2012 Tesla Model S All-Electric Sedan: Drive Reviews Roundup

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On Friday, Tesla Motors delivered its first production Model S electric sedans to retail customers, an event the company webcast live.

Watch the 26-0minute video above if you want to relive the glorious event.

While Green Car Reports wasn't there, we've watched the deluge of coverage and read the handful of drive reviews published so far.

Happy new owners have posted photos of their cars--Bill Lee, for example--and blogged about them. Many are following the lead of Tesla board member Steve Jurvetson, who wrote about taking delivery of Model S # 001 well before Friday's fete.

In general, reviewers seem impressed with the car--though as our friends at Jalopnik point out, it's always best to take early short-drive reviews from carefully chosen outlets with a grain of salt.

Still, Yahoo's Justin Hyde--proudly calling himself "the first journalist to test-drive one"--was blown away. He writes that he thought he knew what to expect, having driven a dozen or more electric cars.

But, Hyde writes, he was wrong: "The Tesla Model S drives like none of them, or any gas-powered vehicle ever built."

2012 Tesla Model S Signature

2012 Tesla Model S Signature

Enlarge Photo

He loves both the acceleration and the handling. He points out that the aggressive regenerative braking makes cruise control a necessity on long trips, but says the transition from regen to friction braking is imperceptible.

Hyde notes a factoid we'd not previously heard: The 2012 Tesla Model S has a center of gravity just 16 inches above the ground, carrying the weight of its 85-kWh lithium-ion battery pack in the floorpan, as low as it can go.

That's 2 inches lower than the much-lauded 2012 Subaru BRZ sports coupe, by the way.

Concluding that the Tesla Model S is fully competitive with cars of its size from Mercedes-Benz, Cadillac, and Maserati, Hyde concludes: "From behind the wheel of the Tesla Model S, you feel you're driving the future, instead of burning increasingly limited gallons of the past."

Katie Fehrenbacher of GigaOm's Earth2Tech has a 6-minute video review; she too comments on the characteristic Tesla regenerative braking feel and the low center of gravity, as well as the unexpected acceleration.

She demonstrates the active air suspension's adaptation to sudden changes in road surface over a patch of bumpy road, and goes through several different functions (navigation, energy usage, backup camera) on the car's 17-inch touchscreen display ("like two iPads").

GigaOm's Katie Fehrenbacher behind the wheel of a 2012 Tesla Model S (video screen capture)

GigaOm's Katie Fehrenbacher behind the wheel of a 2012 Tesla Model S (video screen capture)

Enlarge Photo

Her overall impression? "It was awesome."

CNet's Wayne Cunningham too got some time behind the wheel. Unlike Fehrenbacher, he got the Performance Edition with the larger inverter, giving it a 0-to-60-mph time of 4.4 seconds, against 5.6 seconds for the standard Model S with 85-kWh pack.

He approves of "the accoutrements one would expect from a premium car," and says the "inexorable acceleration" simply "felt like a freight train," calling it "completely unruffled" at speeds of 85 mph.

Overall, Cunningham says, he could easily imagine using a Tesla Model S as a daily driver. The company, he says, has "succeeded in what it set out to do": deliver an all-electric luxury sedan that provides "an extremely nice, comfortable ride in a cabin with the kind of refinement seen from car companies with a lot more history."

Finally, Frank Markus of traditional buff book Motor Trend was also at the event. He waxes poetic, calling the Model S "Silicon-Valley fresh -- no precedents or paradigms to shift and the air is filled with fresh thinking."

His conclusion? "My eyes are wide and my jaw has dropped."

Motor Trend is based in Detroit, unlike the other three outlets, which are all centered in Silicon Valley.

So it looks like some Detroit automakers--not to mention a few in Munich, Stuttgart, and Ingolstadt--might have a new competitor after all.

Can the company sell enough Model S cars to survive and to fund its future model plans? That's the next challenge.


