It has now been 85 days since I last visited a petrol station. However, during this time I have driven my car as far south as Yamba and as far north as the Sunshine Coast from the Gold Coast, in total almost 5000km.
I have avoided the small but ever-present monitoring of petrol prices, shopping docket discounts, queues at the pump and in store and the unavoidable upsell to buy a snack bar or a 20 pack of toilet rolls. It’s funny but some of the small things end up being most noticed since buying an electric vehicle.
Conversely, it has been some of the bigger concerns that have become least noticeable. For example, I was worried about the hassle of daily charging of my car. Now it has become second nature and in reality takes me, on average, about 25 seconds a day (not much more than it takes to plug in a phone.) Another concern was range anxiety, knowing that I wouldn’t have the flexibility to just pull into a petrol station. In my last 85 days I have only once travelled close to the range of the battery and on that occasion a Tesla Super Charging Station was a mere one kilometre detour on my trip to Yamba. At the station we enjoyed a cup of coffee while my car was nearly fully charged within thirty minutes.
For weekday charging I rely on my wall charger at work which can pump around 60km of charge into the battery per hour. This means I’m always fully charged ready to travel over 425km at the drop of a hat. If there is a longer trip coming up I can also increase the battery limit (which normally sits at 85%) to full and enjoy up to 485km.
On sunny weekends I take the opportunity to charge at home using my solar panels which is great for both cost and the environment. At normal power rates the economics of electricity vs petrol are estimated to be about 25% cost of petrol (based on an average price of $1.20 per litre).
I wanted to write this article from my personal perspective on the Tesla Model S and why I think it’s a glimpse into the future for both the automobile and transport in general. Given that from a practical sense the future is shaped by what the market demands I wanted to do a review in terms of the buying criteria people use for cars:
- driving pleasure
- quality and comfort
Any buyer will prioritise and weigh up the above criteria to make their ultimate purchase decision and here is my opinion on how the Tesla Model S rates for all.
There is an unassuming simplicity to the Model S’s performance when you get behind the wheel due to two main factors; a single gear and being extremely silent. Once you press the pedal you experience instant, incredibly smooth torque and almost no sound at all – the only stimulus to let you know you are tearing up the road is the g-force and the sight of other cars in your rear vision mirror.
The entry level Model S boasts zero to one hundred in 5.6 seconds while the top of the range model can almost halve that to 2.7 seconds. Being a high tech car, as you would imagine, you can fully configure the kind of drive you are looking for which includes the ability to dynamically change the height of suspension as well as the tightness and ease of steering. Quite simply, the Model S is an amazing performance vehicle.
Undoubtedly style is a personal preference but generally people appreciate sleek design and robust curves. The body of the Model S certainly delivers on these and as far as luxury is concerned it holds its own against most other top end sedans. I personally like some unique design elements that the Model S has introduced including the recessed door handles that retract after you enter the vehicle as well as the lack of a front grill which gives it a smoother, more aerodynamic look.
You may expect a new manufacturer entering into the automotive industry to struggle with reliability, especially when they release a completely new vehicle which breaks most of the conventional rules. However, Consumer Reports from the US have given the Model S an “average” rating and have pointed out just how impressive this is for a new vehicle by a new company when existing manufacturers such as FiatChrysler struggle to make conventional cars reliable. One of the strong points for reliability is that electric cars like the Model S have far fewer parts; no gear system, no engine, no exhaust system, no fuel and oil pumps, no crank shafts or belts and pulleys.
Aside from the above mentioned performance, the driving pleasure of the vehicle is enhanced through both convenience and ease of driving. Given that the main purpose of a vehicle is to get from A to B, what’s really nice is that the Model S knows where you want go when you get in the car through its calendar integration. Your day’s appointments appear when you enter the car and you can simply click the entry to navigate directly to your destination via Google Maps on the centre console’s 17 inch monitor. This console adds to the general driving pleasure of the car. Its size and contrast make it easy to see where you are going via maps or when viewing the HD rear vision camera. The screen splits into two so that you can place any of the apps on either the top or the bottom of the screen by dragging and dropping them with you finger.
For everyday driving the car is extremely silent, easy to handle and just a pleasure to drive. If you are driving a long highway or even stop-start traffic you have the option of engaging the autopilot feature and handover acceleration, breaking and steering to the Model S. This relies on a myriad of sensors to track objects and vehicles and keep you neatly in your lane at an appropriate speed and distance behind the vehicle in front. Your dashboard screen (that also displays your speedometer) will display a 3D representation of the cars, trucks and motorcycles around and in front of your car. It also displays the speed limit for the road you are on which it determines via both GPS coordinates and a camera that scans speed limit signs (this means it is also able to cater for construction zones).
