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Edmunds.com 2010 Tesla Roadster Overview

Edmunds.com 2010 Tesla Roadster Overview

Edmunds.com 2010 Tesla Roadster Overview


Introduction:

The 2009 Tesla Roadster is now for sale, and customers on the waiting list for this instant collector’s item are starting to get the keys to their sporty little roadster. By now, you’ve probably heard of Tesla — the startup electric car company brought to you by Silicon Valley rather than Detroit. And you might have heard rumblings that its Lotus Elise-based Roadster has been far from problem-free, with the most notable being a failed two-speed transmission that had to be replaced (including in those vehicles already sold) by this year’s one-speed automatic. The company itself has had issues, from fired executives to shuttered dealerships. The future remains questionable for the Tesla Roadster, but for now, it remains an intriguing choice for wealthy, green-minded car buyers in search of a little fun.

Here are the important things to know. The Tesla Roadster is an all-electric car with a range of 227 miles under judicious driving (although as a sports car, that could be difficult to accomplish). Using Tesla’s High Power Connector recharging device, it takes 3.5 hours to refill the lithium-ion batteries from near-empty. With only 2,750 pounds to lug about, the 240-horsepower electric motor provides a rush of seamless power, bringing the Roadster up to 60 mph in about 4 seconds. Plus, it does it with the eerie quietness of a Prius in all-electric mode.

Aside from going fast, the Tesla’s Lotus-based chassis allows it to be one of the finest-handling automobiles you can buy. Thanks to the aft positioning of the electric motor and battery pack, the Roadster’s weight distribution is even more rear-biased than the Elise’s — 35 percent front/65 percent rear, compared to 39/61 for the Lotus. The manual steering that is a pain at low parking speeds nevertheless contributes to excellent steering feel and control.

And then there are the environmental benefits. The Tesla Roadster produces no emissions on its own, though electricity produced by coal- or natural-gas-fired power plants obviously has associated emissions. Because of the Roadster’s highly efficient nature, however, Tesla claims the associated carbon dioxide emissions would only be about a third of those for a popular hybrid car. Although if you have enough cash to buy a Tesla, why not make like Ed Begley and pony up for one of those home solar panel systems, too?

The 2009 Tesla Roadster has undeniable appeal, but there are some major drawbacks. Chiefly, its lofty asking price makes it attainable for only the most deep-pocketed buyers. And for them, the tiny spartan interior may not seem to befit a $100,000 car, not to mention the manual steering and the awkward entry and exit. The electric battery range should also be an issue since it makes road trips a near impossibility. However, every new technological road has to start somewhere, and with GM’s EV1 long since forgotten/killed, the Tesla Roadster could very well become known as the electric car that really started it all. Or it’ll be an interesting footnote in the history of the automobile, 2000-2050. Either way, it could be fun to have one in your multicar garage.

Body Styles, Trim Levels and Options:

The 2009 Tesla Roadster is a two-seat roadster with a targa-style removable soft top. Only one trim level is available. Standard features includes 16-inch front and 17-inch rear alloy wheels, the High Power Connector for a 3.5-hour charge, cruise control, leather upholstery, heated seats, a leather Momo sport steering wheel, power windows and locks, air-conditioning, a universal garage opener and a CD player stereo with an iPod interface. Options include a body-colored carbon fiber hardtop, upgraded leather upholstery, microfiber cloth upholstery, Bluetooth and a seven-speaker upgraded sound system with navigation and satellite radio.

Powertrains and Performance:

The 2009 Tesla Roadster is equipped with a 375-volt AC-induction air-cooled electric motor that produces 240 hp and 276 pound-feet of torque. As is the case with all electric vehicles, that torque is immediately available. A single-speed automatic is the lone transmission. Tesla estimates the Roadster will go from zero to 60 mph in just under 4 seconds. It reaches an electronically limited 125 mph. Based on the EPA’s combined city/highway cycle, the Tesla Roadster should travel about 244 miles before needing a recharge, which takes 3.5 hours using Tesla’s High Power Connector. Just as with a gasoline-powered car, this range will obviously drop the more vigorously you drive.

Safety:

Standard safety features on the 2009 Tesla Roadster include antilock brakes and traction control. Notably, side airbags are unavailable.

Interior Design and Special Features:

Like the Lotus Elise on which it is based, the tiny 2009 Tesla Roadster features a rather spartan interior. The heated seats and Momo steering wheel are trimmed in leather, but otherwise don’t expect the sort of luxury normally associated with a car costing $100,000. However, the Roadster does differ from the Elise in its modified transmission tunnel that hosts the exclusive automatic shifter, along with the LCD information readout for battery charge, range and optional navigation.

The seats are supportive but confining and the footwells are extraordinarily narrow, though at least there’s no clutch to worry about. As with the Elise, taller drivers could find the circus act required to get into the tiny, cramped Roadster — particularly with the removable roof in place — to be more trouble than gas-free travel is worth.

Driving Impressions:

You’d think an electric car would have electric power steering, but you’d be wrong. Instead, the Tesla Roadster goes with an unpowered rack. It’s not fun at parking lot speeds, but it’s a treat around corners. Despite the Tesla’s slightly softened suspension settings, this is one of the best-handling (and stiffest-riding) cars on the market. The real story, though, is the eerily muted thrust from the electric motor. Tire noise is more audible than the subdued whine from the electronics tucked behind your left shoulder, yet the Roadster’s acceleration is breathtaking, especially from a standing start with all that torque on tap. It’s fast, but the very opposite of furious.


Copyright Edmunds.com, Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.


By Autobytel Staff

2010 Tesla Roadster Sport

  • BY AARON ROBINSON
  • MULTIPLE PHOTOGRAPHERS

  • PATRICK M. HOEY AND
  • THE MANUFACTURER

    What’s New?

    The Roadster Sport is a $19,500 upgrade package to the basic $110,950 Tesla Roadster. The differences: new drivetrain software and a hand-wound stator in the Sport’s 375-volt AC induction motor with higher winding density and lower resistance, bumping the motor’s torque from 273 pound-feet to 295. Horsepower is now 288 for both base and Sport models. In the suspension, remote-reservoir shocks offer 10 stiffness settings and three positions for the anti-roll bars. Black, forged alloy  wheels wear stickier Yokohama Advan A048s.

    Is the Sport Worth It?

    The Sport picks off the 60-mph mark 0.1 second quicker than the base Roadster, or in four seconds flat. This may be the most expensive 0.1 second of your life, though the Sport also demonstrates a reduced tendency for its air-cooled motor to overheat while jet-whining to high speed. It’s firmly, er, grounded and changes direction with the merest palm impulses. But at the limit, the steering turns slack under acceleration as the front axle goes light and loses bite. It won’t lay a patch owing to the control software, and in the middle setting, the shocks are tolerably soft. The Sport looks extreme, but it still works best as an errand-running pussycat. All Roadsters now have a fancier center console.

    What’s the Cost?

    The base Sport runs $130,450, though this example was a staggering $155,850 due to optional equipment. If you’ve stopped breathing, at least you’re not emitting CO2.

    Specifications >

    POWERTRAIN: AC permanent-magnet synchronous electric motor; 288 hp, 295 lb-ft; 1-speed direct drive

    EPA CITY/HIGHWAY: 29/32 kWh per 100 miles

    C/D TEST RESULTS:
    Zero to 60 mph: 4.0 sec
    Standing ¼-mile: 12.9 sec @ 102 mph
    Braking, 70–0 mph: 178 ft
    Roadholding, 300-ft-dia skidpad: 0.90 g

    View Photo Gallery

    By AARON ROBINSON

  • 2010 Tesla Roadster Sport

    2010 Tesla Roadster Sport Front Three Quarter Motion

    2010 Tesla Roadster Sport Front Three Quarter

    2010 Tesla Roadster Sport Side

    2010 Tesla Roadster Sport Front Static

    See All 18 Photos

    2010 Tesla Roadster Sport Front Three Quarter

    E-mail from Tesla P.R. person: “Where is my baby?”

    I look around. Gads, I’m still in Costa Mesa, a good 50 miles from Tesla’s dealership in Santa Monica.

    I knew the car needed to be returned today after our five-day stint, which included two days of testing and lapping, but only now was it dawning on me that the luscious orange Roadster Sport I’m screwed into needed to be returned this morning so that it could be cleaned up and recharged in time for its next journalist-driver (our pal Aaron Robinson; sorry, Aaron). But after leaving our office last night with enough battery charge for maybe 220 miles, well, what would you do? Return it with a three-quarter-full battery? Ohhh, no. Those miles were going to be put to good and proper use — all while gradually nearing Santa Monica, of course.

    2010 Tesla Roadster Sport Side

    And so, daughter Catherine, age 10, got a ride to school. Her pal, Lukie, who lives down the street, appeared to need a quick jolt of big-g acceleration, and wound up with a smile that could have been painted on. Of course, Lukie’s big sister, Edyn, couldn’t be left out. And what about Patrick, their dad? We’re all kids at heart, you know.

    Then, heading up the 405 freeway I realized I’d better do some coast-down tests on a nearby road that’s perfect for such things.

    Okay, that part sounds strange — let me explain. You see, for people like me, cars are simultaneously what you normal people perceive — cool hardware, driving fantasies, and all that stuff. But in addition, hovering above them like floating small clouds, I also see bunches of swirling equations and graphs and vectors, with unknown coefficients just aching to be figured out. Don’t see them? Next time stare harder. Among those coefficients is drag, what I’m after with my detour (and unusual for a sports car, the Tesla’s front camber is zero to minimize rolling resistance). Oh, and my apologies to the befuddled traffic following me that must have been wondering why this idiot Tesla driver kept accelerating like crazy and then coasting nearly to a stop.

    2010 Tesla Roadster Sport Front Static

    2010 Tesla Roadster Sport Rear Three Quarter Static

    2010 Tesla Roadster Sport Side Static2010 Tesla Roadster Sport On Flatbed

    And then — oh, heck, what’s this e-mail on my blackberry? “ETA on car?” Hmm. Gosh, I happened to be really near pal Paul Van Valkenburg’s house and if I didn’t drop in, Paul would never forgive me.

    As I silently rolled to a stop, Paul magnetically appeared as if perceiving an approaching EV. His skill at sensing interesting automotive technologies like this traces back to his days at Chevrolet where he had a hand in the great Chaparral Can Am cars, and it’s still evident in his own top-secret EV project…about which I’d better not say anything more.

    “So, a Tesla! What a surprise!” Paul greeted me, and we quickly went for a ride. First off, I explained that this is the new Sport version.

    2010 Tesla Roadster Sport Right Side Front Three Quarter

    In Sport form — which adds $19,500 to the standard Roadster’s $110,950 base price (including destination charge) — its motor produces the base unit’s same 288 horsepower but at 600 fewer revs (4400 rpm), as well as 295 lb-ft of torque (up from 273) at zero rpm. Credit a hand-wound stator with increased winding density. Its black, Tesla-original forged alloy wheels wear Yokohama Advan tires, sized 195/50R16 up front and 225/45R17 at the rear. And in support of this meaty rubber are 10-position adjustable shocks and three-setting shock absorbers. Moreover, our particular example was kitted-out with generous exposed carbon fiber and a stitched leather interior (pushing the all-up price toward $160,000, though it’s eligible for a $7500 federal tax credit). In fact, the interior has evolved quite a bit since my original drive in a roadster (back when it still had a two-speed transmission).

    Now, there’s a glovebox, transmission selections are accomplished by an easy button push on the center console (the scene of the crime when I mistakenly pressed reverse for a simulated drag race for our video guys — yikes!), and the multiscreen info display (which does such things as provide recharge scheduling and calculation of your energy costs) is now properly located below the radio.

