Tesla Model S as much a thrill as a pleasure to drive

“What do you like best about the car?” my Tesla host asked me. My answer is the one everyone gives: “The acceleration. It is so smooth.”

Tesla store, Natick Mall

The sheer power of two electric motors for each rear wheel is as impressive as the silky acceleration with no shifting gears or transmission. The power goes directly from the motors to the wheels with no transmission to sully the purity of acceleration. By far, that’s the distinguishing feature of this marvelous machine.

Fill `er up...w electrons
Fill `er up…w electrons

The Model S Performance version recently was the most pleasurable vehicle I’ve driven.  In fact, I treasured the 25 minutes had with the car. And with Tesla, I did not have to endure the nonsense dealers put customers through. They have stores, instead.

The Tesla Model S is a very polished automobile that just earned an unprecedented 99 road score in the car buyer’s bible, Consumer Reports, which typically rates the best mass production cars in the low 90s.  My host told me car rockets to 60 MPH in 3.8 seconds, but the web site says 4.2 seconds (there were small discrepancies in what the web site and my host said).

The most similar experience was a test drive I did in 2008 in GM’s hydrogen-electric powered Chevy Equinox, which was powerful, silent and smooth. Alas, hydrogen vehicles never made it to market.

Most car have an engine here.

Besides the acceleration, a taste of which you experience at low speeds in hybrids, was the regenerative braking. When you take you foot off the gas pedal, err accelerator, the car slows down as resistance builds in the twin induction motors. It feels like hauling a bus up a hill. I wondered if my host, who Tesla did not want quoted on the record, was fearful I would not use the brakes and rear end another car at a toll booth. Alas, I used stepped on the brake pedal.

The driver’s seat was contoured and comfortable although the dash was high and so windshield heavily angled, visibility seemed limited. The driver’s side window seemed small and cockpit just a tad cramped. Two huge displays on top of one another in the center console housed a touch screen Linux computer for controlling amenities such as AC, entertainment and a massive moon roof.

Battery is under the metal panel. Two rear motors foreground

The car had no hump tunnel drive because there is no front to back drive shaft. The rear mounted motors attach directly to the rear wheels. I wonder how’d the Model S would do in the snow with its enormous 21-inch thin profile tires (19 inch of the base Model S).

The two-inch thick 60 kWh or 85 kWh lithium ion battery is sandwiched between layers of metal and essentially comprises the bottom of the car, putting equal weight distribution on the front and rear wheels, my host told me. Anyone who’s lived in New England knows rear wheel drive stinks in snow. Click here for a robust discussion on this matter

Model S Performance

So I would buy this car in a second if I had the dough. It starts at $62,400 for the Model S which promises a 230-mile range @55 MPH; $72,400 for the 300k range battery and $87,400  for the blazingly fast Performance model. But extras such as the High Power Wall Charger ka-chings the prices up to $70k, $80 k and $100k across the model line.

So if money is no object….

A Model X SUV is due next year at similar pricing and an economy model  around $35k is promised for 2016, my host told me.  There are also financing deals and a federal and state tax credits ranging from  $7,500-$15,000. So far, Tesla has taken in 22,000 orders and delivered 8,000 cars, sayeth my host.

Meanwhile, Tesla’s stock price (TSLA) has soared from $25 in the last year to a high of $114. Company and car are on a roll, pun intended.

Besides shelling out an equivalent amount for a well-equipped middle-of-the-road Mercedes, the other big issue is switching from gasoline to electrons for fuel. It’s an adjustment I would gladly make.

Massive touch screen display
High Power Wall Charger

In the garage overnight , you can “top off” your battery for a few bucks at 240 volts at either 31 miles per hour or 62 miles mile if you pony up $2,700 for a High Power Wall Charger. You can use a 110 volt circuit, but it charges slowly and is not recommended. Putting a 240 volt outlet in your garage might cost 2-3 tanks of gas.

Then on the road, Tesla provides Supercharge stations where half the vehicle’s battery can recharge in 30 minutes (my host told me a full recharge in 45 minutes). Tesla plans a massive expansion of Supercharge stations the will culminate a year from now in a network that will enable owners to drive from “…LA to New York, Vancouver to San Diego, Montreal to Miami — without spending a cent on fuel.” Planning would seem critical and I suspect some Tesla owners embarking on long trips or sitting in traffic will invariably get stranded (Tesla says a drained battery can swapped out in less time than it takes to fill a car with gas, but it’s not clear how  common this practice will be).

Tesla’s bold gamble, which drew scoffs from auto experts initially, appears to be paying off. The Model S, which has only been out for a year, has yet to test out the four year warranty on the vehicle and eight years for the battery. But the car is a sheer pleasure to drive and has won numerous awards.

Tesla is also shaking up the auto dealer world by opening “stores” instead of franchised dealerships. For instance, I went to the Tesla store next to a Victoria’s Secret in the Natick Mall in Massachusetts. My host said dealerships might attract 3,000 walk-ins a month whereas in malls could, 3,000 curious shoppers might stroll by the store every few days. Smart, I thought.

But auto dealers claim Tesla is illegally selling cars itself when state laws require independent franchisees. Like me, many view such franchisee laws as antiquated and anti-competitive. Check out the comments on this Bloomberg story about dealer challenges to Tesla’s retail strategy and I quickly realized the antipathy I have toward auto dealers is universal.

Click here for all the Model S specs.

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