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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