- Oct 1st 2012 at 10:30PM
In Detail: Tesla Model S
We're finally at the point where the electric car makes sense. Not just for specific, low-mileage use-cases, but for mainstream needs. The Tesla Model S is not only an electric car, it's a car that most anyone could fit into their lifestyle, so long as they have the coin. Here's why: Design
Designing an electric car can go one of three ways. Nissan chose an all-new, stand out bodystyle for their plug-in Leaf, complete with funky, non-standard cues that scream "electric car." Ford and Honda went the route of retrofitting electric powertrains into already existing gas-powered models, like the Honda Fit. Finally, the route Tesla took is to build a car from the ground up with a design language that prioritizes an ethos of efficiency, while still aiming for luxurious, sporty lines.
The result is a visually appealing marriage of form and function. Model S is just as striking as any other performance sedan out there, regardless of powertrain.
The defining "fastback" silhouette of the Model S is so well integrated--the angle of the A and C-pillars of the Model S greenhouse are almost symmetrical--it doesn't come close to looking like a botched wagon, as some do. Instead, Model S feels futuristic, sleek and refined.
The Model S offers two powertrains, that are really only different in the electric current they can accept. The first is a 416 hp, 443 lb-ft rear-mounted electric motor that can take 1200 amps. Estimated 0-60 miles per hour sits at 4.4 seconds, or less, depending on whom you ask. The base Model S has a slightly detuned motor that takes in 900 amps and puts out 362 hp and 325 lb-ft of torque. 0-60 mph comes in at 5.6 seconds; not bad for a 4600 pound saloon.
Another major factor in Model S performance and range are the batteries. In addition to the large 85 kWh battery that we drove, there is also a 60 kWh and a 40 kWh. The 85 kWh battery offers a range of 300 miles, the 40 kWh: 160 miles, and the 60 kWh: 230 miles. (Note: these Tesla-quoted numbers are when driving at a consistent 55 mph.)
Pricing for the 40 kWh battery option starts at $49,900 on the base Model S, the 60 kWh at $59,900, and the 85 kWh at $69,900. The Performance model uses only the 85 kWh pack and lifts pricing to $84,900. The Signature Performance model is $97,900. That's nearly a $50,000 swing from the base model to the highest trim level. You can view more on the options here.
If you were to ask anyone who has been inside a Model S to identify the most impressive piece of tech in the car, they would undoubtedly point to the 17-inch touch display in the center of the dashboard. This screen controls the heart of the Model S; just about everything the driver needs can be adjusted here.
All the functions that are to be expected from a high-end infotainment system are there, only amplified by the beautiful graphics and 1920 X 1080 resolution of the screen. The response is very fast--nearly as quick as an iPad. In an earlier TRANSLOGIC post we went into more depth on all the functionality of this striking touchscreen, but what we didn't talk about was what it was like to drive with.
Having a giant screen with large, crisp graphics is absolutely essential for using touch controls while driving. Quick functions, such as changing the radio station or following the nav, are made easy, simply because of the size. In addition to what's on the main screen, there is similar infotainment data sent to the gauge cluster--just like MyFord Touch. The nav portion shows you upcoming turns, while album art and music data are also displayed on the gauge cluster.
As with any in-car infotainment system, it gets easier to use with time. What makes the Model S system unique is that it can also evolve over time. Tesla has outfitted every Model S with the ability to connect to the internet, either via WiFi (standard) or 3G (optional tech package). The internet connection serves as a way for Tesla to update its systems from the mothership. The center screen is connected to the CAN bus of the car, so all parts of the car can get an upgrade over the cloud (even the battery management and range calculations).
Every electric car solicits questions regarding range. Usually, what it boils down to is how many miles a the user drives per day. With Model S, you need to drive less than about 160-265 miles per day, depending on the battery size. Of course, most people tend to drive much less than this, but that doesn't seem to dissuade EV detractors.
To combat cliché "range anxiety" arguments against electric cars, Tesla has unveiled a Supercharger system in California, for those looking to travel long distances with their Model S. Just 30 minutes of charging provides about 3-4 hours worth of driving time. The Superchargers are pumping 90 kW directly into the battery, bypassing the onboard, optional twin chargers. Within the next few years, Tesla will begin to roll out Supercharger stations across the country, with a goal of making a cross-country trip possible for EV drivers.
Driving the Model S feels a bit strange. Not a bad strange, though.
The interior is as quiet as a Rolls-Royce, even under full-throttle. The only thing you can hear is wind and tire noise, and a bit of a whine from the electric motor.
Ride is very smooth, but not floaty. With the optional air suspension equipped, the Model S adapts to the road surface and driving pace to produce a ride and handling characteristic as solid as its ultra-rigid chassis. Having a torsionally stiff chassis and great suspension is a recipe for great handling.
Besides besting most cars in comfortable performance, the Model S has great steering. The feel of the road might be a bit isolated by the EPS, but it's not entirely dampened. If there are any shortcomings in the steering, they are completely outshined by the razor-sharp precision of steering inputs, and just how different the 'sport' setting feels from 'comfort' in the steering feel selector. The weighting ranges pretty significantly.
The only place where driving characteristics fell short was on the brake feel. It wasn't progressive, nor was there enough bite at initial press. This made braking a bit irregular during stop and go. That's not to say that the brakes aren't strong; the feel just wasn't the optimal. Given that electric vehicles use regenerative brakes to recover kinetic energy, brake feel is still a work in progress for many EVs. We suppose this issue could be fixed via an alteration to the brake mapping with one of those 'over the air' updates.
The Model S was clearly designed to be an everyday car. The utility offered by its shape means a very efficient 26.3 cu-ft of cargo space with the seats up and 58.11 cu-ft with the seats down. And, we can't forget to mention the additional 5.3 cu ft located in the 'frunk,' or the space where a gas engine normally sits.
Inside, there are spaces to hold everything. Because there is no center tunnel where a driveshaft would normally go, the Model S has a flat floor. While this may seem insignificant, there is a lot more added space in the center to put bags, or whatever you might have with you, and the person riding in the center of the rear bench doesn't have to straddle the tunnel. Everyone wins.
There are a few things we feel could be improved upon. The door handles are supposed to pop out when you walk up to the car, but, in our experience, they didn't work every time. In addition, grabbing them just felt a bit disconnected to how we normally expect a door to open. The entire handle recognizes your hand then activates and electronic switch to open the door. Throw in a bit of latency and it feels disappointing.
The only other thing we can think of is the strange way of turning the car on. You simply get in. That turns on accessory. Press the brake and the car can now be shifted. This all works great; but once you get out, the entire system shuts off.
Some might appreciate the simplicity, but the whole experience felt a bit weird to us. For example, If you'd like to leave the car running for your passengers while you pop into a store, you must dive through a few menus to select to leave the car on. This isn't going to ruin the day, but it's unnecessarily unconventional.
In the end, however, the Model S is a huge leap forward for electric vehicles. Consider the entire Tesla ecosystem you buy into when you purchase a Model S: Supercharging stations and technology updates.
Tesla has done what others said they couldn't. And, with another winner on their hands, what's next for this groundbreaking carmaker? Enter Model X.
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