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Tesla

Rants and Raves: A Tesla Reality Check

Tesla has become a company unlike any the automotive industry has ever seen. It’s well understood at this point that they’ve taken the approach of a tech company to making and selling cars. This ultimately has led to a bizarre new world in which you’ll find both Motor Trend and PC Magazine attending the same press event and writing about the same car.

Having more eyes on the industry as a whole certainly makes it more exciting. However, I think it’s also brought on a lot of confusion and misunderstanding.

For obvious reasons, Tesla loves to brag about their cars. They’re always boasting about all of the superlatives by which their cars can be described. The Tesla Model X is the safest SUV ever tested. The Tesla Model S is the most aerodynamic sedan on the road. The Tesla Model S P100D is the fastest-accelerating production car in the world. Honestly, with such an abundant use of “…ever” and “…in the world” in their press releases, Tesla is starting to sound like the corporate version of Jeremy Clarkson.

It’s the superlative about acceleration that I think is causing most of the confusion though. Ever since Tesla debuted ‘Insane Mode’ with the Model S P85D, we’ve all been barraged by countless YouTube videos of Insane Mode 0-60 mph launch reactions. This was then followed by ‘Ludicrous Mode’, ‘Plaid Mode’, and whatever else Tesla has come up with this week to generate some buzz.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been in a Model S P90D for a Ludicrous Mode launch – they are astonishingly quick. Like hit-your-head-on-the-back-windshield, neck-snappingly quick.

That said, quick acceleration doesn’t necessarily equate to a car being fast, and it certainly doesn’t equate to a car being a driver’s car. Unfortunately, that message hasn’t quite come across to a lot of the newer outlets covering the industry.

Take for example Wired Magazine, which published an article about Ludicrous Mode that likened the Model S to a supercar. To the writer’s point, Ludicrous Mode indeed gave the Model S a 0-60 time that’s comparable to that of a supercar. But to say that the 0-60 time itself makes it a supercar? Let’s not get carried away.

It’s the aggregate impact of several different factors that establishes a car’s value as a driver’s car – acceleration is just one of those factors. In fact, unless you have NHRA aspirations, an acceleration shtick really makes the Tesla more of a party trick than anything else. Good for a laugh and nauseating elderly passengers.

To see what I’m on about, let’s consider the old fashioned gasoline-powered Audi RS7 as a comparable in terms of both price and performance. Car and Driver tested the Audi RS7, and they found that it had a faster 0-60 than their long-term Tesla Model S P85D (though it’s undoubtedly slower than the P100D).

But the P85D didn’t just come up short in 0-60 acceleration. Standing quarter mile? The RS7 was faster. Top speed? RS7 wins. Roadholding? RS7 wins. 70-0 mph braking distance? RS7 wins (albeit only by one foot).

And yet above all that, the biggest difference between the two – the Model S is heavier by over 500 pounds. That might not seem like that much, but when it comes to hampering a cars performance it might as well be a ton. Yes, most of that weight is in the batteries and almost entirely below the beltline, which does lower the center of gravity. But, that much extra weight limits driving feel (particularly performance driving) to an almost insurmountable degree.

Despite my complaints, I actually am okay with that. There’s nothing wrong with celebrating everything that Tesla is – a manufacturer of quick, cool electric vehicles. However, I can’t condone elevating Tesla to a pedestal of elite modern sports car manufacturers when that just isn’t the case.

Unless, of course, this new Tesla Roadster comes to fruition; until then, I’ll reserve judgment.

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