February 22, 2013
Elon Musk is either a genius visionary or a complete fool. And we just paid him $110,000 to find out which.
We bought a 2013 Tesla Model S. It's ours and, unlike most other newspapers, magazines and Web sites, we're going to test it without Mr. Musk loaning us the vehicle and tracking our every move.
We've tested the Model S before. Several times. And it has consistently impressed us with its abilities and technology. But as with the rest of America's media, Tesla, which is based in Palo Alto, California and builds the cars in nearby Fremont, loaned us those sedans for evaluation. We would drive the car for a week or two and return it to Elon. In fact, the first Model S we tested was the man's personal car.
But this time it's different. There are no time limits. And no scary big brother black boxes watching over us. It's our car. We paid for it. We picked it up at the Fremont factory with 50 Tesla-test-track miles on the odometer. And our plan is simple. We're going to drive the hell out of it for a year. We're going to drive it as much as possible. Where we want. When we want. And Mr. Musk can only sit back and read about it like everybody else.
What We Bought
The 2013 Tesla Model S is available in two trim levels, Base and Performance, starting at a totally reasonable $59,900. For your nearly $60 grand, you get 19-inch wheels, keyless entry, dual-zone climate control, cloth seats and a 40kWh battery pack producing 235 horsepower, 310 pound-feet of torque and a range of about 100 miles. But we've had EVs with a hundred-mile range before. That's no fun anymore and while you can get a base Model S with more juice, we decided to step up our game and get the Model S Performance.
The 2013 Tesla Model S Performance starts off where the base leaves off, but leaves behind the boring 40kWh batteries in exchange for an 85kWh pack. This power plant delivers 416 hp, 443 lb-ft of torque and an estimated range of 265 miles. Last time we tested a Tesla Model S with the Performance pack, it hit 60 in 4.3 seconds (4.2 with 1 foot of rollout) and cleared the quarter-mile in 12.6 seconds at 108.3 mph.
Beyond the upgraded powertrain that will give us real-car range and sports car speed, the Tesla Model S performance brings active air suspension with sport-tuned traction control and Napa leather. The cost? $93,750, including $990 for Tesla Personal Delivery (its words for destination and delivery) and $180 for "Final inspection, prep, and coordination" (its words for "give us more money").
Even though we were already over $90,000, we didn't stop spending. The stunning blue metallic paint ran us $750 and the all-glass panoramic sunroof was $1,500. We spent $950 on the Sound Studio package that includes a 12-speaker, 580-watt stereo with Dolby Pro Logic 7.1, a music storage hard drive and XM Satellite Radio preparation.
We also upped our passenger-carrying ability by two when we added the rear-facing jump seats for $1,500. The seats can be used by children (or very small adults) between 35 and 77 pounds and over 3 feet 1 inch, but not so tall as to hit their head on the ceiling. The rear parcel shelf ran us $250, while the Twin Chargers ($1,500) allow us to pump in 62 miles of range per hour when both are connected to the car at the same time.
Finally, we added the Tech package for $3,750. This package includes xenon headlights, self-dimming sideview mirrors, power liftgate, high-definition back-up camera, turn-by-turn navigation and automatic keyless entry. And, while it's not an option on the car per se, we got the High Power Wall Connector for $1,200 (plus $35 shipping) to take advantage of our twin-charger option.
The total damage worked out to $105,005 before tax, title and license. We wrote the check ourselves and hand-delivered it to Tesla when we picked up the car at the company's Northern California headquarters.
Of course, buying the 2013 Tesla Model S wasn't as simple as hopping on a plane with a big check. In fact, this process started early on in 2012 when we put a $5,000 deposit down on a car we hoped would arrive sometime in the future. Months later, Tesla called to let us know that we could head down to one of its experience centers to spec out a car.
We headed down to the closest one to us, on the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica, where we then outfitted our Model S with blue paint over a tan interior before adding our options. From there, we were given a build date and a rough estimate of two months until delivery. Almost right on time, our car was available in early February and on February 19, we hopped a plane to Oakland to pick up our new car and test the Supercharger system on the way back.
Why We Bought the Tesla Model S
Whether you like EVs or not, they're a part of the automotive landscape today, and maybe tomorrow. And the Tesla Model S is, in clearest terms, the most innovative and capable EV in the world.
Until the Model S, EVs have been city runabouts: compacts (or worse) designed for urban singles who drive very few miles per day, typically at sub-freeway speeds.
The 2013 Tesla Model S Performance, however, can go 265 miles on a charge. It can also seat seven passengers. And do 130 mph. And run the quarter-mile in less than 13 seconds. It may not be able to do them all at the same time, but the important thing is that it can do all of these things and that's a first for an EV.
And it's not even from a major carmaker.
The most innovative and important car of 2013 isn't a Chevy or Ford or Toyota or Ferrari. It's not Japanese or German. It's from a Northern California, Internet-money-funded start-up, propped up by government loans and private funding, hell-bent on disrupting not only the EV business, but the entire car business.
Does it live up to the hype?
We've got at least 12 months to put 20,000 miles on our new Long-Term 2013 Tesla Model S to see if it's the real deal or another flash-in-the-pan tech innovation that works better in theory than in the real world. Follow along on our Long-Term Test page as we tell you what it's like living with a Tesla.
Current Odometer: 453 miles
Edmunds purchased this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.
Mike Magrath, Features Editor