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Tesla Model S Review

Take a test drive. Stop reading this, go to a Tesla showroom, and sign up for a test drive. You’ll see that this car is: 1) Brutally quick. 2) Handsomely appointed. 3) Smarter than you, and 4) Will elevate the standard of what you should expect in a car. I took the Tesla Model S 85 out for a spin and I am smitten.


This car is no slouch. Elon Musk, Tesla’s co-founder, did the electric car’s second coming right with the Model S. The 85 variant, which is equipped with a 85 kWh battery and a single rear motor rated at 380 hp, can propel you to 60mph in a little over 5 seconds from a standstill. This performance is acceptable by today’s sports car standards, but realize that this agility has not been found in any other electric vehicle in production. Step up to the P85D, the performance dual motor variant, and you’re looking at almost a 700 hp rating. 0-60 in a little over 3 seconds. Electric vehicle or not, these figures will shake the boots of other luxury mainstays.

Push the pedal down and power is delivered to the wheels instantly. The Model S eagerly pulls off the line without delay thanks to the nature of electric motors. This battery laden, 4600 pound vehicle achieves maximum torque at zero RPMs which result in immediate response in acceleration. The single gear transmission coupled with the electric motor eliminates the gear-engine speed guessing game, providing the driver with optimal performance at any time.



Traditionally, power is delivered by completing the internal combustion engine cycle to transmit power to the wheels. A compressed air-fuel mixture is ignited producing mechanical work and transferred to the wheels via a fixed set of gears with different ratios. Thus, acceleration becomes a non-linear experience disturbed with gear changes that rob momentum. The internal combustion engine driving experience is further convoluted with the addition of forced induction as it depends more on engine speeds and air temperatures. The Tesla’s drivetrain is mechanically elementary in comparison and results in a highly efficient method of power delivery, a sensation that traditional cars try to emulate by increasing gear counts and additional clutches.


It’s important to point out what the lack of an internal combustion engine means and how much it affects you in the long run. The biggest life changing aspect of this car is the lack of having to do engine-based maintenance. “What is an oil-change?” our grandkids would ask. “When should I change my timing belt?”, “Should I change my spark plugs now or in another XX,XXX miles?” There is still maintenance that should be done, this is still a vehicle with mechanical components that wear and tear after all, such as the brakes. According to the Tesla employee I spoke with during the test drive, if you choose to do so you can bring your Model S once a year for around ~$600 for comprehensive inspection and peace of mind.


Not having an engine to lug around also creates a whole lot more room for compartments. The Model S has a trunk up front, a ‘frunk’ they call it, and a traditional hatchback design. No engine also means the lack of natural aspiration, which necessitates vents and various inlets for air intake and cooling purposes. The front fascia of the Model S is devoid of these air inlets, while the underside is largely flat thanks to the battery packs. In combination, these design features result in an extremely low coefficient of drag while maintaining a svelte, non-Prius like profile. Additionally, having no engine up front provides you with massive crumple zones. Thanks to this and the low rollover risk (due to the incredibly low center of gravity) this car has been deemed to be the safest car in the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) history.


This love affair ends in the interior of the car. The materials in the Tesla S are ones you would find in an entry to mid-tier luxury sedan. The leather seats have a more modern look that matches the simple but elegant look of the entire car and it’s equipped with light bolstering that will fit a larger frame, however, insufficient for what the car can handle in the corners. The door panels and the dash are all fitted nicely and precise making for a very handsome and well put together look. The steering wheel feels nice to the touch and houses the only buttons you’ll find on the entire dash (besides the flashers and the glove box button)


The most distinctive feature in the interior is the 17″ touchscreen that centralizes all of the vehicles controls from driving control modes, suspension settings, temperature controls, music, navigation, etc. The high utility of this massive touchscreen avoids the need for buttons and knobs that freckle the dash of every car in history. The capacitive touchscreen provides a nice touch experience much like the glass surfaces found in today’s smartphones, though don’t expect the latest and greatest equipment here since the pixel density seems fairly low and it is not an OLED screen, which would produce sharper contrasts and deeper blacks.


This large screen becomes a huge source of light and can be quite distracting during night driving. Given that our eyes can tire from looking directly at a computer monitor during the workdays, it would be interesting to see what this screen would do over a period of 265 miles (claimed maximum travel capacity of the 85) of night driving. When you’re not looking at the massive touchscreen the digital instrument cluster displays the speedometer and the motor’s activity (whether you’re depleting or regenerating power), as well as a mini navigation screen and other useful trip and travel information.


