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Tesla Model S: The 2013 Yahoo! Autos Car of the Year

The 2013 model year brought consumers a fleet of new machines, and the editors and writers of Yahoo! Autos tested over 100 new models this year, from the brutish Ford Shelby GT500 to the gas-sipping Toyota Prius C. But all those appear to be automotive afterthoughts when compared to that futureshock of an electric sedan and Yahoo! Autos’ Car of the Year: the Tesla Model S.

PayPal co-founder Elon Musk’s foray into the car game started in 2008 with the nimble Tesla Roadster, a Lotus Elise makeover that swapped an internal combustion engine for a suitcase full of lithium-ion battery packs. But where that coupe was a high-tech experiment disguised as a $100,000 eco-conscious status symbol, the seven-passenger, $50,000-on-up Model S sedan promised to be a make-or-break machine that would determine whether Silicon Valley-based Tesla Motors can survive as a legitimate purveyor of reliable everyday cars.

The result? While the company and its car still have hurdles to overcome before either becomes a streetside staple, the Model S is the year’s most noteworthy automobile for the way Tesla has erased long-perceived limitations of electric cars (poor range, small size, spartan interiors) and, going where no established automaker has yet to tread, creating an uncompromised yet practical object of desire.

A day spent driving a top-of-the-range Model S Signature Performance Edition on Bay Area backroads and freeways revealed the Tesla’s split personality. A price tag of $105,000 puts this iteration squarely in the premium luxury camp, shoulder to sheetmetal shoulder with the likes of BMW M5 and 7 series, Audi S6 and A8, and Porsche Panamera S. But the Model S can hang in such company from both performance and pampering standpoints.

While the Model S is content to quietly amble down the road as you take in its optional 580-watt Studio Sound Package ($950) stereo, simply flexing your right foot turns the car into a stealth fighter. Instant torque (and a 4.4-second zero-to-60 mph time) puts fellow travelers in your rear view mirror fast and without drama. That same composure is evident when carving up winding roads, thanks in large part to floor-stashed batteries that lower the car’s center of gravity and provide its 265-mile range. The Tesla Roadster does the same thing; only now you’ve got your parents and your small kids plus some groceries along for the ride.
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