This month, Xm satellite radio has been running a special Billy Joel channel. That guy wrote and performed some absolutely amazing music! But I want to update the lyrics to one of his last century songs:
Traded in his Lexus for a Te-sa-la-la-la-la-la-la; You oughta know by now.”
Yes, we picked up the Tesla Model S yesterday. The weirdest thing is that, many years ago when I was a kid, I swore I would never own an American car. For generations, the American auto industry foist pure crap on the American people, and there was nothing anyone could do about it until the Japanese auto makers began selling reliable, excellent, value-laden automobiles in this country. Thank you Toyota and Honda! But I have been reminded that I have now purchased an American-made car, to which I reply, “No, this car isn’t made in America–not the real Amurrrica. This car is made in California!”
So I thought I would share some initial impressions (good and less than good) about the car.
No Start, Just Go
One of the strangest things about the car is getting accustomed to just walking up to it, getting in, putting it in gear and driving off. You don’t turn the car on or “crank” it. You don’t release an emergency brake. When you walk up to the car, it lights up, pops the mirrors out, turns on the climate control, pops the door handles out, and starts playing your music. The car turns itself “on.” But, of course, being “on” is totally silent; so, it doesn’t feel like it should be ready to drive away. It is.
Where’s the Off Button?
The reverse is even more unnerving: Upon arrival at a destination, you put the car in Park. When you open the car door, the music volume drops by 50% or so. The climate control is still running along with everything else in the car. The car is still “on.” Upon arrival at your destination you simply put the car in park, get out of the running automobile, close the door and walk away. When you’re about 10 feet away from it, the car applies the emergency brake, turns itself off, locks, and pulls the mirrors and door handles in flush with the vehicle. I’m sorry, walking away from a “running” car still just feels very weird to me. I’m sure I’ll get accustomed to it.
Accelerate or Get Run Over
The Tesla Model S recaptures energy the moment you stop actively accelerating. This means the accelerator functions very much like a brake peddle as well. When you back off of acceleration, the car immediately responds by actively slowing down–significantly slowing down as though you are applying the brake. The only time I use the brake is to bring the car to a total, complete stop at an intersection or the like. Until I get accustomed to this, my driving is a bit “jerky:” as though I accelerate and brake, accelerate and brake.
I noticed this morning, driving down to the ferry landing, which is a very steep downhill drive, the car does not roll down the hill like the Leaf or the Lexus. You have to actively engage “acceleration” or the car doesn’t move. When you stop actively accelerating, the car “brakes.” I like this and view it as a cool feature, but I’m not at all comfortable or natural with it yet.
How Do I Unlock the Doors When I’m IN the Car?
The first great dilemma I faced was unlocking the passenger door. I reached over on the driver’s door and searched through the standard window and mirror adjustment buttons. In the middle of the two (right/left) mirror selectors was a button, which I figured had to be for unlocking/locking the doors. I didn’t see any other button that could serve that purpose.
I pressed it and the mirrors pulled in parallel with the side of the car. Oh god! I didn’t know how to make them go back out, and Steve was standing outside the car looking all perplexed about how to get into the car because the door handles were flush with the side of the vehicle.
Finally, I started searching around the massive touchscreen until I found a button to unlock the doors. I touched it. The car made this delightful little chime sound, but Steve remained outside all perplexed. I touched the unlock again. Again. I yelled through the window: “Just pull on the handle and see what happens.” Apparently, you press the handle, and, when the car is unlocked, the door handles then present themselves for opening the door. This car is high tech!
Is it too high tech?! The phones are now paired and the phone contacts downloaded. (The music just streams from the phone into the stereo system via BluTooth when selected as the music source.) The garage door is now programmed. (BTW: it knows when you drive up to the garage door, because of its GPS, and presents a button on the screen to open the door.) The seats and mirror settings (driving in forward and reverse: different settings for each) are now all assigned to our individual driver profiles. The car now auto connects to the house WiFi (for software and firmware updates). The dashboard control panel settings have been selected. (You can assign what displays where.) The knobs on the steering wheel are all assigned. The home destination is programmed. Working through all of this took a good bit of time, and I’m sure I’m forgetting other things…
The Tesla Model S app is now assigned to the car and provides all kinds of functionality. My favorite function on the Tesla app is the ability to honk the car horn and/or flash the car lights from the phone to find the car in these parking garages! (Unlike key fobs, if you can get a cell of WiFi signal on your phone, you can honk the horn or flash the lights cross country if you like.) The app will also show you where you are and where the car is on satellite images and will provide you with directions to get to the car!
To Do List
The Xm radio is not yet assigned, and I haven’t activated the internet radio stations yet.
What I don’t like…
It’s a big car! I mean, big!! Our Lexus h450 SUV was not nearly as long! This car barely fits in the garage! I’m serious!! I was afraid to shut the garage door for fear it might come down on the back bumper of the Tesla Model S. I stood there with the handheld garage door opener to make sure it would clear the bumper. Of course, California is plagued with tiny garages!
The key to the car, which is a cute little mini Tesla Model S*, will not attach to a standard key ring. The opening is much too small. This is poor design or manufacturing. I have to use a string, provided by Tesla, to hang the key from my keychain. Really?!! Come on!
The reverse light section of the brake light assembly had condensation in it and will be replaced by Tesla. Oops!
The light tan ceiling of the car had a 3 inch spot on it. The service guy cleaned it off, and you can’t tell it was ever there.
The front storage hood compartment is a little odd to close. The first time I closed it, it didn’t seem to want to close, and I was afraid that if I pressed too hard I would damage it. (It’s made of aluminum, and they stressed how to properly close it.) I popped it back open and then it closed more easily. I will have the service department make sure it is properly aligned when I take it in for the brake light replacement.
The car only has 32 moving parts and uses no oil or petroleum products, just windshield washer fluid. Yet the annual check up is a whopping $400?! That seems a bit crazy. Supposedly they check out the battery, all of the computer systems, software and firmware. Shouldn’t I be able to have them do that through WiFi from home?! OK, maybe not the battery… But then, they make their own home charger…
I love the car. It has a full dose of new car smell. It handles beautifully. It can accelerate like a rocket ship! (I left a BMW in the dust getting on the 101 yesterday. Hate these tenth of a mile entrance ramps!!) I now feel like I can drive anywhere without thinking much about how much charge I have as I charge every time I pull into the garage. I suspect it will only take me a few weeks to feel completely comfortable with all of the car features.
As I was driving home from the Headlands yesterday, I had the windows down and was enjoying the cool ocean air after adjusting all of the car settings. A lady drove past me in the opposing lane, stuck her head out of her car and yelled, “I love your car!” The car really is delightful!
No more oil for this household!
- 2013 Automobile of the Year: Tesla Model S (automobilemag.com)