    2010 Tesla Roadster Sport Left Side

    2010 Tesla Roadster Sport Right Side

    2010 Tesla Roadster Sport Rear Three Quarter2010 Tesla Roadster Sport Front Three Quarter Motion

    I showed Paul how all you have to do to access full power is briefly twist the ignition switch to its full throw (though it doesn’t ignite anything, of course). And under power, the Sport emitted a strong whine which neither of us could determine to be entirely gear noise or electronics goings on (even after experimenting with coasting in neutral). Regardless, its acceleration is breathtaking. Make that breath-extracting. At the track, we confirmed the car’s 3.7-second scream to 60 mph — but, that’s just a number. Three-point-seven — what’s that mean? Felt, it’s such an unnatural thrust that it actually brings to mind that hokey Star Trek star-smear of warp-speed. The quick, linear accumulation of velocity makes you smile and hold on, shake your head, and eventually learn to carve unimaginable moves through traffic that’s populated by completely flat-footed internal-combustion cars.

    While the Tesla’s other performance measures are impressive too, they’re simply extraordinary instead of unnatural. Yes, the car’s lateral acceleration averaged an impressive 0.98 g, but the steering’s feedback at the limit doesn’t do the number justice; you find yourself regarding tire slide with a hesitant reserve. This wasn’t an issue during our figure-eight test, set in a broad asphalt expanse. But on a narrow road, you just don’t have enough information at hand (literally) to explore beyond 90 percent or so.

    2010 Tesla Roadster Sport Interior

    Another curiosity is that while there’s a giant amount of regen deceleration when you lift throttle — so much so that the brake pedal often doesn’t need touching in typical traffic — lift-throttle on the skidpad doesn’t illicit the kind of rotation you need to adjust the attitude mid-corner. And that’s despite the car’s considerable rear weight bias — 65 percent — though power-oversteer is almost too easy. A sports car needs to have both tools available, and in balance. Perhaps the front wheels’ zero camber accounts for some of this. Or that Tesla thinks its clientele is interested only in acceleration, and maybe they are. But it would be awfully interesting to spend a day tinkering with the car’s setup to see what its real handling potential is.

    After dropping Paul off, I briefly stopped by our office, then headed to Tesla’s Santa Monica dealership to sheepishly hand over the keys. In a drizzle, I noted the remaining range — still half left, darn it — then wormed my way out of the seat, shut the carbon-fiber door (the entire body is carbon), and considered its big questions.

    2010 Tesla Roadster Sport Interior 1

    2010 Tesla Roadster Sport Gear Select Buttons

    2010 Tesla Roadster Sport Seats2010 Tesla Roadster Sport Reare Glass

    What about range? Omitting our testing, the car generally traveled beyond 200 miles per charge, a distance that permits a comfortable degree of freeform driving (even in L.A.) before the eventual range calculations in the brain begin. Our charging was mostly done in our new garage, which is handily fitted with several 240-volt, 50-amp connectors. And there, everything worked without a hitch — indeed, it got to be commonplace. But typical 120-volt (wall plug) charging is so slow — about 5 miles of added range per plug-in hour (compared with 32 mph on our 240-volt plug, and as quick as 3.5 hours with an installed wall unit). Well, it’s like filling your tank with a straw. All this makes me really question the 100-mile range we’re commonly hearing about with the new crop of pure battery electrics (Nissan Leaf, Mitsubishi MiEV). Personally, I’m finding my range anxiety setting in at about 50 percent of battery depletion. The Tesla’s 200-plus miles seems to me to be the minimum any EV should provide.

    2010 Tesla Roadster Sport Front Wheel

    And the cost. At about $130,000 (base price), our Roadster Sport is within pocket change of Porsche’s 911 Turbo, which, as a value, is simply a hell of a lot more car for the dollar. Yet, how do you honestly compare the Tesla with a conventional sports car? The Tesla’s technology is so different, so early-stage, that it’s a bit like comparing the memory capacity of cheap new computer hard drives to the latest solid-state, big flash memories. Flash is expensive, but is it ‘worth it?’ Not for most, but it depends on your finances and enthusiasm for cutting edge tech.

    2010 Tesla Roadster Sport Motor

    Last, it’s time to start regarding Tesla as an actual car company. With 900 Roadsters delivered, Mercedes-Benz now owning a 10-percent stake, a federal loan of $465 million, and a new factory being created for the Model S sedan, Tesla is the first maker to crack the EV legitimacy barrier in a century. And as such we’re going to start doing the same things with them we do with any other new cars.

    So Tesla — with all apologies about your car’s late return — ah, when can we get it back?


    2010 Tesla Roadster Sport
    Base price $130,450 (eligible for $7500 tax credit)
    Price as tested $153,900
    Vehicle layout Mid-engine, RWD, 2-door, 2-pass, convertible
    Motor 375-volt/288-hp/295-lb-ft AC electric motor
    Transmission Single reduction ratio
    Curb weight 2778 lbs
    Wheelbase 92.6 in
    Length x width x height 155.4 x 72.9 x 44.4 in
    0-60 mph 3.7 sec
    Quarter mile 12.6 sec @ 102.6 mph
    Braking, 60-0 mph 113 feet
    Lateral acceleration 0.98 g (avg)
    MT figure eight 24.6 sec @ 0.81 g (avg)
    EPA est city/hwy energy consumption 29/32 kW-hr/100 mi
    Range 244 miles

    By Kim Reynolds

    First Ride: 2012 Tesla Model S

    2013 Tesla Model S Front Motion

    2012 Tesla Model S Passengers Side Front Three Quarters

    2012 Tesla Model S Interior View

    2012 Tesla Model S Front Three Quarters In Motion

    See All 16 Photos

    2012 Tesla Model S Passengers Side Front Three Quarters

    THE CAR

    As a handful of journalists snapped pictures, poked at touch screens, and flipped open the charging ports on the trio of preproduction (Betas, they call them) Model S’s parked outside the Tesla (ex-NUMMI) factory in Fremont, California, I had one solitary thought:

    This is it.

    2012 Tesla Model S Interior View

    The future of the 100-percent battery-powered electric automobile could very well pivot on what’s in front of me. If you’re one of those who’s enchanted by an Tomorrowland-like, electric-car future, you’d better hope the Tesla Model S succeeds. If you’re among its detractors, well, now’s the time to start pressing pins into your knitted Model S doll. But no matter what, the Model S is going to be a very difficult electric car to dismiss.

    Because it’s a real car. Let me explain that statement. Remember GM’s EV1? It was a brilliant car…that was drastically undermined by its 1990′s battery technology (I actually pushed one down a street when its battery died). In most people’s eyes, it was simply not a “real car.” Battery technology hasn’t been nearly as problematic for the more recent Tesla Roadster — lithium-ion chemistry allows it to travel 200-plus miles between charges and be fast as heck — but it regularly gets dismissed as too expensive to be a “real car.” And ironically, the new Nissan Leaf — neither expensive nor archaic — seems to have come full circle, finding itself batted aside by some critics because of the EV1′s old Achilles heel: limited range. (Roughly 75 mile range in this case.) Too little to be a “real car.”

    2012 Tesla Model S Front Three Quarters In Motion

    2012 Tesla Model S Rear Three Quarters In Motion

    2012 Tesla Model S Dash View

    None of this can be said about the Model S. In its base version, it’ll cost $57,400 (add about $1950 for destination) and be eligible for a federal $7500 tax credit (and depending on where you live, additional local ones). Here in California, for instance, that means the price will be about $49,350 (after including our state $2500 tax credit as well). Not cheap, but there’s a whole lot of vastly less interesting sedans out there that regularly sell for $49,350. (Don’t make me name names.) Moreover, unlike the Volt and Leaf, the Model S’s charger is part of the deal, built right into car.

    2012 Tesla Model S Drivers Side Front Three Quarters

    For that sum you’ll get the standard battery pack capable of a 160-mile range, a crummy distance in conventional gas car terms. But I’d reckon that 160 miles (more than twice the Leaf’s) would eliminate the daily-driving range phobia I’ve occasionally felt behind the wheel of the otherwise likeable little Nissan. And to get off on the right foot, the kickoff 1000 ‘Signature’ Model S’s will all carry the big, optional 300-mile range battery, which does tack a fat $20K onto the price. (The intermediate choice is a 230-mile range battery pegged at an additional $10,000). A little pencil work suggests Tesla is consequently charging $504 per kW-hr of energy storage — which is actually an attractive price at the moment.

    2012 Tesla Model S Rear View In Motion

    Plugged into high-amperage, 240-volt juice, the Model S recharges at a massive rate of 62 miles per hour — meaning 2.6 hours for the 160-mile battery, about five hours for the 300-mile version (120-volt charging should be regarded as an emergency measure). Fast charging can replenish 80 % of the battery’s capacity in 45 minutes. A problem Tesla has faced as a pioneer is that it’s constantly a step ahead of international standards. With the Roadster, Tesla had to create its own version of what’s now called a level 2 charging receptacle before an SAE standard was established; when the J1772 plug appeared, it had to create an adaptor. It’s happening again as Tesla now has to come up with its own integrated levels 1, 2, and 3 (direct current, 400-plus volts) receptacle before the SAE version was ready. (The Leaf’s optional level 3 port is separate from its J1772 standard, and an awkward solution). Tesla defends its proprietary plug as better than trying to chase independent standards employed in Europe, the U.S., and Asia. Consequently, if you want to plug a Model S into, say, a ChargePoint station in the U.S., you’ll first need to attach an adapter.

    2012 Tesla Model S Front Three Quarters In Motion View

    2012 Tesla Model S Front View In Motion

    2012 Tesla Model S Front Three Quarters View In Motion

    While the Tesla Roadster has been unfairly labeled an electric Lotus (derived, perhaps), that won’t happen with the Model S as virtually every spec of it is original. Overall, its presence struck me as something like a more organic Audi A7, meaning it’s a stylishly windswept four-door fastback with a clear accent on performance. Parked side-by-side with the Audi, they’re just about the same length, with the Tesla measuring an inch taller and wider. And like the Audi, the Model S is almost entirely aluminum, with bolding via adhesives, rivets, and welds, depending on the circumstance.

    2012 Tesla Model S Side View

    At this moment, I’m one of Earth’s few inhabitants to have ridden in both Fisker’s Karma and Tesla’s Model S (at least in this pre-production guise), and maybe the most startling difference between them is space efficiency. The Karma’s vastly smaller, 20 kW-hr battery runs down the car’s spine, dividing the interior so utterly that there’s not only room for just two in back, but I’d advise them to be 12 years old. Its trunk? Don’t play golf. However, the Model S’s battery — despite being more than four times bigger — is sort of like a 3- or 4-inch-thick sheet of plywood bolted under the car (and said to be removable in minutes). As the rear-mounted motor and reduction gears are quite small, the result is astonishing.

    2012 Tesla Model S Passengers Side Front Three Quarters View

    Like a big Porsche Cayman, there’s trunks both front (8.1 cubic feet) and rear (a giant 28.7, rising to 58.1 with the aft seats collapsed). There’s room for five, offering more space than the A7 in just about every dimension except rear headroom (the same) and rear shoulder room (0.9 inch less). What with the sloping roofline — as well as mechanisms needed for the large retractable glass panoramic roof (standard equipment) — I had to watch my noggin getting in and out (I’m 6 foot 1 inch), but it’s not much different than the A7. On the other hand, there’s a thoughtful cut-out for feet beneath the front seat bottom, something that’s amazingly neglected in too many cars. And oh, about those two little optional rear-facing seats (seats 6 and 7)…

    In fact, they’re removable, five-belt child affairs, so their occupants’ size is literally restricted by law. I actually climbed back there, but being considerably past child-seat age (when I was a kid, I used to stand on a front bench seat, for heaven’s sake) all I could judge is that they’re definitely close to the rear bumper. But no more so than the third row of many minivans. Would I put a kid there? Well, the seats do provide some flexibility in a pinch…and that’s about it.2012 Tesla Model S Front View

    A funny thing about the Model S is that I suspect its biggest talking point might not be its range and recharge times, but the 17-inch, high-res, full-color display in the middle of the dash. I don’t often mutter “Cool…” anymore, but mutter it I did as I began to tap my way through its configurations. Like the iPad? This is an iPad on steroids, offering access to the Web, climate controls, and a Google maps navigation presentation that is simply terrific. It’s so good (judging from the prototype screen) that it might be a considerable driver distraction. (It isn’t clear how web connectivity while driving will be handled.) However, I’d suggest that its extraordinary size could actually become a safety benefit if what’s displayed on the screen was greatly enlarged so it’s easy to read and touch-sensitive taps don’t need to be well-targeted. This might be the first time a display’s size and high-quality graphics actually add to the attractively modern interior design. Of the three cars available to us, one was described as representative of fit and finish, and while it was very nicely, and expensively, executed, it’s really impossible to judge any of this until we see a production — rather than a hand-built — example.

