These days, it seems that nearly every automaker touts its latest model as a "game-changer," but Tesla's all-electric Model S luxury sedan may be one of the rare instances where such a claim is completely justified.
What sets the Model S apart from every other electric car on the market is that it matches or betters its gas-powered rivals in terms of performance, technology and value while requiring little compromise in terms of driving range. In addition to a spacious and forward-thinking interior, the Model S can sprint from zero-to-60 mph in a Corvette-like 4.4 seconds and travel up to 265 miles on a single battery charge. And it accomplishes those feats while costing no more than a comparable fossil fuel-powered sedan.
Unlike most of the somewhat dowdily-styled EVs on the road today, the Model S sports a sleek but conventional look with a coupe-like roofline similar to that of the Jaguar XF. Designed by Franz von Holzhausen, the front end styling of the Model S will be the future face of the electric automaker. Short front and rear overhangs not only give the Model S a clean, sporting look, but also allow for the maximum interior volume. Large 19 or 21-inch wheels sit at all four corners, giving the Model S a truly planted look.
Step inside the Model S for the fist time, and you might spend a few minutes searching for a non-existent ignition button - the sedan actually turns automatically on as soon as the driver sits down. The dashboard is dominated by a 17-inch touchscreen display - the largest on the market - that apes the look and feel of an iPad. It controls everything from the navigation system to the HVAC system to the stereo, while also offering internet search capability (the car comes equipped with 3G wireless internet).
The highly customizable system can display two functions at once (nav and internet browsing, for example) and features numerous clever touches - to open the optional panoramic sunroof, for instance, simply summon an overhead image of the car and drag the roof as far open as desired.
In other respects, such as the stitched-leather dash, soft-touch material and high-quality furnishings (the gear shifter is even sourced from the Mercedes-Benz S-Class), the Model S' cabin is everything one would expect from a luxury sedan. In keeping with the Model S' green theme, Tesla offers chrome-free vegetable tanned Italian leather on the interior, and 100 percent recycled PET carpeting from Futuris.
Thanks to its practical hatchback configuration, the Model S offers a suprising amount of cargo space: a crossover-like 26.3 cubic feet is available behind the rear seats, while a full 58.1 cubes can be unlocked by folding the rear seats down. Additionally, there's a small frunk (front trunk) - the electric powertrain takes up less underhood space than a conventional engine does - that serves up an extra 5.3 cubic inches for small items.
Should people-carrying be a priority, the Model S offers buyers the option of a pair of rear-facing jump seats, similar to the units found in stations wagons of a bygone era - to bring seating capacity up seven.
Where the Model S really shines is in its performance. Three different battery packs are available - 40-, 60- and 85-kWh units. All mate to the same basic liquid-cooled electric motor, though its output varies by model.
In the 40-kWh version, the motor produces 235 horsepower and 310 lb-ft of torque. The 60-kWh model ups those figures to 302 horsepower and 317 lb-ft of torque.
The 85-kWh "Signature" variant makes 362 horsepower and 325 lb-ft of torque, while the high-end "Performance" and "Signature Performance" models top out at 416 horsepower and 443-lb of torque.
The 85-kWh model is EPA-certified for a 265-mile driving range, and it can scoot from zero-to-60 mph in 5.6 seconds in standard trim or 4.4 seconds in Performance and Signature Performance forms. The 60-kWh model is rated for a 208-mile range and can accelerate to 60 mph in 5.9 seconds, while the 40 kWh variant can do the deed in 6.5 seconds but has not been given an official range rating just yet.
As for efficiency, the 85-kWh Model S is rated at 88 MPGe (miles per gallon equivalent) in the city and 90 MPGe on the highway, with the 60-kWh battery pack is good for 94/97 MPGe. Again, the smallest battery pack has not yet been rated.
Using a 240 volt outlet, fully recharging the battery takes roughly five hours for the 40-kWh model and 7.5 hours for the 60 kWh model. An optional dual-charger system halves each of those times, and it's standard fare on the Signature and Signature Performance models, enabling a four-hour charge time.
Standard and Optional Features
The Tesla Model S is available in base, Performance, Signature and Performance Signature trim levels.
All trims are fitted as standard with a 17-inch touchscreen infotainment display, automatic climate control, power-adjustable front seats, a seven-speaker AM/FM/CD sound system with HD radio and two USB inputs, Bluetooth smartphone connectivity with audio streaming and 19-inch wheels.
Performance enthusiasts will want to step up to the Model S Performance, which adds the 85 kWh batter, as well as a high performance drive inverter and carbon fiber exterior accents. Buyers can add a Nappa leather and Alcantara leather interior, an air suspension with sport-tuned traction control and unique 21-inch alloy wheels and tires.
Other options for all models include a glass panoramic roof, aerodynamic wheels, metallic paint, a Tech package with navigation, a backup camera, HID headlamps and a 580-watt audio system.
For those truly intent on making the most of their Model S experience, a range-topping Signature trim level adds a few appearance upgrades. A Signature Performance model is by far the most expensive Model S, but it is both the fastest and most exclusive. The Signature models are the first Model Ss to go on sale and are limited to just 1,000 examples.
All Model S sedans come standard with dual front, front side and full-length side curtain airbags in addition to traction and stability control systems.
The model S is expected to rival other EVs, like the plug-in hybrid Fisker Karma, as well as traditional luxury vehicles, like the BMW 5-Series and Mercedes-Benz E-Class.