- Over the years, I’ve driven all of Tesla’s vehicles: the original Roadster, the Model S, the Model X, and the Model 3.
- But I’ve also driven hundreds of other vehicles, many if which represent the best-of-the-best coming from the world’s automakers.
- I thought it would be interesting to see how Tesla’s all-electric vehicles stack up against some of the gas-powered competition.
- Remember, if you want all-electric, you’re currently limited to Tesla and just a few other vehicles, most of which don’t have luxury or performance credibility.
- As it turned out, I preferred a BMW 5-Series and a Porsche Cayenne SUV to Tesla’s Model S and Model X, but I favoured the original Roadster over an Alfa Romeo 4C and the Model 3 over an Audi A4.
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In about 16 years, Tesla has gone from an ambitious idea about electric cars to selling almost 250,000 vehicles a year and challenging the world’s top automakers.
That in and of itself is an impressive achievement, but Tesla’s vehicles are actually quite good. I’ve driven them all, and I can vouch for their quality and performance. Sure, they have some quirks, and Tesla has definitely endured some growing pains. But there’s no discounting the fact that Tesla is the first successful new American auto brand to emerge in decades.
Still, the traditional auto industry is no slouch – it’s game has probably never been better. Over the years, I’ve driven hundreds of great cars and trucks. So I thought it would be fun to put the Tesla fleet up against some of my favourites from the petrol-burning world.
Here’s how it went:
The Tesla Original Roadster. This was the first Tesla I ever drove, and at the time I was overjoyed. I revisited the car half a decade later and renewed my love for the peppy all-electric spider.
The original Roadster wasn’t an original Tesla design: it was based on a Lotus platform, with Tesla adding the drivetrain, batteries, and software.
The Roadster was instrumental in changing perceptions about EVs, which up to that point had been thought of as glorified golf carts. With range of over 200 miles and a 0-60m ph time of 3.7 seconds, for the more advanced version.
The Roadster is also the first production car to be launched into orbit. Tesla CEO Elon Musk made his personal Roadster, piloted by “Starman,” the payload on the 2018 launch of SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket. Production ended in 2012.
The Alfa Romeo 4C. This is the only car that we’ve driven at Business Insider that really compares with the Tesla Roadster. It’s a bonkers little spider, with a snarling mid-mounted engine.
The 4C is practically a race car. In our review, we noted:
The 4C is actually built around a lightweight, high-strength, carbon-fibre cell. In fact, it’s the only car with a price tag less than $US100,000 to incorporate the pricey technology, which is one of the many attributes of the 4C that make it kind of an oddball. The only other non-supercar to be built around a carbon-fibre tub is the BMW i8 hybrid sports car. The carbon-fibre driver’s compartment allowed Alfa Romeo cut off top of the car without compromising its structural rigidity.
According to Alfa, the 2,500-pound 4C is good for a zero-to-60 run in just four seconds and can reach a top speed of 160 mph.
Like the Tesla Roadster, the Alfa 4C has a pretty basic interior. But on balance, our tester was notably more luxurious.
Power for the 4C comes from a 1.7-litre, 237-horsepower, turbocharged inline-four. The tiny motor is incredibly punchy and pairs well with the quick-shifting, six-speed twin-clutch transmission.
The Tesla Model S. The first “clean sheet” design from Fremont was a luxury sedan that captured Motor Trend’s Car of the Year award for 2013.
The Model S is now available in Long Range and Performance trims: $US80,000 and $US100,000, respectively, with 370 or 345 miles of range.
I’ve driven several different versions of the Model S, ranging from a rear-wheel-drive example to the dual-motor trim, with two types of battery pack: 90 kilowatt hours and 100 kWh.
The Model S offers well over 200 miles of range, room enough for five passengers, and SUV-like cargo capacity. Of course, being electric, it does require patience when it comes to recharging. But the Performance trim can outrun supercars with a 0-60 mph time that tickles two seconds.
Luckily for Tesla owners, the Model S has access to the electric-car company’s extensive Supercharger network. Plug in at one of these stalls and you can be back to a full charge in under an hour.
