Last week I was in Palo Alto, CA for work. During some downtime, I went for a walk. First, I passed a McLaren dealership and remarked on the fact that they had $250,000 cars just sitting in a parking lot. Truly, I was not in Kansas anymore. A few blocks down from the McLaren dealership was a Tesla showroom. Just for giggles, I scheduled a test drive for a Tesla AWD Model S 70D (all-wheel drive, 70kWH, dual motors).
Before I get to the details, I think it’s worth mentioning that I’m a car guy. I have owned two BMWs and I owned them solely for the speed with which I could take corners. Neither were particularly comfortable to sit in, but they gave me an ear-to-ear grin to drive. Now that I am no longer a BMW owner, I have an armored Jeep with 37″ tires, custom suspension, and other modifications from front to back designed to make it absolutely destroy rock crawling obstacles. It is a beast into which my friends and I have poured hours of work (and blood!). It’s the most fun I’ve ever had driving under 5 miles per hour. I love the sound of engines (especially big engines). I love the roar of a super car, and I absolutely adore the feeling of shifting a well made manual transmission. I love my clutch, and you can pry it from my cold, dead left foot.
So, with this background in mind, you can imagine how I might have been skeptical of the all-electric sedan that looks like a land yacht. No stick shift? No exhaust note? No engine noise? And it looked big enough to fit one of my previous BMWs in the trunk. I looked at it and thought there is no way this car will be fun to drive. I had preconceived notions of driving a low clearance, $80,000 golf cart.
I couldn’t possibly have been more wrong.
When I got into the vehicle, I was overcome by the quality of the interior. I set my standards of interior quality by BMW comparison, so the bar is pretty high. The seats were both comfortable and supportive (you almost never get both), there was room to spare. With no transmission hump in the middle of the vehicle, it gave the impression of having even more room. I’d say the inside of the Tesla fits somewhere between the BMW 5 and 7 series, bigger than the interior of the pre-2014 Chrysler 300s.
The interior absolutely screams elegant simplicity. There’s a single, massive screen in the middle of the dash but that’s it. There are no buttons, no knobs, no distractions anywhere. The steering wheel has a couple multi-function knobs but other than that, everything is out of your way. Even the massive 17″ touch screen doesn’t intrude nearly as much into my peripheral vision as I thought it would.
This is easily the single most comfortable vehicle I have ever had the privilege to sit in. That said, as indicated by my background context from above – comfort is not the most important thing to me in a vehicle. If it was, I sure as hell wouldn’t drive a Jeep 😉
Moments after pulling out of the car dealership, I had that “oh no, this is a giant golf cart” feeling. That feeling vanished as soon as I took my first turn. You can control how stiff or splashy the steering is, ranging from what I could call the “cadillac” steering to BMW stiffness. I cranked the steering stiffness all the way up and the sales rep took me out on the freeway.
On the freeway, this thing is amazing. I’ll cover the technology in a minute, but the Tesla glides along effortlessly, giving me the impression that I could easily drive cross-country in this. Once we got off the freeway, we started charging up and down hilly back roads.
It’s been years since my face was covered in the grin of a car enthusiast, but it came back during this test drive. There’s no understeer, and the ridiculously low center of gravity makes this car tear through curves better than my 335is.
It’s the most comfortable vehicle I’ve ever driven, and it handles like a sports car. In fact, it handles so much like a sports car that I would rather take the Tesla on twisty back roads than my old BMW, and demolishing back roads was my favorite thing to do in that car.
The 70D is an all-wheel drive model, but it hits 60mph in 5 seconds. This is the base model, and if you go further up into the performance models, you can get to 60mph in under 3 seconds, which is legit supercar acceleration, acceleration that could cost you ten times the price of a Tesla in a supercar.
There are almost no moving parts. There’s no turbo lag. There’s no “drive by wire” lag where the ECM decodes the pressure on my gas pedal into an appropriate response to the fuel injector. There are no gear changes, no clutch gasp. It’s just press and go…fast. It doesn’t matter whether you’re doing 5mph or 50mph, if you push down on the accelerator (can’t call it a gas pedal) you’ll get a metric shit-ton of torque, even if you’re going uphill.
This is no golf cart.
I don’t even know where to start with the technology. The car comes standard with all the bells and whistles that are extras for mainstream sedans or SUVs like lane keeping warnings, blind spot warnings, etc. It also comes with a massive 17″ screen in the dash that can be configured however you like, and can feed you real-time traffic from the (free for 4 years) 4G LTE connection built into the vehicle.
One of the upgrades is auto pilot. This is not just adaptive cruise, this is take-your-hands-off-the-wheel auto pilot where you can let the vehicle drive for you on the highway or locate and automatically park in parking spots. It’s got a camera that reads speed limit signs on the side of the road.
There’s an app that lets you remotely monitor the charge status and location of the car, and you can remotely control the climate, and not just that half-assed vent starter you can do with GM and Chrysler vehicles.
The door handles detect your presence and push out of the vehicle when you’re nearby. The nav system is aware of Tesla’s network of superchargers and places with destination chargers and automatically routes you through them on long haul drives.
There is no car on the market that has more advanced, more insanely cool technology than the Tesla.
The price is brutal. Honestly, most people gasp when they hear how much these things cost. Fully decked out, the base 70D can run you in the mid $80,000 range. But, if you think long term about the cost, it gets a little (tiny) bit easier to swallow. You qualify for a $7,500 federal tax credit for buying an EV, there might be a state tax credit, and you need to do the math and determine how much money you’ll save in gas every year and subtract that from the monthly payment on the car. For some people, that price difference can be huge.
Still, the sticker price is a whopper, and this car is definitely not within the price range of the average household. That said, I suspect the Model 3 ($35,000) will destroy the marketplace in 2017