The Tesla Model S has a higher purpose in life than simply providing all-electric transportation. The Californian offering is here to bust myths, starting with the idea that electric vehicles are compromised machines only accepted by those obsessed with protecting nature.
EVs took an early start in the late 19th century, were put on hold for most of the 20th century and have only recently started to truly develop. Alas, while most of these are converted ICE
(internal combustion engine) machines, the real problem is that they also ask their driver to go through a conversion and a religious one at that.
It is religious fanaticism that most EVs require from their drivers. The God of Green does not allow one to enjoy himself behind the wheel. Neither is one's family allowed to embark on longer journeys. For divinity’s sake, we've even come to introducing the notion of "range anxiety" into our common vocabulary.
After having appealed to our hedonist side through its Roadster, a Lotus Elise chassis with electric muscles, Tesla now comes through with the Holy Grail way of building an electric vehicle from the ground up, bringing forth the Model S. We live in the era of the elongated, multi-door coupe, so, despite the sedan label, this was the chosen form for the Model S.
On one side of the scale, sits our fear of an electrified future where the rumble of a V8 remains nothing more than a digitalized memory. Tipping things the other way is Tesla's fresh attitude. A company run by the man who came up with PayPal is probably pretty sensitive to what the customer wants. We’ll remind you that Musk joined Tesla using the money eBay offered for his stake in PayPal. We like the idea of a start-up car company that has none of the bureaucracy and latency the established automakers have accustomed us with.
For one thing, Tesla started with a clean sheet design and the approach is just what you want in this sort of car.
Underneath, sits a lithium-ion battery pack measuring 8 feet (2,450 mm) in length, about 5 feet (2,440 mm) in width and four inches (102 mm) in thickness. There's a 60 kWh
version and an 85 kWh one.
The battery pack contains over 7,000 cells, weighing in at about 1,320 lbs (600 kg). This may bring the overall weight to at least 4,647 lbs (2,108 kg), but the packaging also keeps the center of gravity low. Think focused sports car level. And at 48:52 (front:rear), the weight distribution ain't too shabby either.
The aluminum structure of the battery also serves as a floor, being integrated in the Tesla Model S' aluminum space frame. High-strength steel is present too, being used to reinforce the B-pillars and impact beams behind the bumpers.
Like a Porsche 911
, the Tesla Model S keeps its engine at the back. Unlike a 911, the electric motor sits on the left. Allow us to elaborate: there's a rear subframe integrating the differential, the AC electric motor (behind the diff, to the left), as well as the power inverter (on the right of the motor). Starting with the battery, all the hardware is kept in thermal check by liquid cooling circuits.
As for the aluminum skin of the car, the design was signed by Franz von Holzhausen. The Pontiac Solstice and Saturn Sky, as well as the VW New Beetle Concept are all part of his previous work, albeit in different degrees of involvement.
While the 0.24 drag coefficient is a smart move, we find the design suitable for the Model S' $70,000 starting price rather than for the $100,000+ performance version we drove. This Tesla may look appealing, but it doesn't come with the sort of appearance that leaves a lasting impression.
The Model S has a nice sleek silhouette, but the front end could very well belong to a Hyundai. The visual impact is improved dramatically at the back, but we can't help noticing the rear hatch borrows a lot from Aston Martin. Our tester was gifted with the optional carbon spoiler, which doesn't seem to integrate in the overall picture all that well.
The dedicated architecture of this Tesla allowed for the interior to be configured in an original manner. Since there's no need for a transmission tunnel, the cabin looks airy as you're climbing aboard. The Model S looks back at the Tesla Roadster's two-seater configuration with amusement. This sedan can accommodate five adults, as well as two children in the optional rear-facing boot seats
Nonetheless, Tesla wanted to keep the dynamic focus, so the seating position is more sportscar than family sedan.
As a driver, you feel engaged from the very beginning, but it's a pity that everybody in the car, including yourself, has to make do with the average comfort of the seats. For instance, they seem a bit too narrow.
The leather underneath us feels soft, but it would be nice to have a ventilation option. Especially by American standards, the Model S' seats don't climb too high in the coziness top. Oh and it would be best to stick to two adults in the back.
You may not notice such details during a short drive, but they do stand out after spending some time in here. Still, how could one pay too much attention to some seats when the Tesla Model S' cabin is adorned with a 17-inch touchscreen display
Aside from the infotainment interface usually found at the middle of the dashboard, this... tablet also holds most of the car's controls, from the climate to the ride height. You can also use it to browse the Internet. Conveniently browse the Internet
, that is.
The vertical layout and the generous size of the capacitive touchscreen mean that you can get a horizontal split-screen layout allowing you to browse through two features at a time. Regardless of this and no matter where you are in the system, you'll find a navigation section on top and a climate control bar at the bottom.
The Tesla's Silicone Valley origins do show - the interface is intuitive, reacts promptly and comes with an attractive design. Alas, saying goodbye to all the physical buttons isn't exactly the way to go. The always-changing digital interface means you can't quite memorize the controls, so while the icons are large, operating them does require extra attention. Even when you are stationary, or occupying the passenger seat, you're not always in the mood to navigate instead of simply pressing a certain physical button.
As for the dashboard instruments
, we have a very nice digital implementation. Easy to read and modern, that's how we'd describe what we have in front of us. Still we would've liked the possibility to configure the display.
Wherever there are no displays, the cabin is covered in premium materials, while those nice air vents on the dash are one of the few American styling elements in here.
Speaking of bits and pieces, the steering wheel stalks, as well as the column-mounted transmission lever and window switches
come from Mercedes-Benz. With Mercedes having invested in Tesla, this shouldn't surprise you. These elements are well integrated and obviously bring proper ergonomics to the game.
The cabin allows for a practical use, with the exception of the unusual stowage facilities.
There are no pockets on the doors, the glove box is tiny and that generous center console is not without issues - the large open space is nice, but your items risk jumping out of it or hitting each other as you drive. Some form of division system would be appreciated.
Despite its tablet obsession, the Tesla Model S encourages you to look around. The incentive here is the good overall visibility. We were particularly fond of the rear window's generous descent into the body.
We're subjecting the rear visibility to the parking test right now and we are assisted by a rear-view camera. You won't have trouble parking the Model S, but some sensors would've been nice to have, at least as an option.