June 18, 2013

My Wonderful Troubled Weekend with the Tesla S, Part 1


I belong to a club called Club Sportiva which gives you the opportunity to drive exotic cars (the cars they have in the fleet are here) while avoiding the extreme costs of owning such a car. One of the unusual cars they acquired recently was the high performance version of the Tesla S; so I took it out for the weekend and discovered it is a revolutionary car with some noted headaches. Let’s start with the amazing stuff and in part two, we’ll discuss the headaches.

Tech

This car is an amazing technology showcase and likely represents a good deal of what we’ll see in most cars in five to 10 years. First, it has a huge tablet-like display in the middle and a beautiful screen-based instrument display in front of the driver. This allows you to open and close the sunroof, raise and lower the car (both with animation showing motion), and have the largest GPS map in existence. What is particularly cool is you get three GPS displays, two on the center console showing the overall map and providing a list of the coming moves and one in front of the driver showcasing the next corner to take. This is all powered by the wonderful NVIDIA Tegra GPU and the visuals are stunning.   

The doors are electrically actuated. This is just cool. As you walk up to the car with the key fob in your pocket, the handles of the doors power out (they are normally flush) and you just touch the handle and the door opens. Starting, turning off, and locking the car are a bit disconcerting but cool nonetheless. When you open the door, the air conditioner and sound system come on; to “start” the car you tap the brake and that allows you to put it into drive or reverse. To turn off the car, you put it in park and exit the car; there is no “ignition” process. As you walk away from the car, it sucks the handles back in and it locks, even locking the charging umbilical to the car so a prankster can’t unplug it (if it is a Super Charger).  

The Super Charger is probably one of the most amazing pieces of technology out there. There aren’t many of them installed yet but they can take the car from near empty to full in a couple of hours and supposedly can get you to nearly 80 percent charge in 20 minutes if you have the high powered charge option in your Tesla (they only work on Tesla and are free).   


Image courtesy of Shutterstock

Wicked Fast

Now the performance version of the car is truly wicked fast. You really have no sense of how quick it is because you don’t hear the sound of the engine. This thing is really quiet and compared to the old Tesla Roadster it’s far better. 

I’d had a chance to drive the first Tesla and it was based on a Lotus design known for rattles; it also didn’t have any insulation, so it actually was kind of annoying to drive because you heard all the road noise and rattles the engine normally covered up. The Tesla S was like a Rolls Royce inside, or nearly dead quiet.   

To get an idea of how fast it was, we took it on the freeway and ran it next to the latest Jaguar, the F-Type, which is built almost like an updated Cobra (light aluminum body behind a big V8) and the Tesla was quicker.  I turned traction control off, and at 30 MPH, the car felt like it wanted to go sideways when I mashed the throttle. This brings me to one warning: when you accelerate that fast, it makes the front of the car light, and keeping any car straight that is accelerating like this is something you want to practice with or you’ll end up as a statistic. When I say “scary” fast, I mean it literally, and think most drivers would be more than happy with the lower performance version of this car. And if you let your kids drive it, there is a much better chance they will survive the experience as well. 

Click here for the second part of this article, where I discuss the drawbacks.




Edited by Rich Steeves



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