The cars we loved.
We continue our dialog on yet another electric car. They are starting to catch on (again), although they represent a very small segment of the overall market. There is a growing variety of price points, choices and approaches to electric technology. The choices are starting to become a microcosm of the internal combustion engine universe. Cars like the Prius and Leaf represent the solid middle price range while the Mitsubishi iMiEV has become the electric blue light special at only $22,000. The problem with these cars is that they look like electric cars or the appliances they promise to be. EV or hybrid versions of the Focus or Fusion look more like real cars, but they too are appliance like.
On the other end of the spectrum, a new sub market of upscale premium electric cars is emerging. The Fisker Karma and Tesla Model S sedans are two star examples at the moment. Of the two, the American built Tesla seems to have made it to market first and is already making a big impression on the automotive press and well-heeled eco crowd.
Motor Trend magazine has voted the Tesla Model S it’s car of the year for 2012, the first time ever for a non-internal combustion engine car. The award was presented because the Model S so effortlessly acts and performs like the premium luxury car it is. The Model S looks as if it could from any luxury make. A designed from scratch, built from the ground up fresh design, it’s sleek profile recalls both the Maserati Quattroporte and Jaguar FX a car that it matches in length. While it may not be as exotic looking as the Fisker, it’s more grounded in its approach to practicality. Other specs may sound exotic at face value. For instance the Model S has a single rear mounted 416 hp electric motor, making it slightly more powerful than the twin motor Fisker Karma.
With 18” or 19” wheels and 10 colors to choose from, the Model S can look anywhere from distinctive and low-key to stealthy. The coupe like C pillar hides the fact that this sedan sports hatchback functionality. Seating for up to seven passengers is possible with two optional rear facing child seats that fit neatly in the rear hatch. Even with the optional seats, there remains plenty of room for luggage. Interior headroom is compromised due to large flat batteries in the floor pan, but the accommodations are as comfortable as any gasoline powered luxury sedan.
The interior is highlighted by a 17” screen that controls and monitors entertainment and battery status. Even the gauges are electronic screen based. The spacious cabin is made so due to the placement of electric motors that does not require a space robbing drivetrain or hump. The interior is also well insulated from wind noise and as with most electric cars go, is super silent at speed. Even the single speed transmission feels seamless. As a car, the Model S handles well regardless of how it’s propelled. A fully independent MacPherson front and multi-link rear keeps the wheels on the grounded on all types of road surfaces while an active air ride system insures a big car comfort with all the reflexes expected of a rear wheel drive sports sedan. Some of that sure footedness comes from the fact that the Model S can weigh in as much as 4600 lbs!
The Model S comes in two basic flavors; a standard model S and a Performance version. In addition to the two major trim levels, the four battery types have varying horsepower and range figures. The $100k sport version comes standard with a larger 85kw performance battery that propels it to 60 mph from a stop in only 4.4 seconds. The option of attractive 21″ wheels on performance tires is available on the performance model only. The $50k standard model comes with a choice of three lithium-ion batteries that give it a range from 160 (40kw/23 5hp) to 300 (85kw/362 hp) miles on a single charge. Even the smallest battery delivers a respectable 6.5 second 0 to 60 run. The middle battery (60kw/302hp) offers a range of nearly 230 miles fully charged. Speaking of charging, the Model S can be connected to any standard household 110 volt outlet. With the charger built into the car, it offers considerable versatility. For instance if you have access to a 240 volt outlet, the Model S will charge faster. Telsa promises optional 440 volt supercharging that will fully charge a 40kw battery in as little as 30 minutes. Tesla hints that batteries can be swapped out at some future date, but recommends buying more than you need initially. No word yet on the company’s replacement policy. This is an issue that many electric car makers will be sorting out in the coming years as old batteries lose their ability to hold a full charge.