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BMWBLOG Test Drive: Tesla Model S

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Tesla has had quite a good run lately. Their stock has nearly tripled in the past six months; the Model S has been showered with …

Tesla has had quite a good run lately. Their stock has nearly tripled in the past six months; the Model S has been showered with accolades including Motor Trends 2013 Car of The Year, Automobile Magazines 2013 Automobile of The Year and Consumer Reports recently awarded it the highest score of any car they have ever tested. Think about that for a minute. Consumer Reports has been testing cars for over seventy five years, they now test about 80 cars per year and the Model S achieved a score of 99 out of 100 which is the highest any car they have tested has ever scored. Ladies and gentlemen, the electric car has arrived.

I’ve had the chance to take a Model S on a short drive before, but last week I had a brand new 85kWh Model S for the afternoon, courtesy of friends Phil & Nancy Blackwood. The Blackwoods were in BMW’s MINI-E program as I was but elected not to lease an ActiveE as I did; citing the need for more range than the 94 mile EPA rated ActiveE would deliver.

BMWBLOG Test Drive: Tesla Model S

Like me, a few months after they got their MINI-E back in 2009, the Blackwoods installed a solar array on the roof of their house. As was the case for me, it only took a few months of driving electric to convince the Blackwoods that they would be driving electric from then on. Once you experience that revelation, the decision to go solar is an easy one. Having the ability to make your cars fuel by capturing sunshine is just too good to pass up and many other electric vehicle owners have done exactly what the Blackwoods and I have.

So wanting to drive electric but needing more than 100 miles of range the choice was clear; they would buy a Tesla Model S. The Model S is available in two battery sizes. The 60kWh battery is EPA rated at 208 miles of range and the 85kWh battery is rated at 265 miles. The 60kWh version starts at $71,070 and the 85kWh costs $81,070. There is also a performance version which costs $96,070. They all qualify for a $7,500 federal tax credit which is not included in the above pricing. Some states also have additional incentives for zero emission cars. For example I live in NJ and electric cars are tax exempt so that would account for an additional $5,000 to $7,000 of savings over a comparably priced gasoline car. The car I drove was an 85kWh, (non performance version) and with options cost about $86,000 before the $7,500 federal tax credit.

BMWBLOG Test Drive: Tesla Model S

When Motor Trend tested the 85kWh performance version it achieved a 0-60 time of 3.9 seconds. The non-performance version such as the one that I drove has a 0-60 time of 5.4 seconds. I’ve driven cars as fast as this, but the experience of driving an electric car this fast is really surreal. Having 325lb-ft of instant torque at your disposal at any speed, combined with the ultra quiet and vibration-less cabin is hypnotizing. All you want to do is punch the accelerator at every opportunity. It handles like a sports car, partly because of the low center of gravity. The battery pack which is the heaviest component of the car is located beneath the passenger compartment, and employs the same modern body-on-frame architecture that the BMW i3 will use. I believe this is the best way to properly engineer an electric car and I am very happy BMW agrees. Internal combustion vehicles can never have such a large percentage of the vehicle’s weight at or even slightly below the axle line and this is a great advantage for improved handling.

BMWBLOG Test Drive: Tesla Model S

Once inside the Model S it’s apparent the cabin is very spacious for a car of its size. Cargo space is also plentiful and in addition to the rear hatch area there is a large front trunk or as Tesla calls it, a “frunk”. This is also due to the dedicated electric vehicle architecture. Since the entire drivetrain is below the passenger compartment, there is more interior and cargo space available. Again, the i3 will share this advantage and BMW has said the interior volume of the i3 will be nearly as much as in a 3-Series, even though the car is much smaller.

BMWBLOG Test Drive: Tesla Model S

However the i3 will not have a 17” touchscreen display that is basically the entire center console and controls just about everything in the car like the Model S has. It’s huge, very clear, full of features and intuitive to use. You can open and close the sunroof by sliding a bar back and forth, browse the internet, get directions, view your energy consumption data and much more. The rearview camera display uses half of the screen and is necessary in my opinion as looking back from the drivers seat doesn’t offer the best rear view. You also have access to any song you want to hear, all you need to do is use the voice command and call out the song you want. The car finds it over the internet and plays it. I used all day and only once did I have trouble getting the song I wanted to play.

Charging times at home can vary depending on whether or not you buy the optional 20kW onboard charger. The car comes standard with a 10kW charger which would take about 9 hours to fully charge a totally depleted battery. The optional 20kW charger costs $2,700 and cuts the charging time in half. It’s important to note that these charging times are for a fully depleted battery which is good for 200 to 300 miles depending on driving conditions. However let’s say you drove 60 miles one day and then plugged in. With the 20kW home charger you would be back to 100% charged in about an hour, without it two hours.

BMWBLOG Test Drive: Tesla Model S

The 85kWh Model S also comes standard with Tesla’s Supercharging feature allowing owners to charge the car at Supercharger locations for free. Telsa allows their customers to use their Supercharger network at no cost and has promised that they will always be free. Therefore if you happen to live near a Supercharger you can basically charge your car there all the time and never pay a penny for your fuel for as long as you own the car. Superchargers can charge the car more than 50% in about a half hour.

