So it's time to update this thread with something I never expected myself to ever do--test drive a Model S.
This is all my fault as my wife's new job would allow us to save a decent amount each month. She mentioned that with this savings can she buy a Tesla, and I said, as long as we save a good chunk each month, you can get anything you want. Note to any husbands out there--even if you mean it, never, ever say these words or they will come back to haunt you.
So we were looking at new places to live and the cost differences between a public transport commute with suburbial place vs a city place with public transport/car. The suburbial route saved almost a grand a month, so she brought up the Tesla again. I had no idea how expensive these cars were, but my first inclination was that I have no idea how to maintain an electric car besides the usual of brakes, tires, etc, and it could cost us more than the fuel savings in the long run. After a fairly heated argument, she suggested that we just go to a dealership and settle it once and for all. I agreed to go, fully expecting to punch a thousand holes in her theories of efficiency and cost savings.
Well, that's when my bubble was burst. As I stared at the bare chassis on display, I looked for parts that would wear or need replacement that I couldn't do--but there's not much really there! Just the motors, driveshafts, brakes, and tires. No brake fluid, no coolant, no oil, no power steering--none of that. The simplicity of the design intrigued me.
As I spoke more with the staff there and got into technical nitty gritties like how does the brake job differ from a traditional car, I was introduced to a rep that also spent time at a repair facility and was able to answer the hard questions. Lowering the car--can be done since traditional struts and springs. Alignments--the same as a regular car. Maintenance intervals--there are some with some high dollar service appointments, but on par with Mercedes and Porsche (both brands which I have first-hand experience with).
Finally, there was nothing left to do but to set up a test drive. At this point, I'd like to comment on the sales technique. This is NOT the usual car sales approach in the least. Instead, think of pharmaceutical sales reps or even Apple sales people (but Tesla's are better). They want to you understand their product more than buy one. The purchase will come by itself.
As KuroNekko very accurately noted, the build quality material-wise is not necessarily on par with other luxury cars in this price range. I most definitely agree that our Kizashi's leather seats actually have a nicer leather, although I can almost say that the Kizashi's leather is so nice that it exceeds the quality in my Porsche and Merc, so that's maybe an unfair comparison for the non-Kizashi cars, hehe.
But seriously, you can 'like' the feel of these materials but you won't fall in love with them at first touch. But what they are connected to is a different experience completely...
So I was able to test drive a blue p60 awd model s. This is basically a entry level model with awd.
The first thing you have to learn is to unlearn some of the things you've learned about cars driving normal ones. There's no 'starting' the car. There's no 'shifting' of gears. There's no 'ignition' key. This is a bit confusing at first so you just have to sit back and be taught to drive all over again.
The car is always 'on'. You simply 'wake it up' like it's in sleep mode. Gear shifting is done by a level that's like a turn signal. And depending on how you've configured the car, it will either roll forward when your foot is off the brake or it will just sit there. When the car is using regenerative braking, the rear brake lights turn on just like they would on a normal car even though your foot technically isn't on the brake pedal but just off the accelerator. Different, eh? Read on...
So how does it drive? Once you put your foot on the gas, it drives almost like any other car. You adjust the mirrors and press the gas and you move. You release the gas and if regenerative braking feature is enabled, the car begins to 'brake' by regenerating power. It's like like a golf cart, except you do have a traditional brake pedal that actuates traditional brakes as well.
The car is heavy, but no heavier feeling than my dad's 2002 s500. The handling is similar as well, although you can tighten up the steering instantly by choosing one of three settings. It would have been nice to see such a setting for the suspension dampening, but those are pretty expensive systems to have even on luxury cars so I understand Tesla skipping it.
Btw, all settings take effect immediately--no rebooting the car or turning it off and on. I can't recall if I could change everything while driving, but I do remember the steering was adjustable while driving.
So the car comes with Internet access. Yep, that's right. Pull up youtube and pandora and watch videos and listen to your favorite songs for free for life. There's no charge for the Internet at all--no monthly fees, no one-time fees, nothing. Talk about a great feature. It's pretty decently quick too where cell signals are strong. And with the large screen, you literally can have two browsing sessions visible at the same time like a dual monitor setup.
