Eco-Living Magazine

Test Drive & Review of 2012 Tesla Model S: Quite Possibly the Best Car on Sale

Posted on the 29 November 2012 by 2ndgreenrevolution @2ndgreenrev

Tesla Motors was founded in 2003 with the overarching goal of expediting the world’s transition to electric transportation. Within that plan, the Model S represents the second stage: to build an affordable car, at least in its class of luxurious saloons. The two remaining stages of Tesla’s plan are to build a more affordable car, while simultaneously constructing zero emission charging options. At this point, it’s not an exaggeration to say that Tesla’s corporate mission (and survival) depends on the success of the Model S. So, how is the outlook? Having taken one for a test drive, I’m pretty optimistic.

If you were to ask people what their favorite feature is of the 2012 Tesla Model S, you would probably end up with a bunch of different answers. Some would say the power, while others would cite the decent range, practicality, modern interior, or even the price. The fact that the Model S appeals to a wide base of interests is great news because it means that, unlike its electric predecessors, the Model S is not a one-trick pony. Even without its cutting-edge powertrain it would still be an all-around amazing car. Recognizing its many talents, the Model S was named “Car of the Year” by Motor Trend, Automobile Magazine, Yahoo! Autos, and praised by Consumer Reports. And if that wasn’t enough, it also won Time Magazine’s “Best Invention of the Year,” Popular Science’s “Best of What’s New” award, and Popular Mechanic’s award for “Auto Excellence.”

The car I drove was the fully-loaded, BMW M5-rivaling 85kWh Signature Performance model, which starts at a hair under $98,000 (the entry-level, 60kWh version costs about half that). The battery pack gives the Model S up to 300 miles of range, and the optional Performance upgrade adds a high-capacity drive inverter that bumps power to 416hp and 443 pound-feet of torque. Since peak torque is made between 0 and 5,100 rpm, the portly Model S (weighing in at 4,647lbs) feels remarkably light on its feet.

Test Drive & Review of 2012 Tesla Model S: Quite Possibly the Best Car on Sale

Floor the gas, er, electricity pedal, and the rear-wheel drive Model S shoots itself forward with the relentless, authoritative surge that has become the trademark of powerful electric vehicles. A handful of its rivals are faster on paper, especially at higher speeds, but there is something childishly amusing about the Model S’ silent, neck-snapping power delivery. Driving around the city, the lack of noise means you can stomp on the accelerator between lights without scaring the bejesus out of any pedestrians.

The traction of the skinny 245/35 Continental Extreme Contact DW performance tires is incredible, and no doubt aided by the 52 percent rear-biased weight distribution. Motor Trend recorded a 0 to 60 time of 4.0 seconds and quarter-mile of 12.4 seconds at 112.5 MPH, both of which are downright fast and in the mix with other top-performing luxury sedans.

Test Drive & Review of 2012 Tesla Model S: Quite Possibly the Best Car on Sale

More than just straight-line speed, the Model S offers a very pleasant and unique driving experience. You’ll have to unlearn a few things, like unlocking the doors or starting the car, because the Model S does it for you. Just put the car in drive and you’re off. The cabin is modern, minimalist, airy and unlike anything else on the market. Still, it drives like a mainstream midsize sedan with good visibility and predictable handling. The ride is definitely on the plush side but still feels connected to the road. The Signature Performance car I drove came with Napa leather, 21” wheels, sport-tuned traction control, and four-way adjustable air suspension.

If you are technology averse, the Model S is not for you. Essentially every function in the cabin is controlled through an over-sized 17” touchscreen that dominates the dashboard. The screen looks and operates just like a giant iPad, and is positively the best touchscreen ever installed in a vehicle. At the top of the display, there is a fixed bar of icons for things like navigation, energy use, and web browsing, while controls for the AC, volume, and seat heaters are permanently displayed at the bottom. Speaking of energy use, Motor Trend calculated the Model S as returning the equivalent of 118 miles per gallon (MPG-e) under ultra-light driving, and 74.5 MPG under normal driving. The Environmental Protection Agency rates the Model S as achieving 88/90/89 city/highway/combined MPG-e.

Test Drive & Review of 2012 Tesla Model S: Quite Possibly the Best Car on Sale
Two more neat features of the touchscreen: as Tesla updates the interface, newer versions can be downloaded wirelessly. The updates not only affect the screen’s layout, but can actually alter the way the car drives. For example, Tesla is working to activate a “creep” button so the car behaves like a conventional automatic when you take your foot off the break. The screen can also be split in half vertically to show any two applications at once, so you could have GoogleMaps up top, and energy use below. Just like the original iPhone, the technology and design of the Model S are fresh and generations ahead of the competition. It is, after all, a product of Silicon Valley.

Test Drive & Review of 2012 Tesla Model S: Quite Possibly the Best Car on Sale

Even though the Model S is a technological showcase, it’s as practical as a station wagon. The powertrain layout combined with the hatchback structure helps it achieve a massive 58 cubic foot storage capacity with the rear seats folded down (as much a midsize SUV), and an additional 5 cubic feet of cargo under the hood. It can transport five adults, and if you tick the options box, two kids in rearward facing seats.

The Model S is the only EV that offers a choice of battery packs. You can get 40, 60 or 85kWh capacity, depending on the size of your wallet. In entry-level form (after the federal tax credit), their respective cost/range is $49,900/160 miles, $59,900/230 miles, and $69,900/300 miles. That’s $10,000 for every additional 70 miles of range, so it might just be cheaper to take a cab. And that’s before you add any options. The Performance and Signature packages (only available with 85kWh) run well past $80,000 individually, and nearly $100,000 when combined. But wait, there’s more! In 2-3 weeks, Tesla will announce plans to hike the Model S’ price, and make some standard features optional. If you already ordered one, or plan to do so before the announcement, you’re safe. Tesla at least offers a good warranty for the batteries: 8 years, and from 100,000 to unlimited miles depending on battery size.

Test Drive & Review of 2012 Tesla Model S: Quite Possibly the Best Car on Sale

To address the charging and range issues, Tesla is expanding its network of “Superchargers,” but they are only available to 60 and 85kWh models. If you’re charging at home with 240 volts, Tesla offers or includes equipment that will double the charging rate to one mile every minute. As for battery longevity, it’s not a good idea to use the entire range, since full discharges will diminish long-term battery capacity. Tesla also states that if the car is left with zero charge for a long period of time (a couple months?), the entire battery pack may need to be replaced.

The Model S may not sound like a big deal because in some ways, it isn’t. It hasn’t solved the core problems of the electric car. It’s still expensive, range limited, and takes a long time to charge. However, it represents the biggest leap yet towards desirable and affordable electric transportation. For that reason, it’s the best and most significant car on sale today.

Model S Factory Specifications

  • Base Price: $49,900 (prices include $7,500 tax credit)
  • As Tested: $97,900 (85 kWh, Performance Signature)
  • Range: 300 miles (Tesla)/265 miles (EPA)
  • 0-60 MPH: 4.4 seconds
  • Top Speed: 130 mph
  • Horsepower: 416hp @ 5,000-8,600 rpm
  • Torque: 443 lb-ft (600 Nm) @ 0-5,100 rpm
  • Weight: 4,647 lbs (48% front, 52% rear)
  • Supercharging Capability (50% charge in 30 minutes): Included

More available at TeslaMotors

Images by Tesla

Back to Featured Articles on Logo Paperblog