2013 Tesla Model S Review

“Did it catch fire?” No, it bloody well didn’t.

Everyone’s first reaction upon hearing that I’d been off driving the all-electric super-saloon was to enquire about the flammability of said machine. Look, the Model S isn’t the spontaneous combusting type. That’s the other guys.

You know what did catch fire? The seat of my pants. Zeus’s underpants, but does this thing scorch!

Here’s the deal with electric cars: walk into your local Nissan or Mitsubishi dealer and, possibly after a small supply-related delay, you can roll out in a pastel-coloured eco-pod with the personality of a week-old lettuce leaf. Not that the Leaf and the i-MiEV aren’t interesting machines, but they’re also appliances – dull little economy cars only interesting for the uniqueness of their powertrains.

Tesla’s Model S, on the other hand, beckons from the curb with humina-humina curvaceousness. The guys who penned the bulbous Panamera should have their eyes taped open and be forced to watch an endless loop showing this beauty from all angles.

Of course, being a denizen of the internet, you’re intimately familiar with the name Tesla, that Serbian-American inventor best-championed by the comic-drawing loon over at the Oatmeal. Everyone’s favourite wacky genius, Nikolai Tesla could make electricity sit up and beg if he so chose, and the dagger-shaped emblem that bears his name could not find a more-apt place to perch.

This particular model of the Model S is the performance, er, model. Unlike piston-engine cars, the motors stay the same, but the flat, floor-mounted battery-pack gets bumped up in size and capacity. The base car will start with a 40kWh pack that puts out 362hp and a lesser range.

Ah, yes, the Achilles’ heel of the e-car: how far you can go on a charge. Take ‘er easy in this high-spec, 85kWh version of the big sedan and you’ll see a max range of around 400 kilometres. For most folk’s usage, this will be plenty; drive hard and the range drops quickly – just like your gasoline-powered car.

Planning a longer trip? Depending on where you live, Tesla has you covered with its new Supercharger stations. These solar-powered, low-impact recharging points will have the batteries in your Model S zapped up to 80% in just half an hour – good enough for hours of highway driving. You’ll see these mostly up and down the West Coast to start, situated near good places to stop and eat or just stretch your legs.

Walk up to the Model S with the car-shaped key in your pocket, tap the recessed door handle and it silently slides forward into your hand. Stow your gear in either the enormous front cargo area or the huge back trunk (there’s that flat-mounted battery again), load up four of your closest friends and hit the road.

No ignition key or push-button starter here, the Tesla might just be the first car you start with your butt. Simply lowering yourself into the driver’s seat turns it on. The giant, iPad-ish, multi-function touch-screen display hums to life. Fiddle about with any car function you’d like with an ease that’d have MyFordTouch engineers flinging themselves off a cliff. Here’s a cute feature – the volume goes to eleven.

So does the car. Again, that battery back is just four inches high, for a low centre of gravity and flat handling. Zip through a curve and then walk on the accelerator – and it’s like you just got rammed by a hyperspace-ing Star Destroyer. Acceleration is instant. With the instant-on torque of an electric drive, there’s no turbos to spool, nor VTEC to kick in.

Instead you get an insanely rapid rush, like being in the last car on the roller-coaster. Remember, this thing has been known to blitz a brand-new M5 off the line, and weirdly, it does so in near silence. The only sound is a sort of squee! of delighted electrons.

If the average EV is a LARPer running around shouting “Lightning Bolt! Lightning Bolt!”, then the Model S is the dude with the rail-gun. Big, beautiful, moderately practical and incredibly fast. Time to sell your oil stocks?

2013 Tesla Model S
Base: $64,500
As-tested: $114,300

This is a test