Tesla S is a dreamy electric vehicle
By Susan Carpenter
Published: Saturday, April 13, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
My affair with the Tesla Model S began innocently enough, as a chance meeting brought on by unforeseen circumstances. The recent New York Times towing incident prompted a radio station request for me to talk about the all-electric S — an invitation I initially declined because I hadn't met the car.
For the past year or so, the electric Leaf has been my trusty steed. Traveling just 75 miles per charge at a top speed of 90-ish mph, it didn't always get me where I needed to go, but if I could find a plug, it always came through in the end.
When I was finally able to meet the S, I expected to be wowed by its capabilities, if put off by its ego and Lothario status. Since its introduction last fall, the S, which can travel 130 mph and 265 miles per charge with its 85-kilowatt-hour battery pack, has become an automotive superstar. It had palled around with Motor Trend and scored its 2013 Car of the Year award, only to fall into the arms of The New York Times and be pilloried for suffering from the cold and stranding its driver.
Southern California seemed an ideal place for our tryst. I met the Model S Performance version in its swanky space-age digs, just off Rocket Road in Hawthorne, Calif., where it was plugged in to the Tesla Supercharger that can rejuvenate it with 150 miles of range in a mere 30 minutes. It's one of 100 Superchargers Tesla plans to install across the country by the end of the year to enable longer-distance driving.
Its 1,000 pounds of lithium-ion batteries are spread like a pancake at the base of the car, and used to form part of its structure, which not only aids its performance by lowering the center of gravity to improve handling and isolating road noise from the chassis, it opens up so much space that a third-row children's jump seat can be had as a $1,500 option in what would ordinarily be the cargo hold.
Sliding into its leather bucket seat and pressing the brake pedal brought life to the S, the controls for which are mostly tactile. There are no buttons, just a 17-inch touch screen that offers similar functionality to an iPad and various stalks mounted off the steering wheel to put the S into gear and signal.
I had a full day and 271 miles to dispense with on the coast and in the Malibu canyons, and the S was more than willing to oblige with 443 foot-pounds of instant torque that, unlike my front-wheel-drive Leaf, didn't make the steering go wonky when I stomped it. The AC induction motor on the S powers its rear wheels with a single-speed gear box. No shifting is required.
Our tryst was over much too soon, but it got me thinking: Should I dump my Leaf? It is, after all, just a boyfriend. I'm leasing.
The Tesla Model S really does feel like The One, though he does seem pretty unavailable. There are 13,000 back orders for the $106,000 car.
Maybe today there will be 13,001.
Susan Carpenter writes for The Orange County Register.
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