First test drive in a Tesla Model S

tesla-model-s-me-wheeleditors-blog-entry3I got my first chance behind the wheel of a Tesla Model S Performance Edition Monday.

And, wow, is the Model S quick! I know: That’s hardly a revelation, Christof!

But it’s one thing to read about how the Model S Performance Version has instant torque (443 lbs) and a huge amount of horsepower (410 hp) immediately for the taking. It’s another altogether to feel it yourself as you punch the accelerator (can’t call it a gas pedal anymore – sweet!).

In fact, I didn’t have the guts, nor really the chance, to truly step on it in my brother’s metallic blue Model S, which he’s had for a little more than a month. There was too much traffic on I-25 between Fort Collins, Colo. and Erie, Colo., which is where we found ourselves in Model S #1984 on this bright, sunny Monday afternoon along Colorado’s scenic Front Range where we both live — my brother in Boulder and me in Aurora, Colo.

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Boxed in on highway on ramp
My only good chance to gun the Model S on the 40-mile leg I drove got stolen by a glacially slow truck merging onto I-25 southbound in Fort Collins right in front of us. As we moved forward on the ramp, two cars behind us beat me to the punch in leaping into the left lane and boxed me in behind the truck. Call me a bit conservative, but, yes, I’m one to be a bit cautious when driving someone else’s $80,000 car for the very first time – hence the longer hesitation than the folks behind me in leaping into the left lane.

By then, the truck was going 55 (as Sammy Hagar notes, just Can’t Drive 55! 😉 — and I was only able to gun it to 75. To be sure, that’s the quickest I’ve ever gone from 55 to 75 in any car I’ve ever driven – to be fair, I’ve never driven anything like a Porsche, Corvette, high-end Camaro, etc. So, sadly, I didn’t get to do the 10 mph to 75 mph in 3 seconds or so that I might have been able to if not for that damn truck 😉

In fact, my brother took care of that 4.4 second, 0-60 mph rush on the 40-mile leg up from Erie to Fort Collins – we met at a Denver RTD Park-and-Ride where we parked my 21-year-old Acura Integra so we could head up together to the Discovery Science Center in Fort Collins, our “birding” destination. For the past two months, the Science Center has seen more than 100 Common Redpolls, a rare northern bird that typically can only be found easily in Canada, at its feeders – yes, my brother and I are both avid birders (wonder if anyone else out there has ever “birded” from a Model S 😉 )

tesla-acura-parkedBurning some rubber
Of course, as it turns out, Thomas was a bit too eager to show me the head-snapping power of the Model S. He someone managed to do a mini-burnout on the on-ramp onto the highway and ended up  setting off a warning signal on the dash that one of the tires had gotten too hot 😉 Luckily, it was just a temporary tire temperature spike, and, the light went out within a few minutes – though, to be on the safe side, we did get off at the next exit and examine the tires.

In any case, even though I never really had a good chance to test the full power of the Model S Performance Edition (I’m not about to get a ticket ;-), I did have a lot of fun zipping into the passing lane when needed – and I’m sure more than a few folks were marveling at how quickly the Model S can accelerate, regardless of whether they recognize what it is or not.

The steering is very tight and the ride is firm and sporty — just what you’d expect from a car such as a Model S.

In fact, my sense is 99 percent of people do not recognize a Tesla Model S.

Seemingly, in confirmation of this fact, when my brother and I pulled into the Denver RTD parking lot at 7 a.m. on this February morning where I left my Integra so that we could drive the final 40 e-miles to our destination, a driver hanging out in a Ford Escape and waiting for the RTD bus to arrive, hung his head out of the driver side window and shouted, “Man, that is a cool car – what is it?”

I replied, “It’s a Tesla. It’s an all-electric car!”

His reply, “Never heard of that – but it sure looks nice!”

First impressions of Model S
Back to first impressions of sitting behind the wheel of the Model S, which, as my brother showed me in the morning (he drove one way, I drove the other way on this 80-mile round trip + the 20 miles my brother needed to drive to get from Boulder to Erie, Colo. where we met), is head-snappingly quick, indeed, near whiplash-inducingly quick.

