Cars

My Tesla Model S Review

My first purely electric car and I don't think I'll ever want to go back to internal combustion cars ever again. Since I tend to catalog and log everything interesting, I suppose this page serves as a natural location for documenting my experience with 2013 Tesla Model S. Modifications, problems, etc. Although, I certainly hope problems section will remain empty.


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Haven't bought a new car for a very long time and my last one was an 1994 BMW 325is, which I got as a temporary solution while I was trying to figure out what did I want. As many other "temporary" things, it stuck and I ended up driving that junker for 8 years or so. As I've discovered driving a junker had number of advantages, such as no frequent carwashes, no need to wax and detail, etc. Obviously, when it was drivable it was worry free, except for the times when it broke down :)

Finally I've decided it was a time to get a better car although, I was hesitant because I knew new car meant I'd have to pay a lot more attention to keep it clean and shiny, and the usual worries with parkings and dents and all that. One thing was clear, given my driving patterns and the fact that I live in California(no cold winters to worry about), electric car was pretty much an ideal choice. My daily commute won't normally exceed 50 miles and most of the electrics can handle that much. Sad part is for whatever reason absolute majority of the electric vehicles are plain ugly. I figured BMW Active E, 1 series electric would be nice, but apparently that one was a limited edition leased to few people and I'd have to give up any hopes on that one.

Then there was Tesla, which was a very new car designed from the scratch to be electric, but I did have my reservations about it. For one, the price tag. 60K base price isn't exactly a pocket change, I wish it was, but it ain't. Then for a while Tesla didn't have a lease program, and that wasn't inspiring much of a confidence either, if they don't believe in their product, why should I. And Tesla Model S seemed too big for me. I've kept looking around, but for whatever reason car manufacturers do their best to keep EVs and hybrids as crappy looking as they can, or despite their best efforts they still look crappy, I do not know, but even BMWs i3 series, announced and delivered with much fanfare, doesn't look appealing at all. Then, in spring 2013, Tesla Motors introduced their lease program(let's call it a lease, it's more complicated but basically it is). I've figured, I might spend next 10 years looking for a better looking EV, why not try Tesla Model S. Went for a test drive, which was quite easy to set up, and that was it. I loved how the car felt, drove, handled, interior and exterior, basically just about everything. To me it's the geekiest car there is and being a geek, I viewed it as a pretty much perfect choice.

Buying

- It is a lot easier than any other car I have bought in the past. No dealers to deal with, assemble your car online and place an order, then pick it up on designated date, at the designated location. As simple as it gets. Well, in theory at least. In practice there were few snags along the way, but overall, it's still better car buying experience compared to traditional dealership model. Nobody is trying to shove extra options down your throat, making you wait while they "talk to the boss to get you a better deal" and other BS like that. I've picked metallic gray color, black roof and tech option which I wanted mainly for the GPS fully functioning on that 17" screen, as I tend to get lost anywhere :) Well, turned out homelink, memory seats and mirrors, automatic keyless entry and hidef rear cam are also very nice additions that come with the tech package. Overall, I am happy with my choice. I didn't need neither larger battery pack, not supercharger, like I said, my daily commute is limited to 50 miles or less and I don't plan on doing long trips in that car. If I ever will, I suppose I can upgrade. 5.6 seconds time for 0-60mph is plenty of acceleration, so I've skipped high performance model.

I got lucky with waiting period, normally it's about 3 months, but as I was ordering closer to end of the quarter, my car was ready exactly in a month. During the waiting period Tesla sales and support team did keep me updated on my car build progress, and lease paperwork was also done online. Couple times, when I had questions or concerns, one of the team member would promptly call and answer all of them. Super ;) Like I said, much better buying experience. As for the snags, there were two. I did choose pickup location in Palo Alto, but due to a mistake initial pickup location was scheduled at Fremont, which is where the Tesla factory is. Second snag was with the financing, I was told I could change the downpayment amount at the pickup location, but turned out that that wasn't easy, it'd take a day or two to redo the paperwork and I was already there for a pickup, but I've figured it wasn't super important, so I've opted to just pickup the car and be done with it. In short, if you are financing, then you better ensure paperwork is exactly as you want, changing things at the pickup location isn't neither quick nor easy, at least that was the case during the Summer of 2013 when I was picking up my car.

The things I like about my Tesla Model S

- This page isn't meant to be a full blown review of the Tesla Model S as a car, I am not really qualified to review cars, although I do have my opinions, but anyway, I'm neither a good driver not a car expert. Instead, I'll just go through what I really like about the car and the concept. So, let's begin with the big one, purely electric propulsion and drivetrain.

