The Tesla Model S is the American firm's second vehicle, but while the Tesla Roadster was little more than a battery-powered Lotus Elise, the S is completely bespoke.
A large electric executive saloon, the Model S will rival conventionally powered cars, such as the BMW 5 Series, as well as more sporty alternatives, such as the Porsche Panamera.
Its battery pack is located in a four-inch stack beneath the floor of the car and there’s an electric motor attached to the rear axle.
The Model S goes on sale in the UK next summer, and will be offered with a variety of battery options.
At a constant 55mph, the 40 kWh model has a claimed range of 160 miles, the 60 kWh version travels 230 miles, while the flagship 85 kWh achieves 300 miles under the same conditions.
The 85 kWh car will also be available with a choice of two motors, including a 'Performance' derivative for electric car drivers in a hurry.
Tesla Model S will target cars such as the BMW 5 Series, and sporty models like the Porsche Panamera
What's the 2013 Tesla Model S like to drive?
Our test car was the flagship Signature Performance version, which costs $97,900 (£63,000) in the US. It boasts 416bhp and 443lb ft of torque, sprinting from 0-60mph in 4.4 seconds and reaching 130mph before the electronics intervene to protect the motor. In other words, it has enough thrust to worry many sports cars in a straight line.
The gearbox has just forward and reverse. From a standstill, the acceleration is truly startling. You don't need to wait for the engine revs to build, you just press the throttle and the car shoots forwards.
It does this in near silence, too, the calm being disturbed only by some tyre roar and a slight wind noise from around the windscreen. This Tesla redefines the idea of effortless performance.
Despite weighing a hefty 2108kg, it handles well. It feels surprisingly agile for such a big car, although the steering is a little lifeless.
The ride quality is also good; our test route included a badly surfaced road and the Model S coped with ease.
Our only major reservation concerns its size. It's three inches wider than the gargantuan Panamera and we suspect it’s going to feel too big for the UK's congested towns.
The other unknown for now is the real-world range. The official US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rating is 265 miles, although you're unlikely to match that if you exploit the car's performance.
The 2013 Tesla Model S will have a range of up to 300 miles, and blast from 0-60mph in 4.4 seconds
What's the 2013 Tesla Model S like inside?
Inside, attention focuses on a 17-inch touch-screen display that looks like a giant iPad and controls everything from the air-conditioning to the air suspension. It’s easy to use, easy to update and easy to personalise.
The quality is acceptable, if not quite up to the best German standards – our test car had a couple of squeaks and rattles.
The driving position is conventional. From the driver’s seat, the Tesla feels no different to any other executive saloon, until you press the accelerator.
As you'd expect, given its scale, there’s room inside for five, plus the option of a couple of rearward facing jump seats in the boot that are best left to children.
There’s a second boot in the nose where you might expect to find an engine.
Should I buy one?
The Model S is the most practical and versatile electric car we’ve driven. It’s an electric car that can be driven well beyond the city limits, but can still be recharged overnight using a conventional domestic socket.
An eight-year unlimited-mileage warranty on the battery also suggests Tesla has considerable faith in its product.
Tesla might be a Silicon Valley start-up, but be in no doubt that it’s a serious player in the electric car world. If you’re an 'early adopter', the Model S is well worth a look.
BMW 5 Series
What Car? says…
Our reviews are based on hard data and thorough testing in the real world.
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