Test Drive Mania is back, and gets renamed for today's event. Tesla doesn't have dealerships, so
you can't just show up and drive a car in AZ due to dealer-sponsored legislation to protect their
I learned that Tesla is able to mitigate this with road shows, which you sign up for here, and is what I
learned after seeing one at Costco, and subsequently a trip to the showroom. Today was my scheduled
event, and although they were running almost 40 minutes late, I'm glad I stuck around to add this to
my list. Even the 65 kWh base model, which is what I got "stuck in" (I found out later the P85 was
available), is a very unique experience. There is no transmission, it is direct-drive from the motor
to the rear wheels, so there is always instant and full torque of 317 lb-ft in the 65, and 443 lb-ft
in the P85. Also, the regenerative braking has two modes, and on the more severe (and default)
setting, getting off the gas causes a noticeable slowing - enough that the brake lights come on and
it will bring you nearly to a halt even without ever applying the brake pedal.
Right now it's a no-go for us for a few reasons - primarily the cost of course, since the model
we would want is over $100,000. But not only that, one of our favorite road trips is to Las Vegas,
and even driving like a granny won't get you there from Phoenix without charging along the way.
Currently Las Vegas doesn't have any high-speed charging, and who knows if casinos have it
available. But even that doesn't matter until Telsa installs their "Supercharging" station in
Kingman, AZ, because any charging at a Whole Foods (if even available) would more than double the
trip time. Why buy a high-range electric car if you have to use the inefficient gas engine car for
the road trips where you'd really benefit from having the electric?!
Have you ever driven a performance car? Part of the joy of driving them is the throaty growl an
engine and exhaust system provide as you accelerate hard. There's nothing in a Telsa, except
maybe a small, asthmatic whine and the radio. This means the speed catches you by surprise though,
which is cool/dangerous.
Let's talk performance. In all of Tesla's promotional materials, range and trip calculators are
based on a maximum outside temperature of 90 degrees, and a maximum speed of 65 MPH. Neither of
these are realistic for us, and frankly how many people buy 300 horsepower cars to drive them 65 MPH and in
ECO (aka Granny) mode. So in an unscientific test, using the car's trip odometer, we clocked Teri
Ann using 1kWh driving 2.2 miles, which works out to a 187-mile range with the AC on max. This is
short of the car's rated range of 230 miles, although it probably averages out on a longer drive.
But we would have to be careful because it's hard to not drive this car the way we were driving it -
that launch is addictive. The steering, despite being electric, is nicely responsive on normal road
driving - I didn't have a chance of course to try hard cornering.
Your suspension and performance can be monitored and adjusted using the center console, which is
a completely digital, 17-inch, touchscreen that you use to control everything. Aside from the car
settings (down to headlights and door locks), radio, AC, panoramic sunroof, reverse camera, and
Google Maps navigation. The car has its own 3G network (provider unspecified) for your mapping and
internet radio, and even includes an internet browser! For now it's free, but that won't last and no
mention of how much it may cost per month. But I certainly hope (without holding my breath) that
there would be an offline maps option on a $3500 nav system if Garmin can do it for $199/lifetime!
Other than the 17" touchscreen, the driver's dash is another screen that shows your economy and
speed in the center, but the left and right thirds can be customized with either nav, radio, more
battery consumption statistics, and possibly more. The rest of the interior trim doesn't have the
quality of other luxury vehicles in that price range or even lower - in a way, it's like how Hyundai
is still trying to get their Genesis to the level of Lexus, except Hyundai is $20k less, not $40k
more. For the price of a Telsa, the seats in the Mercedes S500 are still the most comfortable I've ever been in, possibly
including furniture at home. The back bench gets special note, as it is split into three equal seats
instead of the traditional 2 + 1, where the person in the middle gets squished and where an armrest
is commonly available folded up. At least there is no driveshaft coming up into the floor, so
legroom is improved, but not all adults will feel comfortable with their seatbelts buckled. There
are two final seats as an option, and those are rear-facing childrens seats (75lb max). That does
bring back memories of looking out the back of 1980s station wagons as a kid, but there are no
airconditiong vents and a lot of glass, which might melt kids here in Arizona. The deep footwell can
be covered when the seats aren't in use, or you can take advantage of that extra storage - the main
trunk is actually under the hood, and it does have a spot that looks deep enough for golf clubs -
necessary since that hatch doesn't allow for fold-down rear seats (WHY EVEN HAVE A HATCH?!?)
Finally, aestetically I give Telsa major props, for finally realizing that electric cars don't
have to look ridiculous (C'mon Nissan, Toyota, and even Chevy). From the front it's aggressive with
cool LED headlamps (sort of like Audi), the lines are sleek with some cool little touches like the
door handles retracting completely when the car is locked. And by the way, the key fob is a mini
Tesla (between Micro Machines and Matchbox Car size). Press the hood to open the hood, the trunk to
open the trunk... You get the idea. The trunk is the only area where we are not fans, because as if
by some unwritten rule, all hybrids need to be hatchbacks :-(
I thought I'd miss rowing through a manual transmission with this car, but really enjoyed the
drive and for the first time think there may one day be room for an electric car in our garage.