Tesla Model S electric zaps the competition

Praise pours in for the Tesla Model S, a costly car that uses no gas.

The fuel economy of Tesla's Model S Signature is rated by the EPA as 89 miles per gallon gasoline equivalent.

As year-end automobile awards arrive, the vehicle that's revving ahead of the pack is a car that can't rev at all. The all-electric Tesla Model S won "car of the year" from Motor Trend magazine, Automobile Magazine, and Yahoo Autos – as well as Popular Mech­anics' award for technical innovation.

"We've driven almost every electric car made, and tested most, but the Tesla Model S comes as a revelation," writes Consumer Reports, which, as of press time, had not named its car of the year. "These guys are serious about demolishing every obstacle that stands in the way of the electric car."

Worried that all-electrics can't keep up with your lifestyle? The American-made Model S can travel 140 to 265 miles on a single charge, depending on the size of its battery pack.

Concerned that they take too long to charge? The Model S works with 110- and 240-volt outlets, with the latter fully charging a battery in four to six hours, according to Motor Trend. Tesla also built its own fill-up stations – currently all in California – that will pump in enough electrons in 30 minutes for an extra 150 miles of range. (So that drivers have something to do to pass the time, most charging stations are near malls.)

Assume that high-efficiency vehicles have no kick? This luxury car races from zero to 60 in less than five seconds.

Certain that electric cars cost too much? Depending on the family, you might be right. The baseline Model S costs $57,400, minus a $7,500 federal tax credit. However, that's not the car that won all of the awards. Motor Trend tested a $107,350 version.

This heap of accolades came at a dark moment for Tesla. In September, the company reported that its Model S factory would produce 3,000 vehicles this year, not the 5,000 that it expected. During two presidential debates in October, Republican nominee Mitt Romney attacked the Obama administration for lending Tesla $465 million. Supporting "losers" such as Tesla and the failed solar-energy start-up Solyndra "is not the kind of policy you want to have if you want to get America energy secure," Mr. Romney said.

Motor Trend took a different view.

"The mere fact the Tesla Model S exists at all is a testament to innovation and entrepreneurship, the very qualities that once made the American automobile industry the largest, richest, and most powerful in the world," writes Angus MacKenzie, editor at large of Motor Trend. "America can still make things. Great things."

For more on how technology intersects daily life, follow Chris on Twitter @venturenaut.

[Editor's note: This is an updated version of an article that appeared in the Dec. 3 issue of the Monitor weekly magazine.]

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