We drove the Tesla Model S P85+ on an intrastate tour of superchargers in Illinois. Our route bisects a green-gold sea of soybean fields, blows by endless rows of withering corn crowned with green husks, and passes broccoli forests bunched on muddy rivers. The heartland in September is beautiful; as we cut a 350-mile triangle from the Chicago suburbs to Normal, then due north to Rockford, I keep hearing the phrase “amber waves of grain.”

That singular lyric so perfectly captures the Midwest. It’s elegant and evocative, full of form, motion and harmony: All the parts work together to make the whole better than any individual element. That same sense of awe is what Tesla has inspired with the Model S.

“If perfection is a 10 then this car is a 10,” says Robert Dew, co-founder of Tesla Owners, an international social site for Tesla owners.

Most everyone who has driven a Model S would agree with Dew, despite the owner bias. Since its launch in June 2012, the Model S has captured 8 percent of the luxury performance market share; it has been crowned the Motor Trend 2013 Car of the Year and Automobile magazine 2013 Automobile of the Year; it has earned Consumer Reports' highest score ever given to a car and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gave it a five-star safety rating. The company’s stock price is off the chart, jumping from $37.89 in late March to a high of $173.70 in early September.

You've likely heard all this before, as did my road partner, Bob Duffer. My father is a 71-year-old semi-retiree who has been a car nut since he was 15 years old, when he worked at his uncle’s Standard Oil shop at Pulaski and Diversey in Chicago. One half of his garage acts as a turnstyle for whatever new car hasn’t bored him within a year; the other half is for his precious, a ‘68 Ford Mustang convertible. He’s an internal combustion engine (I.C.E.) kind of guy and he is an electric-vehicle skeptic.

He was, that is, until Tesla delivered the Model S P85+ in metallic blue.

The mode: Model S Performance Plus

Tesla began selling the top-of-the-line Performance Plus in April of this year. The 85 kWh Performance Plus has upgraded dampers, bushings, stabilizer bars and Michelin Pilot Sport PS2 tires, all in the name of improved performance and efficiency. The rear tires (all four are 21-inch tires, upgraded from 19-inch on other trims) are 20mm wider and staggered for improved acceleration on low-grip surfaces, according to Tesla.

If you say so. The 21 inchers with gray turbine wheels look great, sporty and intelligent like the rest of the Model S, and improve range 6 to 12 miles over regular 21-inch wheels.

There were additional upgrades to our Performance Plus tester, including rear facing seats that made the kids warn me to stop driving backwards, a panoramic roof, ultra-high-fidelity sound and four-zone front and rear parking sensors. The base price of the P85+ is $100,320, including delivery fee and the $7,500 federal tax credit; ours cost about $120,000. (The base model with the 60 kWh battery starts at $63,570 after the $7,500 tax credit.)

The means: Supercharger network

The heartland supercharger triangle took us from the northwest suburbs of Chicago to the supercharger in downtown Normal, then due north to Rockford for the opening of the 21st supercharger in North America and the second in the Midwest. The supercharger in Normal, opened in late June, was the first between the coasts and a vital component in developing coast-to-coast travel for Model S owners.

The superchargers are unique to the Model S because of the massive battery packs, which come in 60 kWh or 85 kWh. The Model S 60 has a range of 208 miles; the Model S 85 series (85, P85, P85+) have an EPA-estimated range of 265 miles. (Telsa says you can get over 300-mile range at 55 mph.)The superchargers are 10 times more powerful than most public charging stations, providing over 120 kilowatts of power. Even Tesla Roadster owners can’t use the superchargers.

By 2015, Tesla expects that 98 percent of the North American population will live within Model S range of a supercharger. In late August, on a much smaller scale, Tesla built six superchargers in Norway; 90 percent of the population lives in Model S range to a supercharger.  

So even though the popular Nissan Leaf electric gets an estimated 75-mile range, Tesla’s North American supercharger network is a model for overcoming range anxiety, which remains the enduring stigma for the EV industry despite the growing network of Level 2 and DC quick chargers. Could the industry take off if 98 percent of the population lives within 70 miles of a conveniently located quick charger?

The town of Normal is helping the cause. Long identified as an interstate hub at the confluence of I-74, I-55 and I-39, the town of Normal built EV chargers into its plans for a revamped uptown connected to the train station, city hall and local and big business, like the Marriott Hotel.

The Uptown Station Parking Deck, located in walking distance from the campus of Illinois State University, offers no exterior signs pointing to EV charging. Fortunately, the 17-inch touchscreen on the Model S locates the discrete supercharger. On the second level of the deck there are five prominently-marked EV charging bays and one CHAdeMO fast-charger, used with Asian makes such as the Nissan Leaf. The fast charger is as big as a refrigerator.

On the next level are the four Tesla superchargers, sleek and sharp as anything Tesla. They look like the shell of a gas pump with a hollow interior, a veritable window into the future.

Fully funded by Tesla, the superchargers are free to owners in all but the Model S 60; supercharging is available for a $2,500 upgrade for the life of the 60.

The manner: performance, style and charge