Electrifying new Tesla Model S is sure to cause a big buzz
The company owned by entrepreneur Elon Musk has stolen the show with its new electric car, and will shock with its performance and range
It’s billed as the most important American car for decades and it’s hard to disagree. After years of decline, the US auto sector is out to demonstrate that it’s not just a follower in the motoring world. Only this time the charge is being led not from Detroit but from Silicon Valley, and not by one of the Big Three but by a relative newcomer to the motoring arena.
Named after engineering genius Nikola Tesla who designed the AC electricity supply system we use today, the car brand is the latest creation of innovator and entrepreneur Elon Musk. His CV makes even the likes of Steve Jobs look like a bit of a slouch. So far the 42-year-old South African-born businessman has co-founded PayPal and was its main shareholder before it was sold to eBay for $1.5 billion. He has also founded SpaceX, which develops and manufactures space launch vehicles. And in 2003 he entered the car industry. Since then he’s caused something of a stir.
Musk will be in Dublin this week for a “fireside chat” with Enda Kenny at this year’s Web Summit. While the summit is awash with global tech giants, Musk is premier league, even amongst his peers.
So what of the latest Tesla? Well, the Model S itself is a bit of a revelation. We reported earlier this month on the latest wave of electric cars coming our way, with the BMW i3 first on our shores. Things have advanced since the Nissan
Leaf and little Mitsubishi i-Miev was introduced here. Yet while the infrastructure and tax incentives are in
place, consumers have failed to bite.
So what hope for the Tesla Model S, with a price tag that sits alongside a Mercedes S-Class? We got a chance to spend a few days with the car at a European car of the year event and, amid a plethora of rivals, the Tesla stole the show. No one expected it to be as good as it is.
The most impressive feat is undoubtedly its performance. A 0-100km/h time of 4.4 seconds still doesn’t reflect the physical punch of torque the Tesla has on tap. Kick down on the throttle and amid an eerie silence you are pushed back into the driver’s seat by the sheer force of acceleration as the digital speedometer flickers through the numbers at an illegible rate. It’s phenomenal to think this is a 2.2-tonne family car.
Like the new BMW i3, Tesla has opted to let the accelerator be more of an on/off switch; lift your right foot and the car immediately starts to slow. You seldom need to use the brake.
The electric motor and invertor are contained within the profile of the rear wheels, and the battery is just 10 centimetres thick, sitting under the cabin and between the axles. So, other than the suspension turrets, the car’s mechanical package is as flat as a skateboard, with a much lower centre of gravity than a regular car. That should give the car incredible handling traits, although during our test event the Tesla was put through its paces in the so-called Elk test on a closed airport runway. It showed a tendency to oversteer at higher speeds, with the ESP coming into play and interfering somewhat in the steering feel; but on a more positive note there was practically no bodyroll, thanks in part to the car’s firm suspension.
Externally the makers have opted for a look that boasts sleek coupe lines yet retains a practical four-door family format. With no fuel tank, the car has a massive boot, under which is a deep recess for more bags, or legroom for kids in the two optional rear-facing child-seats. Up front, with no engine, there’s another sizeable front stowage space. So this is in effect a seven-seat family coupe that runs on electricity and matches most prestige performance cars off the starting blocks.