Tesla Model S named Automobile Magazine’s 2013 Car of the Year (Update)

Tesla Model S The electric car has received a positive image boost, and perhaps more mainstream validation, as Automobile Magazine has named the Tesla Model S its “2013 Car of the Year.”

For those unfamiliar with Tesla Motors ambitious EV, the Model S is an all-electric luxury sport sedan and the California start-up’s second battery-powered vehicle after the well-received Tesla Roadster.

Okay, so it’s powered by electrons. But what makes the Model S worthy of such an accolade? “It’s the performance that won us over,” Automobile Editor-in-Chief Jean Jennings said in the magazine’s January 2013 issue. “The crazy speed builds silently and then pulls back the edges of your face. It had all of us endangering our licenses.”

Indeed, Tesla’s green speed-machine is capable of rocketing from zero to 60 miles per hour in a mere 4.2 seconds when outfitted with an 85 kilowatt-hour battery – this, despite weighing more than 4500 pounds. “It’s alarming to jam the accelerator of such a big car and have it surge forward so quickly and so quietly,” said copy editor Rusty Blackwell.

Of course, a lot of cars are fast, very fast, and while it’s no doubt impressive that the Model S can scamper down a straight line with ease, it’s not the only reason the folks at Automobile were smitten with it, citing the vehicle’s excellent handling dynamics, ability to soak up road noise, and nuanced steering. “All that speed, along with powerful braking, superflat handling, and sharp steering, gives you the sense that you’re invincible,” reads Jennings’s evaluation of the vehicle on a test track.

And then there’s the inside. The Model S might be packing a lot of impressive tech, battery and all, but it’s the car’s command center cabin that proved equally drool-worthy. Having already sat inside the Model S ourselves over the course of the year, we are more than aware of the tech-laden wonderland that is the Model S’ cockpit. Instead of dials, buttons, and knobs, virtually everything inside the Model S is operated via its gigantic, 17-inch iPad-like center touchscreen. Want to open the panoramic sunroof? Swipe the screen. Climate controls? Same deal. Drivers can even surf the Web and access their email while on the go.

Interestingly, Tesla’s status as a start-up was taken into consideration before the final decision was made, according to Automobile’s senior editor Joe Lorio. “What if we give the car this honor, and a year from now the company disappears in a ball of flakiness?” he said “Are we going to feel foolish?”

Ultimately, though, the Model S was given the award based on its merits as a standalone vehicle and not the politics or position it may or may not see itself in down the road. “The car is here now, and we think it’s a significant milestone,” Lorio explained.

The Model S is available in three different battery sizes: 40 kWh, 60 kWh, and 85 kWh. Pricing for the 40kWh Model S starts at $57,000, $67,00 for one outfitted with a 60 kWh battery, and $77,000 for an 85 kWh model like the one tested by Automobile. (All prices exclude a $7,500 federal tax credit). Estimated range for the base Model S sits at 160 miles on a single charge, 230 miles for the 60 kWH, and 300 miles for the 85kWh.

The Tesla Model S went into production this summer, with 250 deliveries having taken place as of October. According to Tesla, roughly 13,000 people have placed $5,000 deposits towards a Model S. The company expects to sell about 3,200 units by the end of 2012.

[Update] Tesla Motors representative Shanna Hendricks had this to say to about the Model S being named Automobile Magazine’s 2013 Car of the Year, “We’re thrilled to receive this endorsement from AUTOMOBILE Magazine. This recognition underscores our goal to build a great car, not just a great electric car.”