a jackleg review of the Model S
Have you ever been in a situation where you’re talking about food, and a great restaurant comes to mind and you decide to go there? Well, that’s what happened to us. We were casually discussing desserts and I was pondering how I hadn’t had a good Black Forest cake in a while. David said “there’s that place near Titisee, they make the best I’ve ever had”, and you can all guess where this is going.
Naturally, we decided to hop into our car and go there. But unfortunately, someone had borrowed the Leaf for the weekend, so we had to do with what we had gotten in return, which was a Tesla Model S P85+. Well, what can you do.
As you can see, we had an early start on a foggy Sunday morning, since we wanted to take full advantage of what was of course a test drive weekend in Karl’s P85+. If you participated in, or followed the WAVE, you might recognize the car as being Team Lightning Rod‘s ride. Karl actually light-heartedly handed over the keys, having complete trust that we wouldn’t go wild, and would bring back the car in one piece.
Our first stop was the brand new Tesla Supercharger in Egerkingen; the battery wasn’t full since David had already taken the car for a substantial spin the day before. Incidentally, this also meant that I’d be the one behind the wheel for most of the day (insert evil grin here).
Since we were not only looking for fun, but also had in mind to provide you with a halfway decent review of the car, this would be our first “test”. (Note that since there must be a kazillion reviews out there already on the interwebs, we’re not going to do the classic “exterior, interior, driving experience, price and availability” kind of thing – we’ll just provide you with unstructured random blabbing containing a few facts and lots of misguided opinions, as always. We’ll also assume you know a little bit about the car already).
Well, let’s just say nothing about charging is complicated. The first thing I appreciated was the reversing camera feed which appears on the giant display/touch screen on the center console when you put it in reverse. On top of it, it has proximity sensors, so in the end, if you back up into something it’s really your own fault. Then, open the charging port, and plug and
At a charging power of 120kW, our coffee break took longer than what was needed to top off the battery. At last, we were now heading north. After a quick stop in Basel to give my dad a ride, we crossed the border on the Autobahn… Which meant that we had to come to a full stop at the customs office before accelerating into Germany. Ha!
Now I have driven that particular stretch of Autobahn countless times; speed is unlimited there so you can accelerate as much as you want and as far as it goes, which I do pretty much every time. It’s just that I have never hit 200 kph with the customs office still showing in the rearview mirror. The acceleration is just staggering.
Unfortunately, even though it was Sunday morning, there was a wee bit of traffic, and we couldn’t max out the car. Then again, at some point I was a bit inattentive for a moment and ended up tailgating a Benz. Then I realized, I was tailgating someone while going 200. hm…. In conclusion though, we think the Model S lacks rearview mirror impact; people don’t have the reflex to move over when you pull up from behind. (If you’ve ever had to make up time on the german Autobahn in a Mercedes or BMW, you’ll know what I’m talking about.) And while we’re at it, we’d like to encourage Tesla to make the car more discernable when it gets a facelift.
At the risk of being dismissive, we think its front design looks too much like a Ford Focus… But then again, it also looks a bit like a DB9, so maybe we’re overreacting. I have, however, repeatedly mistaken a Model S for a Jaguar XF, and that needs to change.
But… aren’t we told that beauty comes from the inside anyway. Moving on… We were now heading for the mountains. We used the map/satellite image display on the center screen and simply chose the most winding roads we could find while heading generally east. The Model S has a continous connection to the cellphone network and uses Google Maps (what a surprise).
There is, however, the issue of insufficient coverage – just as we thought we should speed things up a bit and were relying on the sat nav to get us back to the main roads, the map went blank; see above. Breaking news, we think this is a huge disadvantage; lose 3G coverage and you’re just plain lost. (There seems to be a novel concept out there called “paper maps” but we haven’t seen it in operation yet.)
This did not keep us from enjoying the scenery and winding roads. The picture above was taken through the open sliding roof, a feature we also enjoyed otherwise. It is simply huge and it’s great to have it open on a sunny and moderately hot day like we had.
