Founded in California, Tesla’s first product was the 2008 all-electric Roadster derived from the Lotus Elise. Due to its high asking price and its compromised driveability, the Roadster was not the success that Tesla hoped for. In 2012, The Model S was launched. In contrast to the Roadster’s two seat configuration, the Model S is an electric sedan built from the ground up. Instead of using a conventional gasoline engine, the Model S relies on a battery accompanied by a motor. Tesla did not just innovate the modern sedan, it also changed the buying experience. Instead of buying from franchised dealers, consumers are able to test and order their Teslas from dedicated showrooms (think Apple Stores). Initially, I did not warm up to the idea of the electric car as I found the idea of a car running purely on electricity alien to me. But when given the opportunity to review my very first electric car, I could not say no.
Let’s face it: this car is not cheap, but the good news is that it actually portrays the appearance of an expensive car. The moment you set your eyes on the exterior, you are treated to sharp and intricately cut headlights. The lines from the headlights flow smoothly into the grille followed by the detailed lower bumper. The side profile resembles more like a hatchback than a sedan. With that in mind, everything flows smoothly. The roofline starts from the edge of the trunk into the hood, creating a distinctive character line. The door handles retract back into the sheetmetal when locked, but when unlocked, they light up underneath, a nice touch. The rear is cohesive and well done. What I like about the taillights is that only the edges are lighted up at night. The lights, front and back, look very modern. The interior is unusual in terms of appearance, but the decor is contemporary and fitting to the exterior. To sum up, the Tesla is a stunning design inside and out.
The Model S backs up its stellar design with the handling to match. Even though it is a big and heavy car, you would be hard pressed to tell from behind the wheel. Sure, the electric steering offers no feedback whatsoever, and the weighting feels artificial, but the handling is so good these flaws are easily forgivable. The weighting of the steering can be altered by selecting Standard, Comfort, or Sport. In Comfort mode, the steering felt even more artificial whereas in Sport mode, weight increases dramatically which I prefer, but Standard mode will suit most people. Without a heavy engine located on the front axle, the Tesla feels light on its feet and corners exceptionally well. There is an unofficial stereotype that electric cars are mundane to drive, but the Model S defies this perception. It feels like an actual car, and it drives better than many luxury sedans. Turn the stability control off, and it wags its tail eagerly. When pushed to its limits, the Tesla remained controllable and confident. The ride quality is superb as well considering its sporty behavior. It cossets the occupants from the bumps well, and on harsh roads, the road imperfections are muted.
There are two powertrain choices available: a 60-kWh battery with a 302 horsepower motor and a 85-kWh battery with a 362 horsepower motor. This Model S, equipped with the latter, provides electrifying (pun intended) acceleration, and it certainly feels like all of the 362 horsepower is being used. With electric cars, all of the torque is available instantly, so power is readily available any time you depress the gas pedal. However, I will say this, it is a very heavy car, and despite its quickness, there are times when it just feels heavy. I can’t put my finger on it, but sometimes the heaviness is just there. Unlike a conventional car, there is no ordinary transmission with a number of gears. It is a one speed direct drive transmission with no gears to interrupt its power delivery. However, the point of a Tesla Model S is due to its fuel economy, and the Tesla excels in this regard. With the 85-kWh model, the Model S can go 265 miles on a single charge. Even if you drive poorly, you can still get a range of 200 miles without having to charge. According to Consumer Reports, the Tesla Model S 85-kWh gets 2.48 miles per kilowatt hour or the equivalent of 84 mpg overall.
Because there is no gasoline engine, the cabin remains quiet. When I turned the car on, I was unsure if it was actually on because it was so quiet. Under hard acceleration, there’s no buildup in the noise like a traditional car. Rather, there is a subtle whoosh. Driving on the highway, the cabin remains devoid of any wind or road noise.
Aside from some minor details, the cabin is well built and worthy of the Tesla’s asking price. There are soft touch surfaces abound everywhere you look, and there is meticulous attention to detail similar to a Mercedes-Benz. Not surprising considering that the transmission gear lever and window switches are from a Mercedes-Benz S-Class. The first thing you notice when you get in is that there is a huge iPad-like screen in the middle of the dash. The touch screen responds like an Apple product: swift response and easy to use menus. The screen itself is such a gadget that I could not help but be amazed at its functions. At the top, you have these icons for the Radio, Navigation, etc. You simply drag them down, and you can use one icon to fill up the screen or use two icons to split the screen into two functions. Despite the lack of dedicated buttons for the radio or the AC, the controls are easy to use. The graphics are so detailed that when you go to settings, the car depicted in the picture features the same exact color and wheels of your car. The gauges are simple, yet very technologically oriented. In its normal setting, you can configure it as a speedometer with the electric charge present, or change it to your current song playing on the radio and such. Below the screen is a useful cubby that can be used to store your effects, and there is a long and narrow tray from the cubby to the center console. I do wish there was more room in the center console. Despite this, storage space is more than plentiful. Finding a driving position is easy although I wish the steering telescoped more. There is decent headroom in the front, but in the rear, it can be confining for anybody taller than 6 ft. The seats give good comfort, and I’m told that the seats remain comfortable on long trips. Due to the hatchback design, cargo space is more than enough both in the front and rear. If you need more seats, there is an optional rear facing third row which ups the seat count to seven.
To be honest, the Tesla Model S shocked me. I did not expect to like it as much as I did. Sure, I can grieve and complain that the Tesla Model S is proof that electric cars are going to take over the automotive industry which means manual transmissions, gasoline engines, etc. will cease to exist. Or I can choose to think positively. Tesla’s founder, Elon Musk, a billionaire, was met with skepticism that he could not pull the electric car off. Reviewing the Tesla Model S has made me realize that Elon Musk is brilliant. Tesla took its time and developed thoroughly and came out with a world class car. The Model S feels like a real car, and compromises nothing for its electric powertrain. Not only that, but Tesla made the electric car cool, and for some reason, I can’t help but be proud because Tesla shows that American cars can be truly great. It is inexpensive to run, looks fantastic, drives well, and it is comfortable. If you can afford it, it is the ultimate package. Electric cars are not that bad after all.