Feature

The Tesla Model S: What the critics say

How did Tesla's electric car fare with the critics? The price starts at $49,900 with federal tax credit.

The California-made electric car you’ve been hearing so much about turns out to be better than a cool idea, said Dan Neil in The Wall Street Journal. Unveiled late last month, the Model S from Tesla is “one amazing car”—a luxury vehicle that goes 265 miles between charges, “corners like it’s tethered with magic,” and tears across the landscape “like the very stink of hell.” In its $97,900 performance edition, it sprints from 0 to 60 mph in a “dreamily quiet” 4.4 seconds. Elon Musk, the bold young CEO who heads this Silicon Valley start-up, promised four years ago that his team’s first from-scratch vehicle would rank with the world’s best gas-powered cars. That they appear to have delivered ranks as “the most impressive feat of American industrial engineering since, well, a couple of months ago”—when Musk’s rocketry firm, SpaceX, successfully launched a craft that rendezvoused with the International Space Station.

Now Musk has to hope someone will buy the thing, said Henry Payne in The Detroit News. The Model S might have Dan Neil “giggling like a schoolgirl,” but the auto press’s initial enthusiasm hardly justifies the $465 million taxpayer-funded loan that Tesla needed to get the car built. “Electrics have been around for over a century”—if you count Mrs. Henry Ford’s favorite sedan—and “they’ve always been cool, torquey, and easy to drive.” Yet they’ve also never sold. Even with federal tax credits lowering customer costs, only about 0.1 percent of the vehicles purchased in the U.S. last year were pure electrics. And the base-level S, at $49,900, can’t match the relatively modest price tags of Nissan’s Leaf or Chevrolet’s hybrid Volt. For $465 million in taxpayer money, all Washington has given us is “another six-figure toy for President Obama’s rich West Coast friends.”

Nobody is saying that the S is a surefire game-changer, said Chris Woodyard in USA Today. Even if the car proves durably impressive and production and sales can be ramped up quickly to at least 8,000 cars a year, Tesla “remains vulnerable to catch-up luxury rivals such as BMW or Mercedes-Benz.” The dazzling 17-inch touchscreen on the S’s dash might not look state-of-the-art for long. But these guys have come a very long way quickly, said Frank Markus in Motor Trend. I’d have to see a little more rear-seat comfort, plus greater travel range for less money, before declaring the S “the best car in the world.” Still, it already ranks among the top few percent. “And at the rate these automotive greenhorns are improving things, it might well be the best car in the solar system by version 2.0.”

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