Display

Plenty Of Gadgets

- Well, obviously, the 17" touch screen takes the crown. To give you a perspective, that's two ipads slapped together. No other car has it and without any exaggeration, it is super useful and convenient tool for managing the car and doing other things like listening to the music and navigating. You can monitor energy consumption in various modes, use webcam for rear view, use multimedia apps, use a browser, manage car settings and behavior, all from the same touch screen. What's also really cool, you can get software updates using 3G connection or WiFi in the future, and that includes not only application updates, but car functionality as well, e.g. creep mode was added using such an update, battery efficiency, climate controls, etc. That's 21st century babe ;) There are two USB ports as well, which can be used for charging or delivering content, which is what I use one of those. 12V port is present as well. Bluetooth connectivity is a must and it's there of course. Bluetooth allows both, hands-free and music streaming, which is handy, because I play music on my cell and stream to the car when I want to use playlists, see below about that.

Customizable Digital Dashboard - I really like the design and the concept. Speed is obviously shown on the dashboard, but what I like better is that instead of the RPMs, it displays energy consumption, which is the same as current horsepower actually. That's when the indicator is in orange. When you're in the regenerative breaking mode, the indicator turns green, showing amount of the energy generated. Plus, both edges of the dashboard are customizable. Using stirring wheel controls you can select what to display in each corner(about 20-25% of the dashboard width) and choices are navigation screen, trip stats, multimedia, etc. Plus, at the bottom you get the usual odometer readings and current time. Tesla Model S dashboard is very flexible and customizable, packed with useful info, as the modern dashboard should be.

Touch interface - It is designed with the help from Apple I suppose, and to be honest I am no fan of the Apple as a company, but for what it's worth, the interface is mostly well thought and designed, looks pretty nice, with iOS like blue buttons and other UI elements. And in a typical Apple fashion, some of the key features are missing from the interface, and ironically or coincidentally, my main complaints about this care are related to software interface, not its hardware or driving, perhaps because I am a better programmer than a driver :) Still, not having dozens of buttons to manage a car and the fact that everything is doable from the touch screen is a huge advancement over the traditional approach.

3G connectivity - As for now, summer 2013 Tesla is still providing 3G connectivity for free. In other words they are paying for the service themselves, which is nice, but all good things have an end, and that free ride will expire sometime. Before I started driving my car and using 3G connectivity, I didn't think it was important enough, I simply didn't think it would be that much useful. Now, after using it for a while, I can't really imagine how would it be without connectivity. Once Tesla stops providing it, I'll most certainly sign up for whatever service will be offered. On the other hand, if WiFi works properly I could use my cell phone for tethering, either way, network is very handy and useful.

Mobile Apps And REST Interface

- Like I said, Tesla Model S geek magnet factor is very high. Mobile apps are available for Android, iOS, and Windows Mobile. Those apps certainly could be improved in terms of features, but still you can manage number of car operations with them including lock/unlock, env. controls, charge level and start/stop charging, adjusting charge limits(currently limited to standard/max options, but percentage slider is promised), locate car on the map, etc. On top of that, REST interface was reverse engineered by community and posted online, which means you could write your applications utilizing the same features. In fact I have java app installed on my pc as I type this. I'd love if Tesla published official SDK sooner than later, and preferably allowed installing user apps too, but I figure it's not gonna be too simple, safety and liability issues... Still, at least there is the Tesla Model S REST API documentation.

Unique Design

- As a concept, electric cars are nothing new, at the dawn of 20th century there were plenty of them, in relation to total car numbers that is. Eventually, gasoline as a fuel did decide the fate of the electric cars, but they still stuck around one way or another. Jay Leno still has one of those electric cars from early 20th century, and according to him it never broke down, just charge and drive. As for the new design, unlike other EVs Tesla Model S is designed to take full advantage of its electric drivetrain and power source.

Simply put, the battery pack which is considerable weight is on the floor, moving cars gravity center very low compared to same class internal combustion or even electric cars built using more traditional design. At the same time that frees up a lot of space under the hood and in the trunk. On top of that, the electric engine, which is rather small compared to its IC counterparts, is situated between the rear wheels, slightly above rear axle. That design eliminates the necessity of the long, clunky drive shaft running from the front of the car all the way to the rear axle.

In the end, weight savings are also considerable, which is important, as the battery pack is quite heavy, so whatever is saved on the missing parts, is countered by the heavy power source. Well, hope is as the technology improves, batteries will get both, reduced weight and increased capacity. Still, in the end, you have a car which has very low center of the gravity, and tons of free space. Plus is looks very slick :) I suspect part of the problem with other EVs is that they are built using old approach, i.e. simply replacing IC engine with the electric and possibly addition of small IC engine for hybrids, and using gas tank space for the batteries, or as is the case with hybrids having gas tank plus batteries.

