Before I start, I want to give you a heads up, there will be prose. If you own one of these magnificent beasts, you know. If you have driven one, you know. If not, you’ll just have to endure the sonnet as it were.
Yes, it’s that good.
You know something is different when you want to live in a world that is designed as thoughtfully, created with as much care and forethought, and is as elegant and exciting as the Tesla Model S. Personally I think I would actually like to live IN the Tesla Model S.
For those of you who are only passing familiar with Tesla Motors, let me fill in some blanks. Tesla Motors makes electric vehicles and electric vehicle drive trains for other companies and markets. Tesla Motors was founded by Elon Musk. This guy as a kid of 17 left his home in Pretoria South Africa to avoid the draft and headed to Canada. At the age of 27, after dropping out of graduate school, he started an “online content publishing software for news” businesses called Zip2 with his brother Kimbal. He sold it in 1999 to Compaq’s Alta Vista division for US$307 million in cash and US$34 million in stock options. He’s managed to do a little better than that since. He went on to start PayPal, Space X and Tesla Motors. You also might have recently seen his Hyper-Loop transit proposal.
If you’ve been around the planet very long, you’ve learned that being uber-smart isn’t always enough, there are plenty of failures in that list (G+ anyone?). Msr. Musk appears to not only have the smarts, but he’s a risk taker and seems to be able to read the future pretty well. His future is all electric.
Tesla Motors started with a 2 seat Roadster. The Roadster was the first production automobile to use lithium-ion battery cells and the first production BEV (all-electric) to travel more than 200 miles (320 km) per charge. This was the testbed for the Tesla Motors vision. Tesla famously sued Top Gear for libel over a controversial piece they did on the car. Ultimately Tesla sold around 2500 units of the Roadster. The newest version of the Roadster is currently sold out in North America.
Retail deliveries of the Model S in the U.S. began on June 22, 2012. According to Patrick’s guarded estimate, Tesla is on track to deliver 22,000 Model S’s this year; each of them custom made for their owners. In fact, that’s they only way they build them: to order. How do you go from 2500 to 25000 units? By designing and building a car like the Model S.
A little food for thought:
Road and Track says “Beautiful, well-crafted, cool, and seriously fast, the Model S isn’t just the most important car of the year. It’s the most important car America has made in an entire lifetime.” http://www.roadandtrack.com/car-reviews/road-tests/road-test-2013-tesla-model-s
Motor Trend made it car of the year and said “Proof Positive that America Can Still Make (Great) Things.” – http://www.motortrend.com/oftheyear/car/1301_2013_motor_trend_car_of_the_year_tesla_model_s/
Consumer Reports says It’s the best car it has ever tested. The Model S, an all-electric plug-in car, earned a score of 99 out of a possible 100 in the magazine’s tests.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) gave the car it’s highest rating of 5 stars and said “The Tesla Model S achieved the best safety rating of any car ever tested.”
So how did I end up behind the wheel of Tesla’s Q Ship? EDN received a phone call from Patrick Jones of Tesla Motors regarding the Tesla SuperCharger station that was just completed in Woodburn. They were having a press event, and asked if Eugene Daily News would be interested in covering it even though it was out of Lane County. With the opening of the Woodburn station, you can now drive from Eugene to Vancouver B.C. and back in your Model S. Tesla is aggressively working on extending the charging network for the full I-5 Corridor, then on across the US.
Patrick also let me know that he would be in Eugene on Wednesday. Not only would he be in Eugene, but he was available for an invitation only test drive of the Model S, and would I be interested. Gee…let me think. I don’t know who else in town had the pleasure, but if you were invited and you said no, you missed out.
Fast forward to Wednesday and it’s like Christmas eve. I’ve read about the Model S, I’ve followed the Tesla story since their inception in 2003 and before. They’re my kind of company, or I’m their kind of geek, either way, I was familiar. When it was apparent Patrick was running a little late I felt like the kid whose parents said he had to stay in bed till 6AM before he could get up and see what’s under the tree.