    My ride in the Model S was a brief circuit around the factory grounds and the banked corners that punctuate the ends of the tiny test track left over from the NUMMI days. But I was quickly surprised by a couple of things. The car’s acceleration — claimed to be 5.6 seconds to 60 mph — is a continuous press-the-seat-back surge that only a single-speed, big electric motor can provide. (Top speed is 130 mph, and a sub-5-second, 320-mile range has been mentioned for a sport variant.) Aided by liquid cooling, the motor generates 306 hp at 7000 rpm and 362 lb-ft of torque between 6500-10,000 rpm (redline is 14k!). Interestingly, while the motor is quiet, its growly roar is a very different acoustic signature than the frenetic whine in the Roadster. Tesla claims that’s just how it sounds, and no acoustic modifications have been attempted. Bumps were nicely absorbed amid muted tire-impact noises, and the lateral grip seemed considerable for a car over 4000 pounds. That low battery location and compact powertrain are very helpful.

    2012 Tesla Model S Drivers Side View

    THE FACTORY

    Selfishly, I’ll admit that during our tour of the ex-NUMMI digs, I was thinking it’s sure nice to be taking a tour of a car factory without being jet lagged. Tesla’s digs are 350 miles north of our spacious cubicles in El Segundo. Not 5000 miles east or 7000 miles east. What a novelty.

    Of course, what’s much more important here is the pundit-defying reality of all the shiny new industrial decoration surrounding me. For all I know, Tesla may suddenly go all Solyndra on us. But at this particular time-stamp in history, I’m standing in the middle of a genuine electric car factory.

    2012 Tesla Model S Front Three Quarters View

    There’s the smell of fresh paint. Gleaming painted floors. Gigantic (I mean “Transformers”-scale) stamping machines that were shipped from Detroit in pieces, requiring numerous trucks and train cars to transport (a 20-foot-deep concrete-lined subterranean pit was created to support them). And everywhere you look are brigades of brand-new robots busily showing off their dexterity by swiveling their wrists and doing a pantomime of handing body parts to one another. Eerily, they’re actually handling nothing but pieces of air, as the stamping dies needed to make those parts won’t be showing up a few more weeks, but they’re practicing nonetheless. Curiously, not that much of the pre-existing machinery is being used — at least yet.

    I’ve listened to endless auto industry wags dismissively bellow that it’s one thing to make some high-priced electric sports cars by piggybacking on low-production Lotus know-how. But real car-making, they harrumph, is beyond those helpless, Silicon Valley know-nothings. Search engines and social networks are not automobiles. I’m wondering if it isn’t a strength.

    2012 Tesla Model S Side Profile

    For instance, one unusual twist is the degree to which automated die changes are part of the production process. Those giant stamping machines are frightfully expensive, so it’s cheaper to robotically switch dies in and out of them. Another is the plant’s micro re-envisioning of a Rouge River-esque, soup-to-nuts manufacturing strategy. Counter to the conventional wisdom to subcontract just about everything — with car companies doing not much more than final assembly — nearly the entire Model S will be created onsite. The motors will be wound in one place, the batteries assembled nearby, the stamping happens over there. There’s an injection molding center with sparkling new presses, likewise a paint line that’s almost entirely robotic. Even the leather works (a separate company) will be co-located on site. Gilbert Passin, VP of Manufacturing, explained that given the gigantic sprawl of the virtually free facility (Tesla paid $47 million dollars for the property and $18 million for the existing machinery — after which Toyota invested $50 million in Tesla), and how remote California is from the suppliers surrounding Detroit, it just make sense. In its prime, NUMMI produced about 500,000 Toyota and GM cars. Right now, Tesla is employing somewhere between 15 to 20 percent of the main building (the rest is simply mothballed). Indeed, being that the cars are electric and can be driven indoors, the final evaluation track — speed bumps, road ripples, etc — is within the same massive space as the final assembly line. Why not? There’s room.

    Despite its innovative nature, Tesla’s key positions are all populated by guys who have a clue: CTO J.B. Straubel co-founded the aerospace company Volacom; the Model S’s designer is Franz Von Holzhausen, previously Director of Design at Mazda and creator of the Saturn Solstice and Sky while at GM; the chief engineer is Peter Rawlinson, who did the same for Lotus’ Advanced Engineering, previously worked on Jaguars and BMWs, and is an expert in aluminum construction; and there’s Passin, who lords over the manufacturing facility and was previously general manager of production engineering for Toyota North America. Even the guys responsible for the German-made presses are Germans, hired directly from the factory for their knowhow. (I’m also told there’s also a guy named Elon Musk who’s somehow involved.)

    And all of this expertise, money, property, buildings, robots, and hopes is now focused on a batch (well under 100) of Beta 2 Model S’s for final, production-line evaluation. After that, the plan is to build about 5000 cars in 2012, with the numbers ramping up to 20K per year after that. Deliveries are scheduled to begin in the middle of next year. And at that point we might finally see if the Model S is the car that makes the electric automobile a force — or kills it forever.

    2012 Tesla Model S
    Base price $59,350 – $79,350 (est)
    Vehicle layout Rear-motor, RWD, 5-7 pass, 4-door sedan
    Motor Liquid-cooled, AC induction, 306-hp/362-lb-ft
    Transmission 1-speed
    Curb weight (F/R dist) 4200 lb (est)
    Wheelbase 116.5 in
    Length x width x height 196.0 x 77.3 x 56.5 in
    0-60 mph 5.6 sec (est)
    EPA city/hwy fuel econ 112 combined mpg-e (est)
    Energy cons, combined city/hwy 30 kW-hrs/100 miles (est)
    CO2 emissions 0.00 lb/mile (at the tailpipe)
    On sale in U.S. Mid 2012

    By Kim Reynolds

    10 Things You Need To Know About The 2012 Tesla Model S

    Electric cars come in all shapes and sizes – not just the compact, mass-production models that most Americans have become familiar with over the past couple of years. The 2012 Tesla Model S represents the new vanguard of battery-powered automobiles, cars that don’t compromise on features, power, or style while still delivering completely emissions-free operation. The Tesla Model S might not be as common as the Nissan Leaf or the Chevrolet Volt, but it’s an important step in the maturity of the electric vehicle marketplace.

    Let’s take a look at 10 things you need to know about the 2012 Tesla Model S.

    01. The 2012 Tesla Model S Is All-Electric

    Unlike a hybrid vehicle – or even an extended-range hybrid such as the Chevrolet Volt – the 2012 Tesla Model S derives 100 percent of its motivation from electricity, with no assistance whatsoever from a traditional internal combustion engine. As such, the vehicle does not produce any emissions, and is almost completely silent when underway. The Tesla Model S relies on a single AC electric motor that is capable of generating a monstrous 416 horsepower along with 443 lb-ft of torque – output that is sent to the rear wheels via a single-speed transmission.

    02. The 2012 Tesla Model S Features An Extended Range

    The 2012 Tesla Model S can be ordered with three different battery options. The entry-level battery offers a 40 kWh capacity, which translates into a range of 160 miles on a full charge. Moving up to the 60 kWh battery expands the Model S’ cruising ability substantially to 230 miles, while selecting the top-of-the-line 85 kWh battery boosts the maximum distance that can be traveled to 300 miles. Each battery comes with an eight year warranty, and while the base storage pack is guaranteed for 100,000 miles of operation, the 85 kWh features an unlimited mileage warranty – one of the first such promises to be made in the electric car industry.

    03. The 2012 Tesla Model S Can Recharge Quickly

    Like most electric vehicles, the 2012 Tesla Model S offers a variety of different charging options. 110 volt charging from a standard household outlet is of course included with the vehicle’s onboard electrical connection, and an adaptor is also provided in order to connect to 240 volt and J1772 public charging stations for more rapid filling of the automobile’s battery. Using the vehicle’s available 10 kW on-board charger, Tesla claims that the car can travel 31 miles for every hour that it spends sucking juice out of the wall. Upgrading to the 20 kW twin charger doubles that figure to 62 miles of range per hour of charge. The latter is recommended for use with Tesla’s optional High Power Wall Connector, which can be installed in a home garage.

    04. The 2012 Tesla Model S Is Rear-Engined

    The 2012 Tesla Model S has been designed in order to minimize the impact of the weight of its battery pack and electric engine. The battery pack has been mounted in the floor pan – an absolute must to keep the car’s center of gravity as low as possible, given that these electric storage cells account for one third of the automobiles total mass. In the same vein, the Model S features a rear-mounted motor, squeezing the unit between the vehicle’s two back wheels. Heat exchangers at the front of the car to keep the battery pack and other electronic systems cool.

    05. The 2012 Tesla Model S Offers Exceptional Performance

    Despite being saddled with a significant amount of weight due to its battery pack, the 2012 Tesla Model S is an impressive performer in real world driving scenarios. The Tesla Model S tips the scales at a hefty 4,642 lbs when ordered with the 85 kWh battery, but that same configuration in Performance trim is capable of zooming to 60-mph from a standing start in an astonishing 4.4 seconds. The Model S 85 kWh Performance also devours the quarter mile in 12.6 seconds, which is fast enough to startle many dedicated sports cars. Top speed for the Model S is limited to between 110 and 130 mph, depending on the model, and even the base 40 kWh edition of the car blows past 60-mph in well under seven seconds.

    06. The 2012 Tesla Model S Is A Hatchback Sedan

    The 2012 Tesla Model S flirts with the current four-door coupe trend currently sweeping the luxury segment, but ultimately the automobile provides a compromise by offering a hatchback sedan body style that is both elegant and practical. Borrowing more than a few styling cures from Jaguar, Aston Martin, and Maserati, the Tesla Model S provides a long hood, a sweeping rear roofline, a wide oval grille, and a long wheelbase that give it significant presence out on the road. A generous hatch opening makes it a cinch to load the Tesla Model S with cargo.

    07. The 2012 Tesla Model S Can Seat Up To Seven Passengers

    The 2012 Tesla Model S can handle more than just luggage behind the second row of seating. Thanks to the availability of two optional, rear-facing seats, the Tesla Model S can push its passenger capacity from five to seven, making it a viable crossover challenger for families that need to be able to transport a few extra bodies in a pinch. The most recent vehicles to offer this type of seating configuration were station wagons offered by Mercedes-Benz and Volvo, making the Model S the only hatchback sedan to provide such an appealing option.

    08. The 2012 Tesla Model S Can Be Had In Four Different Models

    The 2012 Tesla Model S is offered in four distinct models. The base Tesla Model S can be had with either of the three battery pack options, retailing for MSRPs of $49,900 (40 kWh), $59,900 (60 kWh) and $69,900 (85 kWh). Opting for the Model S Performance edition – the quickest of the hatchback sedans, and one that offers additional luxury equipment plus an upgraded suspension system – pumps the price up to $84,900. The Model S Signature and Signature Performance models represent the first 1,000 examples of the car to be built, and they retail for $87,900 and $97,900, respectively. Both Signature models and the Performance version of the car come standard with the 85 kWh battery pack.