The sliding roof is operated via the center console touch screen – much like everything else on the car. That’s why there are very few buttons otherwise – the hazard flasher switch, the glove box compartment opener and that’s pretty much it.
we didn’t manage to get a clean photo of the LCD touchscreen, so instead,
we stole one from the autoblog
While we’re at it, we’d like to add that we like the simple and modern interior design. That touch screen is nerd heaven, and the car offers all the luxury you can wish for. The only caveat is that we’ve heard of touch screens go blank, which means you’re royally screwed because you can’t even operate basic things like lighting or the ventilation any more. But this didn’t happen to us – we did however have to reset the sat nav because at some point it refused to zoom in and out of the map properly, and used the Tesla equivalent of Ctrl+Alt+Del to do so. We would in fact like to share with you how that is done but we can’t because it’s one of those secret handshake type of things.
There are only a few things we’d like to nag about regarding the interior; for starters, there’s a definite lack of storage trays. Granted, there’s a rolltop tray in the center console, but it’s too small – you can barely fit a cellphone and a set of keys in there. On a side note, that rolltop’s appearance and build quality would fit a Dacia better – call us moaners, but remember we’re talking about a high end luxury car that tops out at six figures here.
What else? Well, the front center armrest is a bit weird; it slides back and forth to reveal cupholders. The fact that you bump your elbow into it on a regular basis while driving is slightly irritating – it also means that you’ll be soaking your elbow in hot coffee in every right turn. Also, as a passenger, I like to use the roof handle in tight corners to avoid being thrown around – only that the Model S doesn’t have any. So, I kid you not, in right turns I ended up with my window half down and my hand outside on the roof instead.
This however doesn’t diminish the fact that overall, we did like the interior very much.
As for being the driver, the only thing we didn’t really like is that the cruise control and wiper/turn signal levers are on the same (left) side of the steering wheel and pretty close together. As a result, sometimes you end up setting a cruising speed when you want to signal a turn – which is not really helpful; or you unintentionally spray clean the windshield when you want to reset the cruise control – slightly more helpful, while still unwanted.
That said, driving that thing is incredible. We’ve already mentioned the acceleration, speed and sheer power it has; it also corners like it’s running on tracks. It’s really impossible to even get the tires to squeal, and only if you blatantly enter a corner too fast and accelerate on top of it will it start to slightly understeer. There is no question that it would be incredibly tail happy if you’d turn off the traction control, a thing we didn’t do.
As such, with traction contol on, the car is nothing short of foolproof. While driving around, we were also playing with the controls, what a surprise. (We can’t help but keep stressing how cool that touchscreen is BTW). Our car had the optional air suspension, but fiddling with it did not really do much of a difference.
That was, however, before we came onto a stretch of really bad road, as you can see in the next picture. Suddently, High and Low did make a difference like night and day – while the ride would be stiff and hard just like most any other sporty sedan out there, the high setting really ate up most all of those bumps and shakes to make for an enjoyable ride no matter what. Well done.
In any event, we were slowly getting to the point where the Wattwurm Effect would set in. (As some of you will know, this particular effect describes the action of mindlessly racing an electric car up and down the hills until the remaining battery range will be vastly insufficient for the remaining travel distance).
We therefore chose a place for lunch in Titisee with a charging station nearby, only to be reminded that a) you always need an RFID card for charging stations in Germany, and b) most power companies have their own, proprietary RFID card. As a result, we had to try and find a card for that particular charging station. Calling the power company didn’t help since the person at the other end didn’t even know they had charging stations for electric cars (which definitely calls for a LOL); their web page indicated that you’re welcome to have your own card, as long as you order it at least one week in advance; and the local tourist office might have had one, but it was closed. Welcome to Germany.
Well, Wattwurm wouldn’t be Wattwurm if something like this would stop us. We simply carried on, finally stopped for that cake that had initiated the whole thing, and started heading home while searching for opportunities to charge. Luckily, even though those opportunities were scarce, we were still up on the hills and as we all know, pretty much everything rolls downhill including Wattwurm, so at least we did get a few extra miles for free and even could regenerate a bit.
The entertaining bit about this is that Karl was able to check the car’s position and charge status via his iPhone App, so at some point during the afternoon we started getting slightly concerned texts asking whether we had noticed that we actually would get stranded if we didn’t charge pronto. We tried to yank his chain a bit about it but couldn’t break his cool. The statement we liked most was “I said I want the car back tonight, but tomorrow 8am is fine”.
We then located a charging station on a truckstop parking lot that was supposed to be unlocked and went for it. Guess what? Nope. It did in fact require an RFID card to charge; what a surprise. Should I mention that it would have been a different power company, and therefore a different RFID card, with respect to the station in Titisee or did you already come to that conclusion yourself?
