Game changer as electric car outpaces opposition
The drivetrain also makes for a flat cabin floor – no transmission tunnel – and a huge boot. Under the boot floor, where the fuel tank would usually be, there’s a deep recess for more bags, or legroom for kids in the two optional rear-facing child-seats: the ever-efficient Musk has five sons – twins and triplets – and wants to take them all on road trips.
In the main cabin the floor is completely flat, with no transmission tunnel. And under the bonnet there’s no engine, of course – just another huge front trunk, or frunk, as Tesla calls it. This also makes the Model S much safer in a head-on collision, with no big lump of iron trying to break into the cabin, and a front-end that is virtually all crash structure.
Inside, the big news is the vast, 43 centimetre touchscreen that dominates the central console, controls virtually all the car’s functions with a swipe, and makes your iPad look dim and small and slow.
You can split the huge screen any way you like, swiping functions such as Google maps or a web browser down from a menu at the top. In the vehicle set-up screen, there’s an image of your exact car: open a door or switch on the lights and it shows on the car on the screen. The reversing camera is high-definition, of course.
And just like an iPad, your Model S gets wireless software updates. They cover way more than just the look of that big screen: Tesla has already issued an update to allow the drivetrain to “creep” in traffic, something that would require serious workshop time in a conventional car. This is revolutionary: now your car no longer need be obsolete as soon as you leave the dealership.
Of course, an electric car doesn’t drive like anything else, but the difference is more pronounced in the Tesla, with its motor producing up to 416PS and delivering all its torque instantly for a supercar-standard 4.4-second sprint to 100km/h.
The transmission and brakes are very different, too: only one gear means that surge is seamless, and the way the electric motor recovers energy when you lift off the throttle means you seldom need to use the brake.
By concentrating all the car’s masses low in the chassis, the Model S has a centre of gravity just 45 centimetres from the ground.
So despite weighing a relatively portly 2108kg – the structure is mostly aluminium but the batteries weigh 450kgs – it handles astonishingly well, with little lean under cornering or dive under braking, and impressive stability at that electronically-limited 213km/h top speed.
The Model S is fast. It handles. US authorities give its official range at 427km on a five-hour charge, which is achievable, and it is a genuinely ground-breaking new car.
Even with prices expected to be between €50,000 and €80,000 when right-hand drive deliveries start late next year, it really, really doesn’t feel like a loser, Mitt.
Tesla Model S Performance
Engine: Liquid-cooled 3-phase AC induction motor, 416PS, 600Nm. 85kWh liquid-cooled lithium-ion battery.
CO2 (at car) 0g/km
Range: 265 miles
Charge time: five hours at 240v
0-100km/h 4.4sec, 210km/h (limited)
Price: €50,000 (40kWh) to €80,000 (85kWh)
On sale: open for deposits now, deliveries late 2013