    09. The 2012 Tesla Model S Comes With High Tech Features

    The 2012 Tesla Model S isn’t just a technological tour-de-force under the skin – it also packs a number of sophisticated features aimed at improving the experience of those driving and riding in the electric car. Of these, the most prominent is the 17-inch touchscreen that is mounted on the vehicle’s center stack. This unique LCD panel is used to control almost every single vehicle function, from its heating and cooling controls to its entertainment system and wireless networking capabilities. Opting for the Tech Package adds additional equipment such as a turn-by-turn navigation system, a high definition backup camera, and LED fog lights.

    10. The 2012 Tesla Model S Has No Direct Competition

    The 2012 Tesla Model S is in a class by itself, as no other automaker is currently offering an all-electric luxury car costing anywhere near the Tesla Model S’ $50k starting MSRP. Broadening the scope, it’s possible that buyers considering the Model S might also look at vehicles such as the BMW 5 Series, the Mercedes-Benz E-Class, and the Lexus GS. That being said, if zero emissions, a decoupling from gasoline as a mobile power source, and pure prestige are the most important components of the purchasing decision, then the Tesla Model S emerges as the clear winner in its particular niche.

    By Autobytel Staff

    2013 Tesla Model S Performance Package Road Test & Review

    2013 Tesla Model S Performance Package Road Test & Review: Introduction

    2013 Tesla Model S Performance Package Road Test & Review: Introduction

    Representatives of a number of established manufacturers openly scoffed when Elon Musk announced his intention to start a car company building only electric cars. His first effort, essentially a warmed over Lotus Elise converted to run on electric power, was giggled at by some, but for others it was a wake up call.

    Naming his car company for Nikola Tesla, the Serbian-American electrical engineer, credited with developing the modern alternating current (AC) electrical system, Musk signaled his intention to build the best practical electric car the world has ever seen.

    And, he has.

    Streaking along a road tracing the ridgeline of a mountain range in Tesla’s Model S sedan equipped with the Performance Package, the silence is almost deafening. The complete absence of mechanical noise — no intake growl, no exhaust rumble — makes hustling the extremely powerful car along the winding road a near-surreal experience.

    Hampered briefly by a slower-moving vehicle, when a passing lane opens up, I give the Model S full throttle for the first time. A great leaping explosion of forward thrust shoves the 4,770-pound car past the slow-moving vehicle with such tremendous force I am literally dumbfounded at both the alacrity and relentlessness of the acceleration.

    2013 Tesla Model S Performance Package Road Test & Review: Models & Prices

    The 2013 Tesla Model S is offered in two models with four different powertrain configurations. Powertrain configurations and base pricing are determined by the battery pack and electric motor fitted to the car.

    The most basic version runs a 40kWh battery and a 175 kW electric motor, capable of generating 235 hp. The range for that configuration is estimated at 160 miles and its pricing starts at $52,400. Offered alongside that is a 60 kWh battery and a 225 kW electric motor good for 302 hp and a range of 230 miles. Pricing for that configuration starts at $62,400. The next rung up the ladder is fitted with an 85 kWh battery, a 270-kW/362 hp electric motor, a 300-mile range, and a price of $72,400.

    The top of the model range, and the subject of this road test and review, the Tesla Model S Performance Package is also fitted with an 85 kWh battery pack. However, the performance model gets a 310 kW electric motor good for 416 hp and a range of 300 miles. Pricing for the Model S performance starts at $87,400.

    It should be noted; those prices subtracted a $7500 federal tax credit for emissions free vehicles. Our Model S Performance Package test car would start at $94,900 without it.

    2013 Tesla Model S Performance Package Road Test & Review: Design

    Franz von Holzhausen, Tesla Motors’ lead designer, was responsible for the Pontiac Solstice and the Saturn Sky. He also had a considerable hand in the design of the Volkswagen New Beetle.

    The look for the Model S he specified is completely distinctive, yet normal. While derivative of no other the model on the road, it also blends in with the mainstream. The design could just as easily be an Audi or a Buick. It immediately registers as a premium automobile. However, it is so innocuous I have literally had to point out the Model S in traffic to friends. To have cloaked such a revolutionary automobile in such a conventional looking body is either sheer genius, or utter folly — depending upon your perspective.

    From where I’m sitting it’s genius.

    People are concerned about the limitations of electric cars. To have made the Model S radically stand out could have served to feed that anxiety. By making the Tesla look so much like every other car, it becomes very easy to think of the Model S as just another member of the mainstream.

    And yes, the Prius carved out a niche for itself partly because it looked so different. However, the Model S is playing in a much more rarified environment than the Prius. Like Jackie Robinson, or Barack Obama, as the first in the type of arena it’s playing in, it’s better to be quietly competent than a brash standout.

    2013 Tesla Model S Performance Package Road Test & Review: Comfort & Cargo

    A four-door hatchback, the Tesla has plenty of room for five passengers and cargo. The interior treatment is well laid out and the seats are quite comfortable. During my time with the Model S, I found it to be both quite comfortable and spacious.

    At first glance, the front seats would appear to be more about form than function, but over the period of my drive I found them quite supportive, well bolstered, and nicely padded. The back seats look rather plain and I consider the omission of a center armrest something of an oversight. However, in terms of comfort they’d easily support two passengers for an extended drive and three around town. With the driver’s seat adjusted for my 6’1” frame, I could easily occupy the seat behind it and would be comfortable there for a drive around town.

    One of the benefits of the rear-mounted electric motor is the flexible packaging such an arrangement permits. In addition to the cargo compartment underneath the hatchback, there is a cargo compartment at the front of the Model S. Because there is no engine, there is also no drive shaft necessitating a tunnel in the Tesla’s floor. This frees up considerable space for legroom, as well as accommodating reconfigurable seating layouts. Thus, the Model S can also accommodate a rear facing third-row seat for two children.

    2013 Tesla Model S Performance Package Road Test & Review: Features & Controls

    While looking around the interior of the Model S reveals it has a ways to go before challenging an Audi for style, fit and finish; when it comes to tech, the Tesla positively shines. The centerpiece of the interior is, quite literally, a 17-inch touchscreen panel within which is contained the interface for all comfort and convenience functions. Endlessly entertaining, positively practical, and intelligently intuitive, the flexibility the control panel affords is an utterly redefining experience.

    The most commonly used controls like temperature and audio volume are located along the bottom of the screen. Other controls including lights, door locks, and the panoramic roof are easily accessible. The panoramic roof, for example, opens by simply swiping along its image on the screen to the opening size you prefer. With built-in high-speed Internet connectivity, you can access restaurant reviews, movie times and an abundance of other information. While the touchscreen displays the nav system’s maps in high-resolution with map or satellite views, you can also overlay weather, traffic, and charging information.

    Now, with that said, there are a few state of the art conveniences other luxury sedans in the Tesla’s price range offer that have yet to be fitted to the Model S. You’ll do without smart cruise control, blind spot indicators, and lane departure warnings. You’ll also do without a driver adjustable suspension system and near infinitely adjustable seating.

    2013 Tesla Model S Performance Package Road Test & Review: Safety & Ratings

    Equipped with eight airbags, the passenger compartment is constructed of high-strength steel and aluminum. Traction and stability control, along with anti-lock brakes are standard equipment.

    The battery pack is an integral part of the car, while also comprising a structure in its own right. Using liquid cooling to prevent overheating, it is designed to disconnect the power supply in the event of a crash.

    The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has yet to crash test a Model S; ditto the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), so no formal crash test information exists for the car — as of this writing.

    2013 Tesla Model S Performance Package Road Test & Review: Motor/Fuel Economy

    My Performance Package Model S test car was fitted with the 416 hp 310 kW electric motor. The powerplant produces peak horsepower at between 5,000 and 8,000 rpm. As I mentioned before the motor generates its full 443 ft-lbs of torque at 0 rpm.

    Tesla quotes the car’s range at 300 miles when driven at a steady 55 miles per hour. The EPA says the car is good for 265 miles in its 5-Cycle Certification test, which is the equivalent of 89 miles per gallon overall.

    Recharging can be accomplished with either a standard 110v outlet or a 240v outlet (preferred). A full charge from a 240v outlet can be accomplished in four hours; an extended range charge takes six. The Tesla can also be fast-charged to 80 percent of capacity in about 30 minutes.

    2013 Tesla Model S Performance Package Road Test & Review: Driving Impressions

    With the Tesla’s transmitter fob in your pocket, walking up to the Model S causes it to extend its door handles from their flush resting positions. Settling behind the wheel, a tap of the brake pedal awakens the propulsion system and the Model S is ready to take to the road. There are no “keys” or “switches”. The Tesla assumes if you sat down, touched the pedal, and put it in drive, you’re ready to go.

    Underway, the motor’s full torque potential is available the moment you set the Tesla into motion. Nail the throttle, as I did on that mountain road, you’ll get an inkling of what it feels like to be launched in a rocket test sled. The Model S accelerates instantaneously, and just as viciously as any supercar you can name. Performance Package models like my test car have been clocked at 3.9 seconds from 0-60 and at 12.5 seconds in the quarter mile.

    Further, when it’s time for the serpentine waltz, the Model S is as graceful as any sports sedan in its class. The steering is highly responsive and adjustable for effort through three ranges. The way the sleek sedan feels ratcheted to the road surface inspires tremendous confidence, while the Tesla’s braking ability is fully commensurate with its other performance attributes.

    The Model S is designed to recapture inertial energy through a regenerative braking system calibrated to perform the moment you release the throttle. This makes for an interesting driving technique. Once you get a feel for the way it works, you can go rushing toward a corner and simply lift off the throttle. In so doing, you’ll get weight transfer to the front wheels to improve turn-in and the car will slow enough for you to feed it into most corners without touching the brake pedal.

    When acute cornering demanding more vigorous braking is required, depressing the “other” pedal hauls the curvaceous sedan down from speed with significant authority. There was a relative lack of braking action right at the top of the pedal’s travel in my test car, but when you got deep into the binders, the car stopped — really well.

    When you arrive at your destination, simply depress the park button, get out, and walk away — the Tesla shuts down and locks.

    2013 Tesla Model S Performance Package Road Test & Review: Final Thoughts

    Those expecting the world’s first electric luxury sedan to be an amalgamation of compromises are going to be rather disappointed. Dynamically, the Model S is a fully formed well thought out effort. Further, drivers will find it capable of far more performance potential than they will ever have a desire to exploit on the road.

    However, the list of items I stated the Tesla owner would do without should also include the prestige factor of a three-pointed star, a golden shield with a prancing stallion, a wreath and crest, a blue and white roundel, or four interlocking rings. On the other hand, the Tesla Model S Performance package owner will get a thoroughly enthralling driving experience, a raft of luxurious accommodations, practical and seamless operation, up to 265 miles of range between recharges, and the aforementioned virtually silent operating experience.

    They will also get the best electric car ever offered…to date.

    In short, the Tesla Model S is — undeniably — the real thing.

    2013 Tesla Model S Performance Package Road Test & Review: Pros & Cons

    Pros

    • No Gas Required — Ever

    • Exceptionally Fast And Powerful

    • Understated Good Looks

    • Redefines The Way We Interact With Cars

    • No Gas Required — Ever

    Cons

    • Recharge Time Still Bested by Gasoline

    •Interior’s A Bit On The Plain Side For The Price

    • Some State Of The Art Features Missing

    • Prestige Factor Isn’t On Par With Price — Yet

    By Autobytel Staff

    2008 Tesla Roadster

    2008 Tesla Roadster Rear Three Quarter View

    2008 Tesla Roadster Rear Three Quarter View

    2008 Tesla Roadster Action Side View

    2008 Tesla Roadster Side View

    See All 12 Photos

    2008 Tesla Roadster Rear Three Quarter View


    VIEW OUR EXCLUSIVE MOTOR TREND VIDEO OF THE TESLA ROADSTER IN ACTION.

