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Tesla Model S vs. the Competition: Test Drive

Stocks in this article: TSLA GM NVDA AAPL

With essentially all of the weight in the floor pan, no engine and transmission up front, and no full gasoline tank in the back, Tesla has the perfect formula for optimizing the suspension: The car can provide superior handling, while at the same time do it with a very soft suspension that makes a Bentley Mulsanne blush. In the comfort/refinement department, the Tesla Model S makes Buckingham Palace seem like a Burger King.

Having driven the Tesla Model S on the neighborhood roads back-to-back not only against most of the other electric cars in the market today, but also comparing it against other premium cars such as Rolls Royce Corniche, I came to this startling conclusion: The Tesla Model S is so superior that it seems that it's just a matter of time until all the other car companies will have to file bankruptcy.

In the area of automobile performance and refinement, the Tesla Model S is to other cars what a new iPhone 4S is to a Motorola StarTAC flip-phone from 1997. That's a strong statement, but what are the inevitable caveats?

Price Comparison

The primary caveat is price. The current Tesla Model S costs $87,900, but by December Tesla will be building versions with smaller batteries -- and therefore less range -- priced as low as $57,400. Then consider a $7,500 Federal tax credit, plus state incentives that vary wildly, but in California is $2,500.

Obviously a Tesla Model S for, say, $87,900 is not a fair comparison with a significantly less expensive car. However, in my opinion, for many people in the market for cars priced $50,000 and up, the Tesla means that all other carmakers should be running scared. Competitors had better hope that prospective buyers don't get 30 or 60 minutes behind the wheel of a Tesla, because if they do, I can think of only very few people who wouldn't be lost to Tesla.

How does the Tesla Model S compare to the Chevrolet Volt? First consider price. A loaded Volt is around $44,000, but dealers sell it for $5,000 less. Then subtract tax credits and rebates depending on your state, and in California you can get a loaded Volt for $30,000 plus sales tax.

Is the Tesla 2x or 3x better than a Chevrolet Volt? For most people, no. But then some people are not most people. You can always make the argument that buying a premium car is irrational "because it's not necessary." A $15,000 Toyota Corolla will get you to the same place as a $90,000 BMW 750. Is the BMW 6x better than the Corolla? There is nothing new in this eternal debate.

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