Tesla enters the performance-sedan arena, charged with technology.
By Bill Heald
The image of the electric car has been a complicated one. On the one hand, there’s the environmental set applauding the reduction of things like greenhouse gases, dependence on petroleum, the complexity of the internal combustion engine, etc., by adopting a plug-in lifestyle. On the other hand, this enthusiasm hasn’t been shared by everybody, to say the least. Not only have electric automobiles not appealed to car enthusiasts, they have been considered laughable in performance circles. Leisurely acceleration and limited range were bad enough, but given the styling of a lot of the available cars (including some of the latest models), well, who wants to be seen driving a toaster?
In 2003, Tesla Motors arrived on the scene as an all-new car company created by some entrepreneurial Silicon Valley engineers, and they have been working hard ever since to shatter that perception of electric cars. The first fruit of their labors was the Tesla Roadster—a white-hot sports coupe, thanks to a body by Lotus and an all-electric drivetrain capable of blowing the doors off some of the most exotic machinery in the world. It does so with an eerie electric whine that is its own special dialect of motor-music, and shows how cool a box of angry electrons can be.
You’ve broken new ground, so what do you do next? If you’re Tesla, you spend years developing your next projects, and add a sedan to go along with your groundbreaking coupe. This attractive, rear-wheel-drive electric performance sedan, the Model S, is designed to bring some of that Tesla hotness to a larger audience. That will include both more passengers and more owners, for it’s a roomy four-door (yet the cool aerodynamic styling looks right at home next to the Roadster), and the price of admission is about half of the company’s debut model, putting it within reach of more buyers. And the S offers a choice of battery sizes to those seeking more performance. Unlike the other guys, who suffer a gas-mileage penalty (and reduced range because of it) when they opt for a more powerful mill, when you put a larger lithiumion battery in the S you get more power, more acceleration, and more range. With the largest battery pack available, zero to 60 mph acceleration drops to 4.4 seconds, and range jumps to 300 miles between charges.
This is a truly impressive accomplishment. You get a hot sports sedan with all the trappings, and yet never burn any fuel or emit any emissions. Tesla offers a choice of charging stations to keep you juiced, and a selection of trim/performance levels, plus a broad variety of options on the creature-comfort, infotainment, and performance fronts to tailor this exotic electric to your tastes. That part should be easy, because you’ve already shown impeccable refinement in picking the only sporting four door in the world that’s as advanced and responsible as it is entertaining. There’s electricity in the air, and it smells a lot like burning rubber.
|Body style||Four-door sedan|
|Engine||Liquid-cooled electric motor|
|Transmission||Single-speed fixed gear|
|Front tires||245/45 R-19|
|Rear tires||245/45 R-19|
|0–60||6.5 seconds (40 kWh battery)|
|Top speed||110 mph|
|Fuel capacity||Lithium-ion battery pack, 40 kWh (optional 60 and 85 kWh)|
|EPA mpg||Not applicable|
|Base price||$49,900 (with $7,500 federal tax credit)|