In my first month with the Model S, my wife Jennie and our two kids have done what most car-owning NYC residents typically do: taken trips to New Jersey and Connecticut, parked in two feet of snow and slush and in various garages, driven it up and down between midtown, Chelsea Piers, and downtown on the streets and the west side highway, and, of course, got a ticket with the model box saying the predictable "Other". All in, we've put a bit over 1k miles on it. So as the hubbub about the supercharger network, promulgated by the guy who decided not to charge the car fully (whether out of naivete or fame-seeking), rages on, and while the blog that shall remain nameless keeps telling everyone that the doors and the screen stall (which they have never done for this car in almost 30 days), here's what the experience is really like:
Thanks to my friend Brad Weinberg who was kind enough to share reservation #99, saving me from the nail-biting anticipation of #1263. I'll return the favor with reservation #6 of the Model X. Above, the car gets a boost from a standard 110v outlet.
1. Range anxiety - it goes away:
After ten days, you can predict how the miles fall off the range indicator in extreme cold and feel confident about making it anywhere you want to go. Yes, I was jittery the first time I left the garage with 160 miles on the range after it was charged to 200 the night before. But you quickly get the hang of how it performs in the cold. Two weeks later, my wife and I left Alpine, NJ for downtown Manhattan in 20 degree weather with 34 miles on the range. It was snowing and the road was icy, so I was driving slower than 55 mph. We got to midtown on the west side highway with 12 miles on the range, turned into midtown and dropped off a friend at Times Square. We rolled into a garage at Greenwich and Franklin downtown with 8 miles on the range. At no time during that last part of the ride and despite the warnings from the car did I feel like we were not going to make it. It was obviously predictable.
2. Charging - regular driving, regular charging:
We have a monthly spot in a midtown garage that has a Coloumb charge point. There are several dozen of these around the city. These charge points are either $2.99 per hour ($17.99 max) or $99 for all you can eat. It takes 12 to 18 hours to charge to 230 miles or so, depending on the temperature at whichever garage you are in. Also, make sure there's good reception at whatever garage you pick, so that you can use the Coloumb app to activate the charge point.
The most surprising part was that charging from the regular 110 volt AC outlet really works. Out in Connecticut, we charged from a regular outlet outside our cabin. Between about 8pm and 4am, in about 25 degree weather, we lost no charge. From 4am to 5pm we gained 60 miles!
3. Driving - you only hear the tires:
You can't help but smile as you silently slice through the air. In fact, the smile will start when you take off from park mode and can't hear a thing.
Suspension: I've tried going through speed bumps at typically unadvised speeds in regular mode (you can raise or lower the car through a few settings if you like) and the car felt very forgiving, but try driving over a manhole that's recessed by just a couple of inches, and it makes you cringe a little.
Traction control: In icy conditions it can correct very forcefully, but it feels so precise that even though it is a surprise, as any time traction control kicks in in any car, it doesn't make you feel like you need to start steering wildly to correct the traction control's correction. I've only had it correct several times, though, and all on the same day.
"Hill hold": During a test drive, the car rolled back when I stopped on a little incline and let the break go. The production version holds on well and even inches forward - no problems whatsoever.
Passenger "feel": The car accelerates and decelerates more rapidly than anything you or your passengers are used to. For the driver, it's all upside. But the passenger will think you are about to dramatically exceed the speed limit when all you are doing is accelerating from 55 to 65 - an effect of sudden acceleration that sedan passengers aren't really used to. The deceleration is really rapid the instant you let go the accelerator pedal, but the stopping feels really good. So far, my oldest daughter, who can get nauseous in the car easily, has no problems.
4. The user interface really needs a ton of very simple work:
Educational video: would be nice to have an instructional "Welcome to the Model S" video that pops up on the screen when you pick up the car.
Range display: Seeing the range of the car as a large circle on a map would let non-engineer driver visualize how far they can drive. The graphs of energy usage are totally pointless and are really a waste of space on the driver display.
Web browser: No Flash or HTML5 video support?! Come on. I was so looking forward to my daughter watching Peppa Pig on the screen... And no tabs?! Makes no sense. No location support also makes Google Maps useless. Argh. What a way to extract money for the Tech package that costs $3,750 and includes turn-by-turn navigation. Tesla, please give the browser location support.
Personalization: The only settings that seem personal are driver adjustments. But radio station favorites list isn't personal to the user?
Online connectivity: 3G?! Maps are very sluggish on a 17" screen. Who was responsible for that one?
The two UX features that are totally spot-on are for opening the moon-roof (you slide it open on the screen to precisely the degree you want it open) and for focusing sound (you slide the cross-hairs on the screen to where you want the music to be heard best). These two are so intuitive you almost get a sense the company has the whole user experience all figured out. Except that all of the above is strangely backwards. Let's hope the guys at Tesla are busy on that tabbed browsing experience and location support. Or at least going to ship me a set of velcro strips for my iPad.
Again, as a car, this product is nothing short of amazing - yes, including driving long distances. What does planning your trip well take away from the fact that you never have to go to a gas station again or that you can effortlessly leave the gas guzzlers behind in pretty much any conditions? Hearing the sound an accelerating Range Rover makes while sitting in your Model S makes you feel sorry for the guys that spent all that money and all they got was a bunch of cylinders and gears.
Electric drive is most definitely how cars should be made. The charging infrastructure to support more than 90% of use is already there and it's called 220v outlets. (And if you need to go from DC to Boston, yes, do yourself a favor and spend your time reading on the train.) The only real problem is the lack of affordable options in-between the Nissan Leaf and the Model S. Another five years and a few billion dollars and we'll surely be there - both rounding errors in history of cars, but pretty crucial given the mass migration to cities and the increasing use of sharing. Oh, and dear Tesla Motors - if you are listening - please add tabbed browsing, HTML5 video, and location support - or send me those velcro strips for an ipad ;)