Electric cars come in all shapes and sizes - not just the compact, mass-production models that most Americans have become familiar with over the past couple of years. The 2012 Tesla Model S represents the new vanguard of battery-powered automobiles, cars that don't compromise on features, power, or style while still delivering completely emissions-free operation. The Tesla Model S might not be as common as the Nissan Leaf or the Chevrolet Volt, but it's an important step in the maturity of the electric vehicle marketplace.
Let's take a look at 10 things you need to know about the 2012 Tesla Model S.
Unlike a hybrid vehicle - or even an extended-range hybrid such as the Chevrolet Volt - the 2012 Tesla Model S derives 100 percent of its motivation from electricity, with no assistance whatsoever from a traditional internal combustion engine. As such, the vehicle does not produce any emissions, and is almost completely silent when underway. The Tesla Model S relies on a single AC electric motor that is capable of generating a monstrous 416 horsepower along with 443 lb-ft of torque - output that is sent to the rear wheels via a single-speed transmission.
The 2012 Tesla Model S can be ordered with three different battery options. The entry-level battery offers a 40 kWh capacity, which translates into a range of 160 miles on a full charge. Moving up to the 60 kWh battery expands the Model S' cruising ability substantially to 230 miles, while selecting the top-of-the-line 85 kWh battery boosts the maximum distance that can be traveled to 300 miles. Each battery comes with an eight year warranty, and while the base storage pack is guaranteed for 100,000 miles of operation, the 85 kWh features an unlimited mileage warranty - one of the first such promises to be made in the electric car industry.
Like most electric vehicles, the 2012 Tesla Model S offers a variety of different charging options. 110 volt charging from a standard household outlet is of course included with the vehicle's onboard electrical connection, and an adaptor is also provided in order to connect to 240 volt and J1772 public charging stations for more rapid filling of the automobile's battery. Using the vehicle's available 10 kW on-board charger, Tesla claims that the car can travel 31 miles for every hour that it spends sucking juice out of the wall. Upgrading to the 20 kW twin charger doubles that figure to 62 miles of range per hour of charge. The latter is recommended for use with Tesla's optional High Power Wall Connector, which can be installed in a home garage.
The 2012 Tesla Model S has been designed in order to minimize the impact of the weight of its battery pack and electric engine. The battery pack has been mounted in the floor pan - an absolute must to keep the car's center of gravity as low as possible, given that these electric storage cells account for one third of the automobiles total mass. In the same vein, the Model S features a rear-mounted motor, squeezing the unit between the vehicle's two back wheels. Heat exchangers at the front of the car to keep the battery pack and other electronic systems cool.
Despite being saddled with a significant amount of weight due to its battery pack, the 2012 Tesla Model S is an impressive performer in real world driving scenarios. The Tesla Model S tips the scales at a hefty 4,642 lbs when ordered with the 85 kWh battery, but that same configuration in Performance trim is capable of zooming to 60-mph from a standing start in an astonishing 4.4 seconds. The Model S 85 kWh Performance also devours the quarter mile in 12.6 seconds, which is fast enough to startle many dedicated sports cars. Top speed for the Model S is limited to between 110 and 130 mph, depending on the model, and even the base 40 kWh edition of the car blows past 60-mph in well under seven seconds.
The 2012 Tesla Model S flirts with the current four-door coupe trend currently sweeping the luxury segment, but ultimately the automobile provides a compromise by offering a hatchback sedan body style that is both elegant and practical. Borrowing more than a few styling cures from Jaguar, Aston Martin, and Maserati, the Tesla Model S provides a long hood, a sweeping rear roofline, a wide oval grille, and a long wheelbase that give it significant presence out on the road. A generous hatch opening makes it a cinch to load the Tesla Model S with cargo.
The 2012 Tesla Model S can handle more than just luggage behind the second row of seating. Thanks to the availability of two optional, rear-facing seats, the Tesla Model S can push its passenger capacity from five to seven, making it a viable crossover challenger for families that need to be able to transport a few extra bodies in a pinch. The most recent vehicles to offer this type of seating configuration were station wagons offered by Mercedes-Benz and Volvo, making the Model S the only hatchback sedan to provide such an appealing option.
The 2012 Tesla Model S is offered in four distinct models. The base Tesla Model S can be had with either of the three battery pack options, retailing for MSRPs of $49,900 (40 kWh), $59,900 (60 kWh) and $69,900 (85 kWh). Opting for the Model S Performance edition - the quickest of the hatchback sedans, and one that offers additional luxury equipment plus an upgraded suspension system - pumps the price up to $84,900. The Model S Signature and Signature Performance models represent the first 1,000 examples of the car to be built, and they retail for $87,900 and $97,900, respectively. Both Signature models and the Performance version of the car come standard with the 85 kWh battery pack.
The 2012 Tesla Model S isn't just a technological tour-de-force under the skin - it also packs a number of sophisticated features aimed at improving the experience of those driving and riding in the electric car. Of these, the most prominent is the 17-inch touchscreen that is mounted on the vehicle's center stack. This unique LCD panel is used to control almost every single vehicle function, from its heating and cooling controls to its entertainment system and wireless networking capabilities. Opting for the Tech Package adds additional equipment such as a turn-by-turn navigation system, a high definition backup camera, and LED fog lights.
The 2012 Tesla Model S is in a class by itself, as no other automaker is currently offering an all-electric luxury car costing anywhere near the Tesla Model S' $50k starting MSRP. Broadening the scope, it's possible that buyers considering the Model S might also look at vehicles such as the BMW 5 Series, the Mercedes-Benz E-Class, and the Lexus GS. That being said, if zero emissions, a decoupling from gasoline as a mobile power source, and pure prestige are the most important components of the purchasing decision, then the Tesla Model S emerges as the clear winner in its particular niche.