Tesla is installing their Superchargers along major corridors across the US. It’s a proprietary network and other electric vehicles will not be able to use it. Tesla wasn’t satisfied with the industry standard J1772 connector that all other electric vehicles use so they designed their own connector. It’s sleek, much smaller than the J1772 connector and can charge from all sources of electricity from 120V to the 480V Supercharger supply. I like Tesla’s connector much more than the J1772. It’s sleek and lighter and easier to plug in. Telsa also provides Model S owners an adaptor so they can charge the Model S from any standard public charger that uses the J1772. Even the charge port has a unique location and is hidden beautifully behind the driver’s side taillight, eliminating the need for a dedicated fuel filler door.

It doesn’t take long to realize Tesla really took nothing for granted and really started with a clean sheet of paper when designing the Model S. Aerodynamics is very important for efficiency with EV’s and Tesla managed to achieve a .24 drag coefficient for the Model S giving it the lowest Cd of any production car today. The first thing you notice when you walk up to the car are the door handles. They retract into the door to reduce aerodynamic drag but as you walk up to the car with the key they automatically slide out to allow you access.

After getting inside you realize there is no “ON” button. To turn the car on you simply step on the brake and the car silently comes to life. Brilliant. Tesla eliminated everything you usually need to do before you step on the brake and put the car in gear. You don’t need to unlock the door to get in, or put the key in the ignition or even turn it on. You just walk up to the car with the key in your pocket and the door handle automatically extends out to you. You then get in, simply step on the brake, put it in gear and you’re off.

BMWBLOG Test Drive: Tesla Model S

I’ve driven just about every modern electric vehicle and nothing really compares to the combination of luxury and performance of the Model S. My ActiveE is a great car, and I would say the fit and finish of the ActiveE is much better than that of the Model S, but the performance of the Model S is just astonishing. I know many BMWBLOG readers are true performance enthusiasts, and some probably wouldn’t even consider getting an electric car. Do yourself a favor and go to a Tesla store and arrange a test drive, even if you can’t afford one or have no intention of ever buying one. It’s just an experience every car enthusiast should have. The neck-snapping torque will put a grin on any petrol head’s face, I promise you. I can only hope the cars in BMW’s i brand captures the same exhilarating driving experience the Model S provides. Being a premium performance brand, and based on their track record I have no reason to believe otherwise and look forward to driving the i3 and i8 later this year.

It seems others agree the Model S has the goods also because since it’s launch the Model S is selling very well. In fact for the first quarter of 2013 it has outsold all other luxury cars in its class. (Link to CNN story).

I was thinking of the best way to summarize the Model S driving experience and then I read what Consumer Reports Jake Fisher wrote about it and realized he nailed it: “It accelerates, handles and brakes like a sports car, it has the ride and quietness of a luxury car and is far more energy efficient than the best hybrid cars.” That pretty much says it all.

BMWBLOG Test Drive: Tesla Model S

  • Gecko

    I’m impressed with Tesla. At first I thought they would never do well, but now that seems to have changed. Also, this review was done in my town Montclair. I think I even saw you about 3 days ago on the road in the Model S, I was in a Space Gray E60 M5. I see your 1 series all the time around town.

    • Tommolog

      Cool. Stop by Nauna’s some time and say hi!

  • RedmondChad

    Great review Tom; I think you captured it very well.

    We’ve had our Model S for 8 months, and we are still in love! We will never buy a gas car again, even if somebody invents 100% clean gasoline and gives it away for free. Driving electric in a car designed for it is just such an awesome experience. The throttle response alone is enough to make me cringe at the thought of driving a gas car. I’m looking forward to the BMW i3; that could possibly be our second car.

    I second your recommendation – anybody that hasn’t driven electric needs to try it.

    • Tommolog

      Thanks Chad. You should know!

  • kcveins

    1 small quibble; the onboard twin charger is $1500, not $2700. Otherwise, excellent review.

    • Tommolog

      Yes you are correct, the twin charger alone is only $1,500 but you need the high powered wall charger to deliver the power and that costs $1,200 which adds up to $2,700. I should have written “The optional 20kW charger and high speed wall charger together costs $2,700″ Thanks.

  • hadudelz

    the lowest drag coefficient is acually the new mercedes cla with .22 – not the tesla model s…

    • Tommolog

      …and when the CLA is and actual production car that you can buy you will be correct, but as of today it is not. :)

      • Ad van der Meer

        The CLA is in production, just not on sale in the USA yet… ;-)

      • hadudelz

        The CLA went on sale on 13. April 2013. America is not the word monsieur even if most americans falsely think that…

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1239423621 Jeff U’Ren

    Thanks Tom, great article. You nailed it.

