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CNET On Cars: Episode 20, Tesla Model S and the top 5 electric cars
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CNET On Cars: Episode 20, Tesla Model S and the top 5 electric cars

19:48 /

Best of CNET On Cars: Tesla Model S, our latest list of the top 5 electric cars and self-parking tech: How does it work?

-A special roundup of your favorite car tech, the Tesla Model S, the car of the hour, top 5 electric cars that are ready for primetime and self-parking technology, a portal into the future. It's time to check the tech. We see cars differently. We love them on the road and under the hood but also check the tech and are known for telling it like it is, the good, the bad, the bottom line. This is CNET On Cars. Hello, everybody, and welcome to CNET On Cars, the show all about high-tech cars and modern driving. I'm Brian Cooley doing things a little different than this episode. We look back over all of our early episodes and checked out the email that we got around that time to find your favorite segments. What we ended up with is kind of a state-of-the-art roundup starting with a car that since we first looked at it in September of 2012 has ended up being about the most celebrated or at least the most talked about car of modern times, the Tesla Model S. Now Tesla has the rather an enabled task of scaling not 1 but 2 automotive mountains. Number 1, get folks used to a completely new kind of car. Number 2, 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're 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 its naked version, this is, this mattress-sized thing I'm kneeling on is the battery, a huge amount of lithium ion cells put together in the way that it's 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 D.C., the direct current that is stored in that battery into the A.C., the alternating current, which this motor wants. That motor then spins through this 1-speed gearbox. 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 axles and the road wheels. The way this battery and inverter are designed is the key part of what Tesla is doing. Power and range is a complicated business on a Tesla. The base powertrain Model S has 362 horsepower, 325 foot-pounds of torque, gets to 60 in 6-1/2 seconds. The performance car has 416 horsepower and 443 foot-pounds of torque and they do 60 in 4.4 seconds. They're seriously fast. The major difference between the two is the throughput of the inverter which sits between the battery and the motor. Range on either car is governed by the battery's 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 3-row 7-passenger car. It's kind of a sedan UV, front row, 2 seats, little less headroom than I'd like. Coming back into the 2nd 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 dual rear-facing seats, but notice these are like little kid racing seats with 5-point harnesses. Okay. First of all, this is what you've 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 a lot of mobile devices. If I go to media, I get my media choices. They show up down here, AM, FM, HD Radio, XM Satellite. You've also got 2 supported streaming services now, TuneIn 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 are my tone controls and the kind of data and interface you get here you just don't see in any other car. Notice the nav, that's Google Maps. It's also where your navigation takes place although I should point out 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 that's' unheard of and to have this thing work while the car is moving is also very Silicon Valley. Camera is interesting. Another one of these places where Tesla is kind of breaking convention. Here is my rear camera. I'm not in reverse and if I start driving, this camera can stay on, another interesting wrinkle. 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 around-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 notice an 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 shift selector up here. If you gotta go buy, buy from the best. Now wireless keys are nothing new in this day and 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 frunk 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. It feels quick which to me is a way of saying it feels lightweight. It also is exceptionally quiet. I don't hear any of the motor or gear wind that I've heard in other electric cars, not at low speed, not in high speed, not under braking and not under full acceleration. There's a lot. Good grief. You never get 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. I basically 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 comment that you can give a company that wasn't making cars at all a handful of years ago. Okay. The bottom line on a Tesla Model S, about 51,000 with destination charge. Now I know what you're saying. Wait a minute. Hope these cars to be getting closer to 60 while I'm minusing out the $7500 U.S. 