Driving the electric dream
If the planet suddenly runs out of crude oil, how will we continue to commute and will this new mode of propulsion be fun?
The answer might just be in electric cars, and since there are many ways to generate and store electricity it might just be the solution we're looking for. Electric cars might be able to solve the problem, but will these vehicles appeal to the petrol heads of the world?
Tesla thinks they will. This California-based car company burst onto the scene out of nowhere just a few years ago, headed by the man who invented PayPal: Elon Musk.
His first car, the Tesla Roadster, was heavily based on the Lotus Elise. While the packaging worked, it was not without its problems, chief among them were the practicality and price.
I drove the Tesla Roadster a couple of years ago and simply loved the instant acceleration and the fact that this was an electric car that had a usable range. At the same time, it was just as difficult to get in and out of as a Lotus Elise, and had the ride quality of a skateboard. Oh, and at $125,000 for a base model it wasn't exactly affordable.
However, the Roadster is in the past; so what does Tesla have in store for the future?
To begin, they just launched their new car called the Model S. Unlike the Roadster, this is an all-new car with its own chassis -- which was designed by Huibert Mees, the same guy who did the chassis on the Ford GT. The body was penned by Franz Von Holzhausen, a former Mazda designer.
At a recent Tesla drive event, I got to see this attractive vehicle firsthand. The design might remind some of the Jaguar XF from certain angles -- only better.
To check out the interior, you have to open the door by pressing on the flush-mounted handles, which pop out automatically. The design of the handles is very neat, but we'll have to see how well they work in the winter, with snow on the car.
Get inside and you'll find that the interior is not only very spacious (you can have either a Tesla Model S as a five-seater or in a seven-seat layout) and well put together, but is also a geek's paradise.
The main attraction is the 17" centre console touchscreen display. This screen not only allows you to control the climate control, stereo and navigation, but you can even access the web through it. You'll also use the screen to unlock the hood, the trunk and the flap that hides the charging point.
Techno wizardry is fine, but what is the car like when you use it as a car?
To find out, I got the chance to take one on a short drive. The route had city and highway driving involved, which would give a good overview of what the Tesla Model S was like as an everyday car.
The first thing you'll notice is just how quiet it is. The Tesla Model S moves away so silently... In comparison, a spa might sound like a rock concert. The quietness remains even at higher speeds, so whoever did the sound deadening on this car knew what they were doing.
Then there is the performance, which does depend on which model you choose. The Model S will be available with three different battery packs: 40 kWh, 60 kWh and 85 kWh. The base battery will give you a range of roughly 260 km on a full charge, while the midsize battery will extend the range by another 110 km.
The top-of-the-line 85 kWh battery allows you to travel roughly 480 km on a full charge, which is very impressive. A full charge from a 240 volt outlet takes roughly 4-5 hours for different battery sizes.
As a halo model, Tesla is even offering what they call the Performance version of the Model S, which sports the 85 kWh battery and produces 416 hp and 443 lb-ft of torque. This model can sprint from 0-96 km/h in just 4.4 seconds, and the top speed is electronically limited to 210 km/h. Power goes to just the rear wheels through a single-speed gearbox.
The version I drove had the 85 kWh battery, but it was not the Performance model. My test car had 362 hp and 325 lb-ft of torque, and it could do the 0-96 km/h sprint in 5.6 seconds and top out at 201 km/h.
Trust me, this was quick enough. I loved how responsive the Tesla Model S is to your accelerator inputs, and also loved the feel of the steering (which has three firmness settings which can be selected by -- you guessed it -- the touchscreen display).
The Tesla Model S will be on sale in Canada by this October. Canadian prices have just been announced, and they start at $64,500 for the 40 kWh version. the 60 kWh version is yours from $75,200 and the 85 kWh version starts at $85,900. These prices do not include government green car rebates, depending on the province you're in.
Will the Model S work for everyone? Probably not at the moment. Our cities are just not set up for electric cars just yet, but that infrastructure is coming. Will the Model S be reliable? We'll have to wait and see, however, the battery does have an eight-year warranty. The car itself has a four-year, 80,000 km warranty.
The Model S might not be the perfect car for everyone, but it is a perfect example of what driving will be like in the future, and the future does look bright. In short, this family sedan is truly fun to drive. The fact that it's kind to the environment is just an added bonus.
Auto journalist & Consumer Ratings
2013 Tesla Model S Specifications