On Saturday, exactly one year after it took ownership of the former Toyota NUMMI facility in Fremont, California, Tesla Motors [NASDAQ:TSLA]  held a series of test-drives aimed to show off the latest Model S Betas to the press and Model S reservation holders. 

We’ve already told you about some of the surprises CEO Elon Musk had in store for the assembled group, but now it’s time to share details of the short chauffeured ride around a small section of NUMMI test track in the 2012 Model S. 

First impressions

Pulling up for our ride, the Model S beta was extremely quiet with no discernible whine from either the electric motor or its power electronics. As two Tesla employees reached towards front and rear door handles -- which electronically retract into the car’s body to reduce aerodynamic drag when moving -- we noticed large amounts of heat coming from the car’s huge 21-inch rear wheels and brake discs, an indication it had been worked hard on previous rides. 

Sitting in the rear seat, there was plenty of headroom and legroom for this 5 foot nine writer, with fit and finish appropriate to a premium luxury car. 

Tesla Model S Alpha build

Tesla Model S Alpha build

Technology, technology, technology

Ahead, the large 17-inch display dominated the center console with a live-updating Google Maps-derived GPS system.  Using satellite images instead of the more traditional wire-framed street-view, the system placed an arrow on-top of Google-streamed map data. 

Although we felt the highly-detailed satellite images were beautifully rendered by the Model S’ high-resolution displays, we wonder if it will prove too detailed -- and too distracting -- to use on a daily basis. We’d expect most customers to stick with the lower-quality but easier-to-understand line-based maps, switching to satellite or street-view images to identify difficult intersections or final destination. 

Underneath the GPS information on the display was enough room for additional information, from audio track details to details about the car’s range. 

Other displays showed the car’s speed and energy consumption history, giving the driver a wealth of information we assume is completely customizable given the digital nature of the dash and center console displays. 

Tesla Model S Alpha build

Tesla Model S Alpha build

Quiet, refined

We’ve driven our fair share of quiet gasoline and electric cars over the years, but we have to admit that we’ve not been in a car quite as quiet as the Model S in some time. 

Matching the level of acoustic insulation found in premium high-end cars like the 2012 Mercedes-Benz S-Class Sedan, the 2012 Tesla Model S beta prototype we rode in pulled away silently, without the motor noise and whine you’d expect of an electric car. 

The acoustic antithesis of its ancestor, the 2008 Tesla Roadster, the Model S gave no indication of the immense power available under the driver’s right foot. In fact, the first indication we were given that the car was accelerating was the increased G-forces from pressed back into our seats. 

Fast, tight, smooth

At this point we feel it best to reiterate that we were being driven around by a Tesla test-driver -- someone who has no doubt many hours of practice with both the test-track and the car -- so our experiences of handling can only be from a third-person perspective. 

That said, our test-driver made driving the Model S appear easy, pushing the car to 85 mph on a short section of NUMMI track. Acceleration and braking were controlled, with no discernible body roll on tight corners and the Model S’ air suspension smoothing out front to back movement under hard braking or acceleration. 


We’d like to spend more time with the Model S before giving our final verdict, but so far our ride in the 2012 Model S Sedan Beta shows it to be an impressive car that highlights Tesla’s engineering prowess in the world of electric cars. Well-finished, we’re hoping that Tesla can replicate the quality of these hand-built cars on the production line, as well as produce a driving experience as good as the experience being a passenger. 

We’ll be bringing you more from Fremont this week, so follow GreenCarReports on Facebook and Twitter to get the very latest news on this much-anticipated car. 

Tesla Motors provided airfare, lodging, and meals to enable High Gear Media to bring you this news story.