What good is a twenty-minute test drive?
Well, when most sources are getting a ten minute test drive, a twenty-minute one is twice as good. The problem, of course, is that range is as critical to an electric car as tensile strength is to parachutes; it’s the difference between a safe arrival and a harrowing trip. Without a genuine understanding of the Tesla’s range, we can’t say for sure whether it’s a great car or not.
That doesn’t mean we can’t pass along what we did learn during those twenty minutes.
We can start with the physical envelope of the car, which is similar to that of a Jaguar XF. The looks are Jaguaresque as well. Franz von Holzhausen, the man responsible for styling the big Tesla, also penned the Solstice/Sky twins for General Motors. Like those ill-fated droptops, the Model S has a packaging issue; in this case, it’s rear headroom, which is sacrificed to the false god of faux-coupe styling. It’s a shame, because rear legroom is solid and with no central tunnel it might be possible for a third person to be reasonably comfortable in the middle seat. Tesla reps tell us that the panoramic roof, available as an option, actually adds an inch of headroom, but our car came without it, or the rear jump seats and their Fifty Shades of Grey-esque five point harnesses.
The Tesla Roadster was universally panned for interior quality. In the case of the Roadster, which was based on the pre-Bahar Lotus Elise, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. The Model S, by contrast, is a significant leap forward. The interior design is unique and distinctive without straying too far from the interior template set by the E65 BMW and its imitative successors. The only parts-bin contribution we recognized was the Mercedes-Benz column shifter. Although there was a loose trim piece on a door, this was an early series production car and overall the interior meets the expectations of this market.
Since Tesla expects to reach out to the tech-savvy crowd, they’ve gone through the trouble of providing what looks like
an iPad class-leading center display. It’s Internet-enabled and it’s big enough to read your favorite website site — or, if that doesn’t load, you can check out TTAC, as seen below. If you aren’t interested in looking at photographs of rope bondage, and want to do unmentionable things like change the temperature or radio station, it’s all done through the giant touch screen, and it works fairly well. How it will hold up in a decade’s time is perhaps the second most interesting variable.
Naturally, we don’t recommend that you surf and drive, particularly when operating a vehicle with this kind of power. Although the Model S won’t keep up with the warp drive Tesla Roadster Sport, it’s fast enough. The kind of “electric-motor thrust” often found in reviews of turbocharged German luxury sedans is provided here by an actual electric motor. Our test variant was the most powerful one; however, due to some misdeeds by other participants in this event we were hard-limited to 80 miles per hour. The Model S reaches that in a hurry, no sweat. As you’d expect from an electric vehicle, the power delivery is linear and muscular. There’s no sportbike-esque exhilaration like you’d find in the Roadster, but it’s plenty quick, launching forward with the same urgency of a Porsche Panamera. The Porker relies on all-wheel drive and the big V8 to launch away from a light; in the Model S, that sensation of an aircraft carrier catapult launch is magnified. The power is always available right now in a way that no gasoline car can match. The flat-and-straight nature of our Missisauga, Ontario test venue prohibited us from verifying claims of totally flat, telepathic cornering and whatever superlatives have been heaped on this car. Unlike the Roadster, the Model S won’t be expected to corner like a go-kart or any of the things people typically have in mind when they say something corners like a go-kart.
The Model S is spacious, and quick, and stylish, and it’s frankly a wonder that it got built at all in an era when the engineering, design, assembly, and distribution of a motor vehicle happens at a scale that would impress the architects of the Manhattan Project. Until the range question is answered, however, it’s impossible to know whether this Manhattan Project produced a vehicle that is the bomb… or just a bomb, period.