Tesla Model S Review

We here at TotalHTPC are technology enthusiasts. And while this site is dedicated to reviewing entertainment technology and helping our readers cut the cord, we are, in the end, technology enthusiasts. As such, when we got our hands on probably the most talked about piece of technology during the past year, a spanking new, Jaguar racing green, 85KwkWh Tesla Model S, could you really expect us NOT to review it? We thought so, and so dear readers, here, you go….


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Ordering and Delivery

Tesla espouses a ‘new way to buy a car’, and for the most part, that was certainly true. Ordering was a snap, online, and very easy. Select your battery (45KwkWh, 60KwkWh or 85KwkWh), your colors (exterior and interior), and your options, enter your credit card for the down payment and done. Ordering went off, for the most part, without a hitch. On the other hand, delivery was, well, in a word, a clusterf–k.

Two weeks prior to delivery, I received an email, cc’d on which was my assigned “Delivery Specialist”. Let’s call him Jim. I never heard from Jim. A week went by, and with a week to go until scheduled ‘delivery’, I was anxious. After placing numerous calls to the gentlemen who had handed me off to Jim, I received a call from a second Delivery Specialist, let’s call him ‘John’. John and I arranged for a time for the car to be delivered (pickup is only available in California, elsewhere, buyers are charged $900 for the car to be delivered via flatbed truck or some equivalent to any location with an hour or so of ‘training’ by the delivering specialist I was corrected by multiple readers that all buyers are charged this destination fee). One day before the car was to be delivered, I received a call from Delivery Specialist #3, let’s call him “Dan”. Dan informed me that John had been ‘reassigned’ to another delivery, and Dan would be delivering my car. A quick rewind. About a month prior to getting the car I called Tesla asking them how I should set up my garage to charge the car. Tesla informed me that the ‘high powered wall connector’, which enables the car, rated at a range of 270 miles under ‘normal’ conditions’, to be charged in 4 hours, were back ordered, and as such, install a ‘Nema 6-50’ plug which can easily and quickly be converted to support the high powered wall connector when its available. As such, I had my electrician install the Nema 6-50. Fast forward to Dan, who now, a day prior to the car being delivered, informs me that the Nema 6-50 adapter is not available, and as such, I will have to plug the car into a standard 110v outlet, which charges the car at a rate of 2-3 miles per hour. Uh Oh. No worries though says Dan, the car will be fully charged upon delivery, or will it….

Delivery Day

At 8am, I receive a call from Dan saying he’s running a bit late, and the 9am scheduled time will likely be 9:20am. Knowing Dan is driving from NJ to Westchester County NY, I figured traffic was inevitable. At 8:30am I text Dan a simple, “how’s traffic’. No response. Over the next 45 minutes, I text and call Dan to no avail, he’s not responding. Worried, (and pissed, more pissed than worried), I call John, Delivery Specialist #2 who picks up. Upset, I ask John why Dan isn’t responding. John doesn’t know, but promises to call Dan and find out. A few minutes later John calls back, telling me Dan is “5-10 minutes away”. At 9:50am, Dan finally drives the car up my driveway. I’m pretty hot at this point. “Why pick up the phone for John and not me?” No real good response. Moving on I notice the car has plates, which I specifically said wasn’t required as I was transferring plates from my old car. Minor hiccup, but then I notice there’s no inspection sticker on the car. “Where’s the inspection sticker?” I ask Dan. Dan informs me he was ‘pained’ this morning prior to leaving for my home when he noticed the lack of an inspection sticker. “Why didn’t you tell me that when we spoke this morning so I could schedule an inspection?” I furiously asked Dan, given that Dan knew I had turned in my leased car the day before, and the Model S was to be my sole car. Shrugs and apologies ensued. “Isn’t it illegal to sell a new car without an inspection?” I ask Dan, and then Dan’s colleague from Tesla, who Dan called and I spoke with asking the same question. “Yes”, is the response I get from the Tesla employee on the phone, “it is illegal to sell a new car without an inspection.” Getting in the car, I also notice the car is only 75% charged, “Why isn’t the car fully charged?” I ask Dan. Another shrug, another apology. Two hours later, after numerous phone calls, I find a local auto shop to conduct the inspection, for $10 given it’s an all electric car – no emissions tests required. Now in fairness, Tesla did have another, fourth Delivery Specialist physically drive up a Nema adapter that afternoon, but overall, given my experience, the delivery experience is broken. No one called days in advance to confirm anything. While I am sure there is some checklist Delivery Specialists are instructed to follow, none was in this case. Fortunately, the car makes up for it.

