Whatever what you use -- gasoline, electricity, hamsters in a wheel -- making a vehicle move requires the consumption of energy. The laws of physics are immutable. The question is, how efficiently can it be done?
In the case of the Tesla Model S, the answer is very. The best energy consumption figure we've returned is 118 mpg-e for a 212-mile run from the eastern fringe of the Los Angeles sprawl to Las Vegas, Nevada. For the 313 miles of road loops during the COTY evaluation, where the car was driven at normal speeds by all the judges with the air-conditioning running, it averaged 74.5 mpg-e.
Impressive numbers, especially considering the 4766-pound Tesla Model S Signature Performance version will nail 60 mph in 4.0 seconds and the quarter in 12.4 seconds at 112.5 mph, with a top speed of 133 mph.
In terms of active safety, the Tesla Model S is at the top of the class. With all the car's mass down low and between the wheels, the Model S is a very stable platform, and the electric motor's instant torque means the car is quick and responsive in traffic and during overtaking moves. The stability control and anti-lock braking systems are calibrated to the unique instant-on torque and regenerative braking characteristics of an EV.
When a crash does happen, the usual complement of passive safety devices, including an array of airbags, kick into play. Beyond that, clever engineering such as the double octagon extrusions front and rear, and the immensely strong roof structure, is working to protect you. Tesla claims the Model S outperforms federal crash standards, having been impact-tested at 50 mph (the mandatory standard is 35 mph) and exceeding the roof crush requirement by a factor of 2.
With a base price of $58,570 (before a federal tax credit of $7500), the 40-kW-hr Model S is competitive with entry-level Mercedes-Benz E-Class, BMW 5 Series, and Audi A6. A loaded 85-kW-hr Signature Performance series, like the $106,900 (before tax credit) car Tesla founder Elon Musk drives, is priced right on BMW M5 and the Mercedes CLS63 AMG -- cars of similar performance, remember.
Tesla buyers likely don't need to watch their pennies, but the calculation's worth doing all the same: At an average of 74.5 mpg-e, the Model S costs about 6 cents a mile to run, based on California's 13 cents per kW-hr.
Performance of Intended Function
The Tesla Model S nails the formula established by the German brands that currently dominate the midsize luxury sedan sector. It's fast and great to drive. It's well-equipped and high-tech. It won't look out of place rolling up the drive of a leafy country club or at the curb of a hip hotel. It's a credible alternative to a Mercedes, BMW, or Audi for someone who lives in metroplexes such as Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, and Atlanta.
We've covered more than 1400 miles in cars equipped with the 85-kW-hr battery pack, and can confirm that version of the Model S will easily handle 200 miles of mixed city, suburban, and freeway driving without any hypermiling techniques. For the typical daily diet of commuting and short trips (the average American drives about 40 miles a day), the Model S is a compelling proposition.
The mere fact the Tesla Model S exists at all is a testament to innovation and entrepreneurship, the very qualities that once made the American automobile industry the largest, richest, and most powerful in the world. That the 11 judges unanimously voted the first vehicle designed from the wheels up by a fledgling automaker the 2013 Motor Trend Car of the Year should be cause for celebration. America can still make things. Great things.
Supercharge It!: Long-distance driving in the Model S
By: Kim Reynolds
Even with its remarkable, 85-kW-hr battery, the Model S' EPA-certified 265-mile range is about 100 miles short of spanning California's two biggest cities. And if you can't manage that, how would you ever get to New York? To answer that, Tesla recently unveiled the first five of what it calls its Supercharger stations along routes connecting L.A. to Las Vegas and San Francisco, and S.F. to Reno. (A sixth is located at SpaceX's Hawthorne factory.)
These Superchargers are veritable electron fire hoses, delivering DC energy directly into the battery at rates up to 80 kW, bypassing the on-board 10-kW (or optional 20-kW) inverter(s), and gaining 150 to 160 miles in range in 30 minutes. As Tesla says, stops on long drives often take that long anyway, if you use the bathroom, stretch, and grab a snack.
Moreover, charging will be partially sun-powered -- the stations' roofs are covered with Musk's Solar City photovoltaic cells, but don't worry, you can recharge at night -- and it's permanently free to Model S owners with the 85 kW-hr battery, and 60 kW-hr cars with supercharging capability. As Musk says, as long as you bring enough sandwiches and drinks, you could drive across the country without your wallet. Tesla predicts 100 stations nationwide by 2015.
At the stations' unveiling, Musk compared them in importance to SpaceX's docking with the International Space Station. That could turn out to be an underestimation.