2013 Tesla Model S Performance Package Road Test & Review: Introduction
Representatives of a number of established manufacturers openly scoffed when Elon Musk announced his intention to start a car company building only electric cars. His first effort, essentially a warmed over Lotus Eliseconverted to run on electric power, was giggled at by some, but for others it was a wake up call.
Naming his car company for Nikola Tesla, the Serbian-American electrical engineer, credited with developing the modern alternating current (AC) electrical system, Musk signaled his intention to build the best practical electric car the world has ever seen.
And, he has.
Streaking along a road tracing the ridgeline of a mountain range in Tesla’s Model S sedan equipped with the Performance Package, the silence is almost deafening. The complete absence of mechanical noise — no intake growl, no exhaust rumble — makes hustling the extremely powerful car along the winding road a near-surreal experience.
Hampered briefly by a slower-moving vehicle, when a passing lane opens up, I give the Model S full throttle for the first time. A great leaping explosion of forward thrust shoves the 4,770-pound car past the slow-moving vehicle with such tremendous force I am literally dumbfounded at both the alacrity and relentlessness of the acceleration.
2013 Tesla Model S Performance Package Road Test & Review: Models & Prices
The 2013 Tesla Model S is offered in two models with four different powertrain configurations. Powertrain configurations and base pricing are determined by the battery pack and electric motor fitted to the car.
The most basic version runs a 40kWh battery and a 175 kW electric motor, capable of generating 235 hp. The range for that configuration is estimated at 160 miles and its pricing starts at $52,400. Offered alongside that is a 60 kWh battery and a 225 kW electric motor good for 302 hp and a range of 230 miles. Pricing for that configuration starts at $62,400. The next rung up the ladder is fitted with an 85 kWh battery, a 270-kW/362 hp electric motor, a 300-mile range, and a price of $72,400.
The top of the model range, and the subject of this road test and review, the Tesla Model S Performance Package is also fitted with an 85 kWh battery pack. However, the performance model gets a 310 kW electric motor good for 416 hp and a range of 300 miles. Pricing for the Model S performance starts at $87,400.
It should be noted; those prices subtracted a $7500 federal tax credit for emissions free vehicles. Our Model S Performance Package test car would start at $94,900 without it.
2013 Tesla Model S Performance Package Road Test & Review: Design
Franz von Holzhausen, Tesla Motors’ lead designer, was responsible for the Pontiac Solstice and the Saturn Sky. He also had a considerable hand in the design of the Volkswagen New Beetle.
The look for the Model S he specified is completely distinctive, yet normal. While derivative of no other the model on the road, it also blends in with the mainstream. The design could just as easily be an Audi or a Buick. It immediately registers as a premium automobile. However, it is so innocuous I have literally had to point out the Model S in traffic to friends. To have cloaked such a revolutionary automobile in such a conventional looking body is either sheer genius, or utter folly — depending upon your perspective.
From where I’m sitting it’s genius.
People are concerned about the limitations of electric cars. To have made the Model S radically stand out could have served to feed that anxiety. By making the Tesla look so much like every other car, it becomes very easy to think of the Model S as just another member of the mainstream.
And yes, the Prius carved out a niche for itself partly because it looked so different. However, the Model S is playing in a much more rarified environment than the Prius. Like Jackie Robinson, or Barack Obama, as the first in the type of arena it’s playing in, it’s better to be quietly competent than a brash standout.
2013 Tesla Model S Performance Package Road Test & Review: Comfort & Cargo
A four-door hatchback, the Tesla has plenty of room for five passengers and cargo. The interior treatment is well laid out and the seats are quite comfortable. During my time with the Model S, I found it to be both quite comfortable and spacious.
At first glance, the front seats would appear to be more about form than function, but over the period of my drive I found them quite supportive, well bolstered, and nicely padded. The back seats look rather plain and I consider the omission of a center armrest something of an oversight. However, in terms of comfort they’d easily support two passengers for an extended drive and three around town. With the driver’s seat adjusted for my 6’1” frame, I could easily occupy the seat behind it and would be comfortable there for a drive around town.
One of the benefits of the rear-mounted electric motor is the flexible packaging such an arrangement permits. In addition to the cargo compartment underneath the hatchback, there is a cargo compartment at the front of the Model S. Because there is no engine, there is also no drive shaft necessitating a tunnel in the Tesla’s floor. This frees up considerable space for legroom, as well as accommodating reconfigurable seating layouts. Thus, the Model S can also accommodate a rear facing third-row seat for two children.
2013 Tesla Model S Performance Package Road Test & Review: Features & Controls
While looking around the interior of the Model S reveals it has a ways to go before challenging an Audi for style, fit and finish; when it comes to tech, the Tesla positively shines. The centerpiece of the interior is, quite literally, a 17-inch touchscreen panel within which is contained the interface for all comfort and convenience functions. Endlessly entertaining, positively practical, and intelligently intuitive, the flexibility the control panel affords is an utterly redefining experience.
