Every once in a while, it’s nice to break free from the self-storage world and see what else is going on. I’ve been reading Car and Driver since I was in elementary school, and I’ve been hearing about electric cars about as long. I remember when the GM EV1 came out and completely failed to turn the world upside down. That was a true electric and basically a failure. Then, the Honda Insight came out, was ugly, and led to the incredible success of the Toyota Prius. Those cars, though, are hybrids, not electrics. The Nissan Leaf and the Chevy Volt are great little cars, but… well… they don’t really get the heart racing, do they?
But the Tesla S… that’s a car that kids dream about. A fully electric car that is quicker than a Porsche 911, can seat up to seven (including two small children), and has classically beautiful lines reminiscent of an old Jaguar or a new Maserati. Oh, and it has a range of about 265 miles.How has Tesla seemingly broken through the barrier from futuristic oddity to attainable fantasy?
Storage, storage, storage. The biggest problem with electric cars has been how to store and retrieve energy. An electric car has to have enough energy to power the car and allow it to have a long range. Plus, it has to be rechargeable within a short enough period to be usable in the real world. To top it off, it has to be able to run all the features that modern drivers expect, from simple requirements like windshield wipers, to high powered stereos and heated seats.
One way to add more juice is to add more batteries, but batteries add weight, which makes cars harder to propel and less fun to drive. Another solution is to create better batteries and better ways to use the power. That’s where Tesla has made its mark. Through means that I don’t have the technical knowledge to understand, they have found a way to store large amounts of power, apply it quickly, keep it light, and recharge it easily. Remarkable.
This weekend, I had an opportunity to drive a Tesla Model S. It was incredible. I decided to write up a short review to post to Facebook, and eventually, I ended up with this: more than 1300 words dedicated to the most amazing piece of automotive genius that I’ve ever been lucky enough to encounter.
I’m not claiming to be an expert. My automotive history is definitely not an enthusiast’s dream. My first car was a 1990 Pontiac Grand Am, and though it’s improved from there, my daily driver is not a Ferrari. Regardless, here’s my experience with the car: I sat in it and played for half an hour, drove six miles, and sat in the back for twelve miles. Based on that experience, and little else, here’s my take on the Tesla Model S P85:
When you walk up to the car, the door handles are flush with the bodywork. I’ll admit that watching them pop out is more exciting than it should be. The giant touchscreen that covers the center console comes to life when you enter.
The touchscreen is both incredible and incredibly busy. Everything in the car can be controlled from the screen, from the radio to the nav system, to the headlights, to the steering feel, to the hvac system. Many of the features are also controllable by a rolling toggle switch on the steering wheel. However, I did not have nearly enough time to truly get comfortable with it. The touchscreen also includes a Web browser (hopefully it is disabled when the car is in motion), controls for the fully-adjustable sunroof (I prefer it open 51%, but you can choose 50% or 52% if you like), and allows you to lock and unlock the car and open and close the front and rear trunks and charging port. There’s a lot going on and I’m sure with some time, I would figure it all out. It’s basically a tablet computer, but with an unfamiliar operating system.
Seating-wise, it feels like a $63,000-122,000 car should, I imagine. Power everything – mirrors, seats, windows, steering wheel adjustments, sunroof, glove compartment – although I’ll admit that it would have been nice to have a knob or button for some things. The HVAC controls were always on, but were way at the bottom of the touchscreen. Seems like a reach if you’re really driving the thing. Plus, the power mirrors toggle was awkwardly placed by the driver’s left knee. Honestly, I’ve never owned a car in this range, so it seemed pretty great to me.
Driving the car, though… Wow. As soon as you step on the brake, the car almost silently purrs to life. Push the awkward gear lever on the right side of the wheel down into drive and touch the gas pedal (I realize calling it a gas pedal isn’t exactly right), and you’re gone. Seriously. This car accelerates at a ridiculous rate. I suppose with all 400+ horsepower and torque available all the time, that’s to be expected.
Test Drive Guy told us that he would start us with the steering in comfort mode, and the regenerative braking on low. The comfort steering was like one of those arcade games from the nineties: the wheel felt like it would just spin around and around forever. I felt nothing. He changed it to standard mode, which was better, then to sport mode, which was wonderful. If I owned one, I’m guessing that it would live in sport mode, and only occasionally visit the standard mode to remind me how great I have it.
The regenerative braking takes some getting used to. When it’s set to low, you let off the gas and you feel the car gently tug backwards. When it’s set to standard, releasing the gas triggers the brake lights, which is good because most of the time, the regen is the only braking you’ll need. I used the brake pedal a few times, but usually you just didn’t need it. The flip side of it is that coasting is impossible, which is a surprise at first. To maintain low speed, you actually have to keep your foot down.
Which is awesome, because the car is incredible to accelerate. Test Drive Guy told us that we could drive as fast as we wanted, and any tickets would be our own problem. Sounds good to me.
Any gap between the front of the Tesla and the back of any other car was an opportunity to stomp the right pedal and close the gap. When we got on the highway, it was only a matter of seconds before we were in the fun lane passing mere mortals in their gas powered dinosaurs. Test Drive Guy let us know that the tester was limited to 80 miles per hour. I was going 82 and wondering why it wasn’t accelerating when he pointed that out.
Going around the cloverleaf intersections from 170 South to Ladue, then right back on 170 North was like being on a go cart track. I am one hundred percent certain that I did not even vaguely approach the car’s limit – I didn’t try to – but it felt completely glued to the tarmac.
The best part of the cloverleaf, though, was exiting it and punching the gas. It was like being launched from a cannon every time.
The flip up “way back” seats are a nice touch.
The cruise control stalk is where I expected to find the turn signals, but I got used to it quickly.
Sitting in the back seat isn’t something that I would enjoy for a long trip, but I am definitely taller than average, and it would be fine around town. For many adults, I suspect it would be a comfortable fit, and it would be great for kids.
I don’t care about any of the negative things that I wrote. If I had the money, I would have bought one on the spot and never looked back.