Mr. Green Car: Tesla S sedan — a test drive, part one

The Tesla S sedan (photo by Allen Penticoff)
The Tesla S sedan (photo by Allen Penticoff)

By Allen Penticoff
Freelance Writer

Long-time readers of this column know I have been lusting for a test drive of the all-electric Tesla S sedan. Well, it has finally happened. A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to be in Chicago with some time on my hands and walked 1.7 miles to the Tesla showroom on Grand Avenue. After inspecting a P85 in the showroom, sales manager Mike Snow allowed me to test drive a Model S back to where I’d started my foot journey at Rush University Medical Center. While a very short drive, it was enough to confirm my intuition about

The Tesla S sedan (Photo by Allen Penticoff)
The Tesla S sedan (Photo by Allen Penticoff)

acceleration, ride and handling as all being excellent. I started buying lottery tickets afterward.

For readers unaware of what Tesla is about, the company is a relatively new American start-up that has developed a line of all-electric cars that have all the capabilities of a gasoline-powered car. First, they had a two-seat roadster that proved an electric car did not need to be a golf cart — but the real car came along in producing the Model S, a seven-seat luxury four-door sedan. The roadster is no longer in production, and the Model S has a number of options so that essentially there are many different models, depending on battery pack size, motor size and two-wheel drive or all-wheel drive.

The test drive car on the charger. Note location of charge port in left rear taillight. (Photo by Allen Penticoff)
The test drive car on the charger. Note location of charge port in left rear taillight. (Photo by Allen Penticoff)

A base Model S with the smaller 60kwh battery and no options is $69,900. However, one typically optioned up will be $96,000. The performance versions are quite a bit more.

The P85 (not an AWD “D” version) on the showroom floor was sticker priced at just under $125,000. That’s why I buy Lotto tickets. But there are plenty of buyers for whom cash is not a problem — but leasing/financing can get you into a Tesla without a pile of green in the bank. Snow says there are 2,800 Tesla cars rolling around Illinois. I’ve seen many on the streets and highways of Chicago, and there are a few here in Rockford.

This review will need to span several columns, as there is so much about a Tesla that is different from a normal gasoline-powered car that explanations are needed. I’ll start with the interior and some

The leather-wrapped steering wheel features many touch controls. Also pictured is the do-all touch screen. (Photo by Allen Penticoff)
The leather-wrapped steering wheel features many touch controls. Also pictured is the do-all touch screen. (Photo by Allen Penticoff)

features, construction and chassis, then performance and driving, followed by a column on charging.

First, this is a very sleek car. The styling reminds one of a late-model Jaguar. Among the many unique features are the chrome flush door handles. With the Tesla-shaped key fob in your pocket (there is no key, per se) the car senses your approach and the door handles will extend. They are easy to pull on. If you do not have the fob and the car is unlocked, you can touch the handle and it will extend. Once the Tesla determines there is a driver in the seat, the handles retract, it turns itself on and locks the doors once under way. You do not even need to press an on/off button.

The first thing one notices behind the wheel is the large vertically mounted touch-screen monitor. It is 17 inches and is used to do everything — there are no buttons or switches. Another screen behind the steering wheel provides the usual driver information: speed, power information and navigation. I like the analog speedometer needle display and digital readout of speed. A real-time graph showed power consumption. The large do-all screen can show split screens so the Google Maps GPS navigation display and climate control, for instance, can be shown at the same time. There are many configurations.

As for the interior itself — luxury is the short description. There are four interior décor options: Piano Black, Matte Obeche Wood, Glossy Obeche Wood and Carbon Fiber. The standard headliner is vinyl, with two options for the “Alacantara” pseudo-suede leather (black or white) that also includes the leather feel and look to the dashboard. A “yacht floor” option adds some matching trim to the huge storage compartment on the floor below the do-all screen. There is no battery hump in the Tesla; the batteries and drive motors take up no cabin space. There is a large rear-lifting hatch for easy loading, and the rear seats split-fold down to hold a very impressive amount of cargo with a deep hidden trunk under the aft storage area. Open the front hood, and there is yet another very large carpeted storage area that Tesla calls a “frunk.” In all, it can haul a lot of people — five seated normally and a lot of baggage, or with a third-seat option, two small people in aft-facing seats in the cargo area (a la old station wagons).

The seats are very comfortable and fit well with no knee clearance issues. The controls are right at hand. The lever on the right side of the wheel is the shifter to select park, neutral, drive and reverse. If you are accustomed to the right stalk doing something like controlling wipers — be careful not to mess with this while under way. The computer will probably not let you do anything too stupid, though. If you need some fresh air, the vents are electronically controlled determining when fresh cool air is needed or not. Or, you might open the optional glass sunroof. A $2,500 option is the all-glass Panoramic Roof. Tinted dark, it really makes the car look all the sleeker and sexy — otherwise you get an ordinary metal roof.

In all, the cabin is just what you’d expect in a luxury level automobile: comfortable, convenient, practical and innovative. The Tesla S sedan is all that and more. Add in the powerful audio system (200 watts standard/580 watts optional) and the quiet electric ride, and you have the makings of a dream car. Going anywhere in one would be a pleasure.

Out of room for more words. If you wish to jump ahead, go to Tesla.com to download the brochure, an owner’s manual or get other information about this leap forward in automotive technology.

From the Dec. 3-9, 2014, issue

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