    I have had a chance to drive all 3 iterations of the Model S. My son John and I both drove a friend’s performance version 85kW. It was mind-blowing. We timed it well under 4 seconds, 0-60 from a standing start. We took it on the freeway and it was hard to go slow. The handling was flawless. I’ve driven a variety of expensive and well engineered cars in my life but this car is a quantum leap in automobile technology and design. All automakers will have to compete with the Tesla Model S or admit defeat. The creation of the Tesla Model S marks the end of the gasoline engine car. It is the new Model T. It is the car people will remember as the car that proved that cars powered by electricity are better cars then any car made before. It will start the long love affair with electric cars in mass in America. A true product of Silicon Valley California. The State that said we won’t let automakers force us to keep driving gas burning, smog belching, public heath hazards anymore. So we pasted a law that Mandated that. We told the auto industry that you can now make a better car that would be in the public’s, health, safety and financial interest. Not just the car maker’s interest. Tesla proved that big time.

    I urge all to call their favorite automaker and tell them to make more models of plugin electric cars! They need you to give them a little push to do the right thing.

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  • PHZ

    I test drove a Model S 85 a couple of months ago and was also amazed at how fun it is to drive. I got used to driving without using the brakes quickly. Love it.

    But let me tell you there are some major drawbacks owning a Tesla too that don’t have anything to do with the electric drive train that you must consider. When compared to an equivalently priced BMW/MB/Audi, the interior quality of the Tesla S is not in the same league. It looks more like a prototype. The optional Napa seats on the showroom model looked terrible after a few months of wear and tear and there are barely any storage bins inside.

    Also you can’t get any of the fancy options that one is used to nowadays in luxury cars such as active cruise control, intelligent LED headlights, and active cooled comfort seats. See the new S-Class if you know what I mean.

    Still I would seriously consider sacrificing these goodies for the other benefits. I’m sure Tesla will catch up with the goodies in a few years anyway.

    • Tommolog

      That’s fair to say. I did note that the fit and finish wasn’t up to par with my ActiveE. I suspect it probably won’t hold up quite as well long term as Merc/BMW/Audi do, but as you said give them some time. This is the first car they designed and built from scratch so I’m sure they learned a lot and hopefully will improve upon it for future vehicles.

  • Brian H

    Your suggestion that locals load up at the Superchargers is wrong. First, the time required vs. the $ saved means they are valuing their time at less than minimum wage. Second, they would “clog” the stations, which are intended for intercity drivers, estimated by the Dept of Transportation at under 5% of all drives/trips (though 30% of all mileage).

    “Free” is not necessarily “smart”.

    • Tommolog

      Not suggesting they do that Brian. I certainly wouldn’t if I owned a Model S. I just said they could if they lived close to one, which they can if they so desire to. I was pointing out that the use of the Superchargers is unlimited. If you own a Model S you can use them for free, as much as you want for as long as you own the car.

  • http://www.eatingrules.com/ Andrew Wilder

    Terrific post, Tom! We’ve had our Model S for a little over two months, and now can’t even imagine buying an internal combustion engine vehicle ever again.

    • Tommolog

      That’s great Andrew, best of luck with it. I hear that time and time again. It is really one of the main reasons I’m confident electric drive will eventually be the norm. It really IS a better driving experience. I know people that have never experienced it don’t believe me, and I’ve been called my fair share of names by people commenting on EV stories, but people like you continue to reinforce that argument. Once you go electric, you just don’t want to go back to ICE. Battery tech will continue to improve, perhaps ultra caps will be developed for automotive use, prices will come down and within a decade we’ll see a large percentage of the population seriously consider buying an EV. Twenty years out electric cars and plug in hybrids will dominate.

  • brkf

    Great write up. Looking forward to the Model X and the i3. I have a feeling my next car will be electric…

    • Tommolog

      We are of the same mind! I have a feeling in a three years there may very well be a Model X and an i3 in my garage!

      • http://www.bmwblog.com Horatiu B.

        Tom,

        Once again. Awesome review!

  • Greg Papay

    Tom – Thanks for the unbiased review. A few months ago those were hard to come by, perhaps you and Consumer Reports send us in the right direction.

    We own a Model S and have reserved a Model X (from the touchscreen of the Model X). We have our ’01 5-series until the Model X arrives.

    All driving enthusiasts owe it to their inner core to test drive a Tesla. They have at once made an experience so unique as to inspire and so familiar as to give assurance. It’s nice when the future pays it backwards into the present every once and a while.

    http://www.teslamodels.wordpress.com

  • Mark

    Very well written review – I love my model S and was planning to get an M3 before I drove the model S. What can I say – fun to drive, quiet, and efficient – but mostly I could never put my 5 kids in an M3 – now we leave the suburban in the garage when we go out as a family!

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  • Nega Chin

    greatest car ever made

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  • cohenfive

    I love the Tesla S, but it just isn’t for me. Too expensive (the one I would want is way over $100k), doesn’t handle all that well, and as others have said, the interior is just not up to the standards of a $100k car. Also, for our purposes it is just too big, but they need to be that big to fit that massive battery. That being said, I look forward to the day when we get an EV that meets our needs. I’m hoping for something like the i3 but with more range….

    • http://www.bmwblog.com Horatiu B.

      It will happen. I predict 2-4 yrs max. We will get what we all want.

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