The Tesla Model S is a car that needs no introduction. Released in 2012, it’s billionaire Elon Musk‘s electric car fantasy that has quickly become a rolling reality. It’s also the most desired automobile on the planet at the moment.
And with reason. I mean, this thing is truly epic; no more gasoline, free charging stations, a sexy, practical shape, and acceleration so brutal, it will put almost any Porsche 911 to shame. As an automotive journalist, you want a piece of the Tesla pie, because with the Model S, we’re witnessing the birth of a completely new mindset in transportation. This thing is the Ford Model T of our era.
That’s why when I approached Tesla Motors for access to their Montreal press fleet, they kindly turned me down, telling me they’re flooded with press requests at the moment. Remember, Tesla is still a small company, and although total vehicle production has increased considerably over the last few years, they’re still very limited in resources, forcing them to cherry pick who they lend their press cars to.
Fortunately, I’ve been blessed to have a Model S owner throw me the keys to his personal car for me to review. Granted, this isn’t the supercar-crushing P90D everyone is raving about, but since this particular 85 model happens to be one of the first Teslas to have been sold in Quebec, it’s been driving around in our harsh climate and third-world country road conditions for over three years now. This actually makes it an even more formidable candidate for me to review.
Subtle, Yet Still Properly Attractive
Although Tesla has recently closed the front end of the Model S, because of course, an air intake is useless on an electric car, it’s still very much the same design as when it originally came out. I do prefer the open mouth of my 2013 tester, however, which makes it look more like an actual car instead of a space ship or something. But that’s probably because my entire life, my text book definition of an automobile required it to have a front-mounted air intake. Seeing a car without one feels like seeing a human without a nose.
This, what I just explained, is the first in a long list of things that require some getting used to in the Tesla Model S. Saying it’s a game changer is an understatement.
Open mouth or not, there’s nothing revolutionary about the way the Model S looks, and that’s no accident. In fact, one of Tesla’s priorities when designing the car was to make it look no different than your average luxury sedan. While most carmakers go out of their way to make their EVs look like something different, which in most cases, ends up looking totally ridiculous, the Model S blends right into our gasoline-addicted world.
The end result is an understated design that doesn’t attract too much attention to itself while remaining elegant and attractive. This is a big car, one whose proportions come alive in the real world. It sits low and wide; features that are further accentuated by flared fenders, a curvaceous design, and large LED daylight running lights placed at each extremity of the car. Out back, once again, it’s nothing revolutionary, just a clean and nicely stanced, almost Jaguar-esque rear end. There’s even a hint of Mazda CX-7 in the tail-lights; which is also not a coincidence, because the Tesla Model S was designed by Franz von Holzhausen, the same guy who designed Mazdas from 2005 to 2010.
The Model S is so subtle that even with hundreds of them driving around the city of Montreal, I still get non-car people that ask me: “what does a Tesla look like?”
But it’s the interior of the Model S that instantly changes your perception of what an automobile should be. The first thing that strikes you, of course, is the famous 17-inch LCD display placed right smack in the middle of the dashboard.
Knobs, who needs knobs?
Everything in the Model S, from the sunroof all the way to the headlights, is controlled via the central screen. The interface is solid, with beautifully designed menus, adaptive backlighting, and easy-to-access information. It also operates with near flawless precision – which makes total sense coming from a company that spawned from Silicon Valley.
But although the screen does add to the car’s wow factor, on the road, it takes away your attention for simple things such as changing radio stations. Also, the screen can’t be turned off, so it’s always there, shining in front of you, all the time. That being said, regrouping everything in the center screen does give way to a clean, flat dashboard that is accentuated by piano black plastics, soft-touch materials, and surprisingly impressive build quality. Granted, this isn’t Mercedes-Benz refinement, but the Model S still manages to do a fantastic job of being a luxury car.
There are, unfortunately, some shortcomings to the interior. The seats, although adjustable in all possible positions, do feel somewhat hard, and no matter how much you fiddle with them, you just can’t seem to find an ideal seating position, and always end up feeling like you’re sitting on top of the car. Something to do with the way the seats were bolted to the floor maybe? There’s also a non-luxurious quibble sound when closing the frameless doors. It’s nothing alarming, but if Tesla claims to be a luxury carmaker, it still has some catching up to do to fully take on other cars in this price range.
But then again, considering the brand has been building cars for 5 years tops, this is very impressive.
Storage space is, as expected, gargantuan thanks to the lack of any mechanical components. Between the front seats lies a huge tray to engulf all your gear, which will also move around the moment you hit a bend. I do wish there was a net or some sort of compartment down there to hold my stuff in place.
Out back, there’s enough room to fit two full-size NBA players as well as not one, but two enormous trunks – one up front, which is about the same size as the one in your Honda Civic, and one out the back, which is large enough to fit an extra row of optional seats and your weekly order of groceries, with enough room left for your gym bag.
So, the Tesla Model S can be a seven-passenger sedan.
