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The Green Car for Car Guys

I recently test drove the new Tesla S, the new upscale sports sedan from Silicon Valley-based Tesla motors and a legitimate competitor to the similarly-sized BMW 5 series and Audi A6.

As a devoted car guy I’ll admit being skeptical as no electric or hybrid car to date has impressed me. Either the styling is dumpy (Toyota Prius) or they are overweight and overpriced (Fisker) or have limited range or performance (Nissan Leaf). However, the new Tesla S is a bright star in the otherwise dreary “green car” class. Tesla’s first car was a beautiful Lotus-inspired sports car but had lots of issues and a very limited range so I do not even consider it a real car.

The Tesla S is offered in 4 variations with prices starting at $52,400 for the 40Kwh model up to $87,400 for the S performance 85 KwH model, all prices after a generous Federal tax credit of $7,500. The main difference is the range on a single battery charge and performance – the more you pay the more you get. The base S model has a range of 160 miles per charge and 235 horsepower and torque of 310 lb. ft. Let’s forget this model as any true car guy would only be interested in the S performance model with a range of 300 miles, 416 horsepower and 443 lb. ft. of torque. It is this model that I tested.

First of all styling. The Tesla S is a beautiful car and reminds me of a much prettier version of the acclaimed Porsche Panamera or even a Maserati Quattroporte. The fit and finish is good and the interior room and cargo capacity massive. A pure electric car has a very small motor and no transmission so the floor is completely flat. Tesla did a marvelous job of placing the batteries around the car to maximize interior space and to better balance it for handling. While I prefer analog gauges, the Tesla adopted an iPod-like touch screen to perform interior functions which even an old guy like me can figure out.

Did I mention torque? Torque is what it’s all about in electric cars as they produce maximum torque at ZERO RPM’s which means that they scream off the line. The top end S does 0-60 in 4.4 seconds which is actually a tad faster than the new Porsche 911 Carrera. It also has outstanding kick-down performance while cruising at 60 if you need to pass someone fast.

So do I recommend this and would I buy one? Yes to the first part and no to the second. Unless you lead a cloistered life I do not recommend this as your only car, as range and service are still an issue. It takes several hours to recharge and needs to be plugged in nightly, but if you want the latest in technology and a great looking car, it could be for you. Personally I prefer Audis and BMWs as they cost less, have better overall fit and finish and brake and handle much better. But oh the torque!

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