In any event, what does Wattwurm do when we’re stranded with no charging station and 9km of remaining battery range? we get creative. We closely inspected every inch of the parking area to find power outlets, much to the amusement of the truck drivers that were present. We then found a proper outlet – in the showers. And at the risk of being prosecuted following the next statement, instead of using the coin operated outlet, the outlaws we are simply unplugged the heater and used that. (our excuse being that we were concerned the coin operated outlet would not deliver the full 16A available in Germany)
Since we stayed there for about twenty minutes, we probably ended up stealing no less than 1.5 kWh of power, which corresponds to something like 50 cents. If you’re the parking lot operator and you happen to read this, email me in case you want to sue us.
At least we had time to ponder our next move. We were only a few miles from the Swiss border, and a three phase outlet was available not too far away which meant slightly faster charging. So with just enough electrons in the battery and our best economical driving attitude, we crossed the Rhine and headed for the Thermalbad Zurzach where a three phase wall plug can be found. Even though they’re intended for small EV’s like Twikes and Twizies due to the lack of parking space, we didn’t have much of a choice and just parked on the street. Only a few people yelled at us while we were there so I guess it was OK. (Seriously, that stop was delightful because the plugs are right next to the restaurant and you can literally plug and/or unplug your car while you’re sipping coffee.)
Even though we were now charging with three phases, this wasn’t going anywhere soon. This is, by the way, the only real drawback we think this car has. The battery capacity is huge, so range anxiety is pretty much non-existent, but if you happen to be low and don’t have a high power outlet available, charging takes literally forever. But we’re merely making a point here; there is no question that the battery range on the Model S is fantastic, and unless you’re Wattwurm, simple arithmetic will help you avoid ever getting stranded.
So I guess you know where this is going: Adding yet another couple miles to make it to the next outlet at my home; after charging there again, David left to return the car and stopped at the 20kW AMAG charging station in Schinznach-Bad (which, as usual, acted up…). In the end he managed to add enough to get the car back to Karl’s home.
The best part about it is that Tesla’s customer service literally phoned Karl to ask him if he was in trouble.
Their system had logged several short-timed low-power attempts to charge and the fact we were driving on a completely empty battery. Incidentally, Team Wattwurm would like to credit Louis Palmer and his Wave Trophy for completely curing us from range anxiety!
Now… what’s left to say? let’s see. Did we like the Model S? I guess you know by now that we’d both buy one in a heartbeat. Unless you want to drag a caravan halfway across Europe – without even stopping to take a whiz – or are otherwise running on a tight schedule, we are having a hard time thinking of an everyday situation where a Model S would not be appropriate; even more so once the Supercharger network has been expanded even more, as you undoubtedly know.
This car is roomy, it’s comfortable, handling is excellent, acceleration is staggering, and while we have been bitching about a few things, let’s not forget that after all, it’s the first attempt of a brand new car company to design and build a car from scratch (because, remember that the Tesla Roadster, while being a drop dead hot car, is nothing but the love child of a Lotus Elise and a Hewlett-Packard laptop).
If we’d really have to nag about something, besides the points named above (mostly the concept and build quality of parts of the interior and a wish for a slightly more distinctive exterior design), it’s difficult to criticize the car much further. A few more electronic helpers, both in terms of safety and comfort, will probably be necessary to attract more customers away from the S-Class; alternately, we could totally see the car remaining just the way it is and coming down price wise instead (because we’d like that very much. I’m not sure if it’ll be breaking news to you that neither David nor I can afford one at this point…).
At this point we’d like to extend our gratitude to Karl for letting us have so much fun putting mileage on his car. If you want to help him pay for the rubber we left on those german roads, why don’t you buy a few LED lamps from him.
Hopefully we’ve been able to give you and idea about what we think of the Model S. Comment if you have questions, we’ll do our best to confuse you a bit further.
further picture credits: Bullitt screenshot from Monsieur Jack; the front and rear view conglomerates were pasted together from press photos found using Google; the Simpsons pic is from Reasonably Well; the Blues Brothers pic is a screenshot we made from a youtube video; the A-Class Moose Test is from the Hamburger Morgenpost, and we already mentioned the autoblog where the dashboard pic comes from