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2013 Tesla Model S Overview

Did Tesla just move over into being a legit, mass-producing auto manufacturer? The Roadster was a fun venture for electric explorer Tesla Motors, but few would relegate it to a status higher than a curiosity. Prices in excess of $100K and ultra-limited production numbers will do that. For the Model S the aim was a more accessible auto, something that could actually be used—and afforded—by a wider audience.

While the Model S is definitely an easier entry point than the Roadster, especially with a starting price nearly half as dear, the attention is still centered around the top end of the lineup. This is only reinforced by news that the Model S Signature Series and its even more impressive Performance variant have both sold out in anticipation of their releases later this year. The Base lags behind its upscale stablemates in preorders, and we have to wonder if it’s the lower battery capacity—40kWh versus the Signature/Performance's 85kWh—that accounts for this difference. With the 40kWh battery, Tesla reports a range of 160 miles. That’s certainly enough for any around-town duty you can throw at it, but the 265-mile range of the 85kWh battery in the S Signature/Performance turns the Model S into a true touring machine. At a 480-volt outlet, recharge time is 45 mins and should cost about $5 according to Tesla, which seems perfect for a bathroom and food break after 300 miles of cruising. And for those with the means, the batteries themselves can be swapped out wholly in less than 5 minutes. Seems a good argument for battery-swap stations located along our highway system or an idea ripe for the next visionary tech startup looking to make a name for themselves.

But this is all ignoring some of the other benefits of electric propulsion. Even the Base trim will zip to 60 mph in less than 6 seconds. Add the Performance package and suddenly the trip takes less than 4.4, which is damned impressive considering a curb weight of more than 3,800 pounds. And don’t forget, because most of that weight is concentrated down below in the battery bank, the Model S comes with a deliciously low center of gravity estimated at just 16 inches.

The floor-mounted powertrain and battery pack also offer “more room than station wagons” according to Tesla, thanks to empty front and rear cargo areas and comfortable seating for 5. You can even add double rear-facing seats for children, if you don’t mind essentially keeping them in the trunk.

Tesla Motors is headed by Elon Musk, the same guy who made several fortunes with PayPal and most recently made news when his other hobby—SpaceX—became the first private company to deliver cargo to the International Space Station. As would be expected, the Model S comes brimming with technology. Getting most of the press is a 17-inch touchscreen that handles infotainment and navigation, which is supported by a 12.3-inch screen for the gauge cluster. Both are powered by Nvidia Tegra processors, which should provide plenty of gumption for 1080-pixel HD video and 3D processing.
Of course, if you’re looking to spend a little extra, you have options. Xenon headlamps, electrochromatic mirrors, the aforementioned navigation system, LED foglamps, a backup camera and a power liftgate will run you an extra $3,750, and if you’re looking for some extra performance $1,500 will get you an active air suspension. It already comes with 6-piston Brembo calipers up front and 4-pot rears—enough to bring the car to a standstill from 60 mph in just 135 feet, so really it’s just good for balance.

Tesla projects its first deliveries to come starting June 22, with the balance of pre-orders following later in the year. The Base trim is not yet sold out, so you still have time to get in line—if you can handle the 160-mile range, that is.


A CarGurus contributor since 2008, Michael started his career writing about cars with the SCCA - winning awards during his time as editor of Top End magazine. Since then, his journalistic travels have taken him from NY to Boston to CA, completing a cross-country tour on a restored vintage Suzuki. While his preference is for fine German automobiles - and the extra leg room they so often afford - his first automobile memories center around impromptu Mustang vs. Corvette races down the local highway, in the backseat of his father's latest acquisition.

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