So back to the drive. So the acceleration is what everyone harps about so it was the last thing I wanted to play with. I wanted to feel the car and get a sense of its personality before pushing it. We were able to take it on a highway ramp as well as some smaller streets.
The instrument panel is a fully digital one like on most luxury cars these days. But it has features you probably won't see in the next 10 years on today's cars. I kid you not.
One of them is a real-time display of every other car around you. Yes, it's like that little car that everyone has in the dash now, except there's a shadow of every other car in relation to you and it's all in real time. The car knows where every car is, even if you don't. Freaky and awesome at the same time. And if you think that was cool, it also reads the stripes on the road and shows them in real-time. Yes, the car knows if you're drifting in a lane or too close to the side of the lane, even if you don't.
To the left of this is a very interesting gauge that shows exactly how much power you are using. Imagine a circular version of the Kizahi's instant mph bar guage--except that when you're slowing down using regenerative braking, it goes negative to show exactly how much power you've generated vs used. You think that's a great tool? There's a complete battery history that you can graph to see usage over a period of time. If you want to dive into the numbers of this car, it's all right there.
So after slowly leaving the mall parking lot and accelerating onto the highway, I was introduced to the ultimate cruise control--AutoPilot. This single feature that is available NOW is an order of magnitude in jaw dropping for anyone who's experienced it. It's on the cruise control stalk and activated by pulling on the level twice (vs once for regular adaptive cruise control). Once you do this, you're transplanted to the movie Judge Dredd (with Stallone) and the cars there that had a self-drive feature. The car knows where other cars are, what you set the cruise control speed to, where the lanes are, and just, well, takes it from there. I sat there with my hands in my lap staring at everything working in front of me automatically while my wife laughed hysterically at my complete and utter dazed and dazzled expression. And to take it one step over the edge--hit the turn signal and the car changes lanes--automatically. This alone is the single most revolutionary thing in automotive transportation imo. Not because the car can drive itself--but because it can also correct human errors that can lead to a crash before they even happen. But like all things, when misused, it can also cause crashes as some Tesla owners' experience has proven.
So now that I was familiar with the car, I gave it a hard tug on the steering wheel on a 25mph sharp exit off the freeway. While it did give a slight and expected squeak from all four tires, it still made the turn with absolutely no drama. You couldn't feel any nannys kicking in, nor did you you expect such touring class tires to ever have such grip. Unfortunately, this was the only opportunity I had to test the lateral limits. I would love to autocross the car to fully understand its handling.
But somehow fate handed me another opportunity to briefly push it once more. As we were finishing the back roads and heading back to the freeway, I almost missed the entrance to the freeway as we were entering a 5 way intersection and I got a bit confused. So by the time I knew which turn to take, we were in the middle of the intersection. I stabbed the brakes, gave the wheel a hard left turn, stabbed the gas and then turned hard right and left as we accelerated quickly on the twisty freeway ramp. By the time we got to the freeway, I had to slow down to merge with traffic. For such a large car, it handled the maneuver with grace. For a comparison to those with an awd kizashi, imagine the same handling, but with the car equivalent of 'muffin tops' of weight all around the car making it a bit boaty.
When I got back all I kept doing is saying 'autopilot engaged' every time I could have used it while driving the Kizashi. The Tesla has left the biggest imprint on me of any car I've ever driven--not because of the driving experience, but because of the overall package of the car you're driving. I've driven more fun cars on the driving aspect for sure, but the 'niceities' that the Tesla comes standard with are light-years ahead of anything out there right now. And that's what's sold me.
But then we looked at the prices. Leasing one starts out a whopping $750+/mo. Insurance is the same for a luxury car like a Porsche or Mercedes. Ouch. Unfortunately still a toy for the rich...for now. The new model 3 coming out may just turn the entire automotive industry on its head if it can do all this in a $40k package. I'm a believer now. Can't wait to have one of these someday.