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New Tesla Model S review | first drive

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    Tesla Model S is due in Australian showrooms by the end of this year. Photo Gallery

Joshua Dowling road tests and reviews the electric Tesla Model S that will arrive here later this year.

I know what you’re thinking: not another electric car story. But, please, hear us out. This one is a little different – it’s “normal” to drive.

It’s brought to us by Tesla, the electric-car start-up co-founded by Elon Musk, the entrepreneur who set up PayPal, sold it for a tonne of cash, and now launches rockets into space under contract for the US government.

His side project is to accelerate the adoption of electric cars by promising to address the big problems: driving range, recharging and price. We’ve heard the promises before but, shock, horror, this one delivers.

To learn more about the technology, Tesla started five years ago with an electric roadster (based on a Lotus sportcar) that could out-sprint a Porsche to 100km/h.

It then broadened its reach by contracting electric-vehicle technology to Toyota and Mercedes-Benz – the world’s biggest car maker and the inventor of the automobile. Not bad to have in the resume.

Not it has built its own, ground-up model: a sleek five-door luxury hatch about as big as a BMW 5 Series sedan.

The Model S went on sale in the US late last year and is due in Australian showrooms by the end of this year.


The Nissan Leaf is $50,000 and is the size of a Pulsar hatch. The Holden Volt is $60,000 and the size of a Cruze sedan. So Tesla offering a large luxury sedan from $60,000 is something of a minor miracle.

The line-up has two other models, with more power and more driving range as the price increases to $70,000 and $80,000 respectively. The RRPs are realistic because Tesla has had significant funding from the US government. But the company insists it will be viable within a few years.

Australian pricing is yet to be confirmed but the top-line Model S will likely cost $80,000 to $100,000.

The company plans to build up to 100,000 electric cars a year, after ramping up to 25,000 in its first full year. Tesla bought an old Toyota factory that was sold cheap in the wake of the Global Financial Crisis. It helps that Elon Musk is friends with Toyota boss Akio Toyoda.


Tesla has ingeniously integrated the battery pack into the completely flat floorpan, the core structure of the car. The design is likened to a skateboard because it enables Tesla to add other body types to the same simple layout at a later stage (a seven-seat SUV-style vehicle is due next).

The large electric motor fits neatly at the rear and is available with a choice of two power outputs. Three types of battery pack are available for three levels of driving range (260km, 370km, 500km).

Tesla keeps the batteries cool by using smaller lithium-ion cells than other electric cars. But the coolest part of the car has nothing to do with being electric: it’s the massive 17-inch touchscreen that’s in the dash.

It controls radio, air-conditioning and navigation – which has the option of using Google Earth or a stencil map. Google search will also navigate to the nearest point of interest.

Other cool stuff: the door handles retract when the car is parked and when you’re on the move (to reduce wind resistance). The aero rating is an industry-leading 0.24cD, the third best in history and the slipperiest automobile on sale today.

It’s other party trick: a “supercharger” that enables the Model S to be topped up in less than an hour. Normal recharging is up to 8 hours.


The Tesla Model S looks small but it’s massive inside. The boot (894 litres) is bigger than that of many SUVs.

The big screen TV takes some getting used to but you can dim the display with a few taps of the screen.

On close inspection you can see some component sharing: the indicator and wiper stalks, steering wheel and power windows switches are borrowed from Mercedes-Benz.


It’s fellow start-up Fisker, not Tesla, that’s in the news for having its electric cars catch fire. That said, Tesla did recall 439 roadsters in 2010 for a potential fire fault – with the standard 12V battery, not the lithium-ion pack that powers the car.

Tesla says it has not had a report of a fire risk since and tests its vehicles to Toyota and Mercedes-Benz standards.

The Model S passes US crash test requirements but is yet to be tested by Euro NCAP. The company forecasts a five-star safety rating based on internal testing. Eight airbags (two front, two knee, two side and two curtains) and stability control are standard.


Here’s the big surprise. It goes like a V8 AMG Mercedes, accelerating hard instantly. And then, miraculously, it doesn’t run out of puff.

Most electric cars have a bit of zip at first but then suffer an asthma attack. The Tesla Model S feels like it could go forever. Unfortunately, speed limits dictated that we wouldn’t find the limit of its potential.

The other thing that had me scratching my head was how well the Model S handled bumps even though it rides on massive 21-inch wheels and low-profile tyres. It felt as smooth as a Rolls-Royce but handled with the finesse of a BMW.

Key to its success is the fact that it has the centre of gravity of a sports-car. Because the battery pack is also the floor, it’s barely 12cm off the ground and makes light work of the low-slung aluminum body.

On the California coast road I’m not cursing the traffic, I’m praying for a red light so I can feel the acceleration again. It’s epic. AMG and HSV drivers won’t know what hit them. When we eventually head for the hills, the handling feels agile, the steering direct.

The brakes, supplied by Brembo, have an impressively normal feel – unlike other electric cars that tend to have an initial dead spot before biting too hard. If Tesla can make decent brakes on an electric car, why can’t other manufacturers?

The Model S may seem an oddity to the mainstream but enthusiasts and those with a passing interest in cars should ignore this car at their peril.
If this is the electric car of the future, count me in.