    So how fast is the Tesla Roadster really? In a few seconds, we’re gonna find out because framed by its porthole-size windshield is a deliciously straight stretch of Skyline Boulevard, a knockout snake of a road we’ve never heard of before in the coastal hills above San Carlos, California. San Carlos, in case you’re not Google-Earthing at the moment, is the inviting, northwestern Silicon Valley ‘burb where Tesla decided to settle its unpretentious research and development quarters about four years ago. Through the trees, we occasionally glimpse Stanford’s 285-foot-tall Hoover Tower some seven and a half miles away.

    Okay, then, I’ve got the brake pedal stapled to the floor. The mirrors are scoped for innocent traffic. Coast is clear. Dip into the accelerator and…remember that Mark Twain quip about the coldest winter he ever knew being a summer in San Francisco? Ditto that for this San Carlos place. Except it’s now December, the Roadster’s top is AWOL, and an Arctic front is leaning in from the gray Pacific. But back to business.

    2008 Tesla Roadster Action Side View

    Can an electric sports car really deliver sports-car thrills? Absolutely-though its dynamics are velvety in their violence and its silence is almost snakelike.

    I lean into the accelerator, brace myself and…er, hold on, we’ll get to that. I first want to tell you about the irony of this car’s name. Haven’t you wondered where “Tesla” comes from? Automotive historians might be acquainted with the story about Thomas Edison famously giving encouragement to a young employee named Henry Ford (“Young man, you have it. Keep at it. Electric cars must keep near to power stations”). However, the reality is that cantankerous Tom would soon embark on thousands of experiments aimed precisely at cracking the automotive battery nut, and in 1904 finally introduced-amid much stage-managed hoopla-his nickel-iron battery for electric cars.

    It didn’t work out, at least not automotively. But the tie-in with the 2008 Tesla Roadster is that, a year before the Ford conversation, Edison had a giant row with another employee, a curious Serbian immigrant named Nikola Tesla. Depending on which story you like, Edison either did or didn’t renege on a $50,000 payment to Tesla. Edison’s version was that he meant it as a joke. Either way, the historic champions of direct current, Edison, and alternating current, Tesla’s baby, were pretty much at each others’ throats after that. So what gets me is that now, a century later, the first popular electric car to crack the battery nut is called a Tesla, not a Tom. Sure, Tesla was a genius. But did he even try to make car batteries? Nooo.

    2008 Tesla Roadster Side View

    All right, then, back to the car-specifically, its batteries. The reason I’m braced for a wallop when I nail that accelerator isn’t the watermelon-size electric motor’s 248 horsepower. What’s worrying my neck is the combination of the motor’s 211 pound-feet of zero-rpm torque and the ease with which its 6831-cell, lithium-ion battery pack can juice the little banshee. Note that, at an estimated 2690-pound curb weight, the Tesla Roadster has a weight-to-torque ratio of 12.7 pounds/pound-foot. By comparison, it’s natural reference, the sizzling Lotus Exige S (with 165 pound-feet of torque and 630 fewer pounds) offers 12.5 pounds/pound-foot-but only when you finally reach 5500 rpm. Notably, that’s not zero rpm.

    Although the battery pack contains the equivalent of just 2.1 gallons of gasoline (before recharging losses), Tesla claims the Roadster’s efficiency is six times that of rival sports cars, and it contributes ten-fold fewer CO2 emissions. Perhaps. What’s painfully apparent as you delve into the world of battery EVs, plug-in hybrids, and hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles is that everybody’s sequence of PowerPoint charts, funnily enough, favors themselves.

    2008 Tesla Roadster Interior

    2008 Tesla Roadster Rear View

    2008 Tesla Roadster Gear Shifter

    2008 Tesla Roadster Side View2008 Tesla Roadster Overhead View

    Still, the Tesla is undeniably, unbelievably efficient: Given its miniscule ration of “electric” fuel on board and its 220-mile, combined-cycle range (recently reduced due to a subcontractor’s miscalculation), the Roadster delivers roughly 105 miles per electric gallon. Assuming that electricity is (optimistically) sourced from a highly efficient combined-cycle, natural-gas-fired powerplant (which Tesla claims can provide an efficiency of 52.5 percent from well to outlet), the Roadster’s gasoline-equivalent well-to-wheel mileage works out to something like 55 mpg. That’s roughly 1.5 times (or higher, by Tesla’s calculations) that of the Prius, the green standard of current automobiles. By the way, there’s little cause to fret about laptop-scenario battery infernos, either-the battery is liquid-cooled by the same refrigerant used by the air-conditioner; all those cells are bathed in a total of 27 square meters of surface-area to squelch any troublemaking hot-spots.

    Tesla’s real troublemaker hasn’t been batteries but its transmission. Or make that, transmissions. An electric car, even one with a 13,500-rpm redline needs at least two cogs to get lickety-split to 60 and still top-out at 125 mph. Transmission Design One proved unreliable; Transmission Two, which is fitted to the car I’m in, operates nicely but isn’t lasting more than a few thousand miles. Presently, two more subcontractors are simultaneously going full-bore on transmission designs Three and Four to accelerate the development. Confronted at a recent Tesla Town Hall Meeting attended by still enthusiastic, but detectably restless deposit-placers (there are some 600 of them at the moment), Chairman Elon Musk predicted production would start slowly but ought to reach full tilt by summer. When a questioner queried if Tesla’s investors were getting skittish, Musk (who sold PayPal for several hundred million dollars) replied, “Unequivocally, I will support the company to whatever extent is needed. I [Musk's bank account] have a long way to go before [money's] a problem.” Optimistically, Musk noted that their painful transmission development is preemptively smoothing the road for the next Tesla, the code-named “WhiteStar” sedan.

    2008 Tesla Roadster Front View

    The current transmission is a two-speed, DSG-like double-clutch design, with the motor automatically spinning up or down to match revs. Move the lever and you’re actually just throwing a switch; there’s no clutch pedal and the sound is akin to an electronic yelp. Think of C3P0 being kicked.

    Although it’s a prototype I’m driving, the differential is going to need a lot less lash when you snap on and off the accelerator, which presently elicits a nasty drivetrain buck (this probably isn’t helping the brittle transmission, either). “Drop-throttle” basically tailors the car’s inherent mild understeer, but what’s interesting is the regen’s strong drag when you lift. In fact, often the friction brakes aren’t really needed at all, and when they are, your right foot gets to enjoy old-fashioned sports-car braking feel because the regen isn’t concomitantly ramped up. On the move, the Tesla’s ride is surprisingly supple. Lotus has done a laudable job of stretching its Elise chassis two inches and accommodating a near-1000-pound battery (offset by a carbon-fiber body) while keeping this thing a frantic road dart on twisty roads.

    I check the mirrors again. Still no traffic. I’m almost grimacing as I release the brake and pound the accelerator to the floor. Whrrrrrrr…30 mph, 40 mph, 50…in the four seconds it’s taken to read this sentence, the Roadster has shrieked to 60 mph (Tesla’s claimed 3.9 seconds would seem entirely plausible in a controlled setting). There’s no wheelspin, axle tramp, shutter, jutter, smoke whiff, cowl shake, nothing. I’m being eerily teleported down the barrel of a rail gun, head pulled back by a hard, steady acceleration. Bizarre. And before too long, profoundly humbling to just about any rumbling Ferrari or Porsche that makes the mistake of pulling up next to a silent, 105-mpg Tesla Roadster at a stoplight.

    2008 Tesla Roadster Wheel

    2008 Tesla Roadster Taillight Closeup



    2008 Tesla Roadster
    Base Price $98,950
    Vehicle Layout Mid-motor, RWD, 2-pass, 2-door roadster
    Motor AC synchronous, 248-hp/211-lb-ft
    Transmission 2-speed manual
    Curb Weight 2690 lb
    Wheelbase 92.6 in
    Length x Width x Height 155.4 x 67.8 x 44.4 in
    0-60 mph 4.0 sec
    Fuel Economy 105 mpg gas equivalent
    Range, Combined 220 miles
    Recharge Time 3.5 hrs @ 220 volts/70 amps
    On Sale In U.S. Currently/delivery in 2008

    Martin Eberhard Profile

    IS TESLA IN TROUBLE?

    After our pleasant visit to Tesla’s San Carlos tech base, we began intercepting ominous signals about Tesla throughout the EV blogosphere. Most notable, Martin Eberhard (pictured), a Tesla founder, was forced out and has subsequently begun his own blog, www.TeslaFounders.com. In a recent entry — which has since been removed after pressure from Tesla — Eberhard enumerated the series of sometimes abrupt and random-appearing firings that have been taking place at his former company (among them, Wally Rippel, a genuine EV visionary).

    Tesla fans have consequently been on red alert, some tea-leaf-readers going so far as to say the company is going under or preparing itself for sale. We, obviously, have no idea what all this means. But as students of the car business, none of us is raising eyebrows just yet. Startups are brutal. Few succeed. And it’s not unusual to see periodic chaos among those who do. Elon Musk, Tesla’s chairman, has stated that the company needs to trim its sails toward producing cars and fulfilling orders, and not everybody’s cut out for letting go of their baby, transmission reliable or not. A Tesla spokesman has also enumerated various personnel overlaps that needed inevitable paring. Let’s hope that’s all we’re seeing because the Roadster is a cool automobile technically, a cooler automobile to drive, and an historic game-changer in our perception of battery-electric vehicles.

    Finally, after reading through the cottage industry of blogs orbiting Tesla Motors, I’m amused to discover that Elon Musk’s (wanted or unwanted) nickname is “Edison.” So maybe my tongue-in-cheek speculation that the car might be better named “Tom” wasn’t so far off! - Kim Reynolds, Technical Editor

    AND THERE’S MORE…

    Just as we posted our Tesla feature and video to the Web, more news regarding the company’s transmission conundrum appeared on Tesla Motors Web site. As speculated in our feature, there will in fact be an interim, one-speed transmission. The bad news is that its compromised ratio (needed to achieve a sports car-like top speed) will temper the car’s acceleration rate to 5.7 seconds to 60 mph, instead of the 4-flat (or less) that was originally promised (and recorded by us from a prototype two-speed transmission car).

    The twist is that the “permanent transmission,” which will appear later this year as production really ramps up, will also be a one-speed. Huh? Does this mean Tesla is permanently lowering its performance targets?

    No — due to an unexpected solution. Instead of achieving their original acceleration bogey via a two-speed tranny, they’re simply beefing up the motor’s power by enhancing the PEM (Power Electronics Module) and adding an advanced cooling system to the motor. Folks who are delivered early cars with the interim hardware will be called in (coincident with the production increase) for an update to the latest spec, free of charge. What isn’t clear is whether this hardware swapping will include a new, cooling-enhanced motor as well, or instead see a client’s existing motor somehow retrofitted.

    What all this suggests is that the problems with the two-speed transmission must have been onerous indeed. This is a costly fix. Moreover, the motor is already at the technology’s power density fringe; getting more out of it can’t be easy. And, to be honest, I’m a little saddened to see the two-speed go as it was rather interesting to drive, though its relaxed shift time would probably be difficult to ever trim due to the giant ratio gap a two-speed necessitates. On the other hand, Tesla rightly points out that the car’s quarter-mile times will benefit with the elimination of the time-wasting gear shift at 65 mph. Furthermore, a one-speed works to an electric car’s inherent advantage in drivetrain simplicity.