Now most of us have driven a Prius, some a Leaf, others an Impulse or Volt. If you haven’t driven one, I’ll tell you, there’s very little fun to be had there. Oh you can convince yourself of the importance of driving them, and enjoy that very brief initial instant of ZIP when you mash the throttle, but honestly, I’ve found it very nearly impossible to be inspired by these tiny wheeled engineering exercises. I’ve spent more time consuming data on Neil Young’s LincVolt project than I’ve spent on all the aforementioned electrics/hybrids combined.
Did you know the Tesla Model S comes with 21″ wheels? That’s right, no golf-cart tires. And that’s the tiniest of differences between the Model S and everyone else’s idea of an electric vehicle.
In order to save some room, here are links to information about the features: http://www.teslamotors.com/models/features
And video tours of everything the Model S has to offer: http://www.teslamotors.com/models/walkthrough
Back to our test drive.
Just before 4pm, Patrick wheeled the BMW 7 Series sized Model S into the Inn At The 5th “driveway” at the 5th Street Market. It turned out to be a good time to be arriving, no traffic coming in and out of the hotel so we had a good 20 minutes for him to take me on a tour of the cars extensive features. The car is really a computer with wheels and a place to sit, but it’s also all car – and a car lovers car at that.
I had Patrick give me the full tour. Starting with the key in all it’s clever simplicity down to the electric door handles. We looked at the rear jump seats and the cavernous space available for cargo even without the seats down. We inspected the Porsche style front boot, even the lights are sexy on this car. All the while I’m eyeing the car from every possible angle looking for the one they try to keep out of photos. Surprise surprise, there are no bad angles on this car. In fact, the physical beauty of the car, it’s sculpting and design is captivating. Completing our “external” tour, it was time to mount up.
Getting into the vehicle you feel the quality of the build. It’s solid without being heavy and it is elegant and luxurious without being overly involved with itself. This is excellent design. Settling in was no adjustment at all – it fit like a favorite pair of jeans. As we started on the tour of the impressive display/interface screen I noticed that we were starting to draw a little bit of a crowd. Initially it was just the crew at the Inn gathering out front to look at the car, but soon a number of people were stopping to take pictures and admire it.
Sitting in the car with the air conditioning keeping us a comfortable 68 degrees, the music playing – my selection that Patrick called up by voice command – it feels like you are in the your own very private space. All the displays are in passive (non-drive) mode with access to features like the internet that you cannot access while driving. The car has a very slight vibration to it from the air conditioning, but noises from the outside world do not intrude.
Time to adjust the controls to my driving style and position – traction control off, regenerative breaking on standard and a quick adjustment of mirrors and seat. The regenerative braking actually enhances your driving experience once you get used to it. My next surprise – the seat went far enough back I could barely touch the pedals. I rarely find that in a car. I’m ready to go so Patrick tells me to put my foot on the brake and start it up. No key, no “start” button, just put your foot on the brake.
Now the magic starts. The car feels alive, the displays change to active mode, your dash interface comes up and you know you’re ready to go; the speedometer, the navigation, the trip meter, the usage graph, temperature, all available at a glance. There are only 3 choices on the “transmission” toggle – Drive, Neutral and Reverse. A little button puts you back into park. Drive it is.
Now it seems our timing couldn’t have been worse. Patrick wanted me to find a clear stretch of road, but at 4:30 on a Wednesday, there’s precious little of that available around Eugene. I pulled out onto 6th heading for the 128 on ramp. Sliding into traffic is effortless, but the regenerative braking will get your attention the first few times it kicks in at low speeds, much like the very first time you tried power brakes.
