If you thought electric cars were little more than tiny city runarounds, then think again. Ambitious American brand Tesla is aiming to redefine how we think about battery-powered vehicles.

• Tesla Model S review

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Founded just 10 years ago, the company wants to engage affluent early adopters with desirable high-end electric cars. Its long-term aim is to emulate the Silicon Valley business model that’s seen tablets and smartphones go from being the must-have gadgets of the wealthy few to the mainstream big-sellers of today.

Firstly, the brand launched its Lotus Elise-based Roadster, and now there’s the stunning Model S luxury saloon. With a claimed 310-mile range and high performance, it promises to rewrite the rules. There have been 20,000 sold in the US, plus it’s the biggest-selling car in Norway. Right-hand-drive models arrive in the UK this March.

So can the Tesla Model S switch us on to a luxury performance EV? And how will it fare against the Porsche Panamera S E-Hybrid plug-in? This supersaloon boasts high- performance pedigree and eco-friendly credentials in equal measure. We put the pair head-to-head...

Head-to-head

Weighing in

The Model S is just 5kg heavier than the Panamera S E-Hybrid. The Tesla’s battery forms the floorpan of the car in a rigid structure, lowering the centre of gravity. The Porsche’s much smaller battery is located below the boot floor and behind the fuel tank. Both cars benefit from near-50:50 front-to-rear weight distribution.

Badge appeal

Tesla is virtually unknown in the UK right now, but in the US it’s already become a highly aspirational brand, with premium outlets and a trendy celebrity customer base. However, there’s no doubting the long-established prestige and reputation of the Porsche badge.

Charging options

While the full EV Tesla is at the mercy of charging point availability, the Porsche’s E-Charge mode allows you to recharge the battery on the move. Alternatively, if you do plug the Panamera in to the mains, it can be fully charged in around two-and-a-half hours. Porsche also offers a home charging unit and, in common with the Tesla, you can programme the car to charge at low-cost times or pre-warm the interior for you.

Future models?

Tesla will launch the Model X this year. It’s an SUV-inspired crossover based on the same floorpan and technology as the Model S. It’ll be the second car in the range now that Roadster production has ended.

1st place - Porsche Panamera S E-Hybrid

The Porsche makes more sense for more people than the Tesla – for now. It has decent range and top speed in full-electric mode, yet it’s not totally reliant on charging points. It’s nearly as quick as the Model S, plus it handles better and has a plusher cabin. But it’s expensive to buy and costs more to run.

2nd place - Tesla Model S

Tesla's Model S is the most convincing electric car we’ve driven. It’s an astonishing achievement for a small company and if it fits your driving needs, it could save you thousands of pounds in running costs. But until charging infrastructure improves, its real-world appeal is limited, so it comes second.

Porsche Panamera S E-HybridTesla Model S P85+

On-the-road price/total as tested£83,967/£93,733£78,480/£87,530

Residual value (after 3yrs/30,000)£39,800/47.4%N/A

Depreciation£44,167N/A

Annual tax liability std/higher rate£890/£1,779£0

Annual fuel cost (12k/20k miles)£1,641/£2,735£0

Ins. group/quote/road tax band/cost50/£2,077/A/£050/£746/A/£0

Cost of 1st/2nd/3rd service£450/£520/£450£1,800 (4yrs/50k)

Length/wheelbase5,015/2,920mm4,970/2,960mm

Height/width1,418/1,931mm1,445/1,964mm

EngineV6/2,995ccAC electric motor

Peak power 410/5,500 bhp/rpm410bhp

Peak torque 590/1,250 Nm/rpm600Nm

Transmission 8-spd tiptronic/RWD1-spd fixed-gear/RWD

Full charge time/claimed range (miles)80-litre fuel tank/1,62523 hours*/310 

Boot capacity (seats up/down) 335/1,153litres894^/1,645litres

Kerbweight/payload/towing weight2,095/485/N/A2,100kg/N/A

Turning circle/drag coefficientN/A/0.29Cd11.3metres/0.24Cd

Basic warranty (miles)/recovery3yrs (unlimited)/3yrs4yrs (50,000)/4yrs

Service intervals/UK dealers20,000 miles/2yrs/3612,500 miles/1yr/1

Driver Power manufacturer/dealer pos.13th/6thN/A

Euro NCAP: Adult/child/ped./starsN/AN/A

0-60/30-70mph5.3/4.7 secs4.6/4.0 secs

30-50mph in 3rd/4th 1.8 secs1.6 secs

50-70mph in 5th/6th 2.9 secs2.4 secs

Top speed/rpm at 70mph 167mph/1,500rpm130mph/N/A

Braking 70-0/60-0/30-0mph 44.9/33.1/8.8m 50.1/39.9/9.1m

Noise levels outside/idle/30/70mphN/A/N/A/63/66dBN/A/N/A/60/70dB

Auto Express econ (mpg/mpl)/range43.3/9.5/762 milesN/A/310 miles (claimed)

Govt urban/extra-urban/combinedN/A/N/A/91.1mpgN/A

Govt urban/extra-urban/combinedN/A/N/A/20.0mplN/A

Actual/claimed CO2/tax bracket151/71g/km/5%N/A/N/A/0%

Airbags/ISOFIX/cruise controlEight/yes/yesEight/yes/yes

Electric/leather/heated seatsYes/yes/yesYes/yes/yes

Keyless entry/adapt susp/met paint£720/yes/£801Yes/yes/£650

Park sensors/reversing cam/sunroofYes/£769/£1,044£400/yes/£2,100

Sat-nav/DAB/BluetoothYes/yes/yesYes/yes/yes

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