The Car

The car itself, in my opinion, is gorgeous. Sleek lines, tons of room, and mostly well thought through. Its also BIG, only a few inches shorter than a base BMW 750. Driving the car is an experience like no other car I’ve ever driven. Acceleration from a standing start is amazing but what really sets the car apart is passing power. From 40mph to 70mph feels like it happens instantaneously, like being on a roller coaster when you first take off. It happens so quickly you don’t realize how fast you are going – speeding tickets are a real concern when driving this car. The driver and passengers alike are thrust back into their seats, response is instant when you mash the gas peddle accelerator. In a word, its exhilarating. Cornering is amazingly precise, thanks to the cars natural, low center of gravity. The driver can also adjust the handling between comfort, standard and sport driving modes. The seats are generally comfortable (more on that later) and there is an absolute ton of room. Now let’s get to specifics.

The Good

Beyond the acceleration and handling, the basic functions of a car, the technology is ridiculous, and yet, as I write below, there is a surprising amount of standard tech available on today’s gas-powered luxury cars that is shockingly absent. The central control panel is in short, fantastic. Touch response is immediate, no visual pixels, easy to reach, its great. And as you can see in the video below, its customizable. Rather than write about all that’s good in this car, only a video will really do it justice.

Also great is the iPhone/Android app, that allows you to do everything but turn on the car, including warming it up to try to recapture some of that lost range as a result of sitting, unplugged, in the cold (more on that later). See the screenshots below. The location screen, not shown, brings up the iOS Map screen with a blue dot where you are, and a red arrow where the car is, and can provide directions to get from you to the car. Like everything in the car’s display’s, the iOS’ displays also match the color and wheels on your actual car.

Tesla iOS Home Screen Tesla iOS Controls Screen Tesla iOS Climate Screen Tesla iOS Charge Screen

The Bad

The first morning I went to drive the car after charging overnight the charging port wouldn’t release from the car. Two calls into the ‘Ownership Experience” line (the first call sent me to voicemail telling me I’d get a call back), and a gentleman kindly walked me through a ‘soft reset’ of both the main touch screen as well as the driver display. What Dan, my Delivery Specialist didn’t tell me is that one needs to press AND HOLD the button on the charging port, push in and then pull out. Simply pressing and releasing the button before removing the port can ‘confuse’ the car.

The headrests aren’t great. They look cool, but are too narrow, and don’t have enough forward padding. The result is if you lean your head back, you find your head ‘slipping’ from one side or another, and if you don’t lean back, I found that simply bringing the seat more upright didn’t yield a comfortable back position.

Unfortunately, Tesla takes a nod from strategic partner Mercedes, in that the steering column literally hides the cruise controls, and is too close to the left turn signal, on which is the windshield wiper functionality, which is somewhat hidden as a result of the very beefy steering wheel.

