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.
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.
“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.”