2012 Tesla Model S Signature Sedan Exterior

What’s New for 2013

After selling out of last year’s limited-edition Signature lineup, the 2013 Tesla Model S returns with base and Performance trims only. The car is pretty much unchanged, though heated seats are now available with both cloth and leather upholstery.

Introduction

Sleek, seductive, luxurious, powerful and inspiring are all words that you’d expect to hear about the latest European luxury sedan. But in this case, we’re talking about one of America’s latest homegrown electric vehicles, the 2013 Tesla Model S.

The Model S is a huge departure from the typical electric car, with its luxury sedan accommodations and pulse-quickening performance. Thanks to a thoroughly modern interpretation of interior design and a host of advanced technological features, the Model S also serves as a new benchmark for all vehicles, electric or otherwise.

Nor is the Tesla Model S exclusive to the ultra-wealthy. As-new pricing for the base model starts around $60,000, and that’s not including a federal tax credit. That base model’s 40 kWh battery pack means it should travel about 125 miles before needing a charge, which is still quite good for an EV. From here, though, you can opt for a 60 kWh or 85 kWh battery pack, both of which provide considerably more range and power (for a higher price, of course).

Whether you spring for the base model or go all-in for a fully loaded version that exceeds the $100,000 mark, you’re assured to get one of the most noteworthy cars since the introduction of the Model T. Better yet, the Tesla is nearly sacrifice-free, as it rides and drives as well as some of the best luxury cars available. It also benefits from a wealth of utility and convenience with its generous trunk and third-row seating option.

Compared to established, traditional flagship luxury sedans, the Model S does suffer from compromised long-distance capability and unknown reliability. But at least for the time being, one of the most alluring attributes of the 2013 Tesla Model S is its unique standing. There is simply nothing like it, and as far as we can tell, there won’t be for a while.

Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options

The 2013 Tesla Model S is classified as a large sedan and is available in two trim levels: base and Performance.

Standard features for the base Model S include 19-inch wheels, LED daytime running lights, full power accessories, cruise control, dual-zone automatic climate control, a 17-inch touchscreen, cloth/premium vinyl upholstery, heated 12-way power front seats with memory functions, 60/40-split-folding rear seats, a power tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, a rearview camera, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, and a seven-speaker sound system with dual USB ports and HD radio.

Besides an increase in power output, the Performance models add the ability to use twin chargers, an active air suspension and leather upholstery.

Since the Model S features mobile Internet connectivity, access to Web-based navigation and maps is possible, but turn-by-turn guidance is only available as part of the optional Tech package. Other Tech package features include xenon headlights, LED foglights, auto-dimming exterior mirrors, a power rear hatch, full keyless ignition/entry and a high-definition rearview camera. The Sound Studio package includes a 12-speaker surround-sound audio system. Stand-alone options include 21-inch wheels with performance tires, a panoramic sunroof, rear-facing third-row seats, a cargo cover and the twin onboard chargers.

Powertrains and Performance

Four distinct powertrain choices are offered with the 2013 Tesla Model S, each with increasing levels of range and performance. All Model S powertrains are propelled by a single water-cooled electric motor, routing power through a single-speed transmission on its way to the rear wheels. Lithium-ion battery packs are also utilized throughout the lineup.

With the base 40 kWh battery pack, the Model S can produce the equivalent of 235 horsepower and 310 pound-feet of torque. The EPA has yet to rate this battery, though we’d expect a cruising range of around 125 miles. Tesla claims a 0-60-mph time of 6.5 seconds, which is comparable to a base midsize luxury sedan.

With the 60 kWh battery, output increases to 302 hp and 317 lb-ft of torque. The EPA estimates a range of 208 miles, while Tesla expects it to reach 60 mph in 5.9 seconds. The 85 kWh model makes 362 hp and 325 lb-ft of torque with an estimated 0-60-mph run of 5.6 seconds and an EPA range of 265 miles. Upgrading to the 85 kWh Performance boosts output to 416 hp and 443 lb-ft of torque, still with a range of 265 miles. In Edmunds testing, the Tesla Model S Performance accelerated to 60 mph in a very quick 4.3 seconds, which confirms Tesla’s 4.4-second estimate.

