Tesla Model S 85 kWh Performance Test Drive

The next car I purchase needs to be unique. That’s why I found myself wanting to see what the Tesla Model S is all about. Looking back over my previous cars, the one I enjoyed the most was my 1992 Subaru SVX.

mysvxThere were few others on the road like it, and everywhere I went, people stared, and I always got compliments on it every time I parked. Maybe it’s the rock star wannabe in me. Matter of fact, I do play in a rock band.

Well, that was 1992. For the year 2014, the car that can turn heads the most rapidly, in my opinion, is the BMW i8. Of course, that’s over $136,000 later, and they’re in such demand, you have to purchase it sight-unseen.

There’s 2 other Tesla Model S cars on my street, so I knew I wouldn’t be a complete beta tester. I  visited the Tesla dealership in Raleigh, NC, which is about the size of a yoghurt shop with a big garage out back. However, the places is filled with the nicest people. They had the Model S 85KW, and the Performance Plus version.

First impressions:
Where are all the buttons? 

You know, there are automotive  engineers out there whose job is to design how buttons feel – the click, sound, reachability in the dark,  gloves accessibility, etc. If I were them, I’d hit the art supply store, get some giant markers and write signs that say, “Save the Defenseless Buttons!!” because Tesla Motors scraped off all the buttons with a putty knife. The giant center console is the size of about 4 iPads, and controls pretty much everything. If you think texting while driving is dangerous, try changing the screen from showing the map to showing the HVAC controls, and looking for the fan speed button at 65 mph. (Which arrives sooner than you think. Keep reading)

The only thing my 12-year old stepson remembered from the test drive was the giant iPad in the center. Note to automotive marketers appealing to the youth market. Don’t even show the car’s exterior. Just show the iPad in the center, and find a way to put Minecraft on it –  your sales will double in about 4 years. Here’s a video of Elon Musk demonstrating it: http://vimeo.com/30167914

Driving impressions:
Where’s the start button?
I though I was so cool to look for the Start/Stop button, instead of a keyhole, for I’m hip to automotive trends. Forget it. You turn on the car by stepping on the brake.  Not to mention the vehicle’s key is the size and shape of a windtunnel-optimized Matchbox  version of itself.

Once you step on the brake, you’re free to take off. No waiting for the engine to warm up. The salesman told me the A/C starts blowing cold air immediately, since there’s no waiting for an Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) to warm up, and convert power from one form to another.

Speaking of the air conditioner, it is LOUD! Mainly because the car is so eerily silent, a fan blowing sounds like a roar of a tornado.

Where’s the engine sounds?
I met a Tesla Roadster owner about 5 years ago, who happily talked about his car for 15 minutes in a parking lot. Before he left, he said to me, “When I leave, I’m going to punch it, and you’re not going to hear anything, and it might freak you out.” Sure enough, he did, and it did. Like the car was being sucked away by a noiseless cosmic vacuum cleaner.

If you buy a $90,000 BMW M3 today,  it will pump synthesized engine noises into the cabin through the stereo speakers. If Tesla Motors had such a department, they’d have to pump rocket engine noises into the cabin because HOLY CRAP THIS CAR IS FAST!! I drove the P85 version first. Stepping on the accelerator produces instant, “I-can’t-lift-my-head-off-the-seat-if-I-tried, my-Starbucks-coffee-with-1-sip-left -is-now-staining-the-back-seat” acceleration.  Oh, and did I mention it’s silent? It’s eerie. It’s addictive. I configured the giant center display to show the backup camera output, and I loved watching giant beige Camrys turn into Hot Wheels beige Camrys (do they even bother making these?) in the span of 2 seconds.

I then drove the Performance Plus version, and the acceleration was even more frightening. How much so? It you turned the wheel slightly upon pedal mash-ication, it would chirp the tires.

How does it handle?
I haven’t grinned this much driving a car since I drove a Focus ST. For a vehicle this luxurious and quiet, it was fun diving into corners and having precious little body lean. The Model S’s electric (what else would it be?) steering has 3 adjustable heft settings, all adjustable by pressing a button on the center iPad. Kind of weird to press a glass screen, and feel the steering wheel get harder to turn.

To get the Performance plus model, you have to spend around $120,000. When I told this to my wife, she said I need to cross-shop the Mercedes S-class while I’m at it. Hmmmm. Maybe I will. Stay tuned for that review…



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