CNET On Cars: CNET On the Road: Tesla Model S
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CNET On Cars: CNET On the Road: Tesla Model S

7:19 /

Go for a ride with Brian Cooley in the best example yet that nobody killed the electric car.

-Now, Tesla has the rather an unable task of scaling not one but two automotive mountains. Number one, get folks used to a completely new kind of car. Number two, get them warmed up to a completely new brand of car. Where do you do that? Send them down to the car dealer? People hate going to the car dealer. Instead, you intercept them where they already are, here at the mall. And when they go inside, they get introduced to a car that does things almost completely differently than what they are used to. Now here's the Model S as you'll see it on the freeway but this is not the most interesting part of the story to me. Over here, the naked version, this is. This mattress size thing I'm kneeling on is the battery. A huge amount of lithium ion cells put together in a way that is carefully cooled, carefully monitored and delivering a lot of power, 40, 60 or 85 kilowatt-hours are the capacity ranges here, depending which model you buy. Now, what happens after those electrons flow out of here is also part of the secret sauce. They go into this big canister shape thing which is called an inverter. An inverter converts the DC, the direct current that is stored in that battery into the AC, the alternating current which this motor wants. That motor then spins through this one speed gear box. You don't shift anything. This is a reduction gear. It turns the very high RPMs of this motor into more usable RPMs out to the accels and the road wheels. The way this battery, an Inverter R design is a key part of what Tesla is doing. -Power and range is a complicated business on Tesla. The base Powertrain Model S has 362 hp, 325 ft-lb of torque. Gets the 60 in 6-1/2 seconds. The performance cars have 416 hp and 443 ft-lb of torque, and they do 60 in 4.4 seconds, they're seriously fast. The major difference between the two is the through put of the inverter which sits between the battery and the motor. Range on either car is governed by the battery size. The 40 kilowatt-hour battery gets you about 160 miles at best. For 10,000 more, you can get the 60 kilowatt-hour battery, 230 miles optimal, and for 10,000 on top of that, the 85-kilowatt battery, 300 miles under a best case. -Now the Model S is a three-row 7-passenger car. It's kind of a Sedan UV. Front row, two seats, little less headroom and I like. Coming back into the second row, you've got basically a sporty bench, 3 more people there, then work your way back here to me in the rear compartment. This car is optioned up with the duo rear facing seats, but notice usually like little kid racing seats with 5-point harnesses. Okay, first of all, this is what you heard about. The giant 17-inch central LCD that is the heart of this car's cabin. Across the top, you've got a static ribbon very much like you have on one of mobile devices that go to media. I get my media choices, they show up down here, AM/FM, HD Radio, XM Satellite. You've also got two supported streaming services now, Tune In and Slacker. It's all software, they can add many more but right now, those are your choices on streaming. Notice how everything here is popping into a contextually relevant screen as I hit it. For example, here at my tone controls, and the kind of data and interface you get here, you just don't see it in any other car. Notice that now, that's Google Maps. It's also where your navigation takes place although I should point it an important distinction. The mapping is Google Maps, the navigation technology is Garmin. This is not yet using Google turn-by-turn navigation. -Now Tesla promises Voice to Destination in 2013. For now, you can just enter stuff on the screen even when the car is moving. A cheeky approach but they hope you'll have the passenger do it actually. -That also applies even more unusually to the web browser. First of all, it's unusual to get a big web browser in a car, unusual hell, it's [unk] and to have this thing work while the car is moving is also very Silicon Valley. Camera's interesting. Another one of these places where Tesla is kinda breaking convention, here is my rear camera. I'm not in reverse, and if I start driving, this camera can stay on. Another interesting [unk], you can have a standard def camera, or in this case, we have the high def camera. Look at that resolution. What they have in resolution, they do not have in a round view cameras or multiple angle rearview cameras. Now more broadly here in the cabin, what's it like to sit in a Model S? Obviously, it's a very modern feeling because you're not showered with a lot of buttons. The screen takes that of course. I also noticed interesting thing here. Tesla doesn't make every single part of their car, they've gone to the Mercedes parts bin to get things like the cruise control, the turn signals and wipers, and the gear shifts selector up here. They gotta go buy, buy from the best. Now, wireless keys are nothing new in this day in age, even fancy ones, but this one goes to the level of cute. To unlock or lock the car, you press on the roof. To unlock or lock the front trunk or front, you press on it. Same thing goes for the rear. -Now, driving a Model S is first and foremost a matter of driving an electric car. So, everything you know about cars goes out the window but what I can't tell you that this car does a little differently than others, is it feels quick and quite which to me is a way of saying it feels lightweight. It also is exceptionally quite. I don't hear any of the motor or gear wind that I've heard in other electric cars. Not at low speed, not at high speed, not under breaking, not under full acceleration. There's a lot of fixes, [unk]. You never used to that about electric cars either. At least not yet. Now, I don't have the car long enough to give you any real world experience with charge and discharge behavior based on my driving and any of that. Basically you had a day in change with the vehicle. So we'll get our full review and really dig into that later. This is really a finished car, and that's kind of a highest compliment you can give a company that wasn't making cars at all. A handful of years ago. -Okay. The bottomline on a Tesla Model S. About 51,000 was destination charge. Now, I know what you're saying. Wait a minute. All these cars beginning closer to 60. Well, I'm minusing out the $7500 US Federal Tax Credit which most everybody is gonna qualify for, unless you're dead poor. And if you are, you're probably not buying one of these. Now, the pricing also goes up 10,000 more for the mid-sized battery and 10,000 more for the big boy battery. And yes, like popcorn at the movies, your best value is to buy the big one. Now, we have the performance car, that's 15,000 more which brings you of course the high performance inverter, it's got a big battery, much better performance, adaptive air suspension, and a way fancier interior. You also gotta look at the tech package, 3750 puts navigation in that big screen that is not standard. But nothing will influence people's purchase consideration of this electric vehicle as much as their conception of all electric vehicles. That's the big mindset that people are really trying to get their heads around and Tesla has only so much control over that.

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