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My 500 mile Tesla test drive

May 14, 2016

2014-tesla-model-s-p85d-road-test-dec-2014-photo-david-noland_100494832_m

I’ve wanted a Tesla for years.  I finally had the chance to test drive a P85D with all the upgrades and I drove it from Seattle to Tri-Cities and back, most of all to test the new autopilot feature.  This is my reaction to the $130,000 car.

Autopilot:  Can the car drive itself?  Yup!  And reliably.  If the car can see highway lines, it’s very good.  It’s a little less smooth, a little bit jerky – it reminded me of a responsible, attentive 1st year driver.  Overall, experiencing this level of automation exceeded even my high expectations.

Comfort:  There were ridiculously high levels of wind noise, which I would rank as stupid high for a luxury car.  21″ tires were really rough on all but the smoothest roads.  On the rougher roads (like the pass), the interior rattled like my old 1988 Camry (I’m not kidding).  It was hard to hear my travel companion – things had to be repeated multiple times.

Battery Range:  We drove in winter time (30 degree temps), which I learned later significantly impacts range.  Because I can be nerdy, I tracked miles Tesla reported the battery would go vs miles actually driven.  For every mile we drove the car ate up 1.72 miles of estimated range, on average.  Said differently, the car overestimated how far it would go by 72%.  That was a massive difference.  You definitely can’t drive Seattle to Tri-Cities without stopping to charge and you can’t trust the “estimated range” in cold temperatures.

Supercharger:  We stopped at  the Ellensburg super charger.  I was impressed how the car charges from 0-50% in 20-30 minutes.  Very fast.  Charging slows down exponentially as the battery gets closer to 80%.

Large Screen:  Initially, the large screen touch screen is fun and kind of sexy.  However, at night, it’s like having a TV screen in your face.  I wished it would turn off.

Seats:  Comfortable.  Rear seats were definitely not comfortable.  Because the car seats are very low to the floor, it puts your knees high in the air.  My averaged height male friend complained of the low head clearance in the back.

Acceleration:  The P85D is wicked awesome.  It’s ridiculously fun taking off like a rollercoaster in Disney World whenever you slam the “gas” (electric?) pedal.  Electric motors give you instant torque and, wow, does it make you grin.

More on road noise:  there is a low, rumbling level that’s quite loud.  Hard to hear, found myself constantly looking at the person in an unconscious attempt to read their lips.  The Tesla salesperson said, “Turn up the radio.”  That’s a silly requirement on this expensive of a car.  That’s what I’d tell someone buying a $5,000 used car.

More on autopilot:  Would I want the car to drive in icy conditions over the pass by itself when the lines have been scraped off?  No.  Would I trust it on normal highway conditions?  Absolutely.  When it loses highway lines I was impressed how well it still “saw” the road and did exactly what a normal driver would do.  On the highway from Ellensburg to Kennewick, the Tesla drove itself the whole time – I didn’t steer at all.

Summary:  It is awesome to see the future of self driving cars in the here and now.  Not reading about it in a magazine where they plan to release it in “20xx.”  Right now.  I had high expectations and it exceeded even those expectations.  On the con side, I’m sensitive to road noise since I drive so much and the car was ridiculously loud, rattling and shaking like a much less expensive car.  While I love the acceleration, the reality is, 99% of the time I want a smooth, quiet peaceful ride.  The gap in estimated battery range VS reality was also kind of mind blowing.  If we hadn’t way over charged the battery, we wouldn’t have made it.

Final feel:  It’s a car I want to love.  The autopilot and acceleration really are amazing, but the ride is horribly rough and can’t-hear-others-talk road noise and interior rattling kill the buzz, and quickly.  The best description I heard of Tesla is, an amazing software company that is still learning how to make quality cars.  That’s exactly how it feels – like being in a 40-60k car with amazing software.

Update:  My experience apparently matches the Consumer Reports article on other user complaints.  Here’s more detailed breakdown of reliability data, which ranks Tesla in the worst category for reliability but high for customer satisfaction.

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