Tesla Motors isn’t your normal car company. And the Tesla Model S isn’t your normal executive saloon.
This is a car that can seat seven and, in its most powerful guise, can match a Porsche 911 Carrera from 0-60mph. It is also, of course, electric, albeit an electric car that can travel up to 320 miles on a single charge and then takes only an hour to be fully recharged, figures no other electric car has even come close to matching yet.
Tesla has just invited the Model S’s 6000 worldwide reservation holders a brief test ride in the car at the firm’s Fremont factory in California, ahead of the first deliveries to customers in mid 2012.
It was a significant and brave invitation, given the car is only 90 per cent finished. Most of Tesla’s wealthy customers would not have experience of seeing development cars, which invariably feature panel gaps or a ‘rough around the edges’ interior.
Before my trip in the passenger seat, Tesla’s charismatic owner and CEO Elon Musk gave a presentation on the Model S that outlined it as perhaps the greatest car the world has ever seen.
While that’s impossible to tell from the passenger seat, the Model S did strike me as an extremely well accomplished machine with a real depth of engineering behind it.
The ride appeared supple on a far-from-billiard-table-smooth surface and the performance was deeply impressive. Indeed, the torque drop-off that blunts the acceleration of the Tesla Roadster at around 70mph seems to have been eradicated in the Model S – real work has been done on improving the energy density of what is essentially the same powertrain. The Model S was still pulling strongly up to 80mph before the short runway we were driving on came to an end.
What was most impressive from the passenger seat was the body control. Without a hefty internal combustion engine in the front end, there was no front lift under hard acceleration. When the Model S was really pushed through a slalom course, pitch and roll was minimal, no doubt helped by the car’s ultra-low centre of gravity.
It’s so far so good, but I left California thinking the Model S is destined to succeed no matter how good it is to drive.
This is a car born out of a unique part of America: Silicon Valley, home to Google, eBay, Facebook, Intel, Yahoo and Apple, among many others. Influential individuals in Silicon Valley are invariably well-paid and open-minded people, who are early adopters and keen to be seen with the latest technology.