While the technology package is impressive, here’s a shocking list of absent tech commonly found in other, high end luxury cars: heated sideview mirrors, proximity/parking sensors, and blind spot assist. The car with the telematics package comes with 3G, but no 4G, and while the car has wifi hardware built in according to Tesla, the ‘software’ isn’t ready to handle it. Plus, given the connectivity, there is no ability to use the car as a hotspot. Additionally, while the bluetooth connectivity to my iPhone worked well, on the music side, there is currently no way to browse the music on the phone, only skip to the next song. Bummer. Also, when navigation is on the main center console, there is no way to orient the marker to always face up – that happens on the driver display – this is something Dan mentioned Tesla was working on as well. Additionally, using the heater and air conditioning (especially this) is a real battery drain, yet Dan and a Tesla rep on the Owners Experience line indicated the front seat warmers don’t use nearly as much power. If so, why didn’t Tesla make back seat heat warmers standard, as well as footwell warmers using the same electric coil method? Doesn’t solve the A/C use, but does address cold weather use and possibly the cold weather battery drain issue (more on that below). There is also no heated steering wheel, another oversight in my opinion.

Another additional item I feel Tesla overlooked, especially given their partnership with Mercedes: no ability to fold down back seats from the trunk (which all Mercedes SUVs have). The Tesla has an amazing trunk (and frunk) space, but to get all that goodness, including the room when the back seats are folded down, one must do so from the back seat first. A small inconvenience, but one that could have been better thought through. Another small inconvenience, no hooks for clothing or laundry in the back seat ceiling…silly overlook in my opinion.

Finally, one comment on the Energy Consumption screen. As seen in the picture below, the left hand axis represents the watts/mi usage, while the line represents the remaining range based on driving at that instant (which is different than rated range). Problem is, naturally, if one sees a line go higher, the assumption is more range – not so, because higher watts/mi used on the left axis means less range. So users must get used to the fact that when the instant read is BELOW the solid horizontal range line, that means remaining range is HIGHER than rated range, and vica versa , and if the dotted horizontal average line (in this case your average expected remaining range based upon the last 15 miles), is ABOVE the solid horizontal rated range line, that means you expected to get LESS than the rated range reading on your driver display – an odd quirk, but one that can be overcome.
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The Cold

The weather, cold weather in particular, could be the Achilles heal of this car, although I’m told Tesla is working on it. Rated range is calculated based not only on driving habits but also on the battery itself. If the battery is cold, and all batteries, in order to function ‘optimally’ must be kept within an ideal temperature range, the rated range is reduced by the amount of energy the car requires to heat up the battery to within ideal temperature range. The impact to the battery has been mixed. On a cold, 26-degree day, I saw the car lose as much as 7 miles/hour in rated range from just sitting there, unplugged, while on other, more recent days its only lost 1-2 miles/hour of rated range. One Tesla rep from the Owner Experience line answered upon my asking, that leaving the car at JFK Airport, during the cold season, for even up to 24 hours, going on a trip and returning could leave you with a dead car. Yes, there are ‘safety measures’ the car goes into when the battery gets low, but the rep ‘did not recommend’ leaving the car at the airport for even 48 hours during winter. He said the company is working on this, alluding to it being a calculation error rather than a functional one, but in the end, he didn’t recommend leaving the car outside, not plugged in, for any extended period of time. On another day, I called the Owner Experience line again, asking the same question. This time, a helpful woman who owned an S in Colorado said just the opposite, also based on her personal experience and noted how many Roadster customers have left their cars unplugged ‘for weeks at a time’ without issue, although I failed to clarify if this was in cold weather. I’ll certainly keep an eye on this and report back in an update.

Summary

The Model S is a blast to drive, and is far head of the pack in terms of overall technology. While range is more than adequate for a daily use car, and even some longer drives (plus the Supercharger network that is free of charge to all 85Kw and 60Kw owners who purchase the twin charger add-on, Correction, free supercharging is available to all owners with an 85 kWh battery and those 60 kWh battery owners that purchase the seperate supercharging upgrade), range anxiety is limited, although not completely removed because more planning for long trips is required than with a standard gas car. No question its a game changer. But its not perfect, and while the absent technology and other creature comforts are generally easy to incorporate going forward, the cold weather battery issue needs to be addressed, and quickly, if Tesla is going to conquer the gas powered market. I’ll report back in six months or so after I’ve had the chance to drive the car more, and update my impressions.

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