In my first entry, there was a bit of confusion and – I’d say justified – resentment over my self-identification as a “regular guy”. I did not intend to brand myself as an average Joe, in the way that only the most obnoxious retail politicians like to do. Instead, I meant it in the context of “regular guy who has an interest in cars, but doesn’t know a lot”.
As I explained earlier, I have lived in places where driving is more of a hinderance than a necessity. Now that I live in a different kind of place, I am diving headfirst into the world of cars, and I have chosen to spend my money on one that I think is cool. But I sill don’t know a lot. Bear with me.
Since I lack the vocabulary needed to eloquently write about cars, I can best describe the Tesla in these terms: It’s very sleek and smooth, and looks expensive. You will not have trouble picking out a Model S on the road, partly because of the incredibly large and bright headlights, and partly because it really is a distinctive beast. At least mine is, because looks like a large, red phallus.
It looks sort of like the Batmobile, if Bruce Wayne suddenly thought “well, a sedan is just so practical“. You can and will get people saying “damn, nice car.” Parking it between other cars is an exercise in anxiety for me – the wide track makes me think that I’ll bump into someone or something. The car’s behind is gigantic – simply ridiculous. As you back it into a spot, a ghostly Sir Mix-A-Lot appears. He witnesses the Model S reversing. He approves as I park poorly, on an angle. I should add that $500 for parking sensors is a necessary expense.
The powered trunk is also wonderful – you feel like a true badass as it swings open slowly, like an important chest in Zelda. People will look. It closes with a vast beep, which is a tad obnoxious.
The one part I don’t like? The front-butt. Yes I’m sure there’s a term for it, but as the Tesla’s battery is underneath the car, the front of the car is an extra trunk. The front-butt. I called it the front-butt to the delivery specialist and he corrected me three times before giving up and moving on. The front-butt is weird. It has space, and that’s cool, but closing it feels weird – I even got told “not to slam it as you could dent it.” It never feels truly closed, and it has a weird springiness to it. I don’t ever use it.
The interior of the Tesla feels weird compared to other cars. The windows are small, and the roofline is low, which makes things feel a bit small inside. The back window is a little small, and that, along with the car’s sizable rump, makes rearward vision a bit complex. The enormous, expansive windshield and low hood give a great view of the road.
There are only a few physical buttons – the levers on the wheel for cruise control, signaling, the window washers, lights, and one for opening the glovebox. Much has been written about the 17″ touchscreen. It’s multi-touch in the same style as an iPhone 5S, but much larger. Whatever you’re controlling (power, navigation, music, etc.) is done via two main windows which you can move around by dragging. You can select and save different seat positions from the top. Bluetooth syncing is simple. You can use Slacker Radio for music if you really want to, and you get it free with the car for a few years. I won’t belabor every feature. It is simply better and easier to use – while still or while driving – than any other car. It makes sense in a way that interfaces should make sense. It has been designed to work, not to be a nominal improvement from whatever model they made last year.
Tesla provides software updates over the air using 3G. I’ve yet to receive one. They seem to be substantial – adding back ‘creep’ like a gas vehicle (IE: it rolls when you take your foot off the pedal), cleaning up the user interface, fixing bugs, etc. This is a rarity – my Volvo had a GPS update once. It required you leaving the car on and putting in several DVDs, and took hours.
The Navigation on the Model S is the best in class, approached by nobody. It is a giant touchscreen version of Google Maps, with multi-touch twisting of the map, up-to-date traffic information and turn-by-turn navigation. It even shows you turn-by-turn directions on the main gauge cluster (if you can call it that). It works. It doesn’t take you on stupid routes. It estimates things a little wonkily, seemingly not realising that traffic slows down your journey, but apparently an update is coming to fix that.
All in all, it’s the best. It is better than any Garmin, Nuvi, or whatever device. It’s even better than what’s on your phone. Comparing it to other in-car navigation would be like comparing a Peter Luger porterhouse to a day-old Chili’s take-home NY Strip.