The most commonly used controls like temperature and audio volume are located along the bottom of the screen. Other controls including lights, door locks, and the panoramic roof are easily accessible. The panoramic roof, for example, opens by simply swiping along its image on the screen to the opening size you prefer. With built-in high-speed Internet connectivity, you can access restaurant reviews, movie times and an abundance of other information. While the touchscreen displays the nav system’s maps in high-resolution with map or satellite views, you can also overlay weather, traffic, and charging information.
Now, with that said, there are a few state of the art conveniences other luxury sedans in the Tesla’s price range offer that have yet to be fitted to the Model S. You’ll do without smart cruise control, blind spot indicators, and lane departure warnings. You’ll also do without a driver adjustable suspension system and near infinitely adjustable seating.
2013 Tesla Model S Performance Package Road Test & Review: Safety & Ratings
Equipped with eight airbags, the passenger compartment is constructed of high-strength steel and aluminum. Traction and stability control, along with anti-lock brakes are standard equipment.
The battery pack is an integral part of the car, while also comprising a structure in its own right. Using liquid cooling to prevent overheating, it is designed to disconnect the power supply in the event of a crash.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has yet to crash test a Model S; ditto the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), so no formal crash test information exists for the car — as of this writing.
2013 Tesla Model S Performance Package Road Test & Review: Motor/Fuel Economy
My Performance Package Model S test car was fitted with the 416 hp 310 kW electric motor. The powerplant produces peak horsepower at between 5,000 and 8,000 rpm. As I mentioned before the motor generates its full 443 ft-lbs of torque at 0 rpm.
Tesla quotes the car’s range at 300 miles when driven at a steady 55 miles per hour. The EPA says the car is good for 265 miles in its 5-Cycle Certification test, which is the equivalent of 89 miles per gallon overall.
Recharging can be accomplished with either a standard 110v outlet or a 240v outlet (preferred). A full charge from a 240v outlet can be accomplished in four hours; an extended range charge takes six. The Tesla can also be fast-charged to 80 percent of capacity in about 30 minutes.
2013 Tesla Model S Performance Package Road Test & Review: Driving Impressions
With the Tesla’s transmitter fob in your pocket, walking up to the Model S causes it to extend its door handles from their flush resting positions. Settling behind the wheel, a tap of the brake pedal awakens the propulsion system and the Model S is ready to take to the road. There are no “keys” or “switches”. The Tesla assumes if you sat down, touched the pedal, and put it in drive, you’re ready to go.
Underway, the motor’s full torque potential is available the moment you set the Tesla into motion. Nail the throttle, as I did on that mountain road, you’ll get an inkling of what it feels like to be launched in a rocket test sled. The Model S accelerates instantaneously, and just as viciously as any supercar you can name. Performance Package models like my test car have been clocked at 3.9 seconds from 0-60 and at 12.5 seconds in the quarter mile.
Further, when it’s time for the serpentine waltz, the Model S is as graceful as any sports sedan in its class. The steering is highly responsive and adjustable for effort through three ranges. The way the sleek sedan feels ratcheted to the road surface inspires tremendous confidence, while the Tesla’s braking ability is fully commensurate with its other performance attributes.
The Model S is designed to recapture inertial energy through a regenerative braking system calibrated to perform the moment you release the throttle. This makes for an interesting driving technique. Once you get a feel for the way it works, you can go rushing toward a corner and simply lift off the throttle. In so doing, you’ll get weight transfer to the front wheels to improve turn-in and the car will slow enough for you to feed it into most corners without touching the brake pedal.
When acute cornering demanding more vigorous braking is required, depressing the “other” pedal hauls the curvaceous sedan down from speed with significant authority. There was a relative lack of braking action right at the top of the pedal’s travel in my test car, but when you got deep into the binders, the car stopped — really well.
When you arrive at your destination, simply depress the park button, get out, and walk away — the Tesla shuts down and locks.
2013 Tesla Model S Performance Package Road Test & Review: Final Thoughts
Those expecting the world’s first electric luxury sedan to be an amalgamation of compromises are going to be rather disappointed. Dynamically, the Model S is a fully formed well thought out effort. Further, drivers will find it capable of far more performance potential than they will ever have a desire to exploit on the road.
However, the list of items I stated the Tesla owner would do without should also include the prestige factor of a three-pointed star, a golden shield with a prancing stallion, a wreath and crest, a blue and white roundel, or four interlocking rings. On the other hand, the Tesla Model S Performance package owner will get a thoroughly enthralling driving experience, a raft of luxurious accommodations, practical and seamless operation, up to 265 miles of range between recharges, and the aforementioned virtually silent operating experience.
They will also get the best electric car ever offered…to date.
In short, the Tesla Model S is — undeniably — the real thing.
2013 Tesla Model S Performance Package Road Test & Review: Pros & Cons
• No Gas Required — Ever
• Exceptionally Fast And Powerful
• Understated Good Looks
• Redefines The Way We Interact With Cars
• No Gas Required — Ever
• Recharge Time Still Bested by Gasoline
• Interior’s A Bit On The Plain Side For The Price
• Some State Of The Art Features Missing
• Prestige Factor Isn’t On Par With Price — Yet