Road Test: Tesla Model S Performance
Very few vehicles available on the market today are able to impress me the way the Tesla Model S Signature did. Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla, is a visionary and a genius. The Tesla Model S performance completely and utterly impressed me with both its technology and its abilities. There is no other way to put it, The Tesla Model S is unbelievable.
The 2013 Tesla Model S is currently available in 4 trim levels. The differences between the trim levels are mainly comprised of different batteries with varying levels of power and driving ranges. Throughout the model range there are a total of 3 different battery sizes. The entry level Model S comes with a 40 KWh battery that is good for 302 horsepower, 317 lb-ft of torque and 208 miles of driving. The middle level Model S comes with a 60 KWh battery that raises the power to 362 horsepower and 325 lb-ft of torque and extends the driving range to 300 miles. The model I tested was a top of the line Model S Performance, and it comes with a 85 KWh battery and the power is further increased to 416 horsepower and 443 lb-ft of torque and is also capable of driving 300 miles on a single charge. The power is delivered to the rear wheels via the electric motor and gearbox. The torque on the Model S Performance that I drove is phenomenal and all 443 lb-ft of torque is available from 0-5,100 rpm. That is not a typo.
Tesla Model S Comparison Chart
The first impression the Tesla gives upon walking up to and entering the the car is that it is on the cutting edge of technology. The chrome door handles are flush with the body, and pop-out so you can pull open the doors only when you walk up to the car with the remote in hand. Once seated inside the spacious interior, the dashboard and interior are centered and focused around the huge 17 inch touch screen system which resembles a gigantic iPad. All of the functions such as the climate control system and A/C, radio and media sources, air-suspension and steering settings, and all exterior lighting and many other functions are all controlled by the center screen. The interface’s graphics are all very neat and well designed; extremely easy to operate. The screen also has a built in web browser and you are able to utilize a split-screen to take advantage of 2 functions at once such as the web browser and the radio or vehicle settings. All of the vehicle functions are also able to be controlled via the steering wheel buttons and the smaller LCD screen gauge cluster. The seats in the Model S Performance are very comfortable, but lack the needed support during aggressive cornering. The headroom in the front was on par with a 5-series BMW, but the rear seats felt a bit cramped and had significantly less headroom. Many of the interior fittings such as the gear-selector, window switches and other various buttons were lifted directly from the Mercedes-Benz S-Class. The all glass panoramic roof was very cool and lets in lots of natural lighting.
The Model S Performance I drove was a Signature model and came fully equipped. The Technology Package that the car came with features many welcome and subtle enhancements. Xenon headlights, electrochromatic mirrors, LED Cornering lights, convenience lighting, power rear liftgate, memory seats, navigation system with 7 years of free updates and satillite views, automatic keyless entry, high definition backup camera (can also be used while driving), and a home link garage door opener are all part of the Technology Package. At $3,750 it is not cheap, but the features are well worth it and really add to the overall look and experience of the car.
The Model S Performance which I drove comes standard with an active air-suspension (available as an option on the other trim models). The air-suspension uses pneumatic springs to lower the vehicle automatically as it travels faster. This improves aerodynamics and increases range (even if just slightly) but you also have the option to change it manually, which is a great addition to the car’s versatility. There are a total of 4 different ride height settings available. The ability to raise or lower the car is easy and very practical when entering a parking garage with a steep incline for example to prevent the car from bottoming out. The lowest setting “Low” is only available when the Model S is parked, and allows for extremely easy entry and exit from the vehicle. During aggressive cornering the car corners flat, and changes direction with ease. The weight of the vehicle becomes noticeable (it does weight 4,700+ lbs), but the suspension is able to make it feel lighter than it is and copes with it well. The Model S I drove was equipped with the Performance Plus Package, which improves handling by stiffening key suspension linkages, and tuning dampers to increase lateral stiffness without compromising the ride quality. At $6,500 this is the most expensive option equipped to the car, but the handing was great so it may be worth it.
On the road the Tesla feels at home. The suspension is very comfortable and copes well with potholes and imperfections in the road with ease – always offering a soft and cloud like ride. The electric motor makes no noise, and is completely silent. When merging onto the highway I mashed my foot flat to the floor and was thrown back into the seat. The acceleration is not like a conventional car; the car gathers speed in one very powerful and non-stop surge. Acceleration only stopped when the vehicle reached its 80 mph speed limiter. The full torque from the motor is available at zero RPM and offers one giant thrust forward with ease. The vehicle I drove had a top speed that was limited to 80 mph, which the Tesla reached with the utmost ease. Vehicles which are delivered to customers have a top speed of 130 mph on the Model S Performance. At 80 mph, the Model S Performance was floating down the road and had no sensation of speed. 80 mph feels like 40 mph. The wind noise and road noise are limited and non intrusive. The sound system in the Model S was superb and very clear. The Model S I tested was equipped with the Sound Studio Package ($900), and includes a 580 watt 12 speaker Dolby ProLogic 7.1 surround sound system. Also part of this package is an internal HDD which can store up to 3,000 songs and XM satellite radio.
The Model S Performance has a range of 300 miles while traveling at 55 mph. When I first entered the car the range was 250 miles, and by the end of my 1.5 hour drive it was down to less than 140 miles. Clearly I did not drive 110 miles, but I was also not cruising at 55 mph. Charging the Model S is easy and quick. The Model S can charge from almost any outlet, anywhere. All Model S cars plug directly into 110 and 240 volt outlets as well as public charging stations using the included Mobile Connector and adapters. The High Power Wall Connector, which installs in your garage, enables cars equipped with Twin Chargers to charge twice as fast as cars equipped with a Single Charger. Cars equipped with a 60 or 85 kWh battery can take advantage of Tesla’s growing network of Supercharger stations. The High Power Wall Connector is designed to complement the fluid, futuristic design aesthetic of the car it plugs into. You can install this work of art in your garage or parking area with a power supply of up to 20 kW. With 20 kW of power, a Model S equipped with Twin Chargers can recover 62 miles of range per hour of charging. At that rate, to charge the battery if it were completely drained would be a 5 hour process.
At $103,520 the Model S Performance is not inexpensive. If I had to nitpick, and obviously I do, there are some things that can definitely be improved. Don’t get me wrong, the technology the car offers is world-class, but while sitting inside it doesn’t give quite feel like a $100k+ car. The leather could be of a better quality even though the Nappa Leather in the test vehicle I drove was a $1,500 option. Additionally the lack of a proper center console makes the interior of the Model S feel like a minivan (since writing this Tesla claims that a real center console will be available after summer 2013).
For a start-up manufacturer’s first car, Tesla is definitely on the right road and heading in the right direction. We have yet to hear about any major recalls and the car is supposedly maintenance free. Only a yearly inspection is required and software updates are done over-the-air and at home while the car is charging. The battery comes with an 8 year warranty which is probably longer than most owners will keep it.
Image Credit: Motor Annex, Tesla Motors