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2012 Tesla Model S

By John Voelcker, Modified: September 21, 2012 at 11:16 am •  Published: September 21, 2012
The 2012 Tesla Model S all-electric sport sedan went into production in June of 2012 as the first "mass-produced electric vehicle" from Silicon Valley startup Tesla Motors. In 2008, that company shocked the car market with the launch of its all-electric two-seat Roadster sports car--which embarrassed supercars costing twice as much with its swift, silent acceleration.

The Model S is billed as a mid-size four-door sedan, but in fact it's a five-door hatchback, with a pair of optional rear-facing jump seats in the load bay that offer nominal seven-passenger capacity. To be fair, those seats are suitable only for small children--and their occupants may chafe at the four-point safety harnesses they'll have to wear--but short of large crossover utility vehicles, no other sedan this size even tries to hold seven occupants. We're skeptical about the safety implications, though.

The battery pack is housed in the floorpan of the Model S, both lowering its center of gravity and freeing up the front compartment, which contains a storage compartment that Tesla Motors [NSDQ:TSLA] insists on calling a "frunk," for front trunk.

Filled with thousands of commodity lithium-ion cells provided by Tesla investor Panasonic, the liquid-cooled battery powers a 270-kilowatt (362-hp) electric motor driving the rear wheels. Both the drive motor and some electric components are liquid-cooled as well, meaning that Tesla can "thermally condition" or control the temperature of its electric components for better energy retention and more predictable performance.

The 2012 Model S Performance model, with a more powerful 301-kW (416-hp) motor, sprints from 0 to 60 mph in less than 5 seconds; the standard versions reaching the same speed in 6 at 7 seconds. Handling is flat, due to the low center of gravity, and while the ride is firm over small road-surface imperfections, it's remarkably good over larger bumps, dips, and potholes.

Styling is sleek and reminds many onlookers of the recent Jaguar XF and XJ. That's not a bad thing for an unknown brand entering the luxury field. And the interior, while relatively simple, is comfortable and well-made, in a straightforward way. The dashboard is dominated by the 17-inch touchscreen display, whose graphics, response speed, and simple size put any other car's touchscreen interface to shame. We worry somewhat about the distraction inherent in relegating all minor controls to that interface, but the size of the icons and fonts and its responsiveness make it as good as system as we've seen.

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