They promised test rides in the ultra-cool, battery-powered Tesla Model S to all comers, and when I saw the sleekly modern IAC Building in Manhattan packed to the rafters with well-heeled hipsters (and more than 180 scraggly press representatives) I wasn’t sure how they were going to pull it off. There is, after all, only one working Tesla Model S.

The car parked inside the building—the one everyone was taking pictures with—is actually a “pusher,” meaning you have to push it if you want it to move. It doesn’t even have an interior.

But they had the ride thing covered. The real car, with a zero-to-60 time of 5.6 seconds, top speed of 120 mph and a 42-kilowatt-hour battery stored under the passenger compartment, was around the corner at Chelsea Piers. Here's what it looked like:

We got in line (with access to espresso and chocolate cake) for two-minute blasts down a short straightaway. No, they didn’t let us drive, but I was able to gather quick first impressions:
  • The car is oh-my-god fast, but not quite as big an assault on the senses as the Tesla Roadster.
  • The interior is beautifully finished. Techies will love to play with the enormous 17-inch LCD infotainment screen, which has 3G cellphone-type Internet access, iTunes-like music storage and sorting, and all kinds of other things.
  • The two rear-facing jump seats that are supposed to give this relatively compact sedan seven-seater capacity were not in evidence. The battery drivetrain means there’s storage both under the hood and in the long but shallow trunk. “More room than a station wagon,” Tesla claims.
  • It’s really pretty in person. The “pusher” had incredible iridescent pearl paint that can also boast of being water-based and environmentally friendly. Other green features include 100 percent recycled PET carpeting and chrome-free, vegetable-tanned Italian leather (but vegetarians will still object).
  • Don’t battery cars just transfer their pollution from tailpipe to power plant smokestack? Not so, says CEO Elon Musk. He claims the Model S, even if its electricity is 100 percent coal-derived, produces less carbon dioxide per mile than a Toyota Prius.
Tesla has almost a thousand $5,000 deposits for the Model S, including many of the young and checkbook-equipped customers at the New York party.

(MNN homepage photo: Tesla Motors)

Jim Motavalli ( @jmotavalli ) writes about cars, technology and the environmental world to anyone curious enough to ask.

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