The BMW 5-Series. The 5-Series dates to the early 1970s; the seventh generation landed in 2017, and I tested the high-performance M5 last year.
“In the grand automotive scheme of things, BMWs aren’t supposed to be that cool,” I wrote in my review.
“And then you drive something as exquisitely pugnacious and brilliantly assembled as the M5 and you suddenly don’t much care about cool anymore.”
Like all M cars, the M5 seems glued to the pavement, even when standing still. My tester was $US130,000.
Under the hood we find the 4.4-litre, 600-horsepower, twin-turbo V8 making 553 pound-feet of juicy torque. This is a hulking poleaxe of a motor, a masterpiece of menace — a grand mechanism for taking gasoline and transforming it into staggering velocity.
The 0-60 mph dash passes in 2.8 seconds on the way to an electronically limited top speed of 163 mph
The M5’s interior combines a hardcore performance vibe with abundant luxury. It’s a showcase for getting what you paid for.
The Tesla Model X. We’ve taken Model Xs on several road trips and have been generally impressed with Tesla’s offbeat, feature-packed, road-going sci-fi electric shuttlecraft.
We’ve tested the highest-spec Model X’s available, and we’ve pegged the price tags at around $US150,000. But Tesla is currently selling the vehicle in two trims: Long Range and Performance, for $US85,000 and $US105,000, respectively.
The Model X offers 325 miles of range in the Long Range trim and 305 miles of range in Performance. For the latter, the 0-60 mph time is a staggering 2.7 seconds.
The Model X was launched in 2015. It’s Tesla’s most high-tech car. It could be called “Too Tech,” as even Musk has admitted they overdid it. The “falcon wing” doors alone threatened to delay the vehicle.
Again, owners of the Model X can use the Supercharger network, but they have to be patient. My kids banned me from anymore Tesla road trips after we took a 700-mile round-trip in the Model X.
The Porsche Cayenne. The Cayenne Turbo I tested last year was all-new and tipped the price scales at $US136,000. That’s a lot. But can you put a price on perfection?
In my review, I wrote:
The Cayenne is simply good, good, and more good, and the top-level Turbo trim is especially delightful, capable of orchestrating a brutal symphony of horsepower from that magnificent 541-horsepower, twin-turbo V8. But that’s just one dimension of performance bliss.
You also have the bracing handling, delivered through an intricate orchestration of mega-tech features, ranging from a rooftop spoiler than can adapt to increased speed to rear-axle steering and electro-hydraulic roll stabilisation.
It’s my policy to avoid getting too deep in this gearheady stuff (my driving is 90% emotion and 10% engineering). But with the Cayenne Turbo, it definitely adds up to an SUV that drives, as it always has, like a Porsche – but with the vehicle’s upgrades, now more like a Porsche than ever.
Porsche has added character lines and a higher overall level of surface flash to the Cayenne, now in its third-generation. The latest Cayenne is about as sleek as it’s possible to make the vehicle without sloping the roof so much that the second row becomes uninhabitable.
The 4.0-litre, twin-turbocharged V8 makes 541 horsepower with 568 pound-feet of torque. This Porsche can tow nearly 8,000 pounds, which is staggering. Fuel economy isn’t: 15 mpg city/19 highway/17 combined, and that’s on premium gas.
The eight-speed automatic pipes the power to the Cayenne Turbo’s all-wheel-drive system. There isn’t a whiff of turbo lag with this machine, and the transmission can switch to manual if you want to shift gears yourself.
When the gaping maw of the rear liftgate opens, you have about 27 cubic feet of cargo space to work with and roughly double that when the second row of seats is folded down. That’s really quite good.
The Tesla Model 3. The Tesla for the people finally arrived in 2017, and I sampled three versions of it through 2018. I eventually spent a week with a Model 3 that was then priced at $US57,500.
In my review, I wrote:
There is no better vehicle of this type at this price that I believe I could currently buy. I literally craved looking at and driving the Model 3. But beyond that, I now count it among the small cadre of vehicles I’ve driven in my life that I have felt fit me absolutely perfectly and satisfied my every desire.
