Tesla Model S Named 'Automobile of the Year'

Maybe we might have guessed more accolades were coming a couple days back when Automobile magazine showed a Tesla Model S out-sprinting a BMW M5 to 100 mph. The magazine wryly called the Tesla the “sneakiest performance car on the market,” and now it is calling the all-electric sedan its Automobile of the Year.

This honor from one of North America’s top auto magazines vaults the new model from the still-young company which has only just seen its 1000th copy produced into the ranks of the best vehicles offered by far-more experienced automakers.

The phenomenon is not un-reminiscent of the 2011 Chevy Volt’s launch, which while built by an experienced automaker, was a new technology, and quickly piled up a large list of awards. But this time, against even greater odds, it was the start-up from California’s time to shine.

And sure enough, Automobile acknowledges in a roundabout way the Model S bestowal may get some flak. The magazine doesn’t deny the amount of skepticism Tesla continues to receive within the industry, citing Tesla’s $465 million loan from the Department of Energy as an evergreen source of fodder for critics.

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The car tested was range-topping 85-kwh version. Months ago we predicted this move by Tesla to satisfy top-paying customers first would also yield the best media splash, and that is proving correct.

However, the article doesn’t leave to question whether the Model S is in the same league as the big players.

“We weren’t expecting much from the Tesla other than some interesting dinner conversation as we considered ‘real’ candidates like the Subaru BRZ and the Porsche Boxster. In fact, the Tesla blew them, and us, away,” writes David Zelnea.

The magazine gives this high praise despite the editors’ having only had the opportunity to evaluate the Model S during the Automobile of The Year review process:

“As it happened, that opportunity [to drive the Tesla] arrived at our Automobile of the Year exercise. That’s a rather intimidating environment to make a first impression, especially given that this year’s field was the strongest in recent memory.” The article goes on to note that the Model S didn’t require any special dispensation during testing:

“Electric cars that participated in past Automobile of the Year competitions have required special testing procedures – shorter drive routes, strict guidelines against aggressive driving, industrial charging trucks. The Model S wore no such kid gloves. We plugged it in at night and then drove it all day – and drove it hard.”

While the editors give full compliments to the car’s hi-tech all-electric drivetrain, its refined interior with a 17-inch touchscreen, an EPA-rated range of 265 miles between charge ups, and overall high attention to detail, it was the car’s prowess that seemed to have made the biggest impression.

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“It’s the performance that won us over,” admits Editor-in-Chief Jean Jennings. “The crazy speed builds silently and then pulls back the edges of your face. It had all of us endangering our licenses.”

One editor referred to the car’s powerful acceleration as “alarming” in light of the sedan’s size and virtually silent powertrain, while another editor highlighted the Tesla’s aforementioned ability to go head-to-head with a 560-horsepower BMW M5 in an informal drag race to 100 mph: “The Model S won,” says the article.

And despite the heft the Model S carries, Automobile editors found the car’s handling traits are capable of competing with other cars in the class:

“For all its high-tech novelty, the Model S does an exceptional job at the things we expect any high-priced sport sedan to do well. The electric power steering is nuanced and well-weighted, with natural buildup just off-center. Through corners, the Model S exhibits impressive body control and vacuum-like grip despite weighing more than 4,500 pounds. Editors also raved about the suspension’s ability to soak up bumps that tortured other test cars.”

Automobile wonders, though, as do many industry experts and consumers alike, if Tesla will have what it takes to power through the growing pains of being a start-up automobile company, citing the fact that only 250 customers have received their Model S.

Despite the many hurdles set in Tesla’s path, Automobile is bullish about the award and Tesla as a company:

“The auto industry is tough enough for a giant like General Motors. What we can say with this award is that Tesla deserves to succeed. It has managed to blend the innovation of a Silicon Valley start-up, the execution of a world-class automaker, and, yes, the chutzpah of its visionary leader. The result is the Model S. It’s not vaporware. It’s our Automobile of the Year.”

Automobile Magazine


  • Nelson Lu

    I’m sorry, but it’s completely stupid to name something as low-volume as the Tesla Model S the “Automobile of the Year.” Its environmental impact and, even if you disregard that, market impact is essentially negligible. I mean, the Ford C-Max can and should probably be considered a niche model, and it is likely that it will sell more in a month than the Model S will sell in a year. It would be akin to giving a community theater actor who has only performed in front of 5,000 people total the Tony for best leading actor, no matter how good that actor is. (And, in Tesla’s case, the price of the admission is close to prohibitively costly.)

  • Volume Van

    It deserves it. Its is first Production Electric car which can seat 4 or more passengers and yet goes more than 250 miles / range and has proper doors and windows.

    Many low volume performance cars have won this award even though they may not deserve it.

    C-Max sold 3,182 units in October and that’s 3 times the number in September. Lets hope C-Max rises further to close the gap with Prius and in the next year it will be named the Car of the Year along with the C-Max Plugin.

  • EV Enthusiast

    Nelson-

    That’s okay – we forgive you.
    I stopped reading your post after “I’m sorry”; after all, that’s what forgiveness is all about.

    Welcome to the future.
    Congrats Tesla.

  • Modern Marvel Fan

    Good Job Tesla!

    I think Tesla deserves it b/c for the first time in the history of EVs, it came out with something that is equal to the ICE cars in terms of price, performance and space. No compromise. Even in terms of range, it has enough to match what most people would need on daily basis…

    Now, continue to work on that $35k version. I will save my money for that.

  • Mister E

    It’s not about the sales volume. It’s about a car that competes with some of the the finest cars, breaks down the world’s perception of environmentally friendly vehicles, and paves the way for a dramatic shift in the auto industry which allows us to become enviromentally responsible, energy independent, and have a boat load of fun all at the same time.

    Automobile of the Year…Very well deserved!

  • Thomas Fisher

    It’s only “low volume” because they are still ramping up production. They have had nearly 15,000 people put down a deposit of between $5,000 and $40,000 for these cars (the higher number is for the Signature Series, which is now sold out). They are currently averaging over 1,000 new reservations per month, and that number has been rapidly increasing since the official launch party at the end of June.

    Those numbers are already serious sales figures in the luxury market, despite the fact that the company doesn’t advertise and only has a handful of showrooms. Tesla expects to sell 20,000+ cars next year and likely the only barrier to them achieving that goal is their ability to ramp up production from the 125 cars per week they achieved in October to the 400 cars per week that is their goal. So far they have managed to push up production every month and are well on their way to where they need to be.

    Your points about the environmental impact are your opinion. I think they are wrong, but it doesn’t matter. The Model S won the award because its a better car than the competition, whether you consider the environment or not. It’s likely the quickest sedan in the world, has outstanding handling, class leading cargo space and seats 5 adults. It is priced the same or cheaper than it’s primary competitors like the BMW M5, Porsche Panamera or Mercedes AMG.

    The fact that it costs about 1/10th the fuel cost for it’s competitors is just a bonus.

  • MrEnergyCzar

    Hands down the winner…..

    MrEnergyCzar

  • DownUnder

    N, give us a break!

  • Notnats

    Dude Nelson… Are you a typical “thinking” American? Geezus… how can one misinterpret quantity for quality, innovation and execution. Look at the iPhone… which garners more than 60% of the cell phone profits globally! Produce less for more!
    Best,
    D

  • Mr. Fusion

    Couldn’t have picked a better car for this award.

    Congratulations Tesla!