My Model S was delivered at the end of May 2015. I’d confirmed my order New Year’s day and seemed to have an inordinately long wait for delivery, it’s unclear why it took nearly 6 months. This was the only part of what was the first pleasant car buying experience I’ve had, no car salesmen, only helpful staff. I’m not a rich Tesla owner, my previous car was a Subaru Liberty wagon and my other car is a smart Roadster and my previous cars have been Citroen’s and Golfs.
My first impression of the Tesla was it’s size, this is a large car, certainly compared to my smart and the extremities aren’t too visible. Luckily the car is packed with accurate proximity sensors that display distance on the screens and also a wide view rear camera with helpful guide makers that show the path the car is taking when reversing. Unfortunately there’s no forward camera.
The main characteristic of this car is its refinement. The motor is silent even under maximum acceleration & there’s minimal wind noise although the supplied Goodyears are noisy on some surfaces. Everyone talks about the acceleration, and whilst this is one of the slower Model S’ and I’ll really only ever lose a traffic light GP to a faster Tesla, one of the under-recognised pluses of this car is how pleasant and engaging it is to drive slowly. It accurately keeps speed, I didn’t realise how much an ICE car hunts around a set speed until I drove the Tesla. Throttle response is instant and the engine region that recovers energy off throttle means that I really only touch the brake pedal for a final stop. I’ve never noticed brake dust on the wheels and people in the US are reporting over 100,000 miles for a set of brake pads.
There are 3 different steering settings: too light, too heavy and just right, although even ‘just right’ could benefit from some better feel. The turning circle is not good, exacerbated by the long wheelbase, although the long wheelbase and the higher profile 19″ wheels contribute to a stable comfortable ride even on pot holed or unsealed roads. I do a lot of country driving and there’s no dust entry into the cabin and after a year the car remains completely rattle free and well put together.
I like the minimalist interior although others prefer rows of buttons and leather. I optioned ‘down’ from leather to cloth seats; more comfortable in my opinion and get nowhere near as hot in summer. For the same reason we didn’t option the pano roof and I must say that this car is very well insulated and requires minimal heating in winter, often I just use the seat heaters. The front seats have been criticised in some quarters as lacking in lateral support but they are much more comfortable than the Recaro designed seats in my old Subaru that had large side bolsters. They are electrically adjustable in every way and come with memory settings but these are selectable from the main screen not linked to the proximity key.
The 17″ main screen is a real feature and talking point although, with no haptic feedback sometimes it’s difficult to hit the ‘button’ on the screen. AutoSteer and traffic aware cruise control were added by software update during October, a really amazing experience to see your car improve as it gets older. There are regular updates that improve function and certainly AustoSteer is reliable on the Hume Highway. It’s equally a joy to use at the other driving extreme in peak hour traffic, I can just leave the boring driving to the car and take over on more interesting or challenging roads. Handling is very good and having driven AWD and staggered tyre setups I think that the 19″ RWD S has the best balance of power, grip and handling even if the AWD Models have better ultimate grip.
The car uses technology to make driving simple and less intrusive, there’s no handbrake, it just engages automatically, no gear changing is a real positive contributor to driving experience and this is from someone who had only ever driven manuals and who felt that the smart paddle shift was a sell out.
It goes without saying that the car is very economical to run. Much of our charging is done at Superchargers and these are free to use for the life of the car. When at home I can recharge overnight and even if I arrive home with an almost empty battery it will be full again by the morning. When traveling I can recharge from any 10A GPO and add 100km of range overnight but as my car came with the optional second on board charger I can recharge at around 100km of range from any 3 phase 16A powerpoint if I use the appropriate adaptor so this will fully recharge the car in 4 hours. Superchargers are spaced every 200km up the Hume so that you arrive with a half full battery and really can resume your trip in the time it takes for a toilet stop.
I’ve had 2 problems with my car in the last year. The air-conditioning stopped working, it turned out that a rat had eaten through an electrical connector wire, can’t really blame Tesla for that, its a peril of living in the country.
The second problem developed at only 32,000km, a noisy motor that made the car sound like a car from the Jetsons. Performance and energy consumption were unaffected and apparently longevity and wear are also unaffected but Tesla replaced the motor under warranty and silence returned. Whilst of course I’m concerned that a motor should become noisy after 30,000km it says a lot for Tesla’s proactive focus on customer satisfaction that it was replaced willingly without a problem. Imagine a traditional car manufacturer saying ‘can we replace the motor on your new car because it’s working perfectly but noisy?’ I think not. It is ‘watch this space’ though.
What don’t I like?
Whilst Tesla put a lot of effort into making the propulsion software bullet-proof, the mapping and entertainment software needs improving. There is no way to set waypoints or multiple destinations or preferred routes, after 12 months my car is still trying to route me off every toll road and I can’t change this behaviour.
Spotify has been recently added and it’s free, of course this is fantastic but the feature set is incomplete and is unlikely to change. This is a symptom of owning a car built by a small company that is putting most of it’s resources into expansion and new models.
The wipers could really do with an extra speed in torrential rain and the headlights are average at best having had their power output down rated for Australia. The problem is constant delays at Superchargers as people always want to talk about the car. I don’t work for Tesla but it sure feels like they should be paying me!
Would I buy another one? Yes, in a heartbeat.