In terms of efficiency, the EPA estimates the Model S with the 85 kWh battery will use 38 kWh city/37 kWh highway and 38 kWh combined per 100 miles driven. (Remember that here, the lower the number, the better.) In miles per gallon equivalent (MPGe), that’s 88 mpg city/90 mpg highway and 89 mpg combined.

The Model S can be recharged from all standard 110- and 240-volt household outlets and from various public charging stations using the included Universal Mobile Connector and adapters. Figure around 5 hours of recharging time at 240 volts for the 40 kWh pack and single onboard charger. Naturally, the larger battery packs take longer, with the 60 kWh pack needing about 8 hours and the 85 kWh needing about 12 hours.

The dual-charger system — which needs a 100-amp circuit to operate at full capacity — is an option for the 60 kWh and 85 kWh battery packs. Using it effectively halves the above charging times.

Models equipped with the 60 and 85 kWh batteries can also use a nationwide network of “superchargers” that Tesla is building. Tesla says the industrial-grade, high-speed chargers promise to replenish 160 miles of range in the 85 kWh batteries in about 30 minutes, enabling long-distance travel.

Safety

Standard safety features for all 2013 Tesla Model S variants include head, knee and pelvic airbags for the front passengers as well as front and rear side curtain airbags. Also standard on all models are stability and traction control, crash sensors for high-voltage disconnect, antilock disc brakes and a rearview camera.

In Edmunds brake testing, the Model S with optional 21-inch wheels and performance tires came to a stop from 60 mph in an impressive 108 feet.

Interior Design and Special Features

The 2013 Tesla Model S features a cabin that is as modern and classy as you’ll find in any segment. Almost all knobs and buttons are absent, replaced by a sleek 17-inch vertical touchscreen that controls almost all onboard systems. It is essentially a big and beautiful iPad. Besides looking good, the system actually functions well, too. Users can configure the placement of audio, navigation and climate controls to their liking on the screen and we experienced few, if any, flaws.

For the directionally challenged, however, we would recommend springing for the expensive Tech package that includes a turn-by-turn navigation system that is more like the units found in conventional cars. The standard system can access online maps for viewing, but that’s about the extent of its function.

In terms of comfort, both front and rear seats offer ample legroom for adults, though taller rear-seat passengers may run out of headroom. The optional rear-facing jump seats, on the other hand, are almost comically small. Only small children are able to sit back there, though they are multipoint child seats, so no added safety seat is needed.

These third-row seats fold flat into the foot well, allowing for a capacious 26.3 cubic feet of cargo space, which is significantly more than other large luxury sedans. Folding the middle row flat expands that space to 58.1 cubes. There’s also a secondary trunk under the hood that offers 5.3 cubic feet of storage.

Materials throughout the cabin are high-quality enough to be comparable to the typical luxury sedan, but those who purchase the range-topping models might expect more than the Model S delivers. The leather upholstery is by no means a disappointment; it’s just not up to premium luxury standards. Elsewhere, the typical window switches and driver controls have been sourced from Mercedes-Benz, making them hard to fault by any measure.

Driving Impressions

The 2013 Tesla Model S effectively crushes every preconceived notion you may have had about electric cars. Unlike the quirky pod cars, golf carts or even economy car-based EVs, the Tesla drives just like a conventional luxury sedan. Our experience has been limited to the 85 kWh Performance model, and we’re utterly impressed on a number of levels.

Acceleration is both quick and eerily quiet. With all torque being immediately available, it’s like being shot out of a gun barrel — with a silencer. Braking is also praiseworthy, not just because the pedal feels like one from a conventional car, but also because it gets the Model S stopped with authority. The well-tuned steering and suspension further add to the experience, with a sharpness and accuracy not typically found in an EV. Fortunately, the Model S’s sporty capabilities don’t come at the expense of comfort and compliance, as the ride quality is smooth and agreeable.

By Edmunds.com