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2013 Tesla Model S Review

Streaking along the mountaintop ridgeline road in the 2013 Urban Wheel Awards Green Vehicle of The Year, the silence is almost deafening. The complete absence of mechanical noise — no intake growl, no exhaust rumble — makes hustling the extremely powerful 2013 Tesla Model S sedan along a mountain road a near-surreal experience.

Hampered briefly by a slower-moving vehicle (practically everything else is, by the way), when a passing lane opens up, we give the Model S full throttle for the first time, to execute the passing maneuver. A great leaping explosion of forward thrust shoves the 4,770-pound car onward like a fastball from pitcher Aroldis Chapman of the Cincinnati Reds. With our crania pinned against the headrests from the sudden G load produced by the massive force, our mouths hang open, dumbfounded at both the alacrity and relentlessness of the acceleration of the Tesla.

(For you non-baseball fans, Aroldis Chapman holds the record for the fastest pitch ever recorded — a retina-searing 105 miles per hour!)

Here, we should interject the rear mounted 310 kW electric motor in the rear-drive Model S generates 416 horsepower at 5,000 RPM and 443 ft-lbs of torque  — the moment you depress the throttle. In other words, the motor’s full torque potential is available the moment you set the Tesla into motion. Nail the throttle, as we did on that mountain road, you’ll get an inkling of what it feels like to be launched in a rocket test sled. The Model S accelerates instantaneously, and just as viciously as any supercar you can name.

Further, when it’s time for the serpentine waltz, the Model S is as graceful as any sports sedan in its class, whether we’re talking Brand A, Brand B, Brand C, Brand M-B, and yes, even Brand P. The steering is highly responsive and adjustable for effort through three ranges. The way the sleek sedan feels ratcheted to the road surface inspires tremendous confidence, while the Tesla’s braking ability is fully commensurate with its other performance attributes.

In fact, while we’re on the subject of braking, the Model S is designed to recapture inertial energy through a regenerative braking system just like every other car with an electric motor. However, its engineers aggressively calibrated its regenerative braking system to perform the moment you release the throttle, before you touch the brake pedal. This makes for an interesting driving technique. Once you get a feel for the way it works, you can go rushing toward a corner and simply lift off of the throttle. In so doing, you’ll get weight transfer to the front wheels to improve turn-in and the car will slow enough for you to feed it into most corners without touching the brake pedal.

In other words, you can rush the Tesla Model S along a moderately winding road using only its throttle to modulate its speed with complete confidence and utter control. Of course, when acute cornering, say something demanding more vigorous braking is required, depressing the “other” pedal hauls the curvaceous sedan down from speed with significant authority. There was a relative lack of braking action right at the top of the pedal’s travel in our test car, but when you got deep into the binders, the car stopped — really well. And, repeatedly from quite high speeds, with no brake fade evident.

Those expecting the world’s first practical fully electric luxury sedan to be an amalgamation of compromises are going to be happily disappointed. Dynamically, the Model S is a fully-formed well thought out effort. The vast majority of drivers will find it capable of far more performance potential than they will ever have a desire to exploit on the road.

Yeah, it’s that good.

And, while looking around the interior of the Model S reveals it has bit of a ways to go before it challenges Audi for style, fit and finish; when it comes to tech, the Tesla positively shines. The centerpiece of the interior is, quite literally, a 17-inch touchscreen panel within which is contained the interface for all of the Tesla’s comfort and convenience functions. Endlessly entertaining, positively practical, and intelligently intuitive, the flexibility the control panel affords the driver is an utterly redefining experience.

But then so is nearly every other aspect of life with a Tesla Model S and this is telegraphed before you even get inside the car.

With the Tesla’s transmitter fob in your pocket, walking up to the Model S causes it to extend its door handles from their flush resting positions. The car unlocks and awaits your entry. Settling behind the wheel, a tap of the brake pedal awakens the propulsion system and the Model S is ready to take to the road. There are no “keys”, no “switches”. The Tesla assumes if you sat down, touched the pedal, and put it in drive, you’re ready to go. When you arrive at your destination, simply depress the park button, get out and walk away. The car shuts itself down and locks itself as well.

Now, with that said, there are a few state of the art conveniences luxury sedans in the Tesla’s price range offer that have yet to be fitted to the Model S. You’ll do without smart cruise control, blind spot indicators, and lane departure warnings. You’ll also do without a driver adjustable suspension system, self-parking, infinitely adjustable seating, and the prestige factor of a three-pointed star, a golden shield with a prancing stallion, a wreath and crest, a blue and white roundel, or four interlocking rings.

However, you will get a thoroughly enthralling driving experience, a raft of luxurious accommodations, practical and seamless operation, up to 300 miles of range between recharges, and the aforementioned virtually silent operating experience. You will also get absolutely the best electric car offered for mass consumption to date. In short, the Tesla Model S is — undeniably — the real thing.

Pricing starts at $87,400 for the Performance model; base model pricing starts at $52,400.