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USA: I Am Silent, Hear Me Roar

It doesn’t snarl like a Lamborghini, but Tesla’s new Model S is no eat-your-broccoli all-electric car, says Dan Neil—more like eat-up-the-pavement-while-grinning-ear-to-ear

THIS TESLA MODEL S thing you’ve heard so much about? You know, all-electric sedan, Silicon Valley, that guy from SpaceX? This is one amazing car. I mean, hard-core amazing. But first and foremost, gentle reader, it goes like the very stink of hell. Fifty-to-100-mph acceleration in the $97,900 Signature Performance model I drove is positively Lambo-like and…wait, let’s stop right there:

People who like fast cars are sensualists. And screaming up through the gears of an Italian sports car—getting that flit and loft in the belly, tasting the saliva of speed—is a pleasurable and addictive sensation. They don’t call it dopamine for nothing.

Unfortunately, in a car like a Lambo, other people can hear you being stupid for miles around. At full tilt, those cars are like civil-defense sirens, if civil-defense sirens alerted you to the presence of awful men in gold watches and track suits. It’s embarrassing.

Tesla Model S Features

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Tesla Motors
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But in the dreamily quiet Tesla Model S, when you hit fast-forward, the film speeds up but the soundtrack doesn’t really get much louder. The pitch of the electric whine goes up, the suspension sinks down, but compared with an internal-combustion sports car—quaint thing that it is now—this car slips silently as a dagger into triple-digit speed. You can cut traffic to bits in this thing and never draw the jealous ire of your fellow motorists.

The Signature Performance model is powered by a 416-horsepower AC synchronous electric motor producing 443 pound-feet of torque between zero and 5,100 rpm, with a zero-to-60-mph acceleration of 4.4 seconds and a quarter-mile elapsed time of 12.6 seconds. The SP package is equipped with a high-capacity drive inverter and twin 10-kilowatt-hour charging inverters for rapid recharge (about four hours). It should come equipped with a lawyer. You’re going to need one.

The Model S—indeed, high-performance electric vehicles in general—will take some getting used to, even a new vocabulary. We currently don’t have a good term for EVs’ distinctive concentration of mass, with batteries slung low as possible and centroid to the vehicle. While traction batteries are heavy, and mass is bad for acceleration and agility, the lower center-of-gravity often compensates with higher levels of cornering, especially when a car wears rubber like the Signature Performance edition’s sticky 21-inch summer tires. How about “corner-levering mass”?

Whatever, the Tesla’s got it in spades. The car’s flat, floorpan-mounted battery pack (85 kWh) accounts for about 30% of the significant total vehicle weight, 4,642 pounds. And yet, with a C-of-G comparable to that of a Ford GT supercar, the Tesla corners like it’s tethered with magic. What do you call that?


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