Everyone probably know Tesla - an upstart electric car turned energy company based in Silicon Valley. And if you live in California, you probably are used to seeing the Model S and Model X whizzing around the roads and freeways. I have to admit that I am a big fan of Tesla myself. I've been following the company since their release of the $100,000+ Tesla Roadster and I'm one of the 300,000+ people that put down $1000 before the unveiling of the Tesla Model 3 last year.
Naturally, I was very excited to find out that I can rent a Tesla Model S through Turo, a peer-to-peer car-sharing service (think Airbnb of car). For a trip up to LA, I jumped on the chance of taking 2017 Tesla Model S 60 out for a spin. Here is my one day experience with the car. Enjoy!
Check the end of the post if you are in San Diego area and is interested in renting this Model S out as well
6:45 am - The Introduction
I met up with Chad, the owner of the Model S, 15 minutes earlier than my rental start time. The gorgeous black Tesla Model S (her name was Joules) parked in front of his apartment fully-charged and ready for the day. The late 2016/2017 model can easily be distinguished from older model by the new front-end that is the flatter and the same color as the car (the old front-end looked like a blowfish!). Joules also has the optional black 21" aluminum wheels to show that she means business.
Chad took the time to explain the features of the car to me. Although I've test-driven the Model S twice before, I always feel like more features are being added everytime I drive it because of the over-the-air firmware updates that Tesla provides. Some of the familiar features that I love are still there such as the door handle that extend itself out when you walk close to the car, the 21" touchscreen in the center console, and the fact that you do not "start" the car but just sit down, put it in gear, and drive away. Chad also showed me the new "Summon" feature where he called for the car with his key fob. We tried this in front of his garage and the car was able to detect that there is a trash bin right behind and stop itself, pretty impressive!
He also showed me around his wife's Model X P90 with the Falcon Wing doors. I told Chad that I'll try this one next time but now I'm ready to take the Model S out for the day's adventure!
7:30 am - Autopilot
Going on my way to work, the traffic on 805-N was quite congested so it was a great time for me to test out the Autopilot 2.0 features. For those who are not familiar, Tesla has recently updated the cameras and sensors of the Model S to its own in-house design module (hence the version 2.0) which the company claims will allow the car to be fully autonomous in the near future. As of now, the Autopilot 2.0 will automatically match the traffic speed and keep the car in the lane for you. Engaging the feature is as easy as flicking the stem to the left of the steering column up twice. The speed limit for the auto steering feature is 55 mph (I later found out that software update allows this to go up to 80 mph). Nevertheless, it was a great feature to have for a congested morning traffic. The car basically driven itself 80% of the time without me having to steer or touch the gas pedal and break!
The car in the middle of the dashboard indicates your car. The vehicle that it senses in front, as well as on the sides, will show up on the display as well.
11:00 am - The 17" Touchscreen
I took a couple co-workers out for a test ride. One petrol head was impressed with the off-the-line acceleration of the electric motor (0-60 mph in 5.5 sec, according to Tesla). Another one mentioned that there is no "Oh S***" handle in the back seat (that one handle above the window). One got a little nervous when I showed off the Auto Steering feature on the freeway. But the features that draw attention to everyone is the 17" touchscreen center console. We work in a technology company, after all!
This touchscreen is the command center for the car where you can just everything from climate control to the driving dynamics of the car. The interface on the main screen is very modern with big buttons, nice san serif texts, and crisp graphics. It really is a breath of fresh air compare to the ones design by traditional automakers like Toyota, GM and even luxury ones like Infiniti and Mercedes who seems to be trying too hard with their interface design. Although one can argue that certain functions like volume control or drive select would benefit from tactile buttons or wheel but I am willing to forgive Tesla for not having that because the Model S touchscreen is just so good.
1:30 pm - Navigation
Time for me to take the trip up to LA. I initially set the GPS in the car to Union Station in LA where I will meet my friend. The system gives me an estimate of my how much battery I will have left when I reach my destination (and also whether I will make it back). The estimated battery was too low so I decided that I will stop along the way at Tesla Buena Park to charge up. In the case where your destination is further than the range left, the navigation system will automatically route you to the Supercharging station along the way.
The car's center console is connected to the internet via a cellular network and navigation is provided by Google Map. Because of this, the map interface is getting updated as you drive along your route. If you are familiar with the drive up the I-5 N from San Diego to LA you would know that the cell service is very good all long the way. However, I would often see this gray grid where the map has not completely loaded yet. It is not a big deal but I expected the system to be much faster for such an advanced car.