We’re approaching the on-ramp, but we’re still a lane over from where we need to be. It’s curb to curb traffic, there’s no where to go. Then we get a break, the driver next to us signals to turn off. My signal comes on immediately and so does the car behind us. I’ve just got room if I hurry. The Model S knows how to hurry: as quick as the thought I’m in the slot. It’s easy to be fooled by the size of this car. I expect the lane change to feel a little ponderous with only horsepower and some clever suspension to make things possible. I’m wrong and at higher velocity than the cars now in front of me. This car feels feather light; it handles like an exotic and accelerates like a very quiet one.
In reality the Model S weighs 4,647lbs – approximately 330lbs more than the BMW 7 series stated curb weight of 4310lbs.
We ease up the ramp and slip into traffic. Lots of it. No open road here, we’ll head out the I-5 and see what we find, besides, there is always that big curving transition ramp for a little fun. Nope, traffic. Slow traffic. By now I’ve noticed I’m not even thinking about the fact I’m driving a 120k car that isn’t mine in heavy traffic, it handles so naturally and is so agile that it becomes an extension of you. We all fall in love with our cars, but this is becoming a rare love affair, first date and you’re all in. I already can’t imagine not owning one of these.
We transition to I-5, slow for traffic, up over the I-5 Beltline West flyover – heavy traffic. Well, looks like I’m going to have a sedate, but enjoyable drive and some conversation with Patrick. He’s sorry about the timing because he was hoping I’d have the opportunity to wring the car out a little. Me too. We get off at the Delta Oaks exit and make the turn onto Delta Hwy making our way back to 7th. Traffic. Now the only reason I’m disappointed is because this is a sweet ride and I want to feel what it can really do. A car cuts in close in front of us, foot off the throttle and before I’m on the brake the regenerative system kicks in and shaves speed off. I barely have to cover the brake, I like this feature.
As we merge onto the 128 bridge over the Willamette my hopes rise. We’re only going about 20 miles an hour, don’t ask me why traffic is crawling, it’s just one of those days. As we crest onto the bridge, behold, empty lanes to the left. It takes a bare second to turn the signal on, hit the gore point, charge into the open lane, freedom and a pounding pulse…and there’s the 45MPH sign. I let the regen slow us down from our top legal speed of 55 to 45 and we ease down to the light on 7th at the end of the ramp. Ok the numbers might have been a little different than that…maybe slower.
Looks like we’ve also caught the attention of a young lion in a tuned gold Supra. He starts making his Borla’s sing while looking for a nod that we’re going to go. Street racing is illegal, plus there’s another light about 1/3 of a block ahead, no nod.
He jumps to the next light and watches as I ease to a stop, a single lane between us. The kid is smiling and blipping his throttle. I realize at that moment I’m very much a child and look at Patrick for a queue. He just smiles and wisely says nothing. I look over to the challenger and give the universally understood head nod and the Supra’s motor immediately winds up – his exhaust singing. There is a block and a half to the next light.
The crosswalk indicator begins to flash – the countdown is on. My age should mean his reflexes will be superior to mine, but as red becomes green I beat him off the line hard, I’ve got adrenaline and 440+ lb/ft of torque under my foot. The Tesla’s tires barely chirp, I can see the orange consumption rate line jump off the screen, my head is shoved back into the seat, my face now a smile from ear to ear. I’ve gone from a dead silent stop to just over 30mph in a heartbeat. My brake lights flash to check my speed and he’s just entering the intersection behind us. I’m at the light waiting as he comes up, smiling, shaking his head.
We pull back into the 5th street lot, park the car and sit for a moment. Patrick says his favorite thing at the end of the drive is the “I just drove a Tesla S” look. He says I’m wearing it. I’m certain I am. Patrick is going to grab something to drink inside before he heads for a charging station. We don’t have a SuperCharger in Eugene currently, but your S model comes with adaptors for municipal charging stations. As we are climbing out I ask about locking the car. He says
“You don’t have to, you don’t shut it off, you don’t do anything. You get out and walk away.”
Sometimes it’s very hard to walk away. Thank you Tesla Motors and Patrick Jones for a fine experience with a really amazing car.
–Kelly Asay, EDN