2012 Tesla Model S Sedan - FROM $57,400
Glamorous, quick and smooth, the 2012 Tesla Model S brings luxury and extended range capability to the electric-car segment.
What's New for 2012
The 2012 Tesla Model S is an all-new model.
What's this? Is Tesla founder Elon Musk cheekily comparing himself to Henry Ford with his newest model's name? Placing himself alongside the industrial captain responsible for revolutionizing personal transportation? Probably. Self-confidence never lacks among Silicon Valley's wheelers and dealers. But Musk -- whose other company, Space Exploration Technologies, put a space capsule into orbit and brought it home safely, the only private enterprise ever to do so -- is walking the walk. With one model under its belt (the out-of-production Tesla Roadster) and supplier deals with Toyota and Daimler, Tesla is ready to unveil its latest achievement: the 2012 Tesla Model S.
A five-passenger luxury sedan, the Model S is the only production EV competing in the class of premium luxury cars. The Fisker Karma, a plug-in hybrid, is its closest rival. Unlike the pricey Karma, however, the Model S will come in a version starting at less than $60,000, making it financially accessible to a greater swath of luxury sedan buyers. And unlike other, more affordable EVs like the Nissan Leaf, the Model S offers battery upgrades that can take deep-pocketed buyers hundreds of miles before it's time to charge.
With its soft curves, four doors and almost coupelike profile, the Model S cuts a handsome shape not unlike the Jaguar XF. And where Tesla's inaugural model, the two-seat Roadster, focused on quick, open-roofed road carving, the Model S aims to please on the highway, around town and on the way to work. It wants to be a luxury sedan that never needs a gas stop and instead quietly refills itself during a lunch break or overnight in your garage. And unlike the Tesla Roadster, which was derived from the Lotus Elise, the Model S is a completely unique design highlighted by its all-aluminum chassis, floor-mounted full-length battery pack and space-efficient design.
Tesla plans to build 5,000-7,000 Model S sedans this year in its Northern California factory. Production kicked off in June 2012 with the Signature and Signature Performance models, due to arrive at dealers this summer. The midlevel Model S Performance is expected by fall, with the base model to follow by the end of the year.
If the Model S delivers everything that Tesla says it will, this sedan could be a game-changer for the luxury sedan segment. The question remains whether the potential savings, environmental goodwill or simple novelty of a premium luxury EV are enough to mobilize buyers otherwise considering an Audi A8, Porsche Panamera, or even just a very nice Mercedes-Benz E-Class diesel sedan.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2012 Tesla Model S comes in four trim levels: base, Performance, Signature and Signature Performance.
All Model S variants come standard with 19-inch wheels, rain-sensing wipers, eight-way power front seats, full power accessories, automatic climate control, a power tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, a 17-inch touchscreen multimedia display, Bluetooth (with audio streaming) and a seven-speaker sound system with a CD player, HD radio and two USB ports. Model S Performance, Signature and Signature Performance models add an active air suspension, 12-way power and heated seats and premium leather upholstery.
Options include 21-inch performance wheels, a panoramic glass roof, rear-facing third-row seats that can accommodate two children (up to 5 feet tall), a 12-speaker surround-sound system (with satellite radio) and a Technology package that features xenon headlamps, LED foglights, keyless ignition/entry, auto-dimming side mirrors, a power rear liftgate, a back-up camera and a navigation system.
Powertrains and Performance
Tesla will sell the Model S with three different lithium-ion battery pack choices. The base Model S features a standard 40 kWh battery pack good for a range of 160 miles. (For reference, the Leaf has a 24 kWh battery pack.) It can be upgraded with a 60 kWh pack that Tesla claims will be good for up to 230 miles of range, or an 85 kWh pack that the EPA has rated at 265 miles of range. Tesla won't get EPA ratings for the two smaller packs until the models that use them are launched. The Performance, Signature and Signature Performance models come standard with the 85 kWh pack.