In the end you get a car which doesn't have enough range because of the limited battery capacity, and then you have to use ugly designs to make aerodynamics better to gain few miles and so on. I guess it's cheaper to produce that way using existing infrastructure, but other than that I see no reason to put electric engine in the front for a rear wheel drive, run a drive shaft from one point to another and then use limited space for battery pack. Oh well, whatever it is, I think Tesla design is revolutionary in a good way and in the future other cars will use it as well. The end result is that Model as, even in base configuration produces 300+ horsepower. Beat that :)

Electricity As A Power Source

- Environment protection aside, although that is a plus, point is, it's 21st century out there, and still using liquefied remains of the dead animals and plants as a primary power source, it's rather disturbing. Electricity isn't new either, but it's one of the primary forces of the nature, and from the technology perspective developing new sources for producing electricity and making lighter, higher capacity batteries is far more interesting and rewarding in a long run, than pursuing new oil sources which is a trouble and will run out anyway, or IC engines which are already waaay too complicated for what they are, and what they can do. Yet still can't catch up with electric engines neither in terms of efficiency, nor in terms of power and size.

Efficiency - One of the top benefits of the electric engines is that 92%+ of the energy is used to propel the car, while average ICE has about 30%, best examples approaching 35%, and diesel engines gain another 5% on top of that, getting to 40%. Still not half as good as electric engines. You can ignore the numbers if you want, but whichever way you look at it, the truth is more than half of what you pay at the gas pump is wasted.

Aside from the very high efficiency, the torque of the electric engines is much higher at low RPMs than that of the ICE, and in comparative tests Tesla Model S routinely beats much more powerful gasoline engine cars in 0-60 or ¼ mile drag races. E.g. Performance model S with 416hp engine beating 560hp BMW M5, 518hp twin turbo Mercedes and so on. All those extra horses in the gasoline cars do cost extra at the pump, although I doubt their owners are really worried about that, but the numbers are clear, even with 144hp advantage in power, and being about 300lbs lighter, BMW M5 still can't match Tesla Model S acceleration performance. And that's with the M5 engine equipped with turbos, launch control and other gizmos, which do require considerable experience to use properly, while on EV you just floor it. Flooring and crazy acceleration aside, facts are very simple, electric vehicles are more efficient, have all the torque from the very beginning and are easier to operate, that's it.

Yeah, I know, electricity isn't free either, but as it is now, it is the cheapest form of energy, and cleanest as well. Electricity is also cheaper at night, which is when you'd normally charge your car at home. Having solar panels at home helps to offset the price even further, and that is something you can do to help your electricity bill, while I do not see any viable options affecting gas prices at my local gas station.

Regenerative Breaking, Or One Pedal Driving

- Simple idea behind regenerative breaking is to convert car's kinetic energy back into electricity and charge the battery back. When driving at any speed above 5mph from what I can tell, as you let up the accelerator the car begins decelerating, the engine is switched into generator mode at that time, and while decelerating charges the battery. Deceleration rate can be controlled from the car settings menu, where you have two settings, normal and low. Personally, I always use normal mode, which decelerates harder, in my opinion it is much better suited for all around driving. I've used it in heavy and moderate traffic, no traffic, city and highway commutes, everywhere. Most of the time, I use brake pedal when car is already around 2-5mph range :) There are times when I drive to the gym or back from there, about 12 miles long commute when I don't touch brake pedal until I park the car. Obviously, converting kinetic energy to electricity is cool, otherwise it's a wasted energy, but on top of that regenerative breaking really helps in traffic, conserving energy and it's a lot less tiring using single pedal vs. two. Plus it feels good to have more tech making things better :)

No more Gas station visits!

- Damn, I love that part. Lately, I suspect, since I've decided on the electric car, I've started noticing that going to the gas station was always a nuisance. I had to plan for it and even though it takes 5-10 minutes as usual, it was always getting in a way of something, either I was ending up being late somewhere, or had to wait in a line. Annoying... Being able to charge my car at home is super convenient. Due to my driving specifics, I do not have range anxiety problems, although here in northern CA, there is no shortage of public chargers either. Majority of the parking lots on business plazas and all major company parking lots also have chargers.

Side view

Simplicity

- Even though the car has one of the most sophisticated interior equipment, still overall comparison with ICE cars, Tesla Model S is a lot simpler. There is nothing under the hood except for the windshield wiper fluid reservoir cap. That's it! Ok, if you want to be very specific, then the fuse box is also in there. Other than that, that's your second trunk, under the hood, and quite spacious at that. I don't care much for the extra space, I don't really need it often, but I suppose it is better to have extra space and not need it, than to need it and not have one. To me it's simply exhilarating being free from worrying about dozens of hoses, fans, various clamps and fluids, all of which get overheated, degrade, can rapture at any time and then cause more havoc in a chain reaction.

