A couple of weeks ago, I strapped into the seat of a $100,000 green roller coaster streaking for the future.

A couple of weeks ago, I strapped into the seat of a $100,000 green roller coaster streaking for the future.

It was not a bad way to spend a workday.

Actually, videographer Brian Elledge and I had climbed into a Tesla Model S, a low, long, slinky electric sedan striving to forever change the perception of alternative-fuel cars.

“Tesla has made electric cars cool,” said Jack Nerad, senior analyst at KBB.com.

We took delivery of the dark metallic green Tesla in Dallas on a sunny Wednesday morning, marveling at the enormous 17-inch touch screen in the center of the dash that controlled virtually all of the car’s functions — everything from the stereo to the suspension.

Holy Steve Jobs, I muttered, envisioning the two of us getting stuck in the car at a rest stop because I couldn’t find the program to unlock the doors or something.

We wanted to test the high-tech Tesla’s range claims, always a concern with electric cars, and see whether the company’s new supercharger stations worked as advertised.

The top-of-the-line $97,000 sedan we had for a day pulled 416 silky horsepower from a three-phase electric motor.

When we finally found open concrete on the other side of Waxahachie, the Model S gathered speed as if it had dived down an 80-foot drop at Six Flags, spinning the digits on its speedometer like symbols on a slot machine.

It achieves zero emissions with eye-blurring zeal, ripping to 60 in a reported 4.2 seconds, the sort of speed you typically find in something really muscled up or exotic.

But our trip down awful I-35 involved more than cheap thrills — really.

Tesla says it can get more range from its array of lithium-ion batteries beneath the floor of the S than any other electric vehicle — an impressive 265 miles with the optional battery pack.

Moreover, in a costly effort to expand the ways in which electric cars can be used, Tesla is building a network of supercharging stations throughout the U.S. to allow its electric cars to make long road trips.

Three of the $150,000 stations are already in place in Texas — in Waco, San Marcos and Columbus.

Tesla owners can get a full, free recharge in an hour at one of the stations or 150 miles of additional range in about 30 minutes. The stations are open 24 hours but only to Tesla owners.

We pulled out of downtown Dallas with 231 miles of range showing on the high-tech instrument panel, bound for the nearest supercharger station at the Collin Street Bakery in Waco, 100 or so miles away.

Fortunately, I quickly got more or less comfortable with Tesla’s touch-screen controls, aided greatly by their logical design.


As you may know, Tesla is based in Palo Alto, Calif., and managed — firmly — by Elon Musk, an aggressive entrepreneur who co-founded PayPal.

The full-size Model S sedan, whose price starts at $70,000, is the first of three mainstream electric vehicles that Tesla plans to build, including a less-expensive midsize sedan.

On paper, the Model S seems as mercurial as Musk himself.

In the past three months, it won a substantial owner satisfaction award from Consumer Reports and was named Car of the Year by Motor Trend.

But the company has struggled with dropping stock prices as well as a federal safety investigation of two fires in Model S sedans after their owners hit debris in the road.

Our sedan just felt marvelously purposeful.


We had the premium Model S P85-plus, a silent street assassin with instant electric car acceleration.

Most of its body panels were aluminum, stretched alluringly over a rigid aluminum structure.

Long, low and stylish, the four-door, 4,800-pound Tesla had the same sort of powerful grace you see in Jaguars.

On smooth, relatively open concrete, the Model S sailed down the interstate with immense, easy confidence.

With wind and tire noise the only indicators of velocity, though, it’s easy to find yourself cruising at 90 — honest, boss.

And I accept most of the blame for our highly excessive use of electricity on the way to the supercharging station in Waco.

My heavy foot cut deeply into our reserve of power, as did the time we spent shooting video: drive-bys in which Brian stood along a road and shot video of the car and me flying by.

We also lost 10 miles of range stuck in a maddening two-hour traffic jam south of Waxahachie, apparently caused by some Texas Department of Transportation project. Thanks, TxDOT.

By the time we got to Waco, we had 66 miles of range on the meter, having burned through 165 miles of electricity to go roughly 100 miles.

We pulled into the Collin Street Bakery parking lot on the east side of I-35, where eight Tesla supercharging stations awaited us on the north side of the lot.

Once I got the electric lifeline from the supercharger hooked into the Tesla’s charging port, we were free to go inside the bakery for a sandwich or coffee or whatever to kill an hour.


By my calculations, you could probably drive straight from Dallas to Austin on one full charge in the Tesla if you stayed under 80, which is no small feat in the otherworldly Model S.

But you might not have enough juice to go on to San Marcos, south of Austin, where the next supercharger is located.

So a trip to Austin and back would likely require a stop in Waco for a full recharge — plan on about an hour — and ideally, you’d have about 150 miles left when you arrived in Austin.

Then you would need to be really judicious about how much you drove in Austin to conserve enough range to make it back to the supercharger in Waco. Either that, or head to San Marcos before you start back.


Is that enough convenience to persuade you to take a trip to Austin and back in a Tesla? Maybe not, Nerad said.

“Most of us don’t even like to stop for gas, so I don’t know how many people would accept a 30-minute or one-hour delay,” he said.

After an hour, we left Waco with 255 miles of range crackling in the batteries. This time, I somehow managed to stay under 80.

As a result, we arrived at the newspaper in downtown Dallas with 144 miles left on the range meter.

That’s pretty impressive for an electric car. But Tesla will need to do more, Nerad believes.

“What they have accomplished in the Model S is really considerable,” he said. “But it’s a car whose development was subsidized by tax dollars that still doesn’t have the range of a subcompact. We’re not in the future yet.”


(Terry Box: tbox@dallasnews.com)


©2013 The Dallas Morning News

Visit The Dallas Morning News at www.dallasnews.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services


PHOTOS (from MCT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): AUTO-TESLAMODELS-1STPERSON


Topics: t000047405,t000047103,t000002537,t000002676,g000222672,g000065627,g000362661,g000066164