It’s interesting to note that the navigation software in the main touchscreen area is handled by Google Maps while the navigation software beside the digital instrument cluster is handled by a version of Garmin. The information handoff between the two navigation softwares seem to work just fine, though time will tell what bugs will surface as maps receive updates.

Moving to the rest of the cabin you’ll find a cavernous space where a transmission tunnel would usually be found. The motor and transmission has been neatly packed near the rear axle area of the car, which create massive spaces for the consumer to put anything else in its place. This radical design in powertrain leads to a radical change in interior design philosophy. Without mechanical components that normally take up real estate, the interior of this car feels very much like an empty office space. This ‘office space’ is nicely equipped with lush leather, elegant faux wood panels, and lots of electronic gadgets, but overall it feels like you’re driving in an empty RV instead of a finely tuned sports sedan, where you’re typically cocooned by driver centric buttons and levers. Ultimately the interior is a matter of personal tastes. The Model S is a totally new form that followed a new function. Personally, I find the design to be sparse and flat out sleep-inducing.

Autopilot & Supercharger Network

Tesla’s movement toward self-driving cars is “Autopilot,” a nice one word summary of the system of systems that’s working in the car all at once. Autopilot combines the forward-looking camera, the car’s sonar system, radar, and real-time traffic updates to help you drive. The current state of Autopilot is several updates away from having a fully autonomous vehicle. Currently, you can have adaptive cruise control that can control the behavior of the car by the other cars around you. This means that you don’t have to touch the accelerator during stop and go traffic because it will do it for you. Soon Model S owners will be able to change lanes by only tapping on the turn signal stalks. No, they do not have to buy a new Model S to get this feature, they can simply connect their car to a wi-fi connection and get firmware updates. You are correct, the car is now your best and most impressive electronic gadget.


Without an energy delivery infrastructure the electric car is imprisoned to a finite area, simultaneously limiting its market appeal. The claimed 265 mile range of the 85 is a decent amount of range but is meaningless for cross country trips. Thankfully, the Supercharger network is steadily popping up in various regions of the country. An exciting proof of concept is the ability to swap the battery physically, allowing the driver to gain maximum range in about half the time it takes to fill up a tank of gas. Widespread adoption of electric vehicles is going to highly depend on successful integration of these charging and battery swap stations.

Final Thoughts

Leaving the test drive I found myself confused. On the one hand I was completely impressed by the performance and the overall automotive experience garnered by all of the electronic gadgetry. On the other I felt disdain for the car. Deep and utter hatred. Not because of its features but because it had invalidated my long held standards and beliefs of what a proper car should be. Before the Model S I would readily defend that the manual transmission is best and that the Dual-Clutch Transmission is a driver’s best lifehack. Before the Model S I would sympathize with both sides of the argument over naturally aspirated or forced induction. After the Model S I look back on these arguments and think about how we resemble chimpanzees beating our chests. The automotive world is in another league now and the standards have been elevated. It’s time we look forward and progress.



About Hansen

The engineer amongst the crew, Hansen once built a mini baja car with his bare hands. Hansen had the opportunity to join Honda’s R&D team in Ohio but chose the life of the east coast and the defense industry instead. A die hard auto enthusiast he religiously follows the auto industry and loves long walks in the auto shows.

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  1. Toyota and Honda’s Hydrogen cars are going to make these overpriced rich men’s toys obsolete. No one knows how long the battery will last but one thing is certain: One day the battery will die. New ones will be ~$20,000. Hydrogen is a better battery- much much less weight and fast refueling. A hydrogen station can be installed anywhere there is power and water in 48 hours, and when mass produced will cost not much more than a supercharger array which takes 2 weeks to build.

    Oh and remember – Tesla owners cannot buy parts. They’re stuck with higher insurance and sky high service costs once the warranty is up.

    • You know how hydrogen must be stored right? 48 hours to build? 😛 ah I would love to be in a car crash with an hydrogen car, the invisible flame covering me before it blows up, what a nice and safe invention..

    • You know, I used to think the same thing. In theory, Hydrogen cars seem like they are a better choice because they have faster refueling and longer range.

      But what most people don’t consider is how low the overall efficiency of hydrogen vehicles is compared to battery cars. To power a vehicle with Hydrogen, you first have to generate the Hydrogen. The only sustainable way to do that it via electrolysis (not a particularly efficient process). This hydrogen must then be compressed or liquefied (both energy intensive processes). The hydrogen is then pumped into a car, which uses it to power a hydrogen fuel cell (around 60%-70% efficient), which generates electricity to power an electric motor that actually moves the car. To find the overall efficiency, one must multiply the efficiency at each step of the process. It’s somewhat difficult to find numbers for the efficiency of Hydrolysis and how much energy it takes to compress the hydrogen to usable levels, but if you crunch the numbers, you’ll find that the amount of energy lost in all those steps is considerable. My best guess would put the overall efficiency of a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle at around 30%-40%. But if you don’t believe me, find the numbers and do the math yourself.