Basically, I think the Model 3 has more ideas in it than any car on the road. What’s impressive is that it’s advanced how we think about automobiles.
By the way, Tesla is now selling three versions of the Model 3: the Standard Range Plus single-motor trim at $US39,000; the Long Range dual-motor at $US48,000; and the Performance dual-motor trim at $US56,000.
Range options are 240 or 310 miles, and the shortest 0-60 mph sprint is 3.2 seconds (for the Performance trim).
Arguably, the most striking feature of the Model 3 is its ultra-minimalist interior, with almost all vehicle functions and displays found in the central touchscreen.
Like the Model S, the Model 3 can handle a lot of cargo. The trunk is 15 cubic feet, but there’s also a smaller front “frunk.”
Yep, Supercharging is available for the Model 3.
The Audi A4. We tested the A4 in 2017 and were blown away. It’s Audi’s perfect sedan. A brand new A4 sedan starts at a competitive $US34,900, while our option-laden test car came with a price tag of $US54,275.
Styling-wise, the new A4 is elegantly understated. It’s the latest evolution of the modern design language that has come to define the brand in recent years. Audi is now into the fifth generation of the vehicle.
The A4’s cabin is a no-holds-barred high-tech masterpiece. The Audi Virtual Cockpit infotainment system is a two-time winner of our Infotainment System of the Year award.
In our review, we also noted the Audi’s luxuriousness:
The A4’s cabin is as quiet, refined, and plush as one has come to expect from a top-line Audi product. The black leather seats in our test car felt soft to the touch and offered more-than-adequate bolstering for both leisurely jaunts down the highway and dynamic drives on twisty country roads.
Under the hood is a 2.0-litre, 252-horsepower, turbocharged, inline-four-cylinder engine that’s shared with the A6, the Q5, and the Porsche Macan. The gutsy motor is truly impressive. It’s paired with Audi’s 7-speed S-tronic twin-clutch transmission and Audi’s legendary Quattro all-wheel-drive system.
According to Audi, the Quattro-equipped A4 is capable of sprinting to 60 mph in 5.7 seconds and can reach an electronically limited top speed of 130 mph.
Now for the verdicts! Tesla Roadster vs. Alfa Romeo 4C: It’s the Roadster!
The Alfa 4C might have go-kart handling and the personality of a Jack Russell terrier that’s consumed a case of Red Bull, and it might in many ways be a budget Ferrari, but I just love the dang Tesla Roadster. It started a revolution, after all.
Sadly, both cars are now going to be available as used vehicles only. Obviously, the Tesla Roadster is a rare bird, out of the lineup since 2012 and not yet replaced by the New Roadster, which debuted in 2017. And while Alfa kept the 4C Spider in its lineup after nixing the coupé, the convertible is now phasing out.
Tesla Model S vs. BMW 5-Series: It’s the BMW 5-Series!
The Model S is important in that it proved Tesla could go it alone and create a fantastic car. The Model S has also been the platform that’s introduced everything from Ludicrous Mode acceleration to Autopilot semi-self-driving. At full song, the Performance S can outrun supercars.
But the M5 is a never-subtle reminder that the Germans know how to build a hell of sport sedan. It continues to command respect.
Tesla Model X vs. Porsche Cayenne: It’s the Porsche Cayenne!
Let’s keep it simple: the Porsche Cayenne is still the best SUV built by human hands on planet Earth.
Tesla Model 3 vs. Audi A4: It’s the Model 3!
The A4 might be the best car Audi has ever built, but as I wrote of the Model 3 after my week-long test:
The Model 3 impresses on all fronts.
It can blast to 60 mph in five seconds, it can drive itself under some conditions, and it has a five-star safety rating from the government. What’s more, it’s a California-made, all-electric car from the first new American car company in decades.
But the truly astounding thing is that Tesla, in only about five years of seriously manufacturing automobiles, could build a car this good. That’s a staggering achievement.
Wait, did I say good? I meant great.
Hold on, did I say great? Sorry, I meant greatest.
Say hello to the best car that money can currently buy.