Last week Tesla released their Model S to a handul of early customers at a ceremony in Fremont California.  Since then, the car has been made available on a very limited and controlled basis, so we  have been reticent to give out our full impression of the Tesla Model S, or to even to title this update a "review" or "test drive", because quite frankly Tesla hasn't allowed the car to be truly vetted.

Sure, a little seat time, and 5-6 minutes driving around a controlled course is nice, but it doesn't really allow for any feel of the car's  true strengths and weaknesses.

A Tesla Model S Waits To Be Driven

A Tesla Model S Waits To Be Driven

Still, you work with what you have, and since we haven't been able to track down any of the first 10 retail deliveries (video of that ceremony below) to let us borrow their car for a few days, we thought we would patch together some initial impressions.   (emails to Elon Musk about borrowing his have gone unanswered...the nerve)

The Model S seats 7 in theory (a $1,500 option that adds a couple children's seats where you would normally find the rear trunk), but reality is 5 adults could squeeze into the car, although we'd recommend sticking with just 4.  If you do decide on the 7 seat option, and fill up your trunk with kids, you still do have over 8 cu feet of space up front.   However, unlike your gas swilling SUV, your still not going to be able to cart around the whole gang around town with your golf clubs in tow.

Unconfirmed Report: The Model S In Black Is Quicker Than Other Colors

Unconfirmed Report: The Model S In Black Is Quicker Than Other Colors

Performance wise, the car lives up to its billing.  The Model S  Performance hits 0-60 in about 4.5 seconds.  No word (or tests allowed) on 1/4 mile slip times yet, we'll just have to sit patiently for those.

To be blunt, this car puts out a lot of power, and right from the word go, producing 416-hp and 443-lb-ft of torque (362/325 in the non-performance), a sensation you fully feel, albeit in an eerily quiet manner, when launching the car.

What has not been accomplished here, and seems to be the bane of every EV maker is the multi-speed transmission.  Tesla has tried before to perfect this, but in the Model S, just 1 speed is on tap due to the massive power that needs to be controlled by the transmission from the word go.

The EPA rates the Model S at 88 MPGe (city)  and 90 MPGe (highway), so while it is a slouch compared to other electric vehicles, like the current mileage champion, the Honda Fit EV at 118 MPGe, or the Nissan LEAF at 99 MPGe, in the real world, no one really cares.  When you have numbers this high, and you are doing fuel economy financial math on the costs of electricity, the difference is only nickels and dimes more in the Model S over 100 miles.

Of interest the Model S has the lowest drag coefficient of all EVs currently on the market  at .24.  Although we suspect that given the size of the vehicle, the CdA (coefficient x Area), which is the more important factor, is somewhat bloated.  The car also weighs a staggering 4,650 pounds, so again the CD's value  is somewhat marginalized.

A 12.3 and 17 inch LCD Make Up The Model S' Control Panel and Info Displays

A 12.3 and 17 inch LCD Make Up The Model S' Control Panel and Info Displays

What really matters is the range, and the top of the line Model S has that in spades.  The EPA rates that it 265 miles...take that Honda Fit EV (82 miles) and Nissan LEAF (73 miles).

Again, these mileage numbers are exceptional, but still remain untested by anyone in the wild.  And while we tend to think they will stand up, the real question to us is, what about the other model levels?

Indeed, the $96,570-$106,570 Signature Performance Model S can smoke any other sedan on the road and drive for hundreds of miles.  But who among us is buying that?  Only a thousand on the signature for sure.

The real questions are still unanswered.  How will the entry level $57,400 (before credits) do in the real world?  Is the claimed 160 miles of range a reasonable expectation out of a 40 kWh pack?  We don't see how considering the more efficient (and 1,300lb lighter) LEAF only achieves 73 miles from a 24kWh lithium battery pack.  Napkin back math says a number more like 115 miles is more likely.

Also, why is "supercharging" on the premium (85 kWh) and available for the mid-grade (60kWh) version, but not at all for the entry level?  Did Tesla just want to decontent the model?   Or is there heat/charging issues with that car to be concerned with?

On the flip side of the charging coin, all models come with a standard 10 kW on-board charging system that is more than up for the job in most cases, and for $1,200 more you can double that to 20 kW.  This means a base Model S can still be charged at home (provided you can allocate a 200 amp service to it) in just a little more than 2 hours, still better than anything else out there.

Regardless of unanswered questions, there is no doubt the Model S is the top shelf of electric vehicles.  The fit and finish is tight, the navigation and dashboard interaction has no "Fisker-like" hang time issues, or poorly thought out display icons.

As for the ride itself, the handling, cornering, braking, and how it does over some sweet jumps, we will leave until we get a Model S left in one of our staff member's driveways to fully put through its paces (pick me, pick me).

Watch Elon Musk and Gavin Newsom go over some basics, along with touch screen functionality in this clip:

Watch Tesla's First Delivery Ceremony of the Model S:

 

 

Specifications:  TESLA MODEL S SIGNATURE PERFORMANCE
MSRP $96,570
RWD, 5/7-pass, hatchback sedan
MOTOR 416hp/443lb-ft - electric
TRANSMISSION single speed
WEIGHT 4650 lb
WHEELBASE 116.5 in
LENGTH X WIDTH X HEIGHT 196.0 x 77.3 x 56.5 in
0-60 4.4 seconds
EPA FUEL ECON 88 (city)/90 (highway) MPGe
SUSPENSION front control-arm rear multi-link (aluminum)
EMISSIONS nada
Battery 85kWh (60 and 40 kWh versions available)