Tesla Model S Review
The Tesla Model S has become a car so hyped and discussed that even non-car people want to know more. It quickly rose to the top of our "To-Drive" list, and we finally had the chance to spend two great shoot days with a fully loaded P85+.
The strangest thing about the Tesla Model S was completely unexpected. After driving the top-of-the line P85+ model from one of our shoot locations to our lunch stop, I toggled the small gear stalk into Park. Then I became confused and a bit paranoid. The Air Conditioner was blowing, the satellite radio was on, and the navigation system showed we’d arrived. But my instinct to turn off the car was met with no ignition, start/stop button, or even a kill switch. The proximity sensing key-fob was deep in my pocket and the only thing left to do was simply get out and walk away. Against my years of instincts, I did just that.
Over lunch we talked about the other atypical ways you interact with the Model S. Of course there’s an app for your phone that provides real time tracking (parents take note) as well as the ability to set the car to your preferred temperature long before you step out of a restaurant or movie theater. As you approach, the door handles slide out from their recessed spots in the door and the systems come to life when you sit and put your foot on the brake. The Model S doesn’t ask much of you, only sensing your needs and trying to accommodate.
Here's the full video review, with more written review to follow:
The idea of an electric car has been around since the beginning of the automobile, but the real world usability has always lagged far behind the combustion engine. Taken individually, the technology and ideas packed into the Tesla aren’t especially groundbreaking, as many of them can be found in other cars or items in our daily lives.
What makes the Tesla special is the packaging. In the same way there were phones before the iPhone, the Tesla takes things already in the world and combines them to make something so new and revolutionary that we wonder why we haven’t seen it before. The Model S achieves the rare combination of feeling familiar enough to be comforting and instinctive, and different enough to make you rethink what you know. For proof, witness me sitting confused outside a restaurant while my instincts told me to turn off the car, and the new thinking told me it was unnecessary.
But, here at Everyday Driver we’re concerned with finding cars that are fun to drive as well as capable. We’ve driven many alternative vehicles and while we’ve been impressed with their thinking and technology we rarely think of them as fun to drive or lust-worthy enough to own. The Tesla doesn’t get a free pass here, and we took it to winding mountain roads in search of the driver’s car behind the tech.
The ride in the Model S is superb, soaking up high speed bumps and commuting pot-holes with equal skill. There’s an ease to commuting in a car this roomy and quiet. Yet the Model S is a large heavy car, weighing in at 4,700lbs and putting it in the weight category of seven seaters like the Honda Pilot or Chevy Traverse. While size and weight can help a car ride well, it generally kills good acceleration and handling.
Like all electric motors, the ones driving the rear wheels of the Model S have full torque all the time. Years of driving teaches us to anticipate the downshift and rise in RPMs associated with any passing maneuver. As a result, the instant power available in the Model S feels revolutionary. In the same instant your foot moves the pedal, the car launches away with the sudden surge of a magnetically controlled ride at a theme park. The Model S excels the most in the 50-70mph range that so often bogs down normal vehicles. As soon as you think of accelerating, the Model S is blurring forward.
Triple digit speeds arrive with such repeatable ease that addiction is nearly a foregone conclusion. Getting back into any combustion automobile after the Model S brings with it a wave of disappointment. While the stats suggest the power and performance of the Model S nearly mirror Porsche’s loaded Turbo Panamera, in truth the power delivery is so new and different that it feels without competition.
Of course all this power and weight requires good braking and Tesla pioneers again by placing the regenerative feature on the accelerator pedal instead of the brake. Lifting off the go pedal begins the regenerative cycle and even illuminates the brake lights to alert other drivers. As a result the brake pedal feels like any other well-tuned automobile instead of the difficult to modulate fight so often associated with regenerative brakes.
The handling is not as impressive as the power. On the fast canyon sweepers of our review, the Tesla seemed unable to hide its weight or electronic inner workings. The steering is direct but provides no tire information. The suspension allows for an initial disconcerting roll from the big sedan before settling into the line and carving out. Of course the Model S was never intended to be a track car or the first choice of a canyon carver so it leaves the revolution to its power plant and settles for average agility. The un-supportive seats and precise but cold steering contribute to the sensation. However, in most normal driving the power delivery and eagerness of the Model S will win over whoever is behind the wheel.
The interior of the Model S astounds with more available space than nearly anything else on the market. After opening every panel on the car it becomes difficult to know where the inner workings have been hidden. Usable space is everywhere. There’s a large Frunk, an average sized rear hatch, and genuine seating for five six-foot tall adults. Legroom and hiproom is generous even on the rear bench, and kids under 80lbs can strap into the rear facing seats and bring the passenger count to seven.
Dominating the interior is the central touch screen, a seventeen inch-panel similar to an iPad but still feeling like something new. Every possible car setting or interface can be done on this screen, leaving the hazard lights and glovebox latch as the only buttons on the wide, blank dashboard. Many actions can be duplicated by buttons and scroll-wheels on the steering wheel, and even voice commands, in an effort to make things simpler for the driver. As I've written before, I still think <a title="Cars Don’t Need Gadgets" href="http://everydaydriver.com/awarnings/cars-dont-need-gadgets/" target="_blank">designated knobs and buttons are easier when driving</a>, but the Model S interface is easy to learn and well thought out.
With all the focus placed on the interior screen, the Model S scrimps on interior materials in other areas. Other cars with six-figure price-tags offer plush leathers and pleasing textures on nearly every surface. The Model S offers an interior with materials no better than cars less than half the price. The styling is simple and pleasing, but it feels stark in comparison to the screens.
Here's a video walk-through of the interior screen:
As far as the buzzwords of “Range Anxiety”, I never felt it. Over two days with the Model S we never once altered our shooting plans to accommodate the charge level or stressed about the available range. The growing network of Superchargers hasn’t reached Northern Utah yet, so the only chance for a recharge was the owner’s garage each night. Yet even though our production days regularly put 200 hard miles on a car, the Model S operated with range to spare. It was quiet, roomy, and absurdly quick.
The Tesla Model S isn’t perfect, but it is an electric vehicle without compromise and offering traits we wish were found on other cars. That’s high praise. It has been buoyed by hype suggesting it’s the only car that matters and can do no wrong. Yet no car can do everything well. The Model S has strengths and weaknesses like very vehicle yet it’s strengths are impressive and without caveat.
In spite of the hype around electric cars, it’s unlikely that every car will be electric or made to work just like the Tesla. However, I find the Model S to be an unbelievable family car with usable space under every body panel and room for a family of 7. The car’s great power, new thinking, and the ability to be your only transportation will no doubt influence other automakers of all sizes.
The Model S is a genuine touchstone in the long history of automobiles.