Instant Throttle Response Has an All New Meaning
Of course, what you people want to know is how driving the Tesla Model S feels like. Believe the hype, this thing is mindblowingly quick. There’s just no delay between the moment you slam the throttle – er sorry, the accelerator pedal, and the moment the car gets up and goes. It’s almost as if the rear wheels were hardwired to your brain. Floor this thing at any speed, and it will violently shove you into your seat, emitting zero noise, except for a subtle tire chirp as the rear wheels do their best to manage the insane wave of torque they’ve suddenly inherited. Unlike a gasoline engine, which needs to be spooled up to produce any sort of twist, the Model S’ electric motor produces its maximum torque numbers the moment it starts spinning. So there’s absolutely no delay.
To put it into perspective, compare the Tesla Model S’ acceleration to your vacuum cleaner. I know, it’s a weird comparison, but just bear with me here. When you turn on your vacuum cleaner, it’s instantly in full-on batshit crazy mode, right?
That’s exactly how a Tesla’s acceleration feels. Like your vacuum cleaner, it doesn’t mess around, it just goes all out the moment you turn it on.
And I mean – Jesus – my tester was nothing more than a “standard” 85, which means it didn’t have the dual motor all-wheel-drive system, nor the P performance package. This means that the 85 kWh rear-mounted electric unit pumps out “only” 382 hp and 325 ft-lb of torque, allowing this Model S to accelerate from 0-100 km/h in “just” 5.4 seconds, making it the “slower” Tesla.
Seriously though, 5.4 seconds is BMW 340i or Subaru WRX territory, which is still properly quick. And somehow, in the Model S, it feels much faster. Actually, it feels like warp speed: I can only imagine what a P90D must feel like. That’s how insane electric propulsion is, it completely flips your perception of how a car should behave. But it’s in the everyday world that you learn to appreciate this massive abundance of available torque. Need to get ahead of that line of cars over there? No problem, just warp your way up front.
And that watermelon-sized electric motor back there doesn’t only do a fantastic job of pulverizing your internal organs, it also allows the Model S to slow down dramatically when releasing the throttle thanks to regenerative braking, which also recharges the batteries.
Forget Your Fears and Prejudices
Before driving a Tesla Model S, I had my share of fears and prejudices. Where am I going to charge this thing? Will I end up stalling on the side of the road looking for a charger? How long will it take to charge?
When I first sat in the car, it had half a charge, meaning it was good for 250 km. That instantly made me feel at ease. Also, since the Model S’ iPhone-like battery gauge looks no different than the gas gauge in a conventional car and goes down at the same rate as well, your fears of not getting to point B vanish instantly.
Did I feel any range anxiety?
Of course I did, but simply because this was my first real experience in an electric car. Where would I go once it was out of juice? And more importantly, where are the closest charging spots located so I don’t run out before getting there? Thankfully, the Model S’ touch screen has that covered. Not only does it do a sublime job of locating the closest charging stations through the car’s navigation system, it gives you detailed information on the charger itself, how much time it will take to charge your Tesla, as well as the services available around the area such as rest rooms, food, and lodging.
Since Myle and I were shooting the car in Saint-Laurent, we quickly brought our Tesla to the Supercharger station located in the underground parking lot of the Place Cote Vertu shopping mall, which is, in its own way, a very unique experience. When we got there, we felt like we had just been invited to a VIP Tesla car meet where other Model S’ sat there, charging their batteries through what resembled the connector Neo plugs in the back of his head to log into the Matrix. It’s all very futuristic and, well, frankly, you’ve never seen something so cool.
It took us 20 minutes to get half a charge in our Tesla. This allowed us to quickly get back to what we had to do. 20 minutes is also the ideal time to watch an episode of Jay Leno’s garage on the car’s 3G-connected 17-inch screen.
But what impressed me the most about the Model S’ batteries, was that even after letting the car rest in my driveway all night without plugging it, it hadn’t lost even 1 km of range when I sat back in it the next morning, further making it feel no different than your average car.
This thing is truly astonishing.
So, is the Tesla Model S nothing more than an expensive toy reserved exclusively to the 1%? Not really. It’s actually a livable, reliable, and practical every day car. It’s also massively fun to drive. Ask the owner of this black one, he’s been daily driving his Model S for the past three years, year round, and has had zero reliability issues with it. Simply put, the Tesla Model S is so impressive, it instantly makes every car on the road feel like crude machinery from a prehistoric era. Except for the fact that it’s still out of reach for mere mortals like you and me, it may very well be the perfect way to get around.
But one question remains: although Elon Musk has confirmed that a more affordable Tesla is just around the corner, how will big-name carmakers react to this? Are we about to witness a real electric car war? Only time will tell, but one thing’s for certain, like the Ford Model T, which went down in history as the first automobile available to the masses, the Tesla Model S will be remembered as the pioneer of sustainable transportation, probably the most generous of Elon Musk’s gifts to humanity.
Review of the 2013 Tesla Model S 85 by William Clavey – *2016 Top 10 Contender
+ Mind blowing torque and acceleration.
+ No gasoline and free charging stations lead to very low running costs.
+ A revolution in sustainable transportation.
– Unattainable selling price.
– LCD screen-based car controls do take your attention off the road.
– Refinement and luxury still not on par with other cars of this price range.
Clavey’s Corner is located in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. Prices and trim levels discussed in this article reflect the Canadian car market.
Contact the author: [email protected]