First some history. The Tesla is a pet project of PayPal founder Elon Musk, whose multi millions helped him start the car company. Musk—who happens to be half Canadian (his mother was a Canuck)—also developed SpaceX, the first private firm to successfully launch a rocket into space. All this while he was still in his thirties.
The Tesla was created to compete head-on with fossil fuel vehicles. No alternative fuel excuses, no massive price difference, just a state-of-the-art vehicle that just happens to be an EV. Tesla started with the Roadster in 2009, an EV conversion of the Lotus Elise and a niche car designed primarily for the track and the elemental joy of driving. As a two-seater, the Roadster was a niche model spun off of a niche model. Tesla’s airbag legislation exemption ran out around the same time as its deal for the Elise chassis with Lotus. In short, the Roadster is no longer for sale in North America. Enter Tesla’s Model S. It’s is a new car from the ground up. Blank slate—everything you see, feel, and touch comes from the creative brains of Musk’s talented designers.
Let’s talk performance: 0–100 km/h in 4.4 seconds for the Model S Performance. It’s faster than both the Audi A7 and the S7. In the real world, without launch control, it’s faster than a V10-equipped SRT Viper. It’s faster even than the much more expensive Porsche Panamera GTS.
This car is quick
But more than quick, it’s stylish, understated, and a little thing called green. The Tesla has no tailpipe. There’s not a hint of internal combustion. Hybrid vehicles look positively sinful next to the Tesla. This car delivers Porsche-level performance without a drop of gas.
On the road it handles curves as well as it does a stoplight Grand Prix. Smooth electric steering, an adaptive air suspension, and non- regenerative brakes contribute to an enlightened experience when the roads get twisty.
As this Tesla’s motor is mounted low and behind the rear axle, not only do you get a low centre of gravity (which helps handling), you get a trunk in the front. Yes, you can stow your luggage in the bow, just as you can in a Porsche 911.
The Model S carries five adults in comfort, with a massive 17-inch video screen as the centerpiece of the interior. Two rear-facing jump seats in the luggage area—reminiscent of a 1960’s era station wagon—allow your kids to wave at the cars behind you. That brings the Model S’s passenger count to seven. If Tesla needs to upgrade your car’s software it can use its 3G connectivity to push through the latest version.
Still, this wonder car is not without controversy. Elon Musk butted heads with none other than The New York Times for a 2012 story that slammed the vehicle. A reviewer took issue with being stranded on a major highway, allegedly thanks to a dead battery; Musk disagreed. The resulting media maelstrom may be used in PR Pitfalls 101 for centuries to come. The controversy has died, but the underlying issue remains: Will the Tesla strand you at the side of the road? After all, the auto service can’t drop off a litre of electrons and get you back on your way. Tesla gives you the choice of different sized batteries. The company claims you will be able to go 425 kilometres on a single charge, and that charge will take from a few hours up to 10 hours depending on the voltage of the recharging source. But, as in a gas vehicle, your driving style makes a huge difference. If you’re dusting off Corvettes and Vipers at every stoplight, you’re going to drain that battery more rapidly. If you can resist temptation and dedicate yourself to responsible driving, your range will be considerably greater. As they say on TV: “Your mileage may vary.”
Tesla is promising a network of supercharging stations across the U.S. and Canada that will provide a half charge in just 20 minutes, and a 320-km range in just 30 minutes. Currently there are just nine stations up and running in the U.S., with a promise of a coast-to-coast network by 2015. In Canada, a network is already strong in Quebec, Ontario, and parts of the West; more attention needs to be devoted to Manitoba and the Prairies.
Performance wise, however, with this cool car Elon Musk has stepped up to the plate and cleared the bases with one swing. This Tesla is fast, elegant, cutting-edge, and priced the same or lower than comparable gas-fuelled competitors. We don’t need to go back to the future. The future is here. It’s quick, it’s fast, it’s elegant, and it’s electric.
by Peter Gilbert