Tesla Model S
On November 12, Motor Trend magazine announced that the all-electric 2012 Tesla Model S won its Car of the Year Award. It was the first time Motor Trend gave the distinction to a pure electric vehicle, and the first time the judges were unanimous in their decision.
The Motor Trend award follows Automobile Magazine giving the Model S its top annual award earlier in the month. This is likely just the beginning of the awards circuit for the Model S. Tesla’s sporty luxury EV is the front-runner for other major awards, such as the North American Car of the Year, presented at the Detroit auto show.
Why is the Model S sweeping awards circuit? There’s not one answer. Angus MacKenzie, Motor Trend editor-at-large, put it this way: “The Model S is one of the quickest four-door sedans ever built. It drives like a sports car, feels as smoothly effortless as a Rolls Royce, and is more fuel-efficient than the Toyota Prius.” That’s hitting a lot of categories all at once.
I described it like this in my review in The New York Times: “The 2012 Model S is simultaneously stylish, efficient, roomy, crazy fast, high-tech and all electric. It defies the notion that electric cars are range-limited conveyances.” I managed, with very careful driving, to squeeze out 300 miles on a single charge in the version with the 85-kilowatt-hour pack. Most drivers should expect closer to 230 or 240 miles—still a quantum leap above the range offered on other available EVs. Of course, this comes at a cost approaching $100,000. The variant offering about 160 miles of range drops down in price to below $50,000 after federal tax incentives—but those versions might not be available for a year or more, as Tesla works through the queue for models with the bigger and more expensive battery pack.
In granting its top honor to the Model S, Automobile magazine editor-in-chief Jean Jennings praised the car’s performance. “The Model S can blow away almost anything,” she said. "The crazy speed builds silently and then pulls back the edges of your face. It had all of us endangering our licenses."
In my week with the Model S—to prepare for my review of the car for The New York Times—I also loved the car’s performance. But again, it was the whole package that makes the Model S such an accomplishment—from the Aston Martin styling and low center-of-gravity handling, to the 17-inch jumbo iPad touchscreen on the dashboard and access to a network of highway Superchargers in California.
As I described in detail on PluginCars.com, the Tesla Supercharger network makes all-electric roadtrips, for example between San Francisco and Los Angeles, a practical reality.
The performance, design, high-tech quality, comfort, abundant storage, and style of the Model S are so far superior to other cars in the class, and above the field of existing EVs, that it doesn’t make sense to gush. Just hightail it over to the closest Tesla showroom, and feel its radiant beauty. You’ll be won over in an instant.
So instead of piling on the praise, let’s quickly examine its blemishes. Obviously, it’s expensive. Beyond that, my biggest gripe is the fussy outside door handles. (You see, these really are nitpicks.) Because they recede into the body, you need to press them first, before they slide out and enable you to actually open the door. This is too complicated, and sometimes it takes a couple of tries before everything works as planned.
Visibility is not great in the Model S. I’m sure owners will quickly get over it, and there’s always the option to display the backup camera’s high-def image on the glorious 17-inch dashboard touchscreen—but short of that, the sleek design and slippery aerodynamics came with the loss of wide-open visibility.
In a couple of other design goofs, the sun visors are an odd small shape, making them nearly useless for blocking the sun. The mirror behind them is, well, plastic—a weird choice for a refined luxury automobile. I also find myself reaching for overhead interior passenger handles when speeding through a curve—but none can be found. Instead, the less than ergonomic grips are on the door panel itself. Finally, the interior lighting can be too dim at night. Okay, I’m done with my little peeves. It takes real work to find these shortcomings in an otherwise gorgeous, powerful and well-engineered automobile. If you have the dough, and want the best that EVs have to offer, don’t hesitate for a second to buy the Model S. Keep in mind that demand for the Model S far outstrips the company's ability to produce in volume—so you might have to wait for a year or more to put a Model S in your driveway.
Tesla Model S Stats
- Availability: Now
- Base MSRP: $88,000
- Est. tax credit: $7,500
- Technology: Electric Vehicle
- Body type: Sedan
- Seats: 5
- Range: 300 miles
- Battery size: 85 kWh
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