: 2013 Automobile of the Year: Tesla Model S

11-01-12, 02:11 PM

Our Model S was of Signature Performance spec, which means its AC induction motor puts out 416 hp and that it blasts to 60 mph in 4.3 seconds. Even those numbers -- positively absurd for a large sedan that uses not a lick of gasoline -- fail to communicate how crazy it actually feels. "It's alarming to jam the accelerator of such a big car and have it surge forward so quickly and so quietly," says copy editor Rusty Blackwell. Like most electric cars, the Model S generates its torque almost instantly. Unlike most electric cars, Tesla's torque amounts to a prodigious 443 lb-ft, all of which goes to the rear wheels. The only indicators of your stunning momentum are the rush of scenery around you, a faint whine, and the digital speedometer's difficulty keeping pace. "Driving the Model S is decidedly not like piloting a Nissan Leaf or an electric Smart," notes road test editor Christopher Nelson. Contributor Ezra Dyer, meanwhile, was so impressed that he arranged an informal drag race to 100 mph with a 560-hp BMW M5. The Model S won. "It bears repeating: this thing is silly quick," he concluded.

You'll note that we haven't even discussed Tesla's raison d'etre, which is, in Musk's words, "To accelerate the advent of electric cars." That's another credit to the Model S's overall execution and seductive powers. "The electric motor does not define this car," says Nelson. But it is, at the end of the day, what makes this very good sport sedan an absolute game changer. The Model S's range, rated by the EPA at 265 miles with the largest battery, finally fits the American conception of driving. Want to take the family from Washington, D.C., to New York? No problem. Stop for an hour at one of Tesla's Supercharger stations being installed throughout the country, and you can travel on to Boston. The even bigger psychological advantage, though, is the freedom to go about your daily life, with all its spontaneity and last-minute shopping trips, without the fear of running low. Electric cars that participated in past Automobile of the Year competitions have required special testing procedures -- shorter drive routes, strict guidelines against aggressive driving, industrial charging trucks. The Model S wore no such kid gloves. We plugged it in at night and then drove it all day -- and drove it hard.

But you might not be able to get one. Only 250 sedans have been delivered to customers as of this writing -- a rounding error for any mainstream automaker (some 13,000 customers have put down at least $5000 as a reservation). Musk himself admits that Tesla's path to viability is far from complete. "There have been car company start-ups before. The real challenge is to ramp up production. Then we're a real car company."
We can't say for certain whether Tesla will be able to make that happen. The auto industry is tough enough for a giant like General Motors. What we can say with this award is that Tesla deserves to succeed. It has managed to blend the innovation of a Silicon Valley start-up, the execution of a world-class automaker, and, yes, the chutzpah of its visionary leader. The result is the Model S. It's not vaporware. It's our Automobile of the Year.


11-01-12, 06:26 PM
265 miles ain't bad. The biggest problem with electric cars is the severe lack of charging infrastructure. Once they get that reliably in place, they may do better.

11-01-12, 08:57 PM
I still maintain that electric is the way to go in the luxury class. Unrivaled performance capabilities, quiet, smooth, a model of efficiency, and a status symbol (viewed as new, high end, and expensive). It's characteristics match everything a luxury car strives for, and it offers everything an internal combustion based car can't. Relatively speaking, in the modern auto industry, the internal combustion engine is poor performing, grossly inefficient, noisy, rough, high maintenance, and outdated.

11-01-12, 10:10 PM
I'm not ready to give up my grossly inefficient, noisy, rough, high maintenance, and outdated internal combustion engine, but I do agree with your statement concerning electric!!!!

11-02-12, 01:07 AM
I love Automobile Magazine. Maybe not as much as my perennial favorite, Car and Driver, but a lot more than Motor Trend or Road & Track.

Automobile has some fantastic written articles and editorials and their photography is stellar as well, but I prefer C&D's more technical, concrete stance as well as every article having a nice technical write up on the car. John Phillips, IMO is the best writer in the field. Smart, sardonic and hilarious.