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 midsized battery and $10,000 more for the big boy battery, and yes like popcorn at the movies you're best value is to buy the big one. Now we had 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. We're gonna run to that Model S a little later in the show by the way in our top 5 segments. So stick around for that. Now texting while driving is almost passé; unfortunately distraction while driving is not. And since we first covered this subject back in October of 2012, webbing while driving has only become that much more pervasive. Dealing with it and the temptation to do it is of great interest to the smarter driver. First it was calling while driving. -Hello. -Then texting while driving. Now the concern is webbing and just about everything else while driving, browsing the web and using apps and such on your smartphone or even tablet while you're at the wheel. According to our partners at State Farm about 1 in 5 people admit to surfing the net while driving and that was as of November 2010. Since then smartphone penetration in the U.S. has grown a lot. Maps and directions, restaurant reviews, social networks, news, these are among the lures. CNET has found a variety of car tech approaches to lessen them. -Please say a command. -Listen to message. -For example, some cars can read text to you. -Where are you? We thought you would be here by now. -And then let you reply with a canned response. -Reply to message. -Say the line number of the message you want to send. -Line 2. -Others bring in Facebook and Twitter updates but pair them way down to the basics and again handle them back and forth with voice. More and more nav systems now just put the next instruction you need in the instrument panel display. -Now take a left. -Or even on a head-up display on the windshield right in front of you and increasingly you can use your ears instead of your eyes. -Continue on Washington Boulevard for 400 feet. -Okay. Here we go on the road. When I use navigation on my phone app, I turn the screen off and just listen for the voice prompt. Email remains a tricky one since it varies so widely in format, complexity, attachments, and how infuriating the content might be. No tech has really made that safer so just leave it alone. Bottom line, there's been a quantum leap in interactive driving distraction and any current tech that promises to neutralize that is kidding because the real problem remains mind distraction, not hands or eyes. Coming up, current car tech that is an absolutely look into the future when CNET On Cars continues. Welcome back to CNET On Cars. I'm Brian Cooley. You know we talk a lot about self-driving cars and this inexorable march toward them on this show. One of the first examples that one of the first vectors if you will was self-parking that we looked at late in 2012, and since then self-parking has only become more common to the point of almost not being a big deal when you find it on a new car today. That's a rapid march what makes for an important Car Tech 101. Now self-parking is almost inevitable these days because so many cars already have the parts in them to enable it. Let me show you. First of all, here on the front, these are your front parking sensors. Lots of cars have these. I bet yours does. You know beep, beep, beep, beep, beep. These corner sensors a little less common but they're starting to pervade across the automotive industry. Now in the back of course we have more sensors as well as the rear camera. They look straight back which gives the car the ability to do some image recognition especially of what's along the side here in terms of the curb distance. And of course other vehicles often have side cameras under the mirrors and front cameras that can also be taken into play. All you have to add to that is a way to turn the wheel. That's where electric power steering is very critical. Lots of cars are using it now for fuel efficiency, less drag on the engine but while you're at it, that's a computer addressable steering rack. Unlike the old dumb hydraulic rams, it all comes together with software. Let me show you. Okay. I enabled the automatic parking and now the car as it says is scanning for a parking space on the right side, a parking space big enough for this vehicle. That's the key thing. A lot of people can't judge that very well. Okay. So as it found one, pull a little further forward and then it tells me where to put the car into reverse. And now hands off the wheel and just nibble it back. I'm just gonna use creep once I get this thing rolling and just work the brake. Hands off and it's reading all of its sensors, camera, it's looking for the distance to the car, distance to the curb, angle of the car, working that electric power steering rack that's a key technology. This space is really tight. It's gonna require some back and fill. Now I'm watching at the back here so I don't bump into that car. Right there it says here to stop, go into drive. It goes full lock all the way forward. It's telling me to come back in a minute. This nibbling logic to me is really impressive. It says stop now. Go back in reverse and let's see how this is gonna work. Look at this. That's pretty good. Then I'm gonna pull it forward, do a little last nibble. That is a pretty good parking job. Stick around. Coming up, top 5 cars that use no gas or diesel when CNET On Cars continues. 