The overall experience is very smooth and will drive indefinitely while you have the autopilot engaged and your hands aren’t off the wheel for too long a period. I have found this really can take the fatigue out of a drive particularly when there is heavy traffic.
In 2013 the Tesla attained the highest safety rating ever for a car tested by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in the US. One of the core advantages Tesla have had in building the safest car ever is that they have had the freedom to design for safety from the ground up without having to stick to conventional limitations about the placements of other mechanical parts such as the engine. The result is they have been able to reinforce the car in many ways that just aren’t practical for other auto makers. Add to this their advanced technology in sensors, breaking and steering and you have a winning safety combo.
Quality and Comfort
The Tesla includes a Premium Upgrade option that provides leather seats and nappa leather dashboard. When combined with the wood trim it certainly gives the car a luxurious quality feel. Other than the very impressive 17 inch centre display, dashboard screen and subtle led ambient lighting the design is quite minimalistic.
The car sits four adults comfortably but has room for five with seatbelts. The middle back seat does have plenty of leg room due to the absence of the “hump” on the floor needed in most conventional cars for either the drive shaft or the exhaust system but the body is somewhat tapered towards the top which does encroach a little on shoulder room if you fill the back seats.
The other big feature of the interior is the air filtration system that comes with the premium upgrade. Through its HEPA filters and “Bioweapon Defense” mode it claims to deliver medical grade air quality in some of the harshest conditions. For anyone often stuck in big city traffic this is definitely a big advantage.
Extra features are where the Model S really shines. There are dozens of features, from automatically adjusting the suspension height based on your GPS location (ie. steep driveway at home) right through to the ability to “summon” your vehicle out of its parking spot remotely. Rather than discuss them all I’m going to list my favourite four:
- Voice commands – Not a unique feature by any means but because the Model S is connected to the internet it means you can ask it to navigate to any business name that’s in Google Maps. The results then come up on the main console and include customer ratings. You can also make calls or play music via the same feature.
- Music – the car comes with a four year premium Spotify account which when combined with voice commands means you can ask it to play a specific song, album, artist or genre.
- Remote access – the phone app for the Model S allows you to remotely adjust the temperature or even unlock and allow the vehicle to be driven. I’ve used the remote access features on more than one occasion when someone needed to grab something from the car. You might even ask a friend to drive your car to you after leaving it somewhere overnight without even having a key. The other impressive feature of the app is the ability to “summon” the car to or from a tight spot. You line the car up, get out and send it in via the app. For those of us with minimal clearance in the garage it’s perfect.
- Over the air upgrades – just like when you upgrade from Windows 8 to Windows 10 on your home PC you can continue to get additional features from the operating system on your Model S. Some of the recent upgrades included enhancements to navigation and google ratings. Original owners of the 2012 Model S, now enjoy the very same features as drivers who purchased one this year at no additional cost. In other cars it seems impossible to even get maps in navigation updated without changing vehicles.
So there you have it, a fairly strong performance across most criteria considered for purchasing a new car. The obvious omission here is the price and when it comes to that the Model S is priced in the luxury car range, with an entry level of around $120k drive away without extra options. In the same price category for luxury sedans this compares against the BMW 530i, Mercedes E300 or the Lexus GS450h Sport. All three are reasonable cars but a bit slower than the Model S at 6.2 seconds for the German cars and 5.9 for the Lexus.
So what does this mean for the future?
The Model S has been an engineering marvel paving the way for a new generation of more affordable cars with most of the above advantages at a more reasonable cost. You can pre-order the Tesla Model 3 for $35k USD with delivery estimates for the middle of next year. Local pricing is yet to be announced but based on similar Model S delivery prices it will come in under $55k AUD. This will compete with cars such as the Subaru WRX, Audi A3, Commodore SS and VW Passat.
The other added price benefit of the Model 3 is that you would save an estimated $2300 in petrol when factoring in the cost of electricity. The final incentive is that if you pay and extra $8,000USD for the fully self-driving option (yes you read right – full self-driving capability) your car can autonomously go out and earn money for you via Tesla’s planned Uber-like ride service. This year’s Model S will also be receiving self-driving options via software upgrades. Elon Musk, Tesla founder, plans to demonstrate this capability later this year with a Model S driving from a car park in California to a car park in New York with no human intervention.
Tesla generally have some pretty generous referral programs with discounts on new models so if you are looking at them I recommend you find a friend with a Tesla.
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