Tesla so far seems to have inspired two main constituencies.
Owners of the model S, who turn into an ugly mob if you.
Dare to criticize the car and an equally vocal core of doubters who think the car is overpriced, unsustainable and not the answer to anything.
I fall smack in the middle.
It's a great car that needs a clear-eyed look.
The Model S is what Tesla makes.
A four door sedan, aluminum body, all electric, of course.
We'll get to that in a minute.
You've got two seats in the front, kinda two and a half seats in the second row, and optionally, two rear facing seats with little racing harnesses on them for your sporty kids.
Approach the car and you get the first taste of its constant predictive theme.
The door pulls surface to meet your hand.
Walk away and they disappear.
As the car locks.
There are no locks.
There are no lock pulls, no place for a key.
Now normally I'd get in this car and immediately draw your attention to the amazing 12 inch LCD instrument panel but that's almost boring compared to its friend.
The hand unit, if you can call it that, is actually bigger than your head.
It's 17 inch, vertical format touch screen that has almost every control of the vehicle embedded in its interface.
No other car does this.
Lets look at the layout first.
You can do a split screen like you see I have here.
Top and bottom.
You can switch which one of those is the top.
And then when you hit this row of buttons at the top that changes what's in the upper screen.
You can go to your media settings, a.m., f.m., HD radio, satellite radios is optional.
No optical disc in this car.
No nonsense like SD cards or a hard drive.
I think they've made the right choices on media.
USB iPod and Bluetooth streaming, of course.
Media apps currently consist of Slacker for web streaming and Tunein for broadcast screening.
You want Pandora?
Launch it on your phone and bring it up as a Bluetooth stream.
It's not integrated in the car, which seems a step out of pace with the rest of the world.
Now, navigation's an interesting and kinda complex story.
As you can see here, if I go to full screen, big gorgeous Google Maps.
You'll have this in your Model S as a map for reference.
It'll show you where you are, but you won't have turn by turn navigation unless you get an option that brings that in.
That will give you nav by some Garmin technology, which shows up on the left side of the dashboard as well.
So there is map space navigation and search by turn by turn optional.
An important difference.
Now destination is really elegant here.
You search like you search for anything else out there on the web.
And once you find the result you want, you just say I wanna go there by pressing it and off you go.
The Navarre doesn't nag you to confirm and reconfirm that you wanna go there, like almost every other car on the market does.
You got an energy screen for you ranging efficiency gigs.
Most of us won't use that.
This is the craziest thing in this car.
The only car in the world that'll let you surf the web.
And I mean full screen.
There is no lockout.
When you're driving, this is a full-live browser.
I can go to Cameron's Facebook page while I'm on the freeway.
He likes that.
I'm not sure I do.
Where this browser is restricted its lack of Flash support.
So no YouTube streaming, no CNET videos, no streaming from the Pandora site.
Another restriction of sorts is that we are working off a built-in connection.
But it's 3G while other makers like Audi and GM are already transitioning to 4G.
We need Tesla there as well.
Your rear camera is the best in the business.
Big and high def.
This is absolutely amazing.
You can pick up a leaf.
Or a pine needle that you're about to run over.
On the down side, though, it gives me no indication where things are.
There are no guidelines for distance or where my wheels are lining up.
That to me is a failing.
Because this is the distorted wide angle view.
It's not a true natural ratio when it's looking like that.
The last area of this amazing interface is down here under Control.
This is all the stuff that used to be buttons.
In your older car.
You want to operate the sun roof?
There's nothing up here to do that.
You'd go to this actual software control.
You can move this slider or you can just pick up a preset like vent or all the way open or anywhere in between.
Whether this menu based car is forward progress or lateral innovation, would largely depend on your relationship with displays versus controls.
I kept yearning for a few more buttons and knobs, but only if done well like the Mercedes stalks on the steering column and window controls on the door panels.
Something else only a Tesla has, a firmware change log.
Something like two dozen updates have been pushed out to these cars already in the manner of updates to your smartphone.
And they aren't just minor things.
Recent firmware upgrades have added hill hold braking, a new streaming radio service, new options for cars with air suspension, and even creep when you lift off the brake.
Now in case you've been living under a rock, let's review.
A Model S is a pure battery electric car, not a hybrid or a range extender.
It's incapable of combusting anything.
No jokes about some highly publicised fires.
You charge it primarily by plugging it in, but it also regenerates power when you use the brakes or coast.
It's rear wheel drive only at this point, via a single motor that sits between the rear wheels and turns their drive shafts via a single speed reduction gear.
The battery is this massive flat metal mattress of a thing that underlies almost the entire car.
And these car's come in two battery capacities.
The sixty model car's have a range of two hundred and eight miles.
The 85 model car have a large battery and two hundred and sixty five mile's of range.
Between that battery and the motor lies the inverter.
An inverter converts the DC, the direct current that is stored in that battery, to 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 axles and the road wheels.
Because we have a P in front of our eighty-five model designation we have a heartier inverter that can flow more current.
To the motor, allowing even greater acceleration.
The numbers 416 horsepower, 443 pound beat of torque, rear wheel drive, 0 to 60 in 4.2 seconds, which is pretty impressive for a car that weighs over 4700 pounds.
The MPGe or miles per gallon equivalent is 89.
Now how long it takes to charge one of these things is a question with many answers.
From basically empty to a full charge on our big battery car would take an absurd 76 hours on a normal 110 outlet with the standard onboard charger in the car.
Now plug into a 240 volt 24 amp outlet and you're down to 14 hours.
240 40 amp and you get down to 8 hours.
If you have a dedicated 240 volt, 40 amp wall connector, you can option a second charger in the car, and that gets you down to four hours.
Or find one of Tesla's super chargers out on the road and you can get 150 miles of charge in 20 minutes.
Like I said, not simple.
Driving the Model S gets different even before it moves.
As we saw, you unlock by approaching it.
You start it by pressing the brake pedal.
There's no switch.
Set the parking brake by putting it in park.
The two are never separate.
And it's blessedly free of any sport mode, buttons and layers and setting that have become a game of 3D chess on most other performance cars.
You want to go faster, you push the pedal, kind of the way it should be.
It's very simple.
Now because we've got the big boy here with the hot rod inverter it's just got tremendous power no matter what part of the speed range you're trying to accelerate from 0, 20, 40, 60.
Speed doesn't matter.
It's always a grin.
The ride quality's really outstanding, benefitting from that big, heavy battery down in the belly.
Let's face it, our sport suspension is none too harsh, I don't think.
And it's interesting, you would think this big 17-inch display is gonna be a massive distraction.
For some reason, I find that it's not.
It's good clear interface.
You know I'm not an idiot.
I'm not gonna sit here and browse the web while I drive.
I guess you could do that.
That's what doesn't stop you.
Notably missing on a model S is any driver assistant tabs.
Adaptive cruise, blind spot warning.
Lane departure prevention, forward collision warning, self parking assist, all not spoken here.
Those, and all wheel drive, are, of course, things Tesla will need if they want to fully compete as a mass market brand.
About the only drive controls you can fuss with on this car are the steering mode, Comfort, Standard, or Sport, changes the weight and the ratio.
And the regenerative braking is an interesting performance tool.
If you have that to standard, it's actually quite heavy when you lift, and you get a nice regenerative drag, which is a great tool for getting in and out of corners when you learn how to play with it.
Ok, let's price our model s.
We of course have a P85, basically top of the stack, and we're at about 87 thousand dollars with destination, minus the federal tax credit of 75 hundred, but I'm not factoring in any state credits, because they range from zero to thousands depending where you live.
Now the options to make it truly CNET Style.
First of all, we have Performance Plus.
6,500 bucks gets you a sport suspension, staggered wheel width, and another six to twelve miles of range.
But that package also requires you get the 21-inch Performance Wheels for $4,500 more and requires you get the Tech Package for $3.750.
That brings in full maps and navigation, LED running and cornering lights, keyless access, memory seats and mirrors, and a.
Power lift gate.
Performance plus also requires you get the smart air suspension for 2250 for automatic leveling and height.
Dual chargers to speed up your lead are 1500 bucks.
Park sensors, insultingly, are not included on this car and they nickel and dime you 500 bucks for those, front and rear.
And finally, ultra high fidelity takes you a. Speakers, including a powered sub, and for 2,500 bucks, that's actually not bad market price.
All in, we're at about $108,600 CNET STYLE, though you can add a lot more for creature comfort.
In sum, yes, this car is out of reach of most people.
And, yes, it takes anyway between 15 and 1,500 longer to reenergize than a gas engine car.
But, spend a day with it.
And all the other cars on the road with their noisy, oily, boxes of explosions under the hood and seven, eight or nine compromises, known as gears, in the transmission just seem very old.
I can't say this is the future but I can say I'd enjoy it if it were.