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Tesla Model S: The Jaguar E-Type of Our Time

Automobile logo Automobile 2015-10-28 Todd Lassa, William Walker, Sandon Voelker
Tesla Model S: The Jaguar E-Type of Our Time

When Sterling Cooper fired Lane Pryce a few seasons ago on “Mad Men” and he responded by attaching a tube from the exhaust into the cabin and taping up the windows of his new Jaguar E-Type coupe, a few of us car guys cringed.

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“No! Don’t do it in the most beautiful, most desirable sports car of all time!”

The rest of us knew what was going on. Don’t worry guys and gals; it probably won’t start. It’s a Jaguar E-Type.

2015 Tesla Model S P85D Rear Three Quarter 01© Provided by Automobile 2015 Tesla Model S P85D Rear Three Quarter 01

A few of us were surprised when Consumer Reports, weeks after breaking its own scales and awarding the Tesla Model S 103 points out of 100-points from 51 instrument tests, declared the car’s reliability “below average” and dropped it as a recommended vehicle. Though it’s no E-Type, the Model S is the quickest sedan you can buy, with a 0-60 time under 3 seconds. It’s fast, it’s fun, and it’s guilt-free, at least so long as you have about 125 large to drop on one.

Too many owners had reported such problems as the car not starting, the windshield wipers not working, and the electric pop-out door handles not popping out, thus making it hard to even get inside the car. Tesla stock, which jumped more than $10 on Wall Street when CR gave the Model S 103 points, promptly lost that much when owners gave it Jag E-Type-like reliability marks, even though most of those owners in the survey told the magazine they’d buy another of Elon Musk’s wonder cars.

2015 Tesla Model S P85D Cabin 01© Provided by Automobile 2015 Tesla Model S P85D Cabin 01

We should not be surprised.

The Consumer Reports evaluations are not unlike AUTOMOBILE ’s; indeed, the Tesla Model S was awarded our 2013 Automobile of the Year.

Cars get such awards based on new-model drives, no matter what the magazine in question. We instrument-test them and get a seat-of-the-pants feel for them. Then, we live with them for a year, reporting on dealer service department visits, both scheduled and unscheduled. Our last car to win AUTOMOBILE of the Year, the 2014 Chevrolet Corvette, is a wonderful two-seater with exceptional performance at a reasonable sports car price, but by the time we turned it back in after our Four Seasons evaluation, too many quality and reliability glitches soured us on the C7.

If there’s anything surprising about the Tesla Model S, it’s that it has taken so long for its reliability issues to catch up with how wonderful it is to drive. The car still holds the 0-60 mph record for a sedan and even improved on it as Tesla flashed the cars’ hard drives with new software. It can go nearly as far on a full battery charge as a conventional luxury sedan on a full tank of gas, even if it takes much longer to fill up again.

2015 Tesla Model S P85D Front Three Quarter 01© Provided by Automobile 2015 Tesla Model S P85D Front Three Quarter 01

The key words above, though, are “production sedan.” Tesla is, as Silicon Valley journalists like to point out, a tech company, not an automobile manufacturer. CEO Musk thinks that’s an advantage, and that someday soon his way of doing business will put Detroit and Stuttgart on the trash heap of automotive history. But he’s a tiny manufacturer with limited experience and resources and had to rely on Toyota’s help in learning how to build cars.

He has even upgraded the software so that the car can drive itself, semi-autonomously, on limited-access highways. Here, Musk has overestimated his customers, thinking they intuitively understand semi-automated driving and won’t think of posting “hey, watch this” selfie-videos as their Teslas veer off the road.

Teslas can’t crash like PCs or Macs, and they shouldn’t be used for beta-testing new software. With its new Model X on the way, Tesla can’t afford to be cavalier about quality and reliability. On the other hand, in what other car would you accept the kinds of reliability glitches that we’ve come to accept from our computer devices? Precisely: the Jaguar E-Type.

2015 Tesla Model S P85D Front Three Quarter In Motion 01© Provided by Automobile 2015 Tesla Model S P85D Front Three Quarter In Motion 01
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