KBB Editors' Overview
By Micah Muzio - Updated Date: 3/8/2013
Why don't people buy electric cars? Perhaps elevated vehicle costs, charging infrastructure challenges, stunted battery development, and limited driving range have something to do with it. The 2013 Model S electric sedan is Tesla Motors' attempt to tackle those issues head-on. Unlike the Nissan Leaf or Ford Focus electric the Model S's structure was purpose-built with electrification in mind. This clean-slate approach allowed Tesla to create a sedan that handles well and accelerates like a theme park ride while providing surprisingly abundant passenger and luggage space. The Tesla Model S isn't just a better electric car – it is a radical reinterpretation of automotive fundamentals. Though recharge times remain an issue, the Model S is the first electric car to make a combustion-free future seem desirable.
You'll Like This Car If...
Sure, the Tesla Model S dazzles environmentalists and fans of energy independence, but the sleek sedan's appeal goes much deeper than that. Play with the slick 17-inch infotainment screen, fill the cavernous cargo areas with gear, or just floor the accelerator and, provided you have a pulse, we're guessing you'll be impressed.
You May Not Like This Car If...
Making the Tesla Model S your primary mode of transportation would be unwise, or at least inconvenient, if your living situation excludes the installation of a home-based charging station or you regularly partake in long distance travel.
What's New for 2013
For 2013, the Model S now has the ability to receive over the air software updates, providing buyers with new features and services as they become available.
The Tesla Model S is the antithesis of a boring electric car. Even in slowest form – the 60-kWh version – the Model S accelerates from standstill to 60-miles per hour in a mere 5.9 seconds. The pace quickens further in the 85-kWh model, peaking at a supercar-like 4.4 second 0-to-60 time in the raciest 85-kWh Performance model. Matching the thrill of seamless and instant electric thrust are agile handling enabled by the vehicle's low center of gravity and a quick steering ratio that is fun while also hindering stability at speed. Unlike some electric cars, the Model S cruises effortlessly at freeway speeds, easily overtaking slower traffic when the need arises. Lacking an engine, the cabin is oddly quiet when the vehicle is in motion, an initially strange but quickly appreciated trait.
17-INCH INFOTAINMENT SCREEN
The Model S's standard 17-inch touch screen is remarkable and not just due to sheer size. The screen is easily reconfigurable, bright, vivid, intuitive, and reacts to taps, pinch and drag gestures with snappy immediacy. It is almost certainly the best in-vehicle infotainment system available.
REAR-FACING JUMP SEATS
Like wood-paneled wagons of yore, the Model S can be equipped with rear-facing jump seats that boost total seating capacity from five to seven. The smallish jump seats feature 5-point seatbelts and make fine supplemental seating for children eager to taunt whomever their parents have just passed.
Absent a gasoline engine, the Tesla Model S boasts a staggering amount of cargo and passenger space. In addition to a sizable rear cargo area, the Model S's hood hides a supplemental front trunk, or "frunk" as Tesla calls it. Passenger accommodations are ample in the front seat, becoming progressively tighter as you move rearward. Headroom in the second row can be tight for taller passengers, and the optional rear-facing jump seats are sized for children only. Though some areas could be improved, material quality is generally good throughout the simple modern cabin.
Tesla calls the 2013 Model S a sedan, but it's really more of a hatchback, marked by a wide rear hatch that leads to a spacious cargo area. However it's classified, we think that Tesla has crafted a handsome, restrained shape made all the more appealing by its impressively slick 0.24 drag co-efficient. Adding to the wind-cheating design are retractable door handles that automatically emerge when the key is nearby. Ride quality is generally good, even with the optional 21-inch performance tire and wheel package, but if ride comfort were our top priority we'd probably stick with the standard 19-inch wheels.
Notable Standard Equipment
Standard Model S features include 12-way-adjustable heated front seats, cloth/synthetic-leather upholstery, eight airbags, a 7-speaker 200-watt audio system that lacks a CD player but includes two USB inputs, and a 17-inch screen handling climate, entertainment and vehicle controls. Interestingly, the Model S also lacks any sort of "ignition" or start button – just buckle up with the key in your pocket, put your foot on the brake, pull the gear selector into drive, and the car is ready to go. Black or white exterior paint is offered free of charge but for any other color expect to pay extra.
Notable Optional Equipment
If driving a vision of the future isn't interesting enough, consider indulging in options like a panoramic glass roof, Nappa leather, a 580-watt 12-speaker premium audio system, or a Tech Package that bundles features like HID headlights, navigation, a backup camera and a power rear liftgate. An active air suspension is offered as well, which adapts to current road conditions and allows the vehicle to raise itself to clear steep driveways or lower itself for improved aerodynamics at speed. Lastly, an optional wall connector allows for charging at home while a second on-vehicle charger helps shorten recharge times.
Under the Hood
The 2013 Model S lineup is defined by a battery hierarchy. The 60-kWh, 85-kWh and 85-kWh Performance models each offer increasing levels of driving range, power and performance. All versions feature rear-wheel drive and an 8-year battery warranty with varying mileage limitations. Tesla is also in the process of constructing a network of "Superchargers" strategically placed along heavily trafficked corridors, giving owners of 85-kWh and properly equipped 60-kWh Model S's the ability to quickly replenish their batteries to 50-percent charge in 30 minutes. By exponentially speeding recharge times Tesla's Supercharging network hopes to make pure-electric long-distance travel a reality.
302 horsepower @ 5,000-8,000 rpm
317 lb-ft of torque @ 0-5,000 rpm
Range 230 miles @ 55 mph
362 horsepower @ 6,000-9,500 rpm
325 lb-ft of torque @ 0-5,800 rpm
Range 300 miles @ 55 mph
416 horsepower @ 5,000-8,600 rpm
443 lb-ft of torque @ 05,100 rpm
Range 300 miles @ 55 mph
Taking into account a $990 destination fee, a $180 vehicle-preparation fee and a $7,500 federal tax credit, pricing for a 2013 Model S with a 60-kWh battery starts at about $63,570. The 85-kWh and 85-kWh Performance models are each about $10,000 pricier than version beneath them. Add all the options to a top-of-the-line Model S and the price tag lands around the $100,000 mark. Electric cars like the Ford Focus Electric, Nissan Leaf and Mitsubishi i are all much less expensive than the Tesla Model S but the performance, design and general appeal of the Tesla do plenty to justify its elevated costs. Be sure to check the Kelley Blue Book Fair Purchase Price for the most up-to-date pricing of the 2013 Tesla Model S in your area. Due to low production volumes Kelley Blue Book doesn't yet track the residual values of the Model S, though it is worth noting that limited availability tends to drive higher resale numbers.