Tesla Model S First Impression and Review

JUN 28 2012 BY JAY COLE 11

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

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

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

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:



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
SUSPENSIONfront control-arm rear multi-link (aluminum)
Battery85kWh (60 and 40 kWh versions available)

Categories: Tesla, Test Drives


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11 Comments on "Tesla Model S First Impression and Review"

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Fantastic car. Personally I’m expecting the EPA figure for the 60kW and 40kW models to come in around 190mi and 125mi respectfully. I’m just praying we don’t see recalls and a fire like we’re seeing with the Karma. Tesla needs a smooth, nearly flawless launch to inspire confidence and continued reservations.

Agree with you Tom. I am nervous every time a new ev comes out. Most cars hav problems when they come out, but evs have a spotlight on them.

Good article Jay. Glad I stopped by today. What I would like to see are 3 EPA stickers based on the three battery sizes. (where each sticker is actually based on test data for that specific size battery. MPGe should get better for the lighter (smaller battery) vehicles. It would give us a good sensitivity coefficient (delta MPGe/delta wt). and would be an interesting number. I suspect the coefficient is a little less than 1( .7 perhaps) on a percentage basis. This means that a 1% lower wt gives a 0.7% better MPGe (or range).

I’m guessing battery chemistry is why the base model doesn’t have the high charge rate.

Here’s a funny (Good) story.: One of the regular posters on the GM-Volt daily read is getting an S. He has already sold his Volt (he was an early adopter like Lyle).

Anyway I asked him if he got the Signature model and he said yes …..”because that was the only way I could GET IT IN RED”.

Makes sense to me!!

The tesla S sets the bar quite high for 50 – 70 k EV’s. BMW will have to work hard to equal these numbers. But so will GM with their cadillac erev which will cost about the same.

Competition is great for EV’s.


Thanks for this teaser review.

When you get the full experience could you compare Model S with the ICE cars (Mercedes, BMW, Porsche, Audi, Jag, Lexus, etc.) in its product segment and give us your opinion on how it will compete with them?

Model S success or failure will depend on if it converts those drivers, so informing them on the differences will be key. Keep up the great work.

On the supercharging issue (i.e. not available in the base model), I’m sure there are technical and/or cost concerns with implementing it there. Frustratingly, from a customer’s perspective, a more limited range model has MORE of a need for supercharging than a model with over twice the range. I hope Tesla is working on these challenges. In all likelihood, they are.

I see one enormous issue: reliability. As a former Landrover driver, I realized that while the vehicle itself wasn’t built “too” unreliably, it’s weight eventually wore out every component (and this, on a vehicle that has inherent issues to begin with regarding all things electrical.) I’m sure part of the weight comes from the batteries, and as with the Landrover, is partially responsible for the ride (let’s not engineer it; let’s just load it with lead). Brakes will wear out every 12,000 miles, tires, bearings, etc. While this doesn’t have a traditional transmission, that’s suspect as well. On a Landrover, you’re extremely lucky not to have transmission issues before you trade it in on a Honda at 60,000. (My trade-in on a 2003 was $1,250 and I babied this thing. I knew it’d fall apart 10 miles back in the woods if I didn’t.) This weight needs to come down. I think most people will sacrifice a little comfort to not spend an inordinate time at the dealership, especially when there’s not a convenient one on every corner. Don’t get me wrong: I WANT this car to succeed very badly. But if you’re going to sell a premium car, you… Read more »

So in summary… your old Land Rover was heavy, and your old Land Rover sucked, so since the Model S is also heavy, it must also suck?

That logic seems flawed to me.

Neal. Brakes. EV’s have regen brakes and the car actually slows down to a crawl when you remove your right foot from the accelerator. You use the brakes in the last few feet to stop the car. Brake wear on Tesla Roadsters is negligible, however, Roadster owners like to drive aggressively in the twisties and tires are the largest expense. Replacing the rotors and pads on my Land Rover was at a “shocking” price.

The battery weight contributes a significant percentage of the gross weight. Keep in mind, we are at the beginning of the BEV journey. When greater volumes and more competition arrives battery R&D will grow and lighter, more powerful batteries will be developed. Also, infrastructure will grow. The original Model T owners had to buy their gasoline from pharmacies – there were no gas stations on every corner!

Yes, there will be problems. Every manufacturer has them. Imagine marketing a new technology car, in a new factory and staff, with new vendors. It may be more difficult a task than launching a satellite, docking with the Space Station, and returning safely to Earth

At $100K, being a good car, should not even be questioned, IMHO

But it is hardly the car for everyone as Musk originally talked about.

Here is a something from a recent article::

“Indeed, the car has been designed to appeal to buyers of high-end sedans like the BMW 5-Series and the Panamera. Musk describes them as people who want something that handles better and drives faster than the standard premium sedan. And he doesn’t hesitate to add that Model S is gunning for would-be buyers of the $200,000 Aston Martin Rapide and $128,000 Maserati Quattroporte as well.”

Still not more than a niche vehicle, IMHO

Look for EPA on the base model to be about 135 miles. As GeorgeS points out, the base model will be lighter (probably around 450lbs lighter). If their range modeling is consistent, then EPA will come in about 15% less than the advertised 160 miles at 55mph.

Good thing for me, and I assume most people, is that the EPA rating for EVs with regards to range is marginally useful. It’s good for efficiency comparisons and budgeting running costs. For me, it doesn’t matter what the city range is. I’m never doing 70+ miles of city only driving in a day. What is important is the highway range. How far can I go at 60mph on the highway? How will this change over the life of the car and with different ambient environments?

In this context, the Leaf is about a 50 mile BEV and Model S about 100 mile for me. Those in colder climates may want to lower those numbers some.