2015 Tesla Model S 70D: First Drive Of New Electric Car Base Model

Last week, the new base version of the Tesla Model S, known as the 70D, hit the electric-car world like a thunderclap.

No early-warning publicity, no teasing tweet from Elon. Just the sudden appearance on the Tesla website configurator of the new model--with dual motors, all-wheel drive, a 70-kWh battery that gives it an EPA range of 240 miles, and a base price of $75,000. 

It was already in production, with 70Ds arriving in some Tesla stores within days of the unveiling.

You can buy one now for delivery in 6-8 weeks, same as the other Tesla models.

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The new 70D replaced the 60-kWh version of the Model S. After nearly two years as the company’s entry-level price leader, the 60 has been unceremoniously deep-sixed.

As the owner of a 2013 85-kWh Model S, I was curious to see how this low-priced upstart compared head-to-head with my car.

I was able to arrange a test drive at the Tesla showroom in Paramus, New Jersey, earlier this week.

Although not a complete evaluation, my 30-mile drive, mostly on the highway, was enough to persuade me that Tesla clearly has a winner in the 70D.

2015 Tesla Model S 70D, Apr 2015 [photo: David Noland]

2015 Tesla Model S 70D, Apr 2015 [photo: David Noland]

Better Value

At a base price of $75,000, the 70D is priced midway between the single-motor rear-drive 60 it replaced ($69,900) and the single-motor rear-drive 85 that has been the company’s best seller for almost three years ($80,000).

Some potential buyers on the financial fence have bemoaned the 70D’s $5,000-higher price tag, which puts the new entry-level Model S just that extra bit farther out of reach.

But the 70D is a significantly better car, well worth the extra tab in my opinion. Pay a little more, get a lot more. 

ALSO SEE: Tesla Model S Battery Life: How Much Range Loss For Electric Car Over Time?

If the 70D hits its numbers in the real world, it should be a resounding sales success, stealing a lot of customers from the more expensive 85 and 85D. 

In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if the single-motor 85 soon follows the 60 into oblivion. My guess is that Tesla, like Subaru, will soon be selling only AWD cars. The 70D is such a compelling vehicle that settling for two-wheel drive no longer makes much sense.

70D vs 60

The 70D is clearly superior to the 60 it replaces. Its advantages are legion:

*Range.  At 240 miles, the 70D’s range is 15 percent better than the 60’s 208 miles.  

Given the typical spacing of Superchargers along Interstate highways, those 32 extra miles will make a big difference on cross-country Interstate trips. 

2015 Tesla Model S 70D, Apr 2015 [photo: David Noland]

2015 Tesla Model S 70D, Apr 2015 [photo: David Noland]

As a former 60 driver, I spent way too many hours freezing in the slow lane, trying to stretch my range to get to the next Supercharger on cold days. That should rarely be necessary with the 70D.

*All-wheel-drive. AWD’s superiority goes without saying to those of us in northern climes, especially after this last brutal winter.

But even Sun Belters can appreciate the more balanced handling, tire wear, and superior traction in the wet.

MORE: Tesla Model S Double-Pedal Behavior Still Inconsistent: A Safety Plea To Elon Musk

*Performance. With 329 total hp, the 70D’s two motors have more oomph than the 60’s single 306-hp motor.

This is reflected in the 70D’s 0-60 time of 5.2 seconds, noticeably quicker than the 60’s 5.9 seconds.  Top speed is also better, at 140 mph vs. 120 mph for the 60.

*Efficiency  The 70D’s EPA efficiency rating is 101 MPGe, six percent better than the  60’s 95 MPGe. (Miles Per Gallon Equivalent measures the distance a car can travel electrically on the same amount of energy as contained in 1 gallon of gasoline.)

In terms of electricity usage, the 70D is rated at 33 kWh/100 miles, again six percent better than the 60’s rating of 35 kWh/100 miles.

(How does Tesla make a heavier, better-performing, AWD car more efficient? The key is the dual motors, which can be tuned and geared separately to operate more in their peak efficiency zones.)

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