Josh Harkinson:

It’s rush hour in Silicon Valley, and the techies on Highway 101 are shooting me laser-beam stares of envy. Beneath the floorboard of my Tesla Model S, a liquid-cooled pack of 7,000 laptop batteries propels me down the carpool lane at a hushed 65 miles per hour. Then traffic grinds to a halt, and I’m stuck trying to merge onto an exit ramp as Benzes and BMWs whip past. It’s the excuse I’m waiting for: I punch the throttle, and the Model S rockets back up to speed so fast that I worry about flying off the road—a silly fear, it turns out, because the car corners like a barn swallow. “And there you go,” says Tina, my beaming Tesla sales rep. “Takeoff!”

Every bit as practical as a Volvo (rear-facing trundle seat!) and sexier than an Aston Martin, the Model S isn’t just the world’s greatest electric car—it’s arguably the world’s greatest car, period. The curmudgeons at Consumer Reports call the seven-seater the best vehicle they’ve ever tested, and that’s after docking it considerable points for only—only!—being able to travel 265 miles on a charge. The first mass-market electric car designed from scratch, it sports huge trunks in the rear and under the hood, an incredibly low center of gravity, and the ability to hit 60 mph in 4.2 seconds. Plus you can recharge it for the price of a burrito. Named car of the year by Motor Trend, the Model S has recharged Tesla as well. In May, the company announced that it had repaid, nine years early, a $465 million loan it had received from the Department of Energy.

Tesla posted its first quarterly profit the same month, and by mid-July the share price of the decade-old Palo Alto-based carmaker had more than doubled. The buzz in the Valley is that Tesla has in the Model S something with the disruptive potential of the iPhone—and in its CEO, Elon Musk, the next Steve Jobs. “Individuals come along very rarely that are both as creative and driven as that,” says Jim Motavalli, who writes for the New York Times’ Wheels blog. “Musk is not going to settle for a product that is good enough for the marketplace. He wants something that is insanely great.”