Test Drove a Tesla Model S
I'm not sure if this is the appropriate forum (I am a Volt owner) - it may be better suited to the "Other electrics" section - figured other Volt owners might appreciate this regardless. Anyway, I signed up for one of the Tesla mailing lists and got invited to test drive a Model S in Dallas yesterday. My thoughts:
I am a self-labeled "car guy" and my last two cars (prior to acquiring my Volt last year - now with 16K miles on it) were an '02 BMW M5 and an '05 Pontiac GTO. I've had a couple other 3 and 5 series BMWs along the way and various muscle cars. We also own a '12 Volvo XC60 R-Design (325HP, 354 ft lbs of torque) and a neglected 67 Firebird with a 455 is sitting in my garage. Oh, and I still have a 97 M3, but my son drives it. In short, I like sporty cars and am fond of European sport sedans. The Volt has been (and continues to be ) a great car, BUT I do miss the power, solid feel, and handling of some of my previous rides.
The test drive time frame
It was too short - only about 15 or 20 minutes tops, plus a brief walk around and overview of the interior tech. The car itself was either the P85 or P85+ (really kicking myself for not noting that for sure). It did not have the air suspension unfortunately and I did NOT get to take it on the freeway (would not have mattered as construction makes it a nightmare right now), but may or may not have seen 73 mph at one point (I can neither confirm, nor deny).
The good, the bad, and well, the rest...
The Power...sweetness - I'll start by saying, the single most compelling thing about this vehicle for me is the acceleration. It is INTOXICATING. Now, I've owned some pretty quick rides, but this caught me a bit by surprise. I knew it would be quick, and I obviously knew what electric smoothness and torque were all about given my time with the Volt, but the pull here is on an whole other level....much like a BMW 528i seems like it is OK and then you get in an M5!
The Drive/Ride/Handling - It drives and rides very similar to a big heavy German (i.e. 7 series, A8, etc.). Steering feel, suspension compliance, general "solid feel", etc. - all in line. I took a fast sweeper at a pretty good clip (not a lot of opportunities on this drive), and it stuck pretty well, but you feel the weight and it got a tad upset with me at one point. I could feel it start to push outward. I have not driven the latest generation of 5 or 7 series from BMW, but now that the 5 is more like a shrunken 7 (than an enlarged 3) I suspect the Model S may feel somewhat similar - especially since all cars seem to be losing steering feel these days. Having all the weight low, as every review notes, does help to keep it more planted. It is NOT a tossable sports sedan, but it was never intended to be and that's fine. Frankly, to come out of the gate with a car so close to the Germans is really impressive since so many car makers have been chasing that bogey for years.
The Tech - The 17" iPad-like display is compelling. Yes, it still has some menus, but it is pretty dang usable w/o having to traverse layer after layer. The use of "swipes", and "pinch zoom" gestures is nice as well since the whole planet is now familiar with those (examples - swiping to open/close sunroof, dragging the stereo balance/fader position across a picture of the interior, pinch/zoom on google map, etc.). The internet connectivity was also nice. So obvious you are staring at the future here. Ideally, there would be a couple more dedicated buttons, but the screen size is big enough that it isn't a huge issue and there are enough on the steering wheel.
The Interior - OK, just as others (including owners) have noted, this is just not up to par with other cars in its class (i.e. the Big Europeans). Like everyone else, I've seen the pictures, but it was a substantial step down from those cars. Is it bad? Hardly! It is perfectly fine, BUT, the competition at this level is just really awesome. Materials feel, style, the whole lot is just not at the same level and given that is where you spend your time and the importance the interior has to buyers these days (i.e. whenever someone I know gets a new car I ask them about it and they all talk about tech and interiors...alas, us car guys are a dying breed), well, that's a problem. It IS roomy...very roomy, but because that battery pack is under the floor, the floor is a bit high so when I climbed into the back seat I found myself sitting "knees high" (and I'm short at 5' 7"). Speaking of room, the hatch was nice and did not seem to drive up road noise as is so often the case (although, again, I did not get a nice grooved concrete freeway test drive to be sure). I know this section sounds a bit harsh, but the competition is tough here. It was still a nice place to be.
The Exterior Style - Judge for yourself. Sure it cribs features from other cars, but lots of car makers do. Ford stole that whole Aston look for the Fusion (OK, they did own them for a while if I recall), and the Koreans, well, I think they just take pictures of other cars and xerox them for their own. While the Model S is definitely sharp, I think Tesla could have gone a step further here, but really...no complaints (especially after I saw the "my eyes, my eyes!" i3 from BMW). It is a very classy design that will no doubt look good for years to come.
Yeah, so...would you buy one?
OK, first of all, I am not dropping $100K+ on a car. I might be able to talk myself into justifying it, but c'mon. Of course, when you say that, people bring up the Model S P60 which starts at much less, etc. Ah, but here is where it gets interesting for me. You see, the P60's range would be fine for me, and sure I could option up a stripper and tell myself I wouldn't miss some of the features, etc, but then you get back to the first item on my list...the power. You see, one of the ways Tesla gets big power out of their rides is with a big battery. Current battery tech generally allows for more juice to be drawn out more rapidly it seems (I have some experience with this flying electric R/C airplanes) with a larger pack ("C" rates and all). The 0-60 time for the "quickest" Model S is low 4s, but that moves to the 6+ second range I believe for the P60. Not slow by any means, but not the "Holy Apollo Rocket Acceleration, Batman" level of the P85, P85+, etc - and remember, this is its defining feature for me. Admittedly, a P60 test drive would confirm that one way or the other (would also like to experience the acceleration on the freeway too). However, they had several cars there waiting to be picked up by owners and no P60s. Coincidence the P85 series series was released first and all magazine tests were with the big battery (and often performance versions) of the car? I think not.
Overall, this is an incredible machine and if someone plopped one out there for $70K with that kind of performance I would be standing in line with my check book, but as-is, I can't quite go there. If I had the coin would I? Ew, tough...very tough. I am easily seduced by power, but as I have gotten older I value other features in cars, and would be seriously cross-shopping other cars in this price segment. I admit, the Model S would be tough to compete with.
Finally, I will say I was SAD about one thing. I can see Tesla simply not making it. When I drove the car, I realized the drive train (inc battery) is what makes this car, and it and virtually everything else can be duplicated by another car manufacturer (Audi, BMW. Mercedes, Cadillac, etc.). They can all build a nice luxury sedan and stick a fat battery and electric motor in there and then the most compelling argument for Tesla will start to evaporate. The only question is "will they?". They all seem to be headed to the plug-in hybrid space (which is fine), and the correspondingly smaller batteries they use will likely limit "full power" modes to those where the engine is running (not quite the same thing as the P85 experience).
Oh, and how does it compare to the Volt? Well, they both have 4 doors, wheels, batteries, and electric motors, and...yeah, that's about it.
Last edited by cab; 12-20-2013 at 12:37 PM.
2012 Blue Topaz Volt - Loaded - Turned in Lease July 2015...VoltLess...Replacement TBD!
2012 Volvo XC60 T6 R-Design
1997 BMW M3
2002 BMW M5 (Sold to buy Volt!)