Here are a few admittedly somewhat random observations on my 40 minutes behind the wheel of a 85 kWh Tesla Model S Performance Edition:

  • I’m a very inexperienced electric car driver, having driven a Nissan LEAF all of about four miles 1 ½ years ago and a Chevy Volt about four miles nearly two years ago. That noted, compared to what I remember from those cars (yes, it’s fuzzy), the Model S has a far more apparent and pronounced regenerative braking system; basically, you never really need to brake. In fact, it takes a bit of getting used to for an inexperienced EV driver such as yours truly.
  • tesla-model-s-telescopeOn the topic of regenerative braking and never really needing to use the brakes, I wondered almost immediately what the safety implications are of almost never having to brake in terms of the many inattentive drivers following behind you – can you say texting-while-driving epidemic? It would be interesting to talk to experienced EV drivers about what, if anything, they do, to make up for the fact that their brake lights are rarely on in a world in which other drivers are distracted, lazy – and heavily dependent on brake lights to give them a cue, or, really, a clue!
  • Visibility is very good out the front and sides of the Model S, and good enough out the back, though I’m spoiled by the great 360-degree visibility my Acura Integra hatchback provides – I’ve never driven a car with better visibility than my Integra hatchback.
  • The steering is very tight and the ride is firm and sporty — just what you’d expect from a car such as a Model S.
  • The car is quiet – except when you punch the accelerator. Then, you get what I would call a very cool Batmobile kind of sound; don’t get me wrong, it’s still WAY quieter than a gasoline car.
  • I wish everyone single motorist in America would get a chance to drive a Tesla Model S Performance Edition for a few days (some would need a few days in order to warm up to the regenerative braking, which, I’m sure, would initially turn some people off – I know, it’s lame, but true, people are creatures of habit!). If everyone got this chance, all of the EV hatred and skepticism out there would disappear – poof – just like that.

Range matters – big time
Finally, I’ve written about this before, but the 250 miles of reliable range is a HUGE plus for the 85 kWh Model S. I know – the EV veterans are going to say that most people don’t “need” 250 miles of EV ranges, that 45 miles of winter range with the heat cranking in a LEAF is good enough (that’s what several dissatisfied LEAF owners have indicated to me they’re getting in true winter conditions) – but I’ll say it again: Extra range really helps!

First, there’s the fact that you can get much farther without having to plug in. Second, there’s the fact that you don’t need to scrimp. My brother was doing, what was for him, a 110-mile round-trip, 80 percent of it on the highway, and there was absolutely no need to: a) turn the heat down; b) drive conservatively. In fact, my brother was going 80 mph the whole way on the highway — and he did not have to worry at all about this!

By the time he got to his home in Boulder after a 110-mile round-trip, he still had over 100 miles of range left.

Yeah, yeah – not everyone needs that.

It’s true that even the Model S 85 kWh version comes up against range issues. However, having a circle with a radius that’s 125 miles is hugely different from having one that’s 35 or so miles.

But here’s my retort: It’s just plain awesome to have that range when you do want to draw upon it. In fact, my brother actually will end up doing quite a few 100-mile trips, many of them “birding” trips, such as the one we did Monday.

No need to turn heat down
It’s a great comfort, and tremendous advantage, to be able to do these kinds of trips without thinking at all about recharging, or having to drive more slowly or turn the heat down, etc.

Sure, there’s a price to be paid – about $80,000 – for this advantage. But who wouldn’t want this extra range advantage if they could afford it?

It’s true that even the Model S 85 kWh version comes up against range issues. However, having a circle with a radius that’s 125 miles is hugely different from having one that’s 35 or so miles.

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To make this concrete, 250 miles is enough to get us into the Colorado mountains for a camping trip and back; 70 miles wouldn’t even get us to most of the campgrounds we’d want to camp at in Colorado, much less get us back.

And that, my friends, is just one example. Another one: my brother and I could bird Crow Valley Campground on the Eastern Colorado plains in the Model S – we could not do that in a LEAF.

Sure, we could take a gasser. But why take a gasser and spew filthy pollution into the air if, instead, you could take an emissions-free, solar-charged EV such as a Tesla Model S?

That’s the beauty of the 85 kWh version of the Tesla Model S: It allows you to be fully electric, or, in my brother’s case, and our own – if we could afford one – 100 percent solar electric virtually 100 percent of the time.


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