Walk up to the all-electric Tesla Model S, and the beautifully sculpted flush door handles glide silently out to greet you. The handles, themselves a work of art, are an invitation to a driving experience that is silent, sophisticated and addictive.
By TOM STRONGMAN
I was fortunate to be able to sample the experience through the generosity of a local Tesla owner who let me drive his car, the most powerful P85 performance model. The first thing you notice is how beautiful the car is. The four-door has a coupelike profile with muscular flanks and a purposeful stance. Its lines are fluid and smooth, much like the power delivery of its AC induction electric motor.
The second thing is the bank-vault quiet and the incredible acceleration of the P85. It launches from a stop like a Porsche Turbo (minus the noise) and pins you back in the seat like a jet plane on takeoff. Zero to 60 miles per hour comes in 4.2 seconds. Top track speed is 133 mph.
Consumer Reports called the Model S “a nearly perfect car,” the best it has ever tested. Motor Trend magazine awarded it the 2013 Car of the Year and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gave it a five-star crash rating. It is built in Tesla’s plant in Fremont, Calif.
With top-quality materials and fit and finish equal to or better than a Mercedes-Benz S-Class or BMW 7-series, the Model S has a hard-to-describe but easy-to-feel sense of heft and road presence. The low center of gravity (because the litium-ion battery pack is under the floor), instantaneous torque from the electric motor and lack of noise make it feel as if you are flying a magic carpet. The more you drive, the more you want to drive.
Regenerative braking recharges the battery as the car slows and it is strong enough that letting up on the the throttle is usually enough to bring the car to a stop with very little brake application.
Range anxiety, so common in electric cars, is rarely an issue with the Model S unless you have a long trip in mind. The 60 kWh battery has a range of 208 miles, and the 85 kWh battery has a range of 265 miles. Range depends on how you drive. The acceleration is enthralling but if you mash the throttle a lot the range will be shortened considerably. Drive reasonably and you should be able to get close to the EPA-certified range target.
Charging can be done with a 110-volt outlet, but that takes a long time. Buyers will want to install a 240-volt outlet at their home. The car can be equipped with a 40-amp charger or an 80-amp charger that is twice as fast. To facillitate long-distance travel, Tesla is installing Superchargers along well-travelled highways in North America and Europe. These proprietary stations will provide a half charge in 20 minutes. So far, 23 have been installed.
The Model S was designed by Franz von Holzhausen, formerly the director of design for Mazda’s North American Design Center and before that, a design director at General Motors responsible for the Pontiac Solstice, Saturn Sky and Opel GT. A similarly beautiful Model X utility model will be available in 2014, and reservations are now being taken.
When you slip into the cabin, you’re greeted by an iPad-like flat screen in the center of the instrument panel that is almost as big as a 17-inch laptop. Most all of the car’s functions can be controlled from this screen, and it can also display a full-screen navigation map.
The Model S is a hatchback with room for five passengers. Cargo space is quite large with the seats folded. Two small rear-facing seats for kids are optional. The front trunk, where an engine would normally reside, is quite spacious.
Aside from tires, brake pads and windshield wipers, there is not much to wear out. The company says routine software updates handle most issues, and the car monitors itself. The company recommends service every year or every 12,500 miles. The owner can take the car to a service center or for $100 Tesla will send a technician to the car. Tesla is planning valet service that will pick up a customer’s car and leave a loaner in its place. Currently, the closest service center is in St. Louis but one is planned for Kansas City.
The Model S sedan is the second car built by Tesla Motors. The first was a roadster, built from 2008 to 2011. There are three Model S versions, available online with a fully refundable deposit. The model with a 60 kWh battery has a range of 208 miles, hits 60 miles per hour in 5.9 seconds and has a base price of $63,570. The 85 kWh battery has a range of 265 miles, hits 60 in 5.4 seconds and has a base price of $73,570. The Performance 85 kWh hits 60 in 4.2 seconds and has a base price of $83,570. Max out the P85 with all options and the price can be $122,020. All base prices quoted are after a federal tax rebate of $7,500 that you receive when you file your income taxes. Installation of a home charging unit is additional.
The base price of the P85 that I drove was $94,900. The tech package was an additional $3,750, personal delivery was $990 and final inspection, prep and coordination was $180. The as-driven price was $99,820.
Four years or 50,000 miles. The 60 kWh battery has an eight-year, 125,000-mile warranty and the 85 kWh battery has an eight-year, unlimited-mile warranty.
Tom Strongman’s email address is email@example.com.