    Tesla says all regulatory approvals for sale are now in place, including EPA, DOT, and Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards. Moreover, Elon Musk, Tesla’s chairman, will be receiving the first production next week (time to park the McLaren, Elon), with series production starting March 17. - Kim Reynolds, Technical Editor

    By Kim Reynolds

    2013 Tesla Model S

  • BY AARON ROBINSON

    Driving the new Tesla Model S out of its factory in Fremont, California, you pass the empty glass and steel husk of neighboring Solyndra Corp., another Silicon Valley technology venture that was propelled by optimism and bountiful government loans. Solyndra made solar panels, but it broke apart on the rocks of business reality, and its politicized bankruptcy has been a daunting daily reminder to Tesla’s 1700 employees of the consequences of  failure.

    However, there are reasons for at least temporary optimism for Tesla. We only got 10 minutes in the car so we couldn’t test its range, but here’s what we can report: Our few miles in the Model S revealed a vehicle that would meet a BMW owner’s definition of a sports sedan.

    The 362-hp Signature model we drove, priced at $96,570 before a $7500 federal tax rebate, strained its leash with its prodigious electric muscles and flat-tracked through 80-mph sweepers directed by fast steering with piano-wire tension to the wheels. It pounced from an on-ramp like the jaguar on the hood of the Jaguars it resembles, hitting 100 mph with a whisper of electromotive acceleration. Tesla says the hottest model, the Signature Performance ($106,570), which has the largest available battery and produces the most torque, will hit 60 mph in the mid-fours. At this point, we don’t doubt it.

    The windows are leak-free, the doors don’t squeak, and the seats feel comfortable, though rear headroom is pinched. The various menus of the giant, glowing, iPad-like central display are easy to learn and access while driving, and the combination of a long wheelbase, stiff structure, and compliant tune of the air-spring suspension makes for a gentle, cosseting ride. Besides that, the Model S looks like Beyoncé draped over a chaise lounge.

    The first customer deliveries were in June, but, in reality, most early buyers won’t receive their cars until much later this year or into next. The sprawling industrial campus that was once a GM/Toyota joint-venture plant spewing out 6000 vehicles per week is currently assembling just one Model S a day in an unusual, vertically integrated process that has the Tesla workers stamping their own sheetmetal, injection-molding their own bumper covers, winding their own motors, and upholstering their own seats.

    The company plans to ramp up to 80 cars daily by the end of the year, but since our last visit in October 2011, the crisply refurbished production hall with its army of idle red-painted robots maintains the quiet grand ambience of Westminster Abbey several days before a royal wedding.

    Eventually, after the first 1000 cars are built as loaded-up Signature models, ordering a Model S will involve choosing from two motor-power levels, three battery packs, two onboard chargers, two trim packages, and several stand-alone options.

    Specifications >

    VEHICLE TYPE: rear-motor, rear-wheel-drive, 7-passenger, 5-door hatchback

    BASE PRICE: $58,570–$106,570

    MOTOR TYPE: AC permanent-magnet synchronous electric motor, 362 or 416 hp, 325 or 443 lb-ft

    TRANSMISSION: 1-speed direct drive

    DIMENSIONS:
    Wheelbase: 116.5 in
    Length: 196.0 in
    Width: 77.3 in Height: 56.5 in
    Curb weight: 4650 lb

    PERFORMANCE (C/D EST):
    Zero to 60 mph: 4.4–6.5 sec
    ¼-mile: 12.6–13.7 sec
    Top speed: 110–130 mph
    Braking, 70–0 mph: 147 ft

    FUEL ECONOMY:
    EPA city/highway driving: 88/90 MPGe

    Continued…

  • BY AARON ROBINSON

    The base Model S uses a liquid-cooled AC motor producing 362 horsepower and 325 pound-feet of torque, while the Perform­ance models have a 16,000-rpm motor juiced with additional windings to produce 416 horses and 443 pound-feet. Performance models also will have 21-inch wheels and summer tires instead of 19s and all-seasons.

    Initially, only the top 85-kWh lithium-ion battery pack will be supplied for an advertised range of  300 miles, but lighter, less-expensive 40-kWh and 60-kWh packs will come later, offering claimed ranges of up to 160 miles and 240 miles, respectively. The Model S comes standard with an onboard 10-kW charger, while a 20-kW unit can be purchased initially or retrofitted for $1500. It will cut recharge time on the mega 85-kWh pack from eight hours to about four, depending on the amp and voltage ratings of the garage circuit.

    The Model S concentrates much of its 4650-pound curb weight in the 7000-cell battery pack installed under the floor, so it doesn’t feel the pull of lateral g’s like conventional cars with higher centers of gravity. Thus, Tesla is able to get away with a relatively soft suspension while still keeping pitch and roll in check. The driver can choose from three distinct steering-boost levels, and the air-spring suspension offers four ride heights. The monolithic, half-ton battery case underfoot gives passengers the sense of sitting atop a granite slab. Road bumps are heard but barely felt through the dense structure. The Tesla is a double-bacon porker, but what it does with the pounds makes it magical. Somewhere, Colin Chapman is nodding.

    By producing the aluminum-bodied Model S, Tesla has taken on challenges far exceeding those of building the roadster it has been selling since 2008. With five doors, the option of seven seats, an all-glass dashboard of multicolor display screens, and a battery pack that is promising up to 300 miles of driving, the Model S is co-founder Elon Musk’s moonshot.

    Though it may seem expensive, the more-made-in-America-than-most-“American”-cars Model S can’t possibly turn a profit at its price, given all that is clean-sheet new and novel about it—at least, not until Tesla has closed out a few Decembers at or near its 20,000-per-year sales goal, which, given the cruel history of the auto industry, may be never.

    Various investors, from Toyota to ­Daimler (which supplies a Benz steering ­column to the Model S) to Uncle Sam—with its $465 million in loans—to Tesla’s shareholders on Wall Street, have all bet money and material that Tesla won’t flame out like Solyndra. Without them, there would be no Model S. And unless the car succeeds, there may be no more investors.

    Specifications >

    VEHICLE TYPE: rear-motor, rear-wheel-drive, 7-passenger, 5-door hatchback

    BASE PRICE: $58,570–$106,570

    MOTOR TYPE: AC permanent-magnet synchronous electric motor, 362 or 416 hp, 325 or 443 lb-ft

    TRANSMISSION: 1-speed direct drive

    DIMENSIONS:
    Wheelbase: 116.5 in
    Length: 196.0 in
    Width: 77.3 in Height: 56.5 in
    Curb weight: 4650 lb

    PERFORMANCE (C/D EST):
    Zero to 60 mph: 4.4–6.5 sec
    ¼-mile: 12.6–13.7 sec
    Top speed: 110–130 mph
    Braking, 70–0 mph: 147 ft

    FUEL ECONOMY:
    EPA city/highway driving: 88/90 MPGe

    View Photo Gallery

    By AARON ROBINSON

  • 2013 Tesla Model S

  • BY CSABA CSERE
  • PHOTOGRAPHY BY A.J. MUELLER

    Those of us who like cars propelled by closely spaced, tiny explosions don’t easily warm up to electric power. It’s not just our troglodytic affection for an urgently revving engine, a crisp redline shift, and the earthy whiff of gasoline. The reality is that most electric cars simply haven’t been very good.

    Optimized for high mileage ratings, current electric cars are small and slow. Even worse, none has sufficient range to be truly useful, unless your duty cycle consists of driving no farther than the nearest grocery store. It’s no surprise that electric cars are selling like stale cowpies.

    Then along comes the Tesla Model S from Elon Musk, he of PayPal and SpaceX, to change our perceptions about cars powered by electrons. For example, in one day, our photographer drove the fully charged car for 30 to 40 miles—already half the range of a Nissan Leaf. Then I drove it 30 miles to dinner and to a friend’s home another 40 miles away before taking the long way back to Ann Arbor. After gallivanting all over Detroit’s sprawling metro area, I returned to Car and Driver headquarters to polish off the last few miles. Our measured range was 211 miles—not quite the EPA-predicted 265—but impressive, given our 75-to-80-mph highway speeds.

    Unlike other electrics, the Model S is a spacious five-door with an optional rear-facing third row and luxurious appointments. Perhaps the Model S’s closest competitors are the couture German luxury sedans—the Audi A7, the BMW Gran Coupe, and the Mercedes-Benz CLS. Designed by Franz von Holzhausen, who sculpted the Pontiac Solstice, the Model S has enough style to match the high-end German crowd.

    Its flowing lines help it achieve a 0.24 drag coefficient. If that seems incredibly low, consider that the Tesla’s grille inhales only about one-third as much air as a standard car’s. And its underside is as smooth as any we’ve seen, thanks to front and rear belly pans, no exhaust pipes, and a flat battery pack under the passenger compartment.

    That battery pack is roughly five feet wide, eight feet long, and four inches thick. It holds more than 7000 cylindrically shaped lithium-ion cells and weighs more than 1300 pounds, with a capacity of 85 kWh. That’s three-and-a-half times the juice of  the Nissan Leaf’s battery.

    A discharged battery can be replenished in about 10 hours with the standard 10-kW charger, which uses a 40-amp, 240-volt ­circuit—what an electric oven requires. Our car had the optional 20-kW, 80-amp ­charger, which cuts the plug-in time to about seven hours. Keep in mind that you are unlikely to completely deplete the battery. Moreover, Tesla recommends using the standard-range mode, which reduces available energy and range by about 15 percent while extending battery life.

    These electrons energize the 416-hp motor positioned on the left side of the Model S, just behind the differential. Peak power occurs between 5000 and 8600 rpm, peak torque of 443 pound-feet at 0 rpm, yet the motor can spin to16,000 revs. That means that the Model S gets by with just one speed—essentially no transmission.

    But “gets by” understates the Model S’s performance. We measured 0-to-60 mph in 4.6 seconds, a quarter-mile of 13.3 seconds at 104 mph, and a governed top speed of  134 mph. That’s similar to the performance of the V-8 German sedans.

    Specifications >

    VEHICLE TYPE: rear-motor, rear-wheel-drive, 5+2-passenger, 5-door wagon

    PRICE AS TESTED: $109,600

    BASE PRICE: $105,400

    MOTOR TYPE: AC permanent-magnet synchronous electric motor

    Redline: 16,000 rpm

    Power: 416 hp @ 8600 rpm
    Torque: 443 lb-ft @ 0 rpm

    TRANSMISSION: 1-speed direct drive

    DIMENSIONS:
    Wheelbase: 116.5 in


    Length: 196.0 in

    Width: 77.3 in
    Height: 56.5 in

    Curb weight: 4785 lb

    C/D TEST RESULTS:
    Zero to 60 mph: 4.6 sec
    Zero to 100 mph: 12.1 sec
    Zero to 120 mph: 21.4 sec
    Street start, 5–60 mph: 4.5 sec
    Top gear, 30–50 mph: 1.8 sec
    Top gear, 50–70 mph: 2.3 sec
    Standing ¼-mile: 13.3 sec @ 104 mph

    Top speed (governor limited): 134 mph
    Braking, 70–0 mph: 160 ft
    Roadholding, 300-ft-dia skidpad: 0.91 g

    FUEL ECONOMY:
    EPA city/highway: 88/90 MPGe
    C/D observed: 74 MPGe

    TEST NOTES: Not a hint of launch wheelspin. During repeated acceleration runs, there is some loss of performance that’s likely attributable to heat build-up in the motor, the power controller, and the battery pack.

    Continued…

  • BY CSABA CSERE

  • PHOTOGRAPHY BY A.J. MUELLER

    The figures, however, don’t reveal the Tesla’s instantaneous response. When you floor the accelerator on a conventional car, the airflow has to increase, the turbos must spool up, and the transmission unlocks its torque converter and usually downshifts. In the Model S, you’re shoved into your seat right now, with an immediacy that no Corvette, Ferrari, or Porsche can match.

    This performance is particularly impressive because the Model S weighs 4785 pounds. Despite its aluminum structure and bodywork, there’s ample weight in the battery pack, the electronics, the cables, and the powerful electric motor.

