2014 TESLA Model S 85 Review
After a scathing Op-Ed the other week about Tesla Motors' many (perceived) shenanigans on Wall Street and in Washington: I decided it was time to get behind the wheel to experience the car itself.
I registered my interest in the Model S at TeslaMotors.com and promptly received a nice phone call from Silicon Valley to help arrange things.
But the nearest Tesla dealers were at least five hours away from me, so I put a pin in the Tesla test drive and went back to work on normal vehicle reviews/ keeping the website up/ growing our audience / forging a path to ad revenue.
SIDEBAR -- BACKGROUND:
Special thanks to David, our Tesla consultant yesterday from Raleigh, NC. Hopefully this review will sell 50 Tesla's -- even if I do not purchase one myself.
For the record, I really do not enjoy playing a car shopper without any actual intentions to purchase a car. I try to be honest and say I am an automotive writer -- at which point Jaguar of West Ashley basically slammed the dealer door in my face and even CarMax got a bit huffy.
But how else to gain access to first-hand data while still a minnow from the media reach side of things? The best option, I am quickly learning, is just to make appointments online before heading to a dealer. And then being extra quiet about actually being an automotive reviewer.
But I am a bad liar, surprisingly, and I empathize with sales folks who have looming goals over their head every day in the office. Spending time with me is a giant waste of their time -- I will not be signing any lease or finance agreements in the two hours following a drive. This makes any time with me seem like a huge wasted effort. No one likes their time wasted.
So, trade group events, car clubs, auto shows and very infrequent visits to auto dealers are my game plan until:
A) I return to a city larger than Charleston with some auto fleet representation
B) Car-Revs-Daily.com is large enough to even blip anyone's radar as a viable use of press drive invites
C) A miracle?
BOOKING MY TEST DRIVE
It was with this kind-hearted/sharp-tongued reluctance that I finally booked my Tesla drive.
The nice folks in Palo Alto reached back out to let me know about a road show coming through Charleston, SC, where I am based. Would I like to drive the car?
I still have deep doubts about the retailing model Tesla employs, but as noted above, I am acutely aware of how sucky traditional car dealerships are. Especially versus the click-to-buy and 10-minute custom configurations available on TeslaMotors.com.
THE TESLA MOTORS' ROAD SHOW
Arriving to the address on my booking had me at a Holiday Inn about an hour from my home. There was no tent, no Tesla cars, and no one at the desk of the hotel who had any idea.
Me: Hi, I am here for a Tesla thing?
Desk Girl: Tesla? Is that the name of a guest here?
Me: No, it is a car company with an event here today. Is this 350 rural lane Holiday Inn?
Desk Girl: Yes, but we do not have any idea about any car thing, nor have we seen anyone else who does.
I walked back out into the parking lot, confirmed I was in the right place on the right date (a big *if* in my scattered brain), then started dialing my booker people. No answer; voicemail right away. It was Saturday, after all. Was this a giant 'FU' from Tesla for saying their $2B bond issue for a battery giga-factory was "entirely fictional" as a real business plan?
No, it could not be. Stop being so paranoid, Tom.
I roamed a bit more and found a lone Tesla promo flag. No Tesla's to be seen, but I was 15-minutes early.
TESLA SILENTLY SLIDES INTO FOCUS
At precisely 3:59p, the Tesla Model S rolled in from its previous test drive. The family before me would almost certainly be ordering one, I concluded after their joyous excitement about the car.
They requested a lighting demo to see what the LEDs looked like outside, as the wife (?) noted to me about the husband:
"He is crazy about LEDs. Switched every bulb in our house!"
Note: Sounds familiar to me, sister...! I did that, then started baking my own headlights to unseal them, adding LEDs, and re-wiring it all inside my apartment before laboriously installing them again on my (street-parked) Subaru Legacy GT in Chicago...
The husband wanted to confirm the rear blinkers were LED-operated as well. They almost certainly are, to save energy.
The TESLA brake light bar under the rear glass looks much like my own Cadillac STS-based effort -- but much classier and following the shape of the Tesla's roofline artfully.
MODEL S FIRST IMPRESSIONS AND INTRO DETAILS
After a few minutes, it was my turn. Too sheepish to ask if I could GoPro the whole drive, we talked about the charging basics and headed into the cabin.
Door handles are fabulously interesting and intuitive; far better than Aston-Martin and Jaguar can manage.
Rear trunk is enormous, Frunk is pretty large too.
Portrait-oriented multi-touchscreen as great as ever imagined a car setup could ever be to use or enjoy
Back seat legroom is also very, very generous with totally flat floor
Steering wheel in optional Nappa leather felt divine
Great resolution in main gauge displays
Easy-on setup; just tap the brake. Second-nature.
Lighting and Mercedes-Benz-sourced PRNDL, cruise and blinker stalks suck and are hard to operate on first sitting.
But hey, even the E550's standard shifter requires instruction, to say nothing of BMW's god-awful electronic PRNDL controls in the X1 sDrive28i.
Front seat leather actually felt cheap and nasty, seats not comfortable on first sitting with no base adjustment.
(Previous seat I played with was 2014 BMW 740Li, so perhaps spoiled on that front.)
Blinker sound is from an old Pontiac: (Clonk, Clonk, Clonk as the arrow flips to green)
We set off and I was immediately stunned by the road manners and shapely appearance of the Model S in person -- especially how huge and chic the rear fenders look via the side mirrors.
Steering felt firm and very BMW-esque, which is amazing for an all-electric setup.
Range was not a concern, with 180 miles left since doing hard test drives for the last six hours with other folks.
The car handled well from its first wheel movement, but was not exactly "silent" as the mags will have you believe.
On Southern pavement, at least, the wind and tire roar was pretty typical of a normal car, and louder than most luxury cars once they are in high-gear cruise.
Pace from 40-mph with hard throttle was very pleasant. A surge without any kickdown or upshift at the end. Delightful.
The Model S 85 felt fast, but not exactly E63 AMG fast. My light throttle roll-in is probably to blame for the lack of drama.
Controlling lights and moonroof via the large central panel seems like a good idea, but is a bit of overkill versus simple switches
The seats are dreadful versus any real luxury or sports car. Definitely the worst part of the Model S, with no base support and no lateral support (at all). We were both sliding around and bracing ourselves around every corner. Materials quality for the headliner was also a bit lackluster, and reminded me of a Chevy Volt.
While the video does not convey our rate of speed very dramatically, I can assure you it felt very quick. But also a bit anodyne and less than exciting versus a big roaring engine, in my opinion.