The last time I bought a new car, it was almost a Tesla Model 3 — but here's why my next car will be a used Model S

  • The last time I went car shopping, I drove home a Toyota RAV4 hybrid.
  • But I seriously considered a Tesla Model 3.
  • I should be in the market again in the next year or so, and this time around, I've already made my decision: I'm buying a used Tesla Model S from the 2012-13 period.
  • Here's why I want to be the proud owner of an "old" Tesla.
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Last year, I had to buy a new car, in a rush. At the time, I was very much in the thrall of the Tesla Model 3 and seriously considered purchasing one. But for a variety of reasons, I ended up with a certified pre-owned Toyota RAV4 hybrid, and despite a few dents and dings, I've been quite happy (full disclosure: I already owned a CPO Toyota Prius).

With a pair of teenagers in my house, I'm probably looking at acquiring a few more sets of wheels in the coming years, and I've already made up my mind about what the next vehicle will be: an early Tesla Model S.

It's about time. I've covered Tesla since the years when the carmaker was barely selling any cars at all — just the original Roadster. Since then, I've sampled everything the company has produced, excluding the very new Model Y crossover. 

And while the Roadster is my favorite and always will be, I'm a professional automotive journalist and don't need to actually own an impractical two-seater; I get to test at least half a dozen of them every year anyway. And over a decade ago, I possessed first-generation Mazda Miata and scratched that itch.

So it's going to be Model S, ideally a 2012 or 2013 iteration. Here's why:

The Model S was Tesla's first "clean sheet," designed-from-scratch, all-electric car. Here's the current version, which got a design update in 2016.

It was the first real styling upgrade since the vehicle's launch in 2012. The big change was the elimination of the "nose cone" on the front end, a sort of fake grille.

Here's what the nose cone looked like in action.

I am a nose-cone fan! I've gotten used to the "grille-less" new design and understand the logic: electric cars don't inhale air and don't need grilles. But I just think it looks better than the cone-less Model S.

The Model S made Tesla and CEO Elon Musk proud. It firmly established the then-tiny company as the premier manufacturer of luxury EVs.

Admittedly, my favorite Tesla remains the first one I ever drove: the original Roadster. But that car was impractical (if a lot of fun), and it wasn't all-Tesla, based as it was on a Lotus chassis.

Read about my drive in my favorite Tesla ever.

Of course, if I actually owned one, I could say that I drive an earthbound version of the only production car that's currently in orbit.

As some readers know, I'm a hybrid enthusiast. I own a 2011 Toyota Prius.

Read about my devotion to the Prius.

And a 2017 Toyota RAV4 hybrid.

My RAV4 has suffered a few indignities since I bought it, but I've fixed them myself and thus far the crossover has been a joy.

Here's how I fixed the damage with a cheap roll of tape.

BUT I'll be investing in some new wheels in the next few years and I've already made up my mind: It's Model S or bust!

I just adore the car and think that it would be ideal for my suburban lifestyle. I don;'t want a red one, however. I want blue.

As it turns out, I've driven the very car I want to buy, a 2013-vintage, single-motor Model S. This particular version was a "Performance" trim level

I later drove a dual-motor version of the car. For my money, the single-motor is fine, and I prefer the driving dynamics.

The Model S was designed by Franz von Holzhausen, and the car lover in me wants to own some of his work. I think he's among the most influential designers of all time.

Read about Von Holzhausen's contribution to Tesla.

I also like that Tesla Model S's were, and are, made in California — at a factory near San Francisco.

The early examples of the Model S endured some production snafus, but because the car uses a lot of aluminum in its construction, it's held up incredibly well. I check out old Model S cars all the time, and even in the Northeast, most look almost new.

When it comes to owning any Tesla, access to the company's worldwide Supercharger network is a boon. Tesla now bills for access, but early customers could use these fast-charging outpost for free. You can fully recharge in about an hour.

Read about why Tesla's Supercharger network is a competitive advantage.

That said, this process does requires an adjustment. You can refuel a gas-powered vehicle to an equivalent Tesla Model S range in five minutes.

Tesla discourages it, but many Tesla sales and service locations have Superchargers on site.

Tesla also has a network of partners who provide slower, level 2 charging at various destinations and in parking structures. This level can help an owner top off with enough electrons to get to a Supercharger location.

Tesla will also help an owner install a dedicated level 2 charger at home.

And in a pinch, an owner can use their Tesla-supplied cable to plug into 240-volt of 110/20-volt power. The latter is really slow, however: around one mile of range per hour.

I think the Model 3 might be one of the best cars money can buy right now, and before I got the RAV4, I seriously considered getting a 3.

Read about the Model 3's brilliance.

Older Model S cars also tend to hold their value. In my shopping for a 2012-2013 car, I'm often seeing $30-35,000 asking prices, with some examples near $40,000. Low-mileage cars are between $40-$50,000.

Contrast with my 1998 Saab 900S, a car that I loved but that eventually depreciated to the junk yard. Cost me $6,000 to buy, sold for about $300.

The interior of the Model S isn't what anyone would call excessively luxurious, but it is a study in well-thought-out minimalism, and the seats are rather comfortable.

The back seats are also quite roomy. Plenty of room for three passengers.

I wasn't initially a fan of the massive central touchscreen, which controls many vehicle functions, but after experiencing it half a dozen times, I've come to appreciate the technology.

You really can't beat the Model S for cargo capacity. While its has plenty of room under the rear hatch …

… It also has a front trunk, or "frunk," where a gas engine would be on a traditional car. This give the Model S the cargo capacity of an SUV.

What about the Autopilot semi-self-driving feature on an older Model S? I don't much care. When I drive a Tesla, I enjoy being behind the wheel so much that having the most current version of the hardware doesn't affect my thinking.

Say hello to my next car! Frankly, I'm going to love saying that I have a "old Tesla!"

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