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Comments (16)
  1. I read every review that I could find and only Jalopnik was sour, although not so much on the car as on Tesla's test drive policy - he thought 10 minutes not enough time "to test the driving range." I was somewhat taken aback at the quoted weight of the 300 mile version (4650), but with WSU batteries in that baby, it would scale in at around 3600. I could say that I'm waiting for those much, much cheaper batteries (true enough), but actually I'm waiting for von Holzhausen's sport car. If his styling doesn't live up to his previous efforts at GM (Pontiac Solstice, Saturn Sky), I'll get a Healey and electrify it myself. I know where to get all the parts once I have the advanced batteries. Would be a tall order to outdo the Healey 3000.

  2. @Kent: This is your friendly site moderator speaking. Please stop with the endless WSU battery promotion in your comments.

    As I look through our comment moderation tool, you have posted versions of the same wildly positive "WSU batteries are coming very soon & they will change everything, every electric car today is pathetically outmoded" comment on more than a dozen articles on diverse electric-car topics.

    Enough. Please comment on the substance of individual articles. Thank you in advance.

  3. Kent isn't advocating for the WSU batteries. He is just providing context reader to understand that current batteries are heavy and expensive.

    Fortunately, there are many other commenters that don't provide that context so that overall the comment section gets filled with a variety of opinions.

  4. Actually what I can find on WSU batteries has nothing to do with lower weight, just longer life (which would help keep battery cost per mile down though admittedly).

  5. Guess the Model S is surprisingly heavy to the point that it even surprised Tesla that until this weekend quoted a weight of just 3825 lbs for this car on the spec page of their website.

    Still, could be worse: Fisker's Karma weighs in at an even more massive 5300 lbs so the argument that an ICE range extender is a light weight alternative for heavy long range battery packs doesn't really seem to hold much water.

  6. Yes, both on exterior styling and performance, the Model S powerfully impresses. I am going to get my "order deposit" in for a mid or late 2013 delivery target to have the Model S replace our current Nissan Leaf SL. I do wish the Model S had "cooled seats" and being gadget oriented, a heads up display, but the power, range, and styling promise a wonderful and rewarding driving experience.

  7. Cooled Seats don't work very well, I had them on my previous car and trust me they don't cool you down and then the heated seat function doesn't work well either because the heat escapes through the perforated leather. I live in a sub-tropical climate and my cooling seats just never justified their optional add on to the price of the car.

  8. +1 on the heads up display, the sort of gadget that would really fit a car like this that wants to be cool and different. I wouldn't be at all surprised if they were working on it.

  9. Sounds great so far, I'm still going to wait to test drive it myself but I'm pretty sure Tesla is going to receive a deposit from me very soon.

  10. You can sign up for test drives. I am reservation holder #9326 and I got an email today. Tessa is planning for 5000 test drives by early August. Seems like they have a lot of slot open that's why I was able to get an invite so soon. You can sign up and they might even send you an invite to the remaining Test Drives events.

  11. I already did that though I've yet to receive an e-mail. And I am in contact with my local Tesla dealer so I'm sure I'll hear something shortly.

  12. Thanks for posting the Customer Delivery Event as I missed the live event. I have to say that the enthusiasm was contagious. Congratulations to Tesla on this milestone achievement! Lets hope hope this young company many, many more happy days to come.

  13. This car is lighter than the Fisker Karma which weighs over 5,000 pounds... Why, I don't know since the Tesla has a much larger battery. Anyone know the weight of the Karma battery versue Tesla's...


  14. The Fisker Karma has an entire gasoline-powered powertain and an entire electric powertrain/battery (albeit a smaller battery than a Tesla). The Tesla does away with such legacy technology. It's porkiness is solely due to the battery. Give the wizards time, they'll shave 1000 lbs. off over the next decade or so.

  15. The Telsa S is a big car. Bigger vehicles tend to weigh more and 4,650 is not too heavy for a large sedan, first gen EV. It will likely be under 2 tons before the decade is done.

  16. ...And the Karma is a much smaller car.

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