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2013 Tesla Model S – Review

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The 2013 Tesla Model S is the second year for the first high-volume car from Silicon Valley startup Tesla Motors [NASDAQ:TSLA]. It went into production in June 2012, and by late 2012, the company was building a few hundred each week, to work down its backlog of more than 10,000 orders for the all-electric luxury sport sedan.

The long, sleek shape of the 2013 Model S seems to remind onlookers most of the Jaguar XJ and XF sedans–good company to keep if you’re a startup luxury carmaker. The interior is well made, but fairly simple, dominated by the stunning 17-inch touchscreen display mounted vertically in the center of the dashboard. Its sheer size, graphic design, bright display, and lightning-quick response really make any other car’s touchscreen interface feel 10 years old. There’s also a smaller instrument display for the driver in the usual position behind the steering wheel. While we wonder about the distraction that comes from relegating all the minor controls to the center display, it has large icons and clear, easy-to-read fonts, so it’s more usable than any we’ve seen.

While the Model S competes in the sport-sedan segment, it’s actually a five-door  hatchback with a pair of optional child-sized jump seats facing rearward in the cargo bay. They’re only suitable for kids willing to wear the four-point safety harness, but they let Tesla claim that the Model S holds seven passengers. Still, short of large crossover utility vehicles, no other sedan even tries to hold seven occupants. We’re more than a little curious about the safety provisions, though–those kids sit very close to the liftgate.

The floor-mounted lithium-ion battery pack of the Model S gives it a very low center of gravity, and the rear-mounted electric drive motor frees up the compartment up front under the hood–which contains a storage compartment that Tesla insists on calling the “frunk,” or front trunk.

Three battery-pack capacities are offered–85 kilowatt-hours, 60 kWh, or 40 kWh–with production focusing first on the largest packs. The medium-size pack was set to start deliveries very early in 2013, with the smallest battery following a few months later. All packs are thermally conditioned with liquid cooling or heating, for better energy retention and more predictable performance. The EPA rates the largest battery at 265 miles of range; ratings aren’t yet out for the other two. Remember, though, that like all electric cars, real-world range will vary considerably with speed, acceleration, driving style, temperature, and other factors.

The standard motor is a 270-kilowatt (362-hp) unit that powers the rear wheels. The more powerful Model S Performance version upgrades to a 301-kW (416-hp) motor, letting it rocket from 0 to 60 mph in less than 5 seconds. Standard versions reach that speed in 6 to 7 seconds. The Tesla Model S handles and holds the road like a sports car, due to a center of gravity that’s lower than any other sedan. It rides firmly over pavement imperfections–you’ll know it’s not a soft luxury sedan that floats over anything on the road–but the air suspension keeps the ride remarkably good over bigger bumps, lumps, and even the deepest potholes and most uneven surfaces.
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