Two years ago, our first-ever Green Car Reports Best Car To Buy award went to the first modern battery-electric car sold in the U.S.
How far we've come.
This year, our third annual winner is the 2013 Tesla Model S, a car that takes the all-electric vehicle to a new and far more elevated level.
But that's far from the only reason it won. The Tesla Model S is an impressive new entry in the luxury sport sedan field for its performance, its looks, its capabilities, and its digital infotainment and control system.
NOTE: In December 2012, we gave this award to the 2013 Tesla Model S based on the availability of a base model with a 40-kilowatt-hour battery pack at a price of $59,900. That complied with our requirement that the Best Car To Buy Award go to a car priced at $60,000 or less.
In early April 2013, Tesla announced that it had canceled that 40-kWh model, due to lack of demand. According to the company, just 4 percent of its Model S depositors had specified the smallest battery size. The company said that for those customers who had put down deposits on the 40-kWh car, it would sell them a 60-kWh Model S with software that limited the car's range to the range that the 40-kWh car would have delivered.
Electric power secondary?
Silicon Valley startup carmaker Tesla Motors [NSDQ:TSLA] has pulled off an almost inconceivable feat: It's designed and put into production a car that competes across the board with some of the most storied brands in the industry.
And that car is the first volume production vehicle from a company that didn't even exist eight years ago.
From styling that many onlookers assumed was the newest, latest, sleekest Jaguar--a compliment indeed for a new carmaker--to smooth, silent acceleration from 0 to 60 mph in 4.4 seconds (in the Performance version), the Tesla Model S is more than an impressive new green car.
It's an impressive car. Period. The fact that it's green is almost secondary.
2012 Tesla Model S
Its 17-inch touchscreen display, for instance, is so fast, so crisp, and so relatively intuitive that it makes all other such control systems seem pathetically outdated.
That even applies to the brand-new Cadillac CUE system, whose deficiencies cost the otherwise excellent 2013 Cadillac ATS the same title from Motor Authority, our sister site.
'Buff books' converted
The Tesla Model S has won awards all over the place. It's attracted 14,000 or more buyers to put down deposits before the company's built more than 2,000 or 3,000 vehicles.
And it's completely seduced some of the most hard-core gasoline proponents of all: the "buff book" car magazines whose judgments that it was a car of the year sealed Tesla's emergence into the ranks of carmakers to whom attention must be paid.
Two of the three versions of the 2013 Tesla Model S have now been certified by the EPA for electric range: 265 miles for the 85-kilowatt-hour version, and just last week, 208 miles for the 60-kWh model.
The third and final version, with a 40-kWh battery pack and a reduced set of features and options, will go into production in the next few months.
Useful real-world range
Electric range, of course, depends greatly on speed, acceleration, driving style, outside temperature, and other factors.
One owner made news last week, for example, when he managed to drive his Model S more than 400 miles on a single charge.
2012 Tesla Model S
The 85-kWh model has a practical real-world range of at least 200 or so miles, no matter how it's driven.
We'll see what the comparable figures are for the other two, but even the entry-level Model S is likely to deliver the 120-plus miles that many observers feel is the minimum acceptable for owners to avoid range anxiety.
For longer trips, Tesla is rapidly opening a network of Supercharger quick-charge stations--and the power they provide is absolutely free.
The Tesla sport sedan, mind you, is hardly a cheap car.
Prices for the 2013 Model S start at $59,900 for the lowest-range version and rise in $10,000 increments from there, with the Performance version adding $10,000 more on top of the cost for the 85-kWh version.
On the other hand, almost no advanced automotive technology enters the market at the low end--and electric propulsion is just one reason to buy a Model S.
2012 Tesla Model S
It holds four people comfortably, five people adequately, and Tesla promises a pair of optional child-sized rear-facing jump seats to fit into the load bay at some future point.
Our award is no guarantee that Tesla Motors will survive, that the Model S will provide durable electric transportation for decades to come, or even that battery-electric cars will take noticeable market share any time soon.
But the disbelief, criticism, and sneering that often confronts startup companies with radical new ideas has, in the case of Tesla, already given way to grudging acknowledgment even by skeptics that the 2013 Tesla Model S is a viable, well-built, functional, and competent car that's also fun to drive.
For that reason, there was really little other competition for our Best Car To Buy Award for 2013.