Tesla Model S Review

I have a new dream car and it's called the Model S.  We first wrote about the Model S almost 2 years ago and now it's finally here.  Of course, I'll have to wait a few more years so I can afford it and move into a role at my job where I don't have to drive as far (I don't think there are charging stations in middle-of-nowhere Georgia/Alabama/Kentucky, hence my need for my current high mileage Jetta TDI, which I love), but I want an electric Model S.  Of course then I'd have to install an EV charging station in my as-yet-built green dream home.  Some of you are thinking, "Chris, you know the imbedded carbon of electric cars is higher than oil powered cars! (which I dont think is true)" or "What about the dirty electric grid that is powering the car!"  I'm not just buying an electric car, as Don Draper would say, I'm buying the dream of a cleaner powered future.  The electric grid is going to clean up (especially with the solar panels I'll put on the house one day).  I covered this line of thought in my post on the Payback of an Electric Car.  But enough about me, let's check out the Tesla S specs.

Tesla is selling the Model S in several different options: Model S (with 3 different battery options: 40 kWh, 60 kWh, and 85 kWh), Model S performance, Signature, Signature Performance.  The latter three options all with the 85 kWh battery.  The more battery, the more you pay but the farther you go. Pricing for the basic model (after the $7,500 tax credit) can be seen below along with the range for the different battery sizes (pictures below taken from the Model S option page linked to above):

MSNBC has a good review of some of the background of Tesla the company, its founder Elon Musk (yea, the SpaceX/Paypal guy), and some history on the Model S. Some of the quotes:

The largest pack contains a whopping 85 kWh of lithium cells, more than three times the size of what’s in the Nissan Leaf, yet still equal to barely 2.5 gallons of gas. But the EPA rates the hyper-efficient Model S at 89 MPGe, or miles per gallon-equivalent. The agency, meanwhile, slightly downgraded the official range rating for the car, the biggest pack showing just 265 miles on its Munroney window sticker.

At $49,900, the lowest-cost version of the Tesla Model S is in line with a number of similarly sized luxury vehicles, in fact, about $10,000 less than the $59,825 list price for the Lexus GS hybrid. Meanwhile, an absolutely fully-loaded Tesla Model S with the 85 kWh battery and range-boosting aero package comes in at $101,550 – or roughly the same as a well-appointed version of the Fisker Karma plug-in hybrid.

In comparing the performance of the Model S Signature Performance model (which retails for $97,900 after $7,500 Federal rebate) to a Lamborghini, Dan Neil of the Wall Street Journal states:

Unfortunately, in a car like a Lambo, other people can hear you being stupid for miles around. At full tilt, those cars are like civil-defense sirens, if civil-defense sirens alerted you to the presence of awful men in gold watches and track suits. It's embarrassing.

But in the dreamily quiet Tesla Model S, when you hit fast-forward, the film speeds up but the soundtrack doesn't really get much louder. The pitch of the electric whine goes up, the suspension sinks down, but compared with an internal-combustion sports car—quaint thing that it is now—this car slips silently as a dagger into triple-digit speed. You can cut traffic to bits in this thing and never draw the jealous ire of your fellow motorists.

The Signature Performance model is powered by a 416-horsepower AC synchronous electric motor producing 443 pound-feet of torque between zero and 5,100 rpm, with a zero-to-60-mph acceleration of 4.4 seconds and a quarter-mile elapsed time of 12.6 seconds. The SP package is equipped with a high-capacity drive inverter and twin 10-kilowatt-hour charging inverters for rapid recharge (about four hours). It should come equipped with a lawyer. You're going to need one.


The car's flat, floorpan-mounted battery pack (85 kWh) accounts for about 30% of the significant total vehicle weight, 4,642 pounds. And yet, with a C-of-G comparable to that of a Ford GT supercar, the Tesla corners like it's tethered with magic.

And at least one negative comment:

The other inimitable flourish is the car's huge, 17-inch capacitive touch-screen console, a glass-panel interface handling vehicle, climate, audio and vehicle functions. It's the attack of the iPhone, if you like. This is the one stumble in the Model S's draftsmanship. While this panel works beautifully—the navigation map display is especially nice—the display is embedded rather gracelessly into the leather-and-carbon trim dash.

So, fittingly, it's a spaceship. The Model S is the most impressive feat of American industrial engineering since, well, a couple of months ago, when Mr. Musk's SpaceX successfully launched and recovered a spacecraft that rendezvoused with the international space station.

If you're one of those who buys cars over $50k, why not consider the Tesla?  After all, you pay for leather seats, upgraded stereo system, engine performance, high-end German/Japanese name on the bumper, etc.  Why not pay that much for an American car company that doesn't rely on oil , has little-to-no engine noise, looks great and is amazingly fun to drive?  Think about it...


Other links:

Tesla Model S pre-production review

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Tesla is exciting, but its electric only configuration limits it significantly. $50k to be able to drive 160 miles a day is fine if you don't take a short road trip or forget to charge it one night. I can't get to the airport and back in 160 miles. I believe the more practical solution is the Chevy Volt. It goes 40 miles, or a little more, before needing power assistance. Less than Tesla for sure, but when you add the unlimited range of gasoline assist, it like having the best of both worlds -- with no worries about running out of charge. I can drive a volt to the airport and back with no worries every month or two, yet still use zero gasoline for many weeks at a time.
The Model S is so attractive, from so many perspectives. For $50k-$70k it is well within the range of what people will spend for a luxury car. And it looks really, really pretty. Soon as I get a spare $50k ....
The Tesla vehicles are very cool and I admire Elon Musk enormously for all he has done. However I have found our Chevy Volt to be the best of all worlds. We charge it from our 5.2kW solar array for guilt free driving up to 43-47 miles or so (not the measly 35 EPA rating) and sometimes we get up to 60 miles battery range before the gas "range extender" kicks in and gives us unlimited range at 40MPG. The Volt is very sporty (0-60 in 8.5 seconds - I timed it) and has a roomy hatch back that is practical for hauling stuff. The Volt lists at about $40K - minus the $7500 tax credit making it almost affordable for the average upper middle income family, and the lease option is a better deal at $300/month.
ckmapawatt's picture
I will be more than happy with a Volt as well! To be honest, I do think plug-in hybrids are the way to go. That little fossil fuel insurance policy can get you out of a jam. I wish someone would marry a turbo diesel with a plug in electric....

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