I do recommend the sound package too. I don’t know what it sounds like without it, but I love how it sounds, and I’m not an audiophile either, so don’t count on any sort of intelligent description. On top of that, there’s a nice little touch – if you open the door, the music lowers itself to a pleasant background sound. So when I open the door to meet someone, they won’t hear how loudly I’m blasting Avril Lavigne’s “Losing Grip,” the only clue being my reddened eyes and dried tears.
The biggest adjustment I had to make with the Model S was getting used to the regenerative braking. Technically, this means if you take your foot off the pedal, the car will suck the momentum back into the battery. What this means in practice is that you do not ‘coast’ when you take your foot off the pedal – the car pulls you back a bit like jumping into hyperspace in Star Wars. It’s a change in how you drive, and it almost becomes a game to see how much range you can pull out of the car. You brake a great deal less, too – the car is always willing to slow itself down and take that energy back.
My car, fully charged, claims 268 miles of range. The car is frustratingly intelligent at giving accurate ratings. You won’t be able to give yourself back extra miles – it’ll simply recalculate and take miles off of the car at a slower rate. Even then, it seems accurate almost to the mile – a 40 mile journey will reduce the range by 39 to 41 miles.
The actual driving experience can be summed up as “smooth”. Smoother than my Volvo S60. There is little sound from the road, little sound from the outside world. It’s like you’re in a weird little electric bubble. The car is a pleasure to drive. It’s comfortable, cushy, it turns comfortably, on highways and in cities, for long drives or short commutes, it is *comfortable*. Nothing feels difficult or forced. Things are within comfortable reach, and even the wheel has nicely-placed shortcuts for everything you’ll need. It is a pleasure to drive. I am sure someone will read this and say “WELL ACTUALLY MY 2013 ENCORE IS QUIETER AND THE TRIFECTA TUNE DELIVERS CONSISTENT 40 MPG RUNS”. And to that, I say “cool”.
The Model S P85 goes from zero to sixty in 4.2 seconds. Even on the cheaper, 40KW model I once rented, the ‘punch’ of acceleration is wonderful. On the horrible nightmare of the Bay Area’s 101, you’ll find that people love to give you very little room, or simply decide to speed up when you want to get into ‘their’ lane. The Model S will give you the instant thrust you need to shoot through the gaps.
I am not a performance driver, nor am I particularly thrill-seeking. However, the knowledge that I own a car that can keep pace with a BMW M car or an Audi R8 is priceless. On the other hand, they seem to think that a Tesla is a waste of money, a dumb car that idiots drive. I’ve gotten a few drivers of these cars coming up behind me, flashing their high-beams and following to closely, despite the fact that I was maintaining an appropriate speed on the freeway. Nailing the gas and leaving them behind in an emissions-free blast of instant torque is always a great feeling.
There’s also the weird phenomena of driving a Tesla past another Tesla. Roadster or Model S, they will wave to you, salute, nod sagely, give you the thumbs up, and generally give you a look of either “hey, we both own the same car!” or “I’m paying this off for a decade!” Either way, it’s kind of funny and I enjoy it.
Other Tesla owners do like to talk. In my trips I’ve met various surprisingly high-powered Silicon Valley VP-level executives – from actual companies making real things with revenue versus vague startup chaps. Their median age appears to be late thirties to early forties, and they’re all about the advice and networking. Tesla is losing an opportunity here to create a real network of early adopters by building actual amenities around the Supercharger network. While I sound like a vapid valley turd-human saying this, there’s the potential here to create an actual community. Show your fob, go into the club. You’ve just made people want to stay Tesla owners, made them feel special for owning a Tesla, and created a relatively captive audience.
Instead you have a weird featureless series of plugs.
I love my Model S. I love the way it drives, the way it works, the way it feels when I sit in it. I love how people love it when they get in it. I love the fact I don’t have to get gas, and I love the fact that the navigation system works like it was built for a human being. I love how the wheel feels solid and leathery. I love that I can speed past men in exotic cars and I can make faces at them like the monsters from Where The Wild Things Are.
I wonder when the novelty will start to wear off. Right now, I am pretty thrilled. And I can’t imagine reviewing multiple cars – couldn’t you just copy-paste this each time and change a few words?