      Compare that with an electric car: An electric car must take AC current, run in through a power inverter (usually 95% efficient or higher), and charge the battery. The power then must be released from the battery to power the electric motor. The efficiency of this whole process is very high (90% or more). Battery electric vehicles win the efficiency contest by a huge margin.

      There are also other problems with Hydrogen: it is highly explosive (more so than liquid gasoline), it has poor energy density when compared with other forms of molecular energy storage, it needs infrastructure to support it that hasn’t been built yet, and most of the hydrogen currently used to fuel vehicles comes from natural gas wells (not sustainable in the long run).

      Overall, I just do not think that the benefits of a slightly faster refueling time (2 minutes vs 30 minutes) and slightly longer range outweigh the huge downsides. Battery technology is only going to improve as time goes on. The model S already has almost as much range as the Toyota Mirai. So long term, the only real advantage for hydrogen cars is the faster refueling time. Do you really think that single advantage outweighs all the downsides?

      • This is a very good summary.

        We have been using hydrogen fuel cell buses here in BC, Canada. The project evaluation results is a good read.

        tl;dr version of the results:

        “Overall the FCEBs have an average fuel
        consumption of 15.48 kilograms of hydrogen per 100 kilometers. This equates to a fuel economy
        of 4.53 miles per diesel gallon equivalent (mi/DGE). The buses have an average availability of

        Doesn’t sound very promising at this (albeit early) stage.

  2. As an “overpriced rich man’s” Model S owner, I think any alternative energy is worth investigating and innovating on @calamityjane. But I don’t think this is a zero sum game in the world of electric vehicles or even electric vs. hydrogen. Keep in mind the efficiency of an ICE, at best, is under 30% whereas an EV is ~90%.

    Now nothing is quite like gasoline when it comes to energy density (ok diesel). Compressed hydrogen gas has almost the SAME energy density as the Tesla 85kWh battery back (both are terrible compared to gasoline), but CH is much lighter, significantly lighter than gasoline too of course – so this helps.

    Then you talk about the various pressures that car manufacturers are splitting on – new terminology and equipment required to “fill up” those Hydrogen vehicles. While hydrogen is the most comment element in the universe, it’s pretty expensive (ecologically and financially) to harness at the moment. I think these are problems that have already been dealt with in the world of EVs. The US has standardized on two connectors for “Level 2” charging and even DC direct charging (SuperChargers / CHAdeMO) is cross-compatible and adapters exist for all. Tesla is working with BMW and Mercedes to open their networks up, the hold back? The technological requirement to accept and consume the max energy provided – results in best customer experience for all and minimizes use of terminals (needed for Scale).

    As for cost, the Toyota FCV is currently listing for $57,500 MSRP (starting, excluding all fees). That’s not near ~$20,000. However, there are electric vehicles under $20,000 today and it’s not far from the $69,900 price tag of the Model S (excludes any rebates which may reduce the MSRP).

    I’ve calculated that my 85kWh Model S holds the equivalent power capacity of a 3 gallon ICE vehicle. I don’t know of such a car, but my previous car held slightly more than 18 gallons and got me barely 312 miles on a full tank (2001 Ford Taurus). My Tesla has gotten me 225 miles with 48 rated miles left over (South SF Bay to Fort Bragg, CA). Now we had range anxiety and it was only the 3rd day we owned the vehicle. There were no superchargers on our journey, we ended up at a hotel with a very old level 2 charger (just 1 – only charger in the entire county) and it worked flawlessly.

    After that road trip I realized this was the future and we had a great time. We’ve never spent so much time together as a family before. My wife and I love driving and are doing our best to minimize the impact we leave behind for our daughter and her future family. I think merging the world of tech, physics, automative, and internet connectivity is going to let us do the extraordinary. This car, the Model S is a great example of what’s possible now that meets the vision of what we were promised of the future. It’s here, the tech is viable, and 3 months in I’ve accumulated 7100+ miles on the odometer.

    Go Toyota and Hydrogen, Go Nissan and Tesla. Let’s change the world and reward the risk and innovation these companies are bringing us. Can’t wait to see what they all come up with next.

    Best Wishes,
    Scott 🙂

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