Last major problem my old beamer had was the broken water pump, which managed to break off piece of radiator fan, which resulted in a torn fan belt, and that broken piece of radiator fan cut straight through whatever hose and got stuck in the radiator, puncturing it. There, you have it, marvels of modern engineering :) None of that is gonna happen in Tesla Model S and for an other normal electric car for that matter, simply because you don't have all those moving, overheated parts and all the various fluids and complicated engine. I've spent enough time replacing timing belts, water pumps(twice), radiators and other parts in my ICE car to be completely sick of it. No need to do oil changes either, even though it takes me about 30 minutes to do an oil change, still, it's messy and waste of time anyway. The bottom line is, electric cars need a lot less maintenance, and I am very glad about that.

Tesla Model S Wishlist And Needed Improvements

- Alas, there is no perfection in the world and Tesla Model S could definitely use some improvements and upgrades. I figure because I'm a geek, my main complains are about the user interface and onboard computer.

Interface

  • No playlists in media player. Really? In 2013 we have a mp3 player without playlists? Honestly, when I first plugged in usb driver with bunch of mp3s and started poking around, I did poke for a while before I could even consider the possibility of not having playlists, I was still sure it was buried somewhere deep inside the interface, I didn't think it was completely missing, Only after checking Tesla forums I found out that playlists were missing, and I am still baffled as to why. It is no big deal to implement, compared to the other pieces of the software already in the Tesla's computer. I sure hope Tesla will add it soon. As a workaround, you could create folders with tracks corresponding to playlists, although that would create duplicate files for those in multiple playlists and directories, aside from the wasted space it'll screw up album, artist and other lists generated by media player.
  • Yaay :) Software update 5.9 solved missing GPS favorites issue!

Vampire Load

- A.k.a. Vampire Drain. Haven't noticed it in the beginning, and I am still not quite sure what exactly makes it better or worse, but over night loss is 2-5 miles worth energy. That's a bit too much to my liking. Others reported up to 15 miles range loss during about 12 hour periods, which is most likely happening during the cold weather. All that power is spent maintaining onboard systems in idle mode, but it's too much. Computer isn't nearly powerful enough to demand that much power and I have no ideal what else is going on. Tesla did promise to improve that with the subsequent software update, which was 5.0 version. They did add sleep feature to the options. Overall, it gave some improvement, didn't eliminate 100% of the drain. Well, I suppose no way to do that, since some of the systems do need to be in standby mode.

Weak CPU

- I don't like slow computers and onboard CPU is definitely lacking power. I already mentioned slow GPS response, and I can visually see drawing slowing down on the odometer when complex screen update is in progress on the main display, e.g. map or navigation related redraws. Touch screen response could be more snappy too. I know it's a long shot, but I'd love to be able to upgrade CPU and install custom software.

Conclusions

- I think it is an amazing concept and car. I like pretty much everything about it, although it could be smaller and cheaper, but as it is, it's still very cool. I do realize 1.5 month is nowhere enough to judge a car in a long run, which is why I've created this page. I'll log everything related to its performance, reliability and upgrades, both from me and Tesla Motors and let's see what the log will look like in a few years :) But the beginning is very promising.

Specifications:

  • Maker - Tesla Motors
  • Model - S
  • Color - Metalic Gray, Black Roof
  • Curb weight: 4,647.3 lbs
  • Weight distribution % - 48/52
  • 60 kWh microprocessor controlled, lithium-ion battery
  • 240KWh(326hp) three phase, four pole AC induction motor with copper rotor
  • Drive inverter with variable frequency drive and regenerative braking system
  • Single speed fixed gear with 9.73:1 reduction ratio
  • 17" Touch screen with media, communication, cabin, and vehicle controls
  • High definition backup camera
  • Dual front USB ports for media and power
  • Bluetooth wireless technology for hands-free calling and streaming music
  • Multi-function steering wheel with tactile controls
  • 19" Aluminum alloy wheels

    Current Modifications:
    • Waiting for the console...
    Recalls And Issues:
    • 2014-11 - Noticed the charge port door wasn't completely flush when closed. The steel button on the port door was loose, but still held in place by glue. First I've tried applying small amount of the glue to the button, which seemed to fix the problem for a day, but after the first ride the problem reappeared. Next fix was to remove the button, which was very easy, it was just hanging on the threads of the glue anyway. Applied generous amount of Gorilla glue to the button and its slot on the door and used a C-clamp to hold it in place overnight. Fixed the problem, no issues so far.
    • 2013-12-03 - Charging cable died. Went to Tesla Palo Alto, guys were super friendly and helpful, replaced right away, no charge obviously. Apparently, I shouldn't be hanging on the cable, the transformer or whatever box is on it causes wire damage with its weight. The advice was to keep it resting on something, which is what I do now. Don't recall walking out of any other dealership/service center in 10 mins with solved problem and happy ;)

    Image Gallery

    Under The Hood, yeah it's empty ;) 17in touch display rulez! Side view Front view Front view

    Links

    Last updated - 12/07/14