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Tesla Motors

Review and photos by Brendan McAleer

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2013 Tesla Model S

I’m standing in the Whole Foods parking lot, having just been handed the key to a sleek super-sedan that costs north of a hundred grand, doesn’t use any gasoline and plugs into the wall. Seems about right.

In fact, what better place to examine the premium paid for the feel-good green-cred of an all-electric vehicle than a place that charges twenty bucks for organic mac n’ cheese? Start doing the math on your average plug-in, and it’s hard to see the point, outside of niche appeal. Financially speaking, wouldn’t we be better off heading to Costco to nab a case of Kraft Dinner?

2013 Tesla Model S2013 Tesla Model S
2013 TESLA MODEL S. Click image to enlarge

Oh, but this Tesla Model S isn’t your average EV-pod. Even in a sea of big-dollar Teutonic titans, you can tell it’s something special, hunkering there on turbine-styled 21-inch alloys that look like they were plucked from the intake nacelles of a 747. Front and back, the dagger-shaped “T” badges resemble nothing so much as the nail Tesla’s trying to drive into the internal-combustion engine’s coffin.

It looks expensive. It looks fast. It looks like it ought to be powered by some twin-turbo V12 motor that requires premium fuel and a supplementary truffle-oil reserve tank.

There’s a premium being paid here, sure, but this is the high-falutin’ world of the prestige sedan: Porsche Panamera, Mercedes-Benz CLS, BMW Gran Coupe, that sort of thing. Lined up next to spendy German iron, the Model S holds its own when judged on curb appeal and snob factor. Perhaps the front-end tends towards the generic gawp-mouthed grille that nearly every luxury marque now carries, but as a first-time ground-up design from a small company, the big guys should be taking notes.

Palm the key. It’s a tiny representation of the car, smooth-surfaced with hidden pressure switches to control the various functions. Approach the Model S and flush-mounted door handles slide open. You grasp and pull.

2013 Tesla Model S2013 Tesla Model S
2013 Tesla Model S. Click image to enlarge

First surprise? This car is one front bench-seat away from a 1970 Plymouth Belvedere. Without a gasoline-engine drivetrain and the associated packaging concerns, the Model S is almost weirdly spacious. There’s a large rear trunk, with hatchback access (rear-mounted jump-seats to make the S a 7-seater aren’t yet approved for Canada), a cavernous “frunk” under the hood, nicely airy rear seating, and no transmission tunnel to stop you playing footsie with your passenger. With the battery pack mounted low in the floor, it’s almost a bit like the designers weren’t sure what to do with all the room.

So, what they’ve primarily done is glue an iPad to the dashboard. Well, that’s a bit dismissive: it’s more like two iPads. The centrally mounted control touchscreen dominates the cabin and controls pretty much everything. Naturally, given how fiddly other touchscreen interfaces can be, the lack of manual controls is immediately worrying.

On the other hand, I found myself surprised at how well everything worked. Yes, the ability to browse the internet at speed is the sort of thing that’d have anti-distracted-driving campaigners throwing their hands up in disgust, but the intuitive touch and swipe functionality is very easy to use. Given the sheer size of the screen, just a glance is good enough to adjust most features, making it easier to keep your eyes on the road.

It’s the dashboard of the future: all the more jarring then, that you grasp the stalk of a Mercedes-Benz column shifter to put the Tesla into drive. It’s a minor niggle, one of the unpolished edges showing through a mostly well-realized product (M-B is a major investor in Tesla), and quite frankly, a bit old-fashioned for “the car of the future”. I’d prefer a Star Trek–style touchscreen arrangement. Or maybe a voice command, “Number One, plot a course. Engage.”

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