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2013 Tesla Model S P85+ Long-Term Verdict

Many Verdicts

Kim Reynolds
Mar 16, 2015
Photographers: 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.
Photo 2/29   |   2013 Tesla Model S Front Three Quarters
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.
Photo 9/29   |   2013 Tesla Model S Dash Screen View
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 17 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.
Photo 16/29   |   2013 Tesla Model S Rear Three Quarters
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!)
Photo 17/29   |   2013 TESLA Model S Front Drivers Side Low
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.
More on our long-term 2013 Tesla Model S P85+:

Our Car
SERVICE LIFE 17 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 ECON 86.2 mpge
PROBLEM AREAS motor replacement, steering knuckle replacement
MAINTENANCE COST $0
NORMAL-WEAR COST $1760 (new tires)
3-YEAR RESIDUAL VALUE* est $53,307
RECALLS None
*based on Tesla resale price guarantee

2013 Tesla Model S P85+
POWERTRAIN/CHASSIS
DRIVETRAIN LAYOUT Rear-engine, RWD
ENGINE TYPE AC, induction electric motor
BATTERY TYPE liquid-cooled lithium-ion
POWER (SAE NET) 416 hp @ 5000 rpm
TORQUE (SAE NET) 443 lb-ft @ 0 rpm
REDLINE 16,000 rom
WEIGHT TO POWER 11.4 lb/hp
TRANSMISSION 1-speed automatic
AXLE/FINAL-DRIVE RATIO 9.73:1/9.73:1
SUSPENSION, FRONT; REAR Control arms, air springs, anti-roll bar; multilink, air springs, anti-roll bar
STEERING RATIO 13.0:1
TURNS LOCK-TO-LOCK 2.3
BRAKES, F;R 14.0-in vented disc; 14.4-in vented disc, ABS
WHEELS, F;R 8.5 x 21-in; 9.0 x 21-in, cast aluminum
TIRES, F;R 245/35R21 101Y; 265/35R21 101Y Michelin Pilot Sport PS2
DIMENSIONS
WHEELBASE 116.5 in
TRACK, F/R 65.4/66.9 in
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT 196.0 x 77.3 x 56.5 in
TURNING CIRCLE 37.0 ft
CURB WEIGHT 4731 lb
WEIGHT DIST., F/R 46/54 %
SEATING CAPACITY 5 (+2)
HEADROOM, F/R 38.8/35.3 in
LEGROOM, F/R 42.7/35.4 in
SHOULDER ROOM, F/R 57.7/55.0 in
CARGO VOLUME 5.3 cu ft (f), 26.2 cu ft (r)
TEST DATA
ACCELERATION TO MPH
0-30 1.7 sec
0-40 2.3
0-50 3.1
0-60 4.0
0-70 5.1
0-80 6.5
0-90 8.2
0-100 10.5
PASSING, 45-65 MPH 1.9
QUARTER MILE 12.7 sec @ 107.8 mph
BRAKING, 60-0 MPH 108 ft
LATERAL ACCELERATION 0.92 g (avg)
MT FIGURE EIGHT 25.3 sec @ 0.74 g (avg)
TOP-GEAR REVS @ 60 MPH 7350 rpm
CONSUMER INFO
STABILITY/TRACTION CONTROL Yes/Yes
AIRBAGS Dual front, front side, f/r curtain, front knee
BASIC WARRANTY 4 yrs/50,000 miles
POWERTRAIN WARRANTY 8 yrs/unlimited miles
ROADSIDE ASSISTANCE 4 yrs/50,000 miles
ENERGY CAPACITY 85 kWhr
EPA CITY/HWY ECON/COMB 88/90/89 mpge
ENERGY CONS., CITY/HWY/COMB 38/37/38 kW-hrs/100 miles
CO2 EMISSIONS na
REAL MPG CITY/HWY/COMB 66.5/90.8/75.6 (mpge)*
RANGE 265-mi (EPA), 238-mi (MT observed)
FUEL wall 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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