1962, the jet age is in full swing and Chrysler taps into it with their turbine car, the first and only turbine-powered car that ever went into albeit limited production for consumers, spinning at 44,000 RPM enable to burn almost anything, the President of Mexico ran his on tequila. The turbine engine was unlike anything on the road but not ready for primetime. Flash forward today and the Jaguar C-X75 concept car uses a pair of turbines to spin generators fast enough to power 778 horsepower worth of electric motors, and while it may void your warranty I bet you could run it on tequila, but that costs about 40 bucks a gallon. Now we took a look at the Tesla Model S with the top of the show of course, which brings us to a closely related top 5. Our top 5 electric cars that are ready for primetime here in the U.S. These are the cars that will either unkill or fail at unkilling the electric car. We're gonna rank these guys by their range on a charge and their miles per gallon equivalent. That's kind of the MPG rating for an electric car. We'll also tell you where they fit on the price scale. Let's go. Number 5, the Toyota RAV4 Electric, range 103 miles, MPGe 76, price is at a little over 50 grand base. Now this is the new RAV4 Electric, not to be confused with that kind of warmed over one that they did originally. It's the only crossover on our list by the way and it's a real fresh entrant on the market. It impresses us as the only non-Tesla product that has a Tesla powertrain, nice pedigree, handles well and that range of 3 digits over 100 miles is the only time you're gonna see that until we get all the way to number 1, especially impressive considering this is also the tallest thing on our list. Number 4, the Fiat 500e, range of 87 miles, MPGe 116. Price is at little over 32 grand. Now this recent entrant comes in with as you saw great numbers on range, MPGe and price, a nice trifecta. It's more refined, better handling, and more fun to drive than a standard Fiat 500. Charge time is just 4 hours or so if you've got a 240 outlet, but I slot the Fiat at number 4 because on a 110 outlet, the charge time is glacial, 24 hours for a full battery charge. You'll have taken the bus to a Ford or Nissan dealer and bought something else by then. It's also a little too small for most Americans to take seriously and the same still goes for the Fiat brand at this point. Number 3, the Ford Focus Electric, range 76 miles, MPGe 105, price is out just under 40. Now pushing 40 grand makes you say for a Focus, but the car looks great, it's tech up as Fords often are, and leverage is the underpinning of what is already a great conventional compact car. Plus it's got a very sporty demeanor along with its green one. And it can do a real fast charge, full charge in 3 hours and change on a 240 outlet which can mean hours less on the teeth than its competitors. The chief one being number 2, the Nissan LEAF, range 73 miles, MPGe 115, now pricing at under 30 grand. That's part of why I swapped out the LEAF and the Focus on this list since the last time we did it because of a massive price cut that now makes the LEAF the cheapest EV that seats 5. Now the LEAF still looks like Barney. It's biased toward a smooth ride more than a sporting one and it charges more slowly on 240 than that Focus, but the new lower price, lower cost to charge and run, and at least the availability of a 480-volt charge if you can find one, are all compelling with this market. Before I get to number 1, I can tell you it will not be the Chevy Volt or the Fisker Karma. As important of electrified cars as they are, they aren't strictly electric cars; they are range extenders. That's a separate list once there are 5 to compare. On the next time we do this rundown the pending Chevy Spark EV made bump somebody off of it. Our number 1 electric car, hands down, is the Tesla Model S. Range 208 miles, MPGe 89, base price though a little over 70 grand. Now it's the first EV to win Car of the Year. It's also like the highest rated car consumer report since I've ever looked at. It's looks hot, goes like hell, has great range and you can even option that range up to 265 miles. Its 17-inch central cabin screen rewrites the rules of cabin tech. On the other hand, the former base model which got about 100 and something miles of range was just killed off. So now you start at over 70 grand, and if you want the 265-mile range you start at a little over 80 grand and up. Still, this car doesn't just accomplish an electric conversion. It converted the market to be ready for an electric car that really aspires. Go to CNETOnCars.com to find a whole slew of back content and our feed links so you don't miss any of our future shows. And email me of course, OnCars@CNET.com with your comments, your questions, or your request for things we should cover. I'll read every one of them and we appreciate you watching. We'll see you next time.
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