In addition to the huge map in the center console, navigation information also shows up on the driver's dashboard which is very convenient with graphics of the exit showing up when you are near. Although I am not sure how much I like this graphic just because it looks so out of place.
2:30 pm - Supercharging
I arrived at Tesla Buena Park to charge up. It is a Tesla Sales and Service Center so there were quite a few supercharger slots available. The charging process was very convenient - I got out of the car, opened the charging port, pulled over the charging cable, and plugged it in. The car detected the cable and lock it and we were off charging. The center console displayed information like current charge, charging rate, and time to full. The best part is that the Supercharger is free, forever!*
*Only if you buy the Model S before January 2017 or if you get referral code from current owner.
This is a good time to talk about range and charge time. The 60 kWh is rated for the range of "up to 208 miles" which should be just enough to make it to LA and back from San Diego. However, you would likely never get this range in real world driving condition and if you are making this trip often, you will end up having to use the Supercharger network at least once. The Supercharger will charge the 60 kWh battery from flat to full in about half an hour. So, we are talking about an extra 30 minutes or so from a 4 hour round trip - a significant amount of time.
I talked to the Tesla sales rep while waiting and he mentioned that the Supercharger pushes high current through the battery which will wear out the battery faster if you use it all the time. Even with this warning, there are people who just "live off" Superchargers. While this is do-able in California because of the vast availability of the Supercharging stations, it is not at all recommended. Another problem that Tesla drivers are now seeing is Supercharger congestion where some people would just leave the car at the Supercharger even after it finishes charging. Tesla tries to curve this problem by start charging money to per minute to those who "park" their cars at the Supercharger.
It goes without saying then if you plan to own an electric car, you should have a mean to charge it at home - preferably a 220V outlet (for washer and dryer).
5:00 pm - Cabin Comfort
I finally met up with my buddy and his family at Union Station. They were quite impress with the car, commenting how quiet it is and how the technology are very impressive. Three people were able to fit comfortably in the back seats even the person in the middle thanks to the fact that the motor is located in the back so there is no drive shaft connecting the engine to the rear wheels like in the traditional sport sedan.
With that said, the seats are not full leather, which is surprising for a ~$80,000 car (as optioned). Granted, you could option for leather seats for $3,300 (for comparison, Enhanced Autopilot is a $5,000 option). My friend's family who owns a few Mercedes also mentioned that some of the fit and finish are not quite up there with the German luxury vehicles in the same price range. The interior is rather bare bone (or minimal, as some might argue), there are plastic panels here and there and you can hear the breaks creak and electronic switches buzzing. These are the compromises that potential owners would have to juggle when cross shopping the Model S with other luxury vehicles.
We reached the Griffith Park Observatory right before sunset. I took a quick shot of the car side view.
9:00 pm - Acceleration, Speed, and Handling
The road on the way back was empty so I was able to push the car quite a bit more. A lot of hype has been made on the internet regarding the Ludicrous Mode in the high-end versions of the Model S that would propel the car from 0 to 60 mph in sub-3 seconds (the Model S 60 does not have this mode, unfortunately). While this is probably a cool feature to show off, I think the more impressive performance parameter is the fact that the Model S (and any electric car, in fact) have maximum instant torque available to you at any speed. I am able to overtake almost anyone on the freeway even at 70+ mph. The throttle respond is practically instant. It really is quite different from a "regular" car where you would probably have to first drop down a gear or two until you get enough torque to speed up quickly at that cruising speed.
The car weights in excess of 4,000 lbs and coming from driving a little Mazda 3, I can definitely feel the "heft" of this car. Although because most of these weights are from the battery pack which is close to the ground, I feel that the car is nimble and responsive enough in regular driving.
6:00 am the next day - Looks
Now, it's time to say good-bye. Before we part, I took Joules to La Jolla Shores for some glamor shots. I personally would like my car in grey but the black on black is really growing on me.
Special thanks to Chad @frunkyeah_teslarentals for the awesome car. You can rent his Model S and Model X on Turo if you are in San Diego. Don't forget to use my referral code for $25 off your first rental on Turo.
Ready to order your Tesla? You can use my referral link to receive 6 months of free supercharger!
Also, thanks my roommate Pop @p.uncertainty for the main photo and the interior shot of the driver.