlocks the doors, hood, trunk and releases the flap that opens its charge port. Considering this unit pretty much controls almost everything you’ll need to do in this car, best hope it doesn’t break down.

Thankfully, the power windows and exterior mirrors are controlled through regular switches, which would be familiar to anyone who owns a current Mercedes-Benz. Since M-B has bought shares in Tesla, the two firms will benefit from each other’s technology and switchgear.

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A SERIOUSLY ELECTRIC DRIVE

Enough about the switches, time to go for a drive. Unlike any other car we have ever come across, the Model S does not start with twisting a key or pressing a button. All you have to do is sit in the driver’s seat with the key fob in your pocket and the car comes alive. To get moving, just put your foot on the brake pedal and select drive through a steering wheel mounted lever also taken from Mercedes.

Release the brake and off you go. This car moves away so silently, you’d really have to worry about pedestrians, because they certainly wouldn’t hear you coming.

Step on the gas, sorry, accelerator, and the car picks up speed quickly and smoothly.

Just how quick will depend on the model you choose. Tesla will be offering the Model S with three different battery packs, and two motors. The base car will have a 40 kWh battery and should be good for a 160 mile range on a full charge. One step up will get you in the 60 kWh battery, and now your total range will be 230 miles. While Tesla has some performance figures for these models, they haven’t published any power ratings for these two versions, so we won’t go into much detail on these models at this moment.

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Power ratings are, however, available for the two models that come with the 85 kWh battery pack. The standard 85 kWh model produces 362-hp and 325lb-ft of torque. This model can sprint from 0-60 mph in just 5.6 seconds and top out at 125 mph.

If you want to go even faster, you can opt for the Model S Performance. This version produces some extra grunt thanks to its tweaked motor. Total output is 416-hp and 443 lb-ft of torque with a 0-60 mph run of just 4.4 seconds and a limited top speed of 130 mph. Despite the performance difference, Tesla says both models will have a 300-mile range on a full charge, which if it’s correct is very impressive indeed. All models take roughly four to five hours to fully charge from a 240-volt outlet.

On all models power is fed to the rear wheels via a single speed gearbox with just one electric motor mounted between the rear wheels. So yes, this is a mid-engined car. The liquid cooled battery is mounted in the floor, to keep the center of gravity low, which is designed to help handling.

The version we drove was the regular 85 kWh model and trust us on this, it was plenty quick enough. We could never tire of punching the accelerator and having the car instantly pick up speed. Around one corner, it even did a slight drift, proving you can still burn rubber in a green machine – just don’t tell the environmentalists.

COMFORTABLE AND DYNAMIC

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As for the ride and handling, it proved to be much better in this area than we expected. The old Roadster rode like a skateboard, the Model S glides over even harsh surfaces, and yet when you throw it into corners, it handles very well. Honestly, Tesla has worked hard on sorting this car out and it shows. This is a luxury family car that is fun to drive. We hope to get behind the wheel of the Performance version in the future to see how the extra ponies feel.

Our drive time was short, but it gave a good indication for what the Tesla Model S is all about, and given the pressure and setbacks the company has faced in recent years, they’ve done an admirable job.

The Model S has already gone on sale. The first 1000-units being built are what they call the Signature Series. All these cars have the 85 kWh battery, and you can choose between the regular or Performance version. Pricing for these models is $87,900 for the regular and $97,900 for the Performance - after the $7,500 Federal tax credit.

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Once production is at full speed, the other models will enter production. The base 40 kWh version will be priced at $49,900, the 60 kWh at $59,900, the 85 kWh at $69,900 and the Performance at $84,900. All these prices are also after the $7,500 Federal tax credit.

THE VERDICT

So how do we sum up the Model S? It looks good and has a wonderful, spacious and high-tech interior. The car drives and handles well, and promises to offer usable range. If it works reliably and covers the distance it is claimed to be able to cover, then Tesla has a serious winner on its hands that will attract plenty of new buyers to the electric car fold.

This might not just be the future of the electric car. The Tesla Model S could be the future of the American auto industry.

LOVE IT
  • Styling
  • Performance
  • Range
LEAVE IT
  • Touchscreen gets filthy fast
  • Door handles too gimmicky
  • Fear of the unknown: range, reliability

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