While the 2013 Tesla Model S is often described as a luxury sedan, it's actually a luxury five-door hatchback that seats five adults in reasonable comfort.
It can, at least in theory, carry two more passengers as well: small children willing to be strapped into a pair of rear-facing jump seats in the load bay, restrained with four-point safety harnesses. It's nowhere near being able to hold seven adults, which makes the seven-passenger claim a little sketchy, but no other sedan this size even tries to hold seven occupants. That's been the province of large crossover utility vehicles (Tesla's planning to offer one of those, too).
Seat count aside, the car's large footprint and hatchback convenience make it surprisingly practical as a family car. It offers comfort for five and significant cargo capacity, quiet and comfortable travel, and of course operating costs one-third to one-fifth the per-mile cost of a comparable gasoline car--depending on gas price and what its owners pay their local utility for a kilowatt-hour.
The 2013 Model S has a slightly different seating position than every other luxury sedan, since it's the only one that houses a battery pack in its floorpan. Its front and rear foot wells are thus shallower than in cars without 5 inches of battery beneath passenger's feet. Rear passengers especially sit in a more knees-up, backrest-reclined position than in competitors from Audi, BMW, Jaguar, or Mercedes-Benz.
Inside, the front seats are supportive, the driving position is good, and most of the controls are well-situated. Front seat passengers have the most room to stretch out, while rear passengers will notice that the rear seat back is angled a bit more steeply than customary.
Outboard rear passengers will also find the cabin is wider at shoulder height than at their heads, with windows that slope inward as they rise toward the roof rail. If the car has the panoramic sunroof option, a six-foot person in the rear seat comes within a fraction of an inch of the headliner. The rear door openings through which they must climb are smaller than they look as well, making access to the rear seat more challenging than expected--though riders will be comfortable enough once inside.
The Model S comes into its own on the road, where it's so calm and quiet that there's essentially no mechanical noise on acceleration. A high-pitched humming whine--presumably from the power electronics--occurs only occasionally, on full acceleration. With the stereo off, tire noises becomes obvious, and then wind noise kicks in above 40 mph or so.
Sitting behind the wheel, a few quirks are obvious. Tesla chose column stalks from Mercedes-Benz (which owns part of the company), with both an upper cruise control and a lower turn signal, meaning that Model S drivers will try to signal with the cruise lever until they retrain themselves. Tesla uses an automatic electric parking brake, but it activates automatically in Park when the car senses that the driver is getting out. to the right of the tilting and telescoping steering column, a drive selector offers simply D, R, and P.
Total interior volume of the Model S is rated at 95.1 cubic feet. There's a total of 58.1 cubic feet of load space with the seat folded down, or 26.3 cubic feet of cargo space in the load bay with the rear seat up. There's also an additional 5.3 cubic feet in the surprisingly large front trunk, which Tesla insists on calling a "frunk." The total cargo space compares quite favorably to the absurdly tiny 6.9-cubic-foot trunk of the similarly large-on-the-outside Fisker Karma, which is so small inside that the EPA rates it as a subcompact.
Toward the end of the 2012 model year, Tesla's biggest challenge was to ramp up its production volume to 400 cars a week while maintaining the highest standards of build quality. The early cars we saw appeared to be well put-together, showing only a recalcitrant rear seat-belt retractor and a misaligned Velcro patch on the front-trunk liner--both fixable issues.
Tesla plans to issue regular software updates to its earlier Model S cars, which lets the company not only correct any potential safety issues but also add features retroactively--most likely, we suspect, for an additional fee in some cases.