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2013 Tesla Model S P85+ Long-Term Verdict

Motor Trend logo Motor Trend 3/16/2015 Kim Reynolds, Motor Trend Staff

I've known Alec Brooks longer than either of us can precisely remember, but during a recent lunch he mentioned something that startled me. "Did I ever tell that I was once interviewed to be the Model S' chief engineer?" I put my coffee cup down as my journalist's antenna rose.

Brooks is a pioneer of the modern electric car who once gave me a ride in the GM Impact, the car that convinced GM to build the EV1. "I immediately got into an argument with Musk, and that was that," he said. "But I worked there for a while anyway as director of vehicle technology during the Model S's early planning." Astonishingly, Brooks has yet to drive the final product. At the conclusion of our lunch I slipped him our long-term car's keys for the week I was about to be away on a trip. What would be the verdict of the Model S' almost-chief engineer? … I'll get back to that.

In reality, the Model S is a car with as many different verdicts as it represents ground-breaking firsts: It's the first EV with gas-competitive range. The first mass-produced EV with shattering performance. The first you can genuinely road-trip via its worldwide, 393-station network of 2,146 120-kilowatt-hour (really powerful) supercharger stations. The first to embrace frequent over-the-air software updates. … Let me inhale here. … The first with a gigantic, reconfigurable multi-touchscreen. And the first to challenge the powerful dealership establishment with company-owned Tesla stores in fashionable malls (designed by George Blankenship, who created the Apple Store). Being a Silicon Valley carmaker means not comprehending what you can't do.

Related Link: Research the Telsa Model S

2013 Tesla Model S© Provided by MotorTrend 2013 Tesla Model S

Many verdicts. Let's start with reliability.

Besides some very simple maintenance (basically checking things over) our car's only unscheduled attention was due to a flat tire on the 405 (the "Tesla Rangers" arrived in 45 minutes and swapped on a spare wheel and tire), a nail in another one, and a defiantly squeaky sunroof that eventually just squeaked itself out. On the other hand, the technicians often proactively updated the car to a startling degree, including new suspension bushings and replacing a steering knuckle when they noticed it was loose, and the power unit itself when they heard a clicking sound in the single-speed reduction gears (that I hadn't). All for free. Our communications were via quick texts on a first-name basis (Hi Mark!) and frankly, the whole thing was breathtakingly Apple Store Genius Bar compared to the Victorian-esque horrors of traditional dealerships.

OK, but isn't that replaced motor/tranny unit a big deal? Chin scratching. To Tesla's technicians, it really seemed like it was just another plug-and-play component. Easier to swap than open up and fiddle with. (They later get them refurbished, so they're not thrown away.) For traditional gas-powered-car guys, the engine is the high altar within the automotive cathedral. For Tesla, it's a part number.

2013 Tesla Model S© Provided by MotorTrend 2013 Tesla Model S

Wear and tear. When we originally ordered our car I'd asked for a simple P85 with the smooth-riding tall-sidewall tires and sans the sunroof. A response soon arrived from Elon Musk's secretary. "Elon read your request and is sending a P85+ with a sunroof." Their fastest car. Hey, who am I to argue with Tony Stark?

The repercussions were twofold. On one hand, the car's lightening reflexes rendered my fellow road-goers bugs in amber, and me a laser-beam pinball through them (sorry, everybody). Did its sizzle translate to the track? We lapped it twice at Laguna Seca and once at Streets of Willow, and each time the car lost power toward lap's end as the software stepped in to protect the battery from rising temperatures -- even defying my comical attempt to pre-freeze it with 22 ice bags stuffed underneath. (At least it felt pretty "cool" for 9/10 of a lap.) The engine's double whammy of instant power and lift-throttle regen wore the rear tires quite quickly, though not out of line for such a powerful, heavy sedan, according to our friends at Tire Rack. On top of that, the slim-profile Michelins left the wide rims fairly whacked up, for which I was as guilty as anybody.

2013 Tesla Model S© Provided by MotorTrend 2013 Tesla Model S

Traveling. Almost everywhere I wanted to go proved to be supercharger-reachable: to the Monterey, California, area six times, to the little mountain town of Julian, California, for its planet-famous apple pie, and on our last grand voyage, from Willow Springs Raceway to Phoenix. Unlike gas-car road-going, Tesla travel is closer to hopscotching between sparse landing strips in a light plane. You absolutely have to put it down at specific spots (for about 20 minutes of zero-cost juicing before the next jump) and then make the best you can of the pause. There's a Zen-like quality to the repeated pattern, though. In the early days (hah, I love saying that!) drivers would jump out of their cars and greet one another like cousins who'd never met. Now, with lots more cars showing up, they warily eye each other's charging progress or bury their noses in books. On the other hand, you should see the route calculations filling my notebooks for every time I strayed from the charging network. Note to Tesla: Don't even think about selling the Model X (let alone the 3) without some Apple-slick trip planning software. Over its 38,000-mile stay, the car's battery showed little appreciable degradation; its everyday range (in my hands) (driving it aggressively) was 175 miles (212 if I was conservative), its fully charged range averaged about 203 miles (238, if conservative), and I never ran out of juice. (Only once was I worried, when Jonny didn't plug it in before I needed it to get to Willow Springs … Jonny!)

