With the recent launch of Tesla’s long-awaited Model X crossover SUV, itself derived from the impossibly astounding Model S luxury sedan, a certain Tony Stark Elon Musk must be very pleased indeed.

Not only is the Model S the fastest production vehicle with as many doors as wheels, it’s one of the fastest production vehicles period, with a tonsil-rupturing 0-60 time in just 2.8 seconds, all while succumbing you to a genuinely crushing 1.1g of acceleration.

Impressively, the new Model X, despite weighing considerably more and boasting a rather more bulbous frontal surface area, still manages an impossible 3.2 seconds on its launch to 60 mph.

It turns out there is a replacement for displacement, and it’s called electricity.

But more impressive still than driving dynamics, not to mention its too-cool-to-be-real futuristic interior, is the Model S’ crash worthiness which granted the fledgling automaker the highest safety score ever awarded by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), and which the Model X seems ready to duplicate.

Question becomes then, how and why is the Model S so safe? How has Tesla managed to out-Mercedes (and -Volvo and -BMW) at their own safety game?

For starters, during the roof crush test, the crushing machine exploded at around 4g before the roof failed. That, and it nailed 5 stars in every single test. (That it scored in excess of a perfect 5.0 is apparently untrue however: NHTSA rebuffs ‘best ever’ crash test claim by Tesla [w/video])

The crushing machine exploded at around 4g of before the roof failed.

So what’s so magical about a Tesla’s construction that allows it to seemingly defy destruction? Let’s address two of the most compelling tests: the frontal test, and the roll-over test.

Frontal test

The lack of an engine allowed exceptional space for a crumple zone, effectively allowing the Model S to dissipate frontal crash energy over a far greater distance and time — i.e., greater impulse — than any other internal combustion engine vehicle. Basically, if the front crumple zone of a Mercedes is like falling onto a sheet of bubble-wrap, then Tesla’s is like diving headfirst into a bucket of Jell-O, Egyptian cotton, and something called vicuna, apparently the fluffiest natural material, in the world.

Roll-over test

The extremely low center of gravity caused by the massive battery packs meant that the car could not be flipped using conventional testing means. Simply put, they couldn’t get the thing to fall on its back, rather like a cat. Suffice to say, if the roof survived 4g of crushing force as mentioned above, it could certainly handle its own weight when being flipped.

So there you have it: if you want to get from A to B very quickly, without burning a sip of fuel, and seat seven passengers, while also being absolutely indestructible — and, with the Model X at least, survive a biological war, too — the choice is obvious, get a Tesla.

This story adapted from an answer originally written on Quora.

Follow me on Twitter @MarcHoag
Follow me on @Quora


One thought on “So why DID the Tesla Model S get the highest safety score ever from the NHTSA?

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