Tesla Model S

Price: from $80,000 (estimated)
Safety rating: Not yet tested
Warranty: Eight years/unlimited km
Body: Aluminium, five-door, five-seater
Dimensions (L/WB/W/H): 4978/2960/1964/1435
Weight: 2700kg (85kWh)
Engine: Electric motor, mounted on the rear axle. Standard: 270kW/440Nm. Performance: 310kW/600Nm
Battery pack: Liquid cooled lithium-ion, 40kWh, 60kWh or 85kWh
Range: 260km to 500km (depending on battery pack chosen)
Acceleration (0 to 100km/h): 5.6 seconds (standard) 4.6 seconds (performance)

Comments on this story

Displaying 3 of 16 comments

  • It’s a LUXURIOUS car design…. don’t take your LEAF or Corolla to compare please? shall I take a JAZZ out to show how much cheaper I get off and how much more valuable a JAZZ would be in a few years of depreciation??
    bring your x3, i8, C class or s Class out to compare please

    Tisse Phephemol Posted on 17 January 2014 10:25pm
  • It’s a LUXURIOUS car…. don’t take your Leaf or Corolla to compare please…. get an i3 or i8 or C class out please

    Tisse Phephemol Posted on 17 January 2014 10:23pm
  • I have a leaf and solar panels
    The batteries are warranted for eight years and upgrade able .
    By that time they’ll cost less than 2k to replace.
    Electric cars are like lithium cordless power tools .
    They’ll only get better and cheaper when KiA and Hyundai
    Bring their EV into the market .  The batteries will be universal like the adapters to charge the vehicle

    Peter Potts of Melbourne Posted on 05 November 2013 8:47pm
  • you can buy a heap of fuel for a 22000 dollar corolla for 60 grand, would own one if they were better priced…maybe the present govt. could chip in as a greenhouse contribution!

    woodysspeedshop of 3342 Posted on 28 September 2013 6:49pm
  • The biggest problem is that the batteries dont last forever. I have looked at some others and the batteries need replacing every 5 years and warranty doesnt cover it. 9V batteries are still expensive, imagine the cost of this one. Range is a problem with electric cars, but for me if the cost of the batteries when they die that is more concerning

    meh of Brisbane Posted on 30 August 2013 10:36am
  • This is just what the world need. Once you have solar panels on your house - FREE POWER BABY. If you don’t have the solar panels yet then get them maybe… But if it only takes any hour to charge surly it cant suck much power - especially with the milage you get. I’ll be getting one.

    Ross of Brisbane Posted on 23 June 2013 8:48pm
  • It depends on why you are buying electric cars I would think, cutting the cost of fuel I understand but as a greener environmental option you would have to look at where the electricity comes from unless solar recharging stations become available or you have your own solar supply, this might not be as environmentally friendly as you perhaps would think in the big picture.  Australia and the US still rely heavily on fossil fuels for power. I’d be interested to look at comparison figures of power usage in detail and along with background carbon ommissions comparison with the power source.  Hopefully soon a electrical vehicle will be available to self charge itself to a high level without having to plug into the grid which I thought Tesla, the inventor, was more about.

    Interested with questions of Australia Posted on 26 May 2013 8:53am
  • How much electricity does it use and at what cost ?

    Manny of Sydney Posted on 29 April 2013 11:07am
  • Yeah but how much electricity does it consume and and at what cost ?

    Manny of Sydney Posted on 29 April 2013 11:07am
  • I look forward to the Australian release. Especially the no cost to recharge deal at specific fast charge stations. I travel over 110 km per day, so I am looking to making an even smaller footprint than with my 2004 iTec Prius. 300, 000 km later it still feels like a new car. The Tesla S is simply a dream come true for me. I am disappointed with the Volt and the newer versions of the Prius.

    Joseph Figliuolo of Western Australia Posted on 09 March 2013 6:34pm
  • eh, JoeR_AUS, maybe you should test drive it or at least watch some youtube reviews on the performance on this car before making a judgement call “zipping around in this car a no no”.  This thing is incredible around corners.

    Mathew H of Sydney Posted on 20 January 2013 3:12pm
  • Tesla model s looks wicked, ill wait let someone eles mind mine for five years then ill buy one second and for forty grand!

    Stuey of Freddo straya! Posted on 17 January 2013 5:57pm
  • Two comments from idiots who can barely string sentences together. Amazing car, good article. World needs more people like Elon Musk and technology like this takes years of work and is a dream come true. Sorry that some uneducated lazy people can’t afford the price tag, but they don’t realise it takes cars and prices like these to bring down the price so they can afford nice things. Plasma and LCD TVs were expensive to begin with too.

    Leigh Cooper of Central Coast NSW Posted on 15 January 2013 11:02am
  • This Tesla weights 2700kg. This is why it rides so well and why it has 21” wheels as to accommodate the massive brakes to stop this vehicle. With 0-100 in 5.5s you will need very good brakes to pull up 2700kg. The expense of owning this car would be keeping up the brakes and tyres to the car. Also the driving of this car would be blunted by the weight. Bear in mind a car at half the weight would be more fun to throw around and drive and even a V8 vehicle would be under 1900 kg, which makes zipping around in this car a no no.

    JoeR_AUS of North Ryde Posted on 15 January 2013 8:51am

    BETH LAWRIE of ADELAIDE, SOUTH AUSTRALIA Posted on 13 January 2013 12:13am
  • Typicle Dowling, death riding the only genuine Australian car in the Falcon whilst posing around in the USA driving cars relevant to only a fraction of the population. Couldn’t wait until this unreliable golf cart was is in Australia, has to go on another carbon spewing junket using this as an excuse.

    John Wilson of Broadmeadows Posted on 12 January 2013 1:31pm
Read all 16 comments

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