2013 TESLA Model S© Provided by MotorTrend 2013 TESLA Model S

Oh, and Alec Brooks' verdict after his week behind its wheel? "Very impressed. I didn't think I'd like the big screen, but its size really helps in targeting buttons, and wow, the nav map is great." Then the total technoid emerges: "I really appreciate how data is displayed in the gauges -- you can tell they were created by engineers. In retrospect, the car I was originally arguing for was cheaper, smaller, less powerful and with a little less range -- actually, what sounds more like the Model 3!"

My verdict? As the Great Wallenda of the modern technological tightrope, the spotlight has rightfully been on Musk as his audience gasps and cheers with his every step. In 12 short years, tiny Tesla has accomplished the near-impossible, and our 17 months in the car have been nothing less than an everyday reminder that it springs from the imagination of a guy whose tightrope leads all the way to Mars.

    2013 Tesla Model S© Provided by MotorTrend 2013 Tesla Model S

    Related Link: Research the Tesla Model S

    Our Car
    SERVICE LIFE17 mo / 38,054 mi
    BASE PRICE$94,900
    OPTIONS+' suspension, wheel and tire upgrade ($6500), tech package ($4250), 3rd row seats, ($2500) air suspension ($2250), dual charger ($2000)
    PRICE AS TESTED$112,400
    AVG ECON86.2 mpge
    PROBLEM AREASmotor replacement, steering knuckle replacement
    NORMAL-WEAR COST$1760 (new tires)
    3-YEAR RESIDUAL VALUE*est $53,307
    *based on Tesla resale price guarantee

    2013 Tesla Model S P85+
    ENGINE TYPEAC, induction electric motor
    BATTERY TYPEliquid-cooled lithium-ion
    POWER (SAE NET)416 hp @ 5000 rpm
    TORQUE (SAE NET)443 lb-ft @ 0 rpm
    REDLINE16,000 rom
    WEIGHT TO POWER11.4 lb/hp
    TRANSMISSION1-speed automatic
    AXLE/FINAL-DRIVE RATIO9.73:1/9.73:1
    SUSPENSION, FRONT; REARControl arms, air springs, anti-roll bar; multilink, air springs, anti-roll bar
    BRAKES, F;R14.0-in vented disc; 14.4-in vented disc, ABS
    WHEELS, F;R8.5 x 21-in; 9.0 x 21-in, cast aluminum
    TIRES, F;R245/35R21 101Y; 265/35R21 101Y Michelin Pilot Sport PS2
    WHEELBASE116.5 in
    TRACK, F/R65.4/66.9 in
    LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT196.0 x 77.3 x 56.5 in
    CURB WEIGHT4731 lb
    WEIGHT DIST., F/R46/54 %
    HEADROOM, F/R38.8/35.3 in
    LEGROOM, F/R42.7/35.4 in
    SHOULDER ROOM, F/R57.7/55.0 in
    CARGO VOLUME5.3 cu ft (f), 26.2 cu ft (r)
    0-30 1.7 sec
    PASSING, 45-65 MPH1.9
    QUARTER MILE12.7 sec @ 107.8 mph
    BRAKING, 60-0 MPH108 ft
    MT FIGURE EIGHT25.3 sec @ 0.74 g (avg)
    TOP-GEAR REVS @ 60 MPH7350 rpm
    AIRBAGSDual front, front side, f/r curtain, front knee
    BASIC WARRANTY4 yrs/50,000 miles
    POWERTRAIN WARRANTY8 yrs/unlimited miles
    ROADSIDE ASSISTANCE4 yrs/50,000 miles
    EPA CITY/HWY ECON/COMB88/90/89 mpge
    ENERGY CONS., CITY/HWY/COMB38/37/38 kW-hrs/100 miles
    REAL MPG CITY/HWY/COMB66.5/90.8/75.6 (mpge)*
    RANGE265-mi (EPA), 238-mi (MT observed)
    FUELwall plug: 1.4-kWhr AC, wall charger: 10 or 20 kWhr AC; fast charge: 120-kWhr DC
    *performed in the manner of Real MPG testing


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