Driving the rear wheels is a liquid-cooled electric motor and a single-speed transmission. With the 85kWh battery pack, it produces a maximum of 362 horsepower and 325 pound-feet of torque. The Performance and Signature Performance models, thanks to an upgraded power inverter, produce 416 hp and 443 lb-ft. Specs for the motor with the smaller batteries have yet to be announced.
Still, Tesla says the base Model S with the 40 kWh battery pack will accelerate from zero to 60 mph in 6.5 seconds and reach a top speed of 110 mph. With the 60 kWh battery pack, those numbers change to 5.9 seconds and 120 mph, while the Signature (the 85 kWh battery) will do zero to 60 in 5.6 seconds and reach 125 mph. The Performance and Signature Performance maximize the 85 kWh battery pack, hitting 60 mph in a claimed 4.4 seconds and topping out at 130 mph. In terms of efficiency, the EPA estimates the Model S will use 38 kWh city/37 kWh highway and 38 kWh combined per 100 miles driven. (Remember that here, the lower the number, the better.) In miles per gallon equivalent (MPGe), that's 88 mpg city/90 mpg highway and 89 mpg combined.
The Model S can be recharged from all standard 110- and 240-volt household outlets and from various public charging stations using the included Universal Mobile Connector and adapters. Figure up to 5 hours of recharging time at 240 volts for the 40 kWh pack with the base model's single onboard charger, and half that with the optional $1,500 dual-charger system. The dual-charger system -- which needs a 100-amp circuit to operate at full capacity -- also is an option for the 60 kWh battery, halving the normal 7.5-hour recharge time. The system is standard on the Signature and Signature Performance models, giving them a 4-hour recharge time, despite their much larger battery packs.
Models equipped with the 60 and 85 kWh batteries can also use a nationwide network of "superchargers" that Tesla is building. Tesla says the industrial-grade, high-speed chargers promise to replenish 160 miles of range in the 85 kWh batteries in about 30 minutes, enabling long-distance travel.
Federal regulators still haven't posted official crash test results for the Model S, but Tesla claims that the car has passed all the tests with five-star ratings, the highest awarded by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
The 2012 Tesla Model S comes standard in all variants with eight airbags including driver and passenger head, knee and pelvic bags as well as side curtain bags. Also standard on all models are stability and traction control, crash sensors for high-voltage disconnect and antilock disc brakes.
Interior Design and Special Features
For all its on-the-cusp powertrain advances, the Model S has a strikingly plain interior -- not ugly or boring, just simple and uncomplicated. A 17-inch touchscreen dominates the cabin and is the driver's command center for climate, navigation, entertainment, communication and information controls. A small-by-comparison 3D digital LCD instrument panel is viewed through the top half of the three-spoke steering wheel and reveals audio system information as well as necessities such as speed, state of battery charge, range and energy generation from regenerative braking.
Soft-touch plastics and cloth materials swath the interior and the amply sized seating surfaces of the base model. There's plenty of legroom in the grown-up seating front and rear, but the optional twin rear-facing jump seats that give the Model S its claimed seven-passenger capacity are best left to very small children for very short trips.
The Model S boasts two cargo areas, the main one beneath the rear hatch and a small carpeted storage bin under the hood, occupying part of the space where the engine would be in a conventionally powered car. With the rear seats up and the optional jump seats (if ordered) folded flat, the rear cargo area boasts 26.3 cubic feet of space under the power-operated hatch, easily sufficient for a pair of golf bags and a long weekend's luggage for two. By comparison, the Porsche Panamera offers 15.7 cubic feet of cargo area with the rear seats up and a 2012 BMW 7 Series has just 14.1 cubic feet under its trunk lid.
Fold down the Tesla's rear seats and the main cargo area expands to 58.1 cubic feet and will easily fit a bicycle, the coffee table you spotted while out antiquing or any number of other bulky items. The Panamera, another luxury hatchback sedan to which the Model S will often be compared, has 44 cubic feet of storage with the rear seats down, almost 25 percent less than the Tesla. The 2012 Tesla Model S also offers the added treat of