The Tesla Model S rewrites the rulebook for cars. It's is a different kind of car from a different kind of planet. That planet is Silicon Valley, where this startup automaker is based. The fully electric Model S is a remarkable car that combines performance, agility, styling, high-tech, no emissions and low operating costs. It's one of the best cars we've ever tested.
Tesla makes it relatively painless to switch to this electric car from a more conventional one with its usable range and the ability to charge quickly and often. In our tests the 75D was able to cruise for 235 miles. Charge times for the 75D are about seven hours on a Tesla dedicated wall connector, or 12 hours on a generic 240-volt connector. Public Superchargers are also available for the occasional topping off and, depending on battery charge level, can add 60 miles of range in 30 minutes or so. The cost to charge the battery is about $10 (calculated using the national average electricity cost of 12 cents per kWh).
The Model S rides comfortably, carves corners with precision, accelerates like a catapult, stops on a dime, and glides in a whisper quiet manner. It's no one-trick pony: It's a practical car with two trunks, hatchback versatility and an optional third-row seat. All-wheel-drive is standard.
The Tesla rivets your attention from the start. Simply touching the flush aluminum door handles causes them to slide outward, welcoming you inside. With the car-shaped fob nestled in your pocket or purse, a tap of the brake pedal brings the Model S to life. There's no need to start the engine or release the emergency brake. You're immediately greeted by the glow of a huge 17-inch video display that dominates the center of the dash and allows you to control everything from the suspension's ride height to Slacker internet radio. And as you step onto the throttle, you experience a silent yet potent surge of power that would make drivers of many other sports cars weep with envy.
As impressive as the Tesla is, its range, relatively lengthy charge times, and reduced cold-weather range are still limitations. For longer jaunts, you'll have to plan when and where to charge and how to spend your time during those sessions.
Unlike most luxury cars, which are introduced fully realized, the Model S has been a continuous work in progress. Current owners, and future buyers, will benefit from frequent over-the-air updates. In the past, these updates have added traffic-based navigation, location-based air suspension adjustments, calendar syncing and added capabilities to the Autopilot functions. In our tests, we found that Tesla's Autopilot can add convenience but could potentially lull drivers into complacency.
All of this innovation doesn't come cheap, but tax rebates and a very low cost of operation absorb some of the sticker shock. A typical Model S with the 75-kWh battery costs over $80,000. The performance-biased P100D approaches $150,000 with typical equipment.
Compared to the established luxury brands, the Tesla's interior fit and finish isn't in the same league as that of Audi, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz. The Model S's rear seat isn't as accommodating and access is rather tight. Rear three-quarter visibility is wanting.
Drivers shouldn't rely on Tesla's Autopilot, a system that lets the car follow the road and adjust speed on its own. It's not designed to react to all unexpected situations, making it essential for drivers to remain attentive and engaged.
While the Model S has been very successful, outselling most luxury car competitors, it still comes from a relatively new company. There's no long-term track record for reliability, and the service network is comparatively skimpy (although growing).