I remember when I got my first iPod. The small, elegant, and powerful device changed my music-listening habits forever. There was never any going back to cassette tapes after this. I’ve had the same experience with my Tesla Model S. It isn’t just an elegant and powerful driving machine; it is a completely new driving experience. After owning this for a month and clocking over 1,000 miles, I can’t drive my Mercedes-Benz any more. It would be like listening to an old cassette tape.
When you step on the pedal in the Model S you skip a few heartbeats. The car literally seems to fly. It is frighteningly quiet and picks up acceleration like a spaceship shifting into warp speed. I’ve raced Formula Fords at Skip Barber Racing School and have driven Porches and Ferraris owned by my friends. They feel like super-charged lawn mowers when compared with the Tesla. Internal-combustion engine technology doesn’t hold a candle to electric. That is probably why Motor Trend named the Model S, car of the year this year. They called it “truly remarkable” and said it would “sashay up to the valet at a luxury hotel like a supermodel working a Paris catwalk.” Supermodel is a good analogy for my Tesla.
What takes the most getting used to is the regenerative breaking system. The car charges itself when you take your foot off the accelerator or go downhill. Regular automobiles coast when you lift the gas pedal, so you have to step on the brakes to slow down or stop. In the Tesla, this happens as soon as you lift your foot. I find that I hardly use the brake anymore; I just modulate the accelerator pedal to speed or slow. I think this is a much safer way of driving-you “become one” with the car and have much more control.
When you sit in the car, you are impressed with its styling and elegance. But what catches your eye is the giant dashboard-it is like an oversized iPad which serves as the car’s central nervous system. This allows you to control everything from the firmness of the suspension, to the lighting, door locks, air conditioning, and the regenerative breaking system-you can turn this off if you want to go back to braking the old-fashioned way. The dashboard also has a Web browser so passengers can surf while you drive, or so that you can sneak a peek at your e-mails while you are stopped at a traffic light.
Not only is the car Web-enabled, it is also app-enabled. Just as you receive new versions of software on your smart phones, you receive updates from Tesla. This means that the car is constantly evolving; they are adding features and improving on existing functions.
My one gripe with the car is its lack of turn-by-turn directions. To save $3,750 from the $70,000 sticker price (before $10,000 in rebates), I didn’t buy the “tech package,” which includes this feature. I assumed that since the Web browser has Google maps, I would get the same features I have on my iPhone. I was wrong. Nevertheless, I complained directly to Tesla CEO, Elon Musk. He wrote back, “The directions come from Navigon, which enables complete offline navigation, not Google. We haven’t disabled Google directions, we just don’t have the Google directions application on the car infotainment computer. At some point, we will add it, but there are many more pressing software upgrades needed before that”.
Fair enough. As long as I know I am going to get this app, I will wait patiently. After all, what other car manufacturer has ever given me a feature upgrade?
There has been much debate recently over a review by New York Times reporter John Broder, who wrote that the car did not travel as far as advertised. As you can make out, I am now a “Tesla fanboy.” Yes, I’m biased. Regardless, I’ll say that I completely agree with what the Times’ Public Editor Margaret Sullivan said — that Broder had “problems with precision and judgment.” After all, the car has a giant display that tells you how far it can travel, and it provides many options to manage mileage.
I have found the 200-mile range of my 60-KW-hr model, to be more than enough for day-to-day driving. On weekends, this easily takes me to Napa Valley and back from the Palo Alto area, where I live. If I ever decide to drive to Los Angeles, I know I’ll need to set aside an extra hour to stop at a super-charging station along the way. There are three between San Francisco and Los Angeles. But this is a small trade-off for enjoying the magic of a Model S. And it isn’t much different than what I already do when I watch the battery level of my smartphone.
I am eagerly awaiting the Model S version 3, which I expect will be available in four or five years. By then, I expect it will have a range of more than 1,000 miles and I won’t have to watch the battery level. By then, you’ll need to drive cross-country to stall the car out.
© The Washington Post Company