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Tesla Model S vs. the Competition: Test Drive

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- I have now been able to drive the $87,900 (and up) Tesla (TSLA - Get Report) Model S in my own neighborhood, on the same winding roads where I drive other electric cars every day. As such, this article is the first comparison test for the Tesla Model S, in which it goes up against the Chevrolet (GM - Get Report) Volt and other cars.

Let us start with a basic review of the Tesla Model S. It is a large hatchback with a 362- or 416-horsepower electric motor, 440 or 600 nm worth of torque, sitting between the rear wheels. The 85-kWh battery is embedded in the floor of the car, just like a giant iPad that's 5 inches thick. The EPA-certified average range is 265 miles.

The instrumentation is unique in the car world, as it consists of two LCD screens -- one in front of the steering wheel, but the entire center stack of the instrument panel is one big vertical 17-inch screen. Forget all other cars you've experienced to date -- this 17-inch screen feels like a 100-year jump in automotive technology. In an automotive first, it is also driven by Nvidia's (NVDA - Get Report) excellent Tegra 3 processor.

It is hard to get screen technology right in a car, and, frankly, I find that most cars are more or less outright failures in this area. Tesla has made the biggest gamble of them all, and in amazing feat they have pulled off a victory, sweeping the competition into the dustbin of history.

Suffice it to say that it will be a strong selling point for the car.

The stalk-mounted automatic shifter is taken from a Mercedes R, M or GL car, as are the cruise control and blinker stalks. I don't recall the existence of a single button anywhere near the dashboard. All you get are: two screens, a steering wheel, and three steering column stalks. The interior has the minimalist design of expensive modern furniture, combined with technology that makes an Apple iPad look out of date.

For seating, the car I drove had the leather-textile combo seats, which I found superior to the all-leather seats in this case. Unlike so many German sports cars in particular, they look nothing like sports seats, lacking visible bolsters. I found the seating comfort and position vis-a-vis the pedals and the telescoping steering wheel to be as flawless as the very best cars in the market.

The back seat was another matter.

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