    At least Tesla uses this mass to good effect. The battery is below the passenger cabin—as low as it can be placed. The electric motor and power electronics also are mounted low and behind the rear axle. The result is a front/rear weight distribution of 47/53 percent and, more important, a center- of-gravity height of 18.0 inches. That’s one of the lowest we’ve measured, second only to the Corvette Z06’s 17.5.

    The payoff is a car that rolls and pitches very little in spite of dampers and air springs calibrated for a supple ride. Driven hard on a country road, the Model S is well-planted, with nary a creak or groan from its structure even on bumpy pavement. With electric power steering that’s responsive and nicely weighted, the Model S carves into bends without hesitation. At 0.91 g, grip is plentiful thanks to our test car’s in-development suspension tuning and monster 21-inch Michelin Pilot Sport PS2 tires.


    The Model S’s spaciousfive-plus-two-passenger cabin is enabled by its compact propulsion system and clever component layout. The AC drive motor, power-inverter circuits, and final-drive differential are contained within compact housings supported by a rubber-isolated rear subframe. More than 7000 cylindrical battery cells are vertically oriented inside a large aluminum box that also serves as the body structure’s floor. Liquid cooling circuits keep the driveline and battery pack within desired temperature limits during strenuous driving. A rigidly attached front crossmember supports the suspension system’s lower control arms and the power rack-and-pinion steering gear. An aluminum space frame—augmented by high-strength steel B-pillars and bumper beams—supports the above components as well as the formed-aluminum body panels.

    These performance tires clomp on broken pavement, but the ride is otherwise smooth and comfortable. Though road noise is not high, we suspect that BMW or Mercedes chassis engineers could have made it quieter. Our car was plagued by at least one severe wind leak that started howling between 70 and 80 mph. Perhaps not coincidentally, it also had several poor-fitting panels. This was a preproduction car—“Elon’s iPhone” was one entry on the “paired phones” list; prospective buyers would be wise to check for wind noise before depositing any cash.

    If you do take a test drive, you’ll notice a unique feature, even for electric cars. The regenerative braking—which repurposes the motor as a generator to recover the car’s kinetic energy when you’re decelerating—is controlled solely by the accelerator. As you lift off the pedal, the motor absorbs up to 60 kW (81 hp), producing nearly 0.2 g of braking at low speeds. That’s a fair amount of deceleration, but we quickly adjusted to driving the Tesla using only its right pedal.

    A benefit of this approach is that the left pedal controls the hydraulic brakes, so there’s none of the mismatched blending of regen- and friction-brake feel that plagues other electrics. It also serves as an efficient driving reminder, because you only need the brake pedal when you don’t properly anticipate your stop. If you must slow quickly, however, the Model S’s hydraulic brakes can stop from 70 mph in a mere 160 feet—an average deceleration rate of 1.02 g.

    Another unusual aspect of the Model S is an enormous capacitive touch screen that almost completely replaces the knobs and buttons on the dash. It measures 17 inches diagonally, is mounted vertically, and pre­sents the area of four to six typical screens.

    Specifications >

    VEHICLE TYPE: rear-motor, rear-wheel-drive, 5+2-passenger, 5-door wagon

    PRICE AS TESTED: $109,600

    BASE PRICE: $105,400

    MOTOR TYPE: AC permanent-magnet synchronous electric motor

    Redline: 16,000 rpm

    Power: 416 hp @ 8600 rpm
    Torque: 443 lb-ft @ 0 rpm

    TRANSMISSION: 1-speed direct drive

    DIMENSIONS:
    Wheelbase: 116.5 in


    Length: 196.0 in

    Width: 77.3 in
    Height: 56.5 in

    Curb weight: 4785 lb

    C/D TEST RESULTS:
    Zero to 60 mph: 4.6 sec
    Zero to 100 mph: 12.1 sec
    Zero to 120 mph: 21.4 sec
    Street start, 5–60 mph: 4.5 sec
    Top gear, 30–50 mph: 1.8 sec
    Top gear, 50–70 mph: 2.3 sec
    Standing ¼-mile: 13.3 sec @ 104 mph

    Top speed (governor limited): 134 mph
    Braking, 70–0 mph: 160 ft
    Roadholding, 300-ft-dia skidpad: 0.91 g

    FUEL ECONOMY:
    EPA city/highway: 88/90 MPGe
    C/D observed: 74 MPGe

    TEST NOTES: Not a hint of launch wheelspin. During repeated acceleration runs, there is some loss of performance that’s likely attributable to heat build-up in the motor, the power controller, and the battery pack.

    Continued…

  • BY CSABA CSERE

  • PHOTOGRAPHY BY A.J. MUELLER

    Thanks to that vast display area, there’s always a climate-control section at the bottom of the screen and a navigation ribbon at the top. The touch “buttons” are large, which makes them easy to locate at speed. You can view two functions at a time in separate windows, or use the entire screen, handy for navigation and phone contact lists. Switching between screens is intuitive, and you can operate it by pinching your fingers, as on an iPhone. It’s what you’d expect from a car conceived in Silicon Valley.

    Unfortunately, the system has several shortcomings. For example, the map orientation is fixed with north at the top of the screen. And we didn’t find any way to modify the nav settings to allow us to avoid toll roads. We also had trouble getting the Model S to download our phone contacts. Other flaws include incompatibility with an iPod, the inability to specify how many doors unlock at a time, no voice commands, and no memory seats—a common feature on workaday sedans. Tesla says some changes will come soon via software upgrades, but missing features such as adjustable thigh support won’t be downloaded through the internet.

    Such omissions bring up the question of value. Deliveries of the Model S started last summer, but the initial focus is on the premium models, such as this Signature Perform­ance edition. Its base price is $97,900; with options it swelled to $102,100—and that’s after deducting the $7500 federal tax credit.

    The least-expensive Model S with an 85-kWh battery will set you back $69,900, but that version also has a less powerful motor and is about a second slower to 60. Soon Tesla plans to offer a 60-kWh version for $59,900, which will be a few more ticks slower. Finally, a 40-kWh version will arrive for $49,900, with half of our test car’s range, a 110-mph top speed, and a claimed 0-to-60-mph acceleration in the mid sixes.

    It will be interesting to see if Tesla turns a profit at those prices. The Model S is a clean-sheet design that required far more investment than its first car, the Roadster, which was based on the Lotus Elise and cost well over $100,000 but still lost money. Not that we own any Tesla stock, but a car company that doesn’t make money won’t be in business for long—and its eight-year battery warranty won’t be worth anything if the company goes under.

    If we were hot for Tesla’s electric car, we wouldn’t consider anything less than the 60-kWh model. Who, after all, wants range anxiety? But remember that even with the bigger batteries, the Model S’s range is too short and its recharging time too long for extended highway trips.

    But in a city, even a sprawling one like Detroit or Los Angeles, the Model S gets the job done. It’s attractive, comfortable, fast, practical, technically fascinating, and not overpriced. Most important, it’s not just a good electric vehicle, it’s a good car.

    Specifications >

    VEHICLE TYPE: rear-motor, rear-wheel-drive, 5+2-passenger, 5-door wagon

    PRICE AS TESTED: $109,600

    BASE PRICE: $105,400

    MOTOR TYPE: AC permanent-magnet synchronous electric motor

    Redline: 16,000 rpm

    Power: 416 hp @ 8600 rpm
    Torque: 443 lb-ft @ 0 rpm

    TRANSMISSION: 1-speed direct drive

    DIMENSIONS:
    Wheelbase: 116.5 in


    Length: 196.0 in

    Width: 77.3 in
    Height: 56.5 in

    Curb weight: 4785 lb

    C/D TEST RESULTS:
    Zero to 60 mph: 4.6 sec
    Zero to 100 mph: 12.1 sec
    Zero to 120 mph: 21.4 sec
    Street start, 5–60 mph: 4.5 sec
    Top gear, 30–50 mph: 1.8 sec
    Top gear, 50–70 mph: 2.3 sec
    Standing ¼-mile: 13.3 sec @ 104 mph

    Top speed (governor limited): 134 mph
    Braking, 70–0 mph: 160 ft
    Roadholding, 300-ft-dia skidpad: 0.91 g

    FUEL ECONOMY:
    EPA city/highway: 88/90 MPGe
    C/D observed: 74 MPGe

    TEST NOTES: Not a hint of launch wheelspin. During repeated acceleration runs, there is some loss of performance that’s likely attributable to heat build-up in the motor, the power controller, and the battery pack.

    View Photo Gallery

    By CSABA CSERE

  • World Exclusive! 2012 Tesla Model S Test and Range Verification

    2012 Tesla Model S Front Motion On PCH

    2012 Tesla Model S Front Three Quarter Motion During Testing

    2012 Tesla Model S Rear View At Track

    2012 Tesla Model S Front Three Quarter

    See All 19 Photos

    To start off, let’s see a show of hands for how many of you have watched both of Chris Paine’s EV documentaries, “Who Killed the Electric Car?” and “Revenge of the Electric Car”? I’m going to turn on your computer’s Web cam for a moment and take a count.

    Hmm, that’s not very many.

    2012 Tesla Model S Front Three Quarter Motion During Testing

    If you’re one of the few who have seen them both (like me), then you might be getting the idea that the battery-electric car’s storyline has now pulled out of its post-EV1 nosedive and is winging its way toward a sky-blue future, with squadrons of Nissan Leafs coming to the rescue as “The Ride of the Valkyries” blares in the background, “Apocalypse Now”-style.

    Reality check: The Leaf’s sales have been as brisk as soggy leaves on a damp lawn. And the electrified versions of the Ford Focus, Honda Fit, and Toyota RAV4 — despite incremental improvements — aren’t likely to fare much better. If their project managers were interrogated with the aid of smoldering cigarette butts, they’d confess that these cars are basically money-sieves necessary to satisfy the influential Golden State’s zero-emissions vehicle mandate. Meanwhile, the controversial growth of fracking is pushing the electric car’s peak oil justification farther into the future. The headwinds are strong.

    But before anyone demands a refund from Mr. Paine, let me direct you to the following spider graph, plotting a few of the more significant attributes of battery-electric cars: their range, recharge rate, cost, 0-60 mph time, and gas-equivalent mpg. The better the car is in each attribute, the farther out it goes on the graph. Other than price, the Tesla gets out to the edges.

    Tesla Model S Spider Graph

    As you can see, there just might be a revenge of the electric car after all (the revenge of the revenge?), courtesy of the only major electric car builder producing EVs without being forced to: Tesla.

    Last month, our technical director Frank Markus took the 2012 Tesla Model S out for a spin in the environs around Tesla’s Fremont, California, factory and walked us through the car’s technological particulars. Now, I’m standing next to the dragstrip at Auto Club Speedway and across from me in a black Model S Signature Performance 85 (I’ll explain all that later) is Carlos Lago, who’s readying himself to put down our first official test numbers. Did I mention this is Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s personal car?

    And just like that, Carlos and Musk’s car are gone. Like, gone. Without a tire chirp. I’m rotating my head at an unusual rate to track him. Were I in a dark, cool movie theater, I’d pass the spectacle off as Hollywood special effects. But looking around — yep, there are damp patches under my armpits and the sun overhead is like in an old Western where the lost cowboy drops to the desert sand in delirium. I’m definitely in Fontana in August. And that big sedan quietly teleporting itself to the far end of the dragstrip is actually happening. Moreover, had I been looking in a different direction I might have missed everything, because the car’s soundtrack is no more than a hushed ssshhhhhh. It’s as if you’re listening to a fast gasoline car while wearing Bose noise-canceling headphones.

    When we crunched the numbers (with no weather correction because the car doesn’t ingest air), the car’s 0-60-mph time was 3.9 seconds, and it ssshhhhhh-ed past the quarter-mile mark in 12.5 seconds at 110.9 mph. We’re on the bleeding edge here, kids. Sedans of this performance caliber are as rare as netting Higgs bosons in the Large Hadron Collider — and in this case, all of them but the Tesla speak with German accents:

    Base Price Weight Power 0-60 mph 60-0 mph Lat grip
    BMW M5 $92,095 4384 lb 560 hp 3.7 sec 110 ft 0.94 g
    Mercedes-Benz CLS63 AMG $96,805 4256 lb 550 hp 3.9 sec 113 ft 0.92 g
    Porsche Panamera Turbo S $176,275 4388 lb 550 hp 3.5 sec 105 ft 1.00 g
    Tesla Model S P85 $105,400 4766 lb 416 hp 3.9 sec 105 ft 0.92 g

    And were we to have measured those 0-60 mph times from the first twitch of accelerator movement instead of after the standard 1-foot roll-out, the Model S would be already off and away while the gas cars were still reacting to their suddenly opened throttles. It’s a startlingly instant shove into the seatback. Measured by our classical methods, the Model S P85 is now the fastest American sedan, and close to the fastest anywhere. And in the real-jousting that sometimes erupts on highways (you know what I’m talking about), it’s probably the quickest.

    Maybe you’ve also noticed the Model S’ 400-500-pound weight penalty over those Germans. Its lithium-ion battery pack, which resides like a great slab beneath the car’s floor, is enormously heavy. The car’s maximal use of aluminum partly mitigates this, but one senses that Model S’ interior materials (door panels, in particular) are deliberately lightweight. They don’t have the solid heft of those German sedans’ baroquely detailed, old-world cabins, but on the other hand, you might picture the design as an ascetic, Apple-esque absence of unnecessary adornment, too. After Carlos finished his brake stops (great grip with no oddball shuttering or fade), the Model S was handed over to me and our 1/3-mile figure-eight handling test.

    2012 Tesla Model S Rear View At Track

    Building up speed around the infinity-symbol course, the car’s minimal roll isn’t surprising, what with its low-slung battery. But its 0.92 g of grip is great for a 4766-pound sedan. As I mentioned, this is a top-drawer Signature Performance version, meaning it carries the big 85-kW-hour battery (the upcoming entry 40-kW-hr car will be $57,400; the 60 kW-hr version, $67,400; and the 85-kW-hr basis for our test car is $77,400 — all before the $7500 federal tax credit). The SP model we’re testing adds extra power (416 hp and 443 lb-ft versus 362 hp and 325 lb-ft), sport-tuned traction control, nicer interior materials, and carbon-fiber aero trim. Add to that two significant option boxes checked for our test example: a $1500 giant glass sunroof and no-cost Michelin Pilot Sport PS2 tires wrapping 21-in wheels — hence that lateral grip.

    As I pour more of the car’s power into the figure eight’s corner exits, it becomes a little difficult to keep the steering corrections ahead of the tail’s waggings. The problem is a slightly aggressive accelerator response. For performance driving, this should be toned down a bit.

    2012 Tesla Model S Front Three Quarter

    2012 Tesla Model S Side View

    2012 Tesla Model S Rear Three Quarter

    2012 Tesla Model S Cockpit And Center Screen

    2012 Tesla Model S Front Cargo Area

    2012 Tesla Model S Steering Wheel

    Take a second to think about that spider graph and the performance chart above. The Model S is either dominant — or at least thoroughly competitive — in two diametrically opposite automotive worlds. It embarrasses its high-efficiency, electric car peers with one hand, while happily trading steel-knuckle punches with Germany’s mightiest warp-speed heavyweights with the other.

    2012 Tesla Model S Charging Up At Fontana

    With answers in hand about the Model S’ performance, the other empty check-box to explore is just how far this big battery version can actually travel on a single charge. According to the EPA’s 5-cycle test procedure, it’s rated at 265 miles in its extended range mode, which fills the battery nearly to its brim. But after our testing wrapped, and we plugged it in to recharge, I happened to glance at the car’s big, 17-inch, multi-touch display and its energy-use data. Eeek — all of our testing, including a few dragstrip runs just for photography, had consumed 13 miles. And the car’s computer was predicting that at the abusive rate we were going, our Model S was only good for another…40 miles. A 265-mile range? Is this really possible?2012 Tesla Model S Nav System Map

    After a full, extended range charge at the track, navigator and data collector Benson Kong and I left the Speedway and aimed south towards San Diego over the inland hills via Interstate 15, hoping to touch that major metropolitan base before swinging north again on the I-5 and peeling off on the Pacific Coast Highway for a slow, stoplight-punctuated march back to our El Segundo office. Start to endpoint, it looked to be about 240 miles.

    Even with the A/C off (but with ventilation on), cruise control set at 65 mph, and the body lowered on its air suspension, the car’s range prediction quickly went sour. Out came the iPad and iPhone maps to nervously ponder shortcuts to the I-5 prior to San Diego.What was happening?

    The passing tree tops were noticeably stirring and the occasional flag was pointing at us at three-quarter headwind angles. But there’s also something that’s underappreciated by these laboratory tests: the impact of ordinary driving chaos, even in moderate traffic. Time and again I had to override the cruise control and punch the brakes because of a lane-changing car or sharply accelerate to get around somebody who seemed to suddenly fall asleep directly in front of us. Every time, Benson, watching the numbers like a broker on the floor of the Stock Exchange, would admonish me, “smoother, smoother, don’t be so jerky,” but there was nothing I could do. Eventually, the car’s range prediction seemed to brighten and as we arced through San Diego, we even punctuated the point by dog-legging down the 163 toward downtown.

    2012 Tesla Model S Front Seats

    “My leg is starting to hurt,” Benson suddenly said, and I was simultaneously thinking that I wouldn’t want to drive much more than 265 miles in these seats anyway. They’re beautiful, but the seat bottoms are too thin and firm. On the other hand, the car’s mammoth and marvelous multi-touch screen is a happy distraction, with the sort of brilliant resolution and cool features that might have had Steve Jobs uttering “Insane!” (Think 3G Internet access, a giant back-up camera screen, and swipe-able icons.) Indeed, the whole car is a compellingly imaginative re-thinking of how we interact with cars in the first place. For instance? There’s no actual ‘on’ button. The Model S ‘knows’ you’re ready to drive by recognizing that you’ve gotten in (door opens and closes, weight on the driver’s seat), are ready to drive (seatbelt latched), and are taking action (tapping the brake pedal). That’s it.

    Up the 5 we went, briefly grinding to a halt in late afternoon traffic, but after that, sailing along until we exited for Highway 1 North in Dana Point, where we pulled into a Starbucks to consider the situation. Would we make to the office? Benson’s numbers were close, but the experience Benson and I have had with EVs is that they love this slower-speed stuff. No sweat, I’m thinking. In Laguna Beach, the Energy Czar himself suddenly said “nail it” — and I obliged, warp-speeding us to the next block. A little further, photographer Brian Vance (in a BMW 528i chase car) barks from the walkie-talkie, “Why don’t we do a lap around your old magazine workplace?” Why not, I think, but as I crank the wheel up the hill, Benson shouts, “Noooo!” “Relax,” I reply, “we’ve got plenty of battery. Plenty.”

    2012 Tesla Model S Front Closeup On Highway

    2012 Tesla Model S Rear View Heading South

    2012 Tesla Model S Rear Motion On PCH

    2012 Tesla Model S Rear View On Highway

    2012 Tesla Model S Side View Motion On Highway

    2012 Tesla Model S Front Motion On Highway

    A few minutes later, Benson somberly calculates that we’re running a mile short of making it to the MT garage. I’m silent. And slow down a bit. Crap.

    To break the tension, we discuss the car’s ride, which is firm but appropriate for a performance car like this. And it’s difficult to keep that in mind, since its quietness suggests more of a Rolls-Royce than an AMG Mercedes. Benson frequently asks if I’m braking. No, I’m doing lift-throttle regen, but it’s a strong enough tug to make him wonder if I’m touching the brake pedal.

    The range number finally drops into the single digits. “How far do we have to go?” “Seven-and-a-half miles,” Benson reports. The display says we’ve got a range of six. I call Tesla and nonchalantly ask, “So, uh, I’m just curious — what happens when the car gets to zero miles?”

    Tesla Model S Range Test Map

    “It stops,” was the reply. Hmmm. We turn off the ventilation completely and dial down the instrument panel’s illumination until we can barely see the range number. I remind myself this is Elon Musk’s personal car. Do I want to be the famous bozo who conks out in it on Pacific Coast Highway in traffic? No way, brother.

    With 4 miles of remaining range we pass a public ChargePoint station on the opposite side of the road. I grit my teeth, wheel around, and plug in. Benson is broadcasting telepathic messages I can’t repeat here. One lousy detour…

    We’ve traveled 233.7 miles and wind up short by 1.7.

    The total range — adding the unused 4 miles, would be 238. Yes, 238 is 11 percent short of 265. Moreover, it was done while being very stingy with performance (for the most part). Is that 265 actually valid? If you drive predominately at highway speeds, then probably not. But were we to have included more medium-speed roads (long stretches at 45-50 mph) well, possibly.

    2012 Tesla Model S Charge

    But the range that matters is really a psychological/perceptual one, not a specific number. Think about it: We drove from Fontana on the eastern edge of the L.A. basin to San Diego and all the way back to L.A.’s Pacific edge on one charge. Five hours of continuous driving. This is a breakthrough accomplishment that ought to knock down the range anxiety barrier that’s substantially limited EV sales. (Tesla is also preparing to deploy a network of super-fast chargers to supply some 150 miles worth of range in 30 minutes along many common long-distance driving corridors). Using Tesla’s home charger (240 volts at 80 amps) a full extended-range battery refill requires 6 hours (4 hours for standard-range recharge).

    During our drive, we used 78.2 kW-hrs of electricity (93 percent of the battery’s rated capacity). What does that mean? It’s the energy equivalent of 2.32 gasoline gallons, or 100.7 mpg-e before charging losses. That BMW 528i following us (powered by a very fuel-efficient, turbocharged, direct-injected 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine) consumed 7.9 gallons of gas for a rate of 30.1 mpg. The Tesla’s electrical energy cost for the trip was $10.17 (at California’s average electrical rate); the BMW’s drive cost $34.55. The 528i emitted 152 lbs of CO2; the Model S, 52 — from the state’s power plants.

    2012 Tesla Model S Rear Three Quarter Motion

    For sure, it’s a game-changer of a car, then. But a car isn’t really metal and glass and rubber and leather at all. It’s people. With dreams, brains, and drive. And from Musk to Boaz Chai, who oversaw our garage charger installation (and like many of them, is a Stanford engineering grad), Tesla — like Apple in the electronic device realm — is the sort of ambitious and fearlessly innovative company this country needs a thousand more of.

    We’ve got even more to come this week on the new Model S! Stay tuned next Thurs., Sept. 6, for another extended range feature here at MotorTrend.com, along with a special episode of Wide Open Throttle at our Motor Trend YouTube Channel at: motortrend.com/youtube.

    2012 Tesla Model S P85
    BASE PRICE $105,400*
    PRICE AS TESTED $106,900*
    VEHICLE LAYOUT Rear-motor, RWD, 5-pass, 4-door hatchback
    MOTOR 416-hp/443-lb-ft AC electric
    TRANSMISSION 1-speed automatic
    CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST) 4766 lb (47/53%)
    WHEELBASE 116.5 in
    LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT 196.0 x 77.3 x 56.5 in
    0-60 MPH 3.9 sec
    QUARTER MILE 12.5 sec @ 110.9 mph
    BRAKING, 60-0 MPH 105 ft
    LATERAL ACCELERATION 0.92 g (avg)
    MT FIGURE EIGHT 25.3 sec @ 0.70 g (avg)
    EPA CITY/HWY FUEL ECON 88/90 mpg
    ENERGY CONS., CITY/HWY 38/37 kW-hrs/100 miles
    CO2 EMISSIONS 0.00 lb/mile (at car)
    *Before $7500 Federal Tax Credit

    By Kim Reynolds