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2012 Tesla Model S

By John Voelcker, Modified: September 21, 2012 at 11:16 am •  Published: September 21, 2012

Tesla offers a choice of three battery packs--40, 60, and 85 kilowatt-hours--corresponding to stated ranges of 160, 230, and 300 miles. The EPA has rated the highest-range version at 265 miles, though like all electric cars, your range will vary considerably with driving style, speed, acceleration, temperature, and other factors. Battery recharging through a Tesla-specific charging station (and connector) takes place at 10 or 20 kilowatts, up to three times as fast as most plug-in cars, and Tesla plans to launch a "Supercharger" network of fast-charging stations at luxury destinations between city pairs--making intercity travel possible in a zero-emission electric car.

If the Model S has a drawback, it's that it's light on electronic equipment and safety systems for the luxury class in which it competes. That may not matter to early adopters, but we think the universally available adaptive cruise control found on German mid-size luxury and sport sedans is something Tesla would be well-advised to add.

The 2012 Model S is priced at $57,400 to $87,400 before incentives and options, depending on the version selected. Options can push the price of the top-end models toward $100,000, but operating costs on grid power are customarily just a fraction of those for its gasoline-powered competitors. And the Model S qualifies for a $7,500 Federal income-tax credit and various state, local, and corporate incentives as well.

The 2012 Tesla Model S may just be the first electric car that's simultaneously good-looking, fully digital in the best tradition of Silicon Valley innovation, and requires very little compromise for around-town use. Assuming no major quality or safety glitches--and it's early days yet--the major worries for buyers are most likely battery-pack life ... and the lifespan and prospects of a startup car company as whole.