Hello future, meet your modern sport sedan.
Its name is simply Model S, but its imminent arrival in Canada could mark the beginning of a new era in transportation. Or, if Tesla's futuristic all-electric four-door spectacularly tanks in the marketplace, it could become the 21st century's digital Bricklin.
Tesla does a marvellous job with the Model S of addressing every major complaint about fully electric vehicles.
Range anxiety? There's a realistic, EPA-rated 426 kilometres worth of range here, more than some gas vehicles.
Fuddy-duddy slave-to-aerodynamics looks? The Model S boasts a subtle yet feline, Jaguar-esque design that makes it one of the best-looking four-doors on the planet this side of an Aston Martin Rapide.
Cost? It's not inexpensive, but it's right in the same ballpark as its similarly sized luxury rivals, and actually undercuts many performance-minded competitors' prices – and that's before any government rebates.
Feeble performance? Not in this thing, as it can zip to highway speeds right ahead of or alongside powerhouse four-doors like the BMW M5, Audi S7 and Porsche Panamera GTS.
Speed of charging? Though the 420-km-plus range makes this a less critical issue, special "fueling station" superchargers are promised that will provide half that range in about 30 minutes. And for now, an optional High Power Wall Connector provides up to 100 km of range every hour of home charging, says Tesla.
Longer-distance driving? Those solar-powered Superchargers are to be spread throughout Canada and the United States, eventually allowing coast to coast travel in either country by about 2017, says Tesla. The first of the solar-powered Supercharger outlets will be introduced to Canada by the end of 2014, Elon Musk said in September.
It's an impressive electric car, with ambitious plans to make it more so, but is it an impressive car, period? We were given a scant half-hour behind the wheel to find out, in a brief local drive that allowed about 15 minutes on highways and public roads in two Model S testers: one the Model S with the largest capacity 85 kWh battery (which starts at $85,900), the other a Performance model that shares that same battery, but comes with a higher-capacity drive inverter that helps it push out more power quicker (starting at $100,400).
Beginning in early 2013, a smaller 60 kWh battery becomes available with an estimated range of 373 km, which will start at $75,200, followed by the $64,500 entry-level Model S with a 40 kWh battery a few months later, which the company says will travel about 255 km on a full charge. This entry-level S won't offer the internal hardware needed to access Tesla's long-distance Supercharging solar network, which provides free juice for Tesla owners, but no ability to charge other EVs, not even Tesla Roadsters. And these prices don't include the green car rebates offered by various provinces of between $5,000 to $8,500.
The Model S seems aimed straight at those who are fascinated by cutting-edge technology. Walk up to it, and its recessed door handles must be touched before they slide out and unlock. There's then a touch-sensitive pad on the inside of the door handle that actually opens the door. How these will work in freezing temperatures after being left outside all night is a good question, but they worked flawlessly here.
Step inside, and there's no ignition key to twist, or button to push: a weight sensor in the seat confirms that you both have the key in the car and are ready to drive, and the Model S silently comes to life.
There are no hard buttons or climate controls in the centre stack, only a massive 17-inch screen. It's like looking at two iPads stacked on top of each other, the entire surface a touch-sensitive, web-enabled screen that can be split to show changes based on your input selections on the steering wheel or on the screen itself.
Outside the space-age screen, it's a remarkably classic interior; ours was decked out with matte wood dash and door accents, along with optional Nappa leather and alcantara accents. There's a wide and useful front trunk where the engine usually sits, while two small rear-facing jump seats are available, to make this sleek sedan-like hatchback unquestionably the coolest seven-seater in the school pickup zone.
Our first short jaunt was in the non-Performance model, with a peak power rating of 362 hp, with 325 lb-ft of torque available right from 0 rpm. The Model S gets moving via the same column shifter that one finds in Mercedes S-Class models, with Tesla's long and flat battery integrated into the car's floorpan. Like any battery electric vehicle, it pulls away with an eerie dead silence. Mash the throttle, however, and there's a still quiet, but high-pitched, whine that was surprisingly louder than in the more powerful version.
Tesla's 0-60 mph time of 5.6 seconds seems entirely plausible, though the lack of shift paddles and relatively little noise means it's not quite as involving as other sport sedans. In the Performance model, however, it blasts off with power that reminds one of top-of-the-line Porsche Panamera Turbo thrust, perhaps a touch less visceral. Tesla claims a 0-96 km/h time here of 4.4 seconds, with various buff books/sites instrument testing it down to low 4s or 3.9. It made the BMW 335i sedan I drove home from the event seem meekly underpowered and rather conventional in comparison.
Then again, pretty much everything else on the road is more conventional than the Tesla Model S. Hello future indeed.
2013 Tesla Model S Performance
Type: Full-size electric luxury performance hatchback, with seven-seat option
Base price: $64,500 (40 kWh battery); as tested, $104,400 (85 kWh battery, includes $4000 tech package)
Engine: none; 85 kWh battery with high performance inverter
Horsepower/torque: 416 hp/443 lb-ft
Transmission: Automatic, one-speed direct drive
Fuel economy (litres/100 km equivalent, EPA): 2.7 city/2.6 highway;
Range: 426 kilometres
Alternatives: Audi S7, BMW ActiveHybrid 5/M5, Lexus GS 450h, Mercedes-Benz CLS, Porsche Panamera