By Barbara & Bill Schaffer
For the last couple of years, like most people who are interested in cars, we’ve been fascinated by the Tesla S. We have read many of the reviews, seen the impressive ratings and often see a couple of the battery-powered Teslas in our neighborhood. When we’re in California we see a lot of them on the road.
It’s also been one of the cars most people ask about when they find out that we write about cars. However, we’ve never had a chance to drive one, even around the block, let alone for a week like most of the cars we test and we have asked several times.
Recently we got an email from Jamee Hawn, from the Tesla PR department. She said they would be in town at the Portland International Raceway (PIR) for a day in March giving rides on the track in the Tesla Model S P85D to “sick and medically fragile kids.” She also attached this video showing what it was like to ride during full acceleration.
Not wanting to miss a chance to get a little seat time in the Tesla, we made an appointment to spend some time with Jamee in the new Model S P85D at PIR.
When we arrived at PIR Jamee gave us an overview of the car and then Bill slid behind the steering wheel and Barbara hopped in the back seat of the luxurious sedan.
The interior is exceptionally simple and clean and there are practically no buttons or switches – nearly everything is controlled by the 17-inch touchscreen mounted in the center of the dash.
The first thing we noticed about the screen was the vibrant images and how fast it responded to the touch. It’s used to control the personalization of the car so it can be adjusted to how the driver wants vehicle functions to look and respond. It also controls climate, media, communications, navigation, energy consumption and the high definition backup camera.
With the basics covered we drove to the starting line for the drag strip section of the PIR track and stopped. The “Insane” mode was selected on the screen. Bill took his foot off the brake and slammed the accelerator to the floor. Your head is literally thrown against the seat when it launches and in just over three seconds (3.1 seconds to be exact) the Tesla was flying past 60 mph on the digital speedometer and still climbing quickly. There was no fuss, no squealing of tires, just the sedan moving down the track nearly silent. Jamee said the car was set to have a top speed of 80 mph for purposes of this day at the track, but this car normally has a top speed limited to 155 mph.
Bill continued around the familiar track a few laps to get a feel for the handling. The car stayed flat in the corners, braking was quick and steering precise. It’s not a race car or high powered sports car, but the acceleration and handling is excellent, especially for a sedan that is couple inches longer than a Ford Fusion. We’ve never been in a car this quiet, either.
The Model S P85D is the first Tesla with a dual motor, one in front driving the front wheels and another in the rear driving the rear wheels. The original Model S had one engine in the rear, driving the rear wheels. The front and rear engines operate separately to control traction with the tires with the best grip getting the most torque. The two electric motors combine to produce 691 horsepower.
While the performance is impressive, equally impressive is the range, which is listed at 253 miles. We’ve driven eight other electric vehicles but none of them even have a range of 100 miles before needing a charge.
The Tesla we drove was equipped with an optional feature called Autopilot. It won’t actually drive the car for you, but the sophisticated system works like an advanced form of the active cruise control that’s in many of the new cars we’ve driven recently.
The Tesla Autopilot uses radar, a forward looking camera and 360 degree sonar sensors with real-time traffic updates to automatically drive the Model S on the open road and in dense stop and go traffic. Then when you arrive at a destination it will detect a parking spot and automatically park itself. The safety equipment constantly monitors traffic signals, stop signs and it watches for pedestrians.
One of the important features of the Tesla is to be able to send the car electronically updates and add features automatically without the car having to go into the shop for the changes. For example the current version 6.2 of the control software is adding automatic emergency braking and blind spot warning to the vehicle drive features and there is no charge to the owner.
One of the other Autopilot features added in a recent update was the car’s ability to warn you when merging into an occupied lane or are approaching a stopped car too quickly. It will also bring the car to a full stop in an emergency situation.
Autopilot can even be programed to look at your calendar when you start in the morning, calculate travel time, and set a driving route to your first appointment based on real time traffic. Plus the car will automatically open the garage door with HomeLink, carefully back out of a tight garage, and pull up to your door ready for your commute. The car will also tune to your favorite morning news and heat or cool the car to your favorite temperature.
Previously electric cars were limited to local driving, but Tesla has changed that by installing a network of strategically placed Supercharger stations across the country. As we finished this story, there are 415 stations with ,285 Supercharger fast chargers on line. All the owner has to do is check on the Google Maps on the touch screen and select a station. The navigation system will pick the best route to the charge point. These high speed chargers are free to Tesla owners and will provide about 170 miles of range in as little as 30 minutes. The Supercharge stations are conveniently located near restaurants or shopping centers. They extend across the U.S. so this is an electric car you could easily take on a cross country road trip.
The Tesla Model S is available in three levels. We noticed on the Tesla web site that the original rear-wheel drive model 85 was missing on the order page, perhaps it will be discontinued?
The three all-wheel drive S models listed on the Tesla site include the 70D 85D and P85D (P is for performance). The number indicates the battery size, either 70 or 85 kWh (kilowatt hours). These three models have an estimated range of 240, 270 and 253 miles respectively.
The 70D, which was introduced last week, is priced at $75,000. With the $7,500 Federal Tax Credit and estimated $10,000 saved on gas in five years it has an estimated price of $57,500. The 85D is priced at $85,000 and the P 85D is $105,000, both before incentives and fuel savings are calculated into the price. The destination and regulator doc fee adds $1,200 to each price.
Available options include Autopilot Convenience Features ($2,500), Smart Air Suspension ($2,500), Ultra High Fidelity Sound ($2,500), Premium Interior and Lighting ($3,000), Executive Rear Seats ($3,000), Subzero Weather Package ($1,000), and Rear Facing Seats – a third row ($3,000).
Tesla plans to add a sport utility model early in 2016 called the Model X. It’s a new two-motor ground up design that will seat seven adults. It has unique Falcon Wing Doors that fold up and out of the way allowing easier access to the third row seats.
Now that’s we’ve driven the Tesla, we’re impressed and we like to get more time in it so we could see what it would be like as an everyday driver. I wonder if they’d let us take one on a cross country road trip?
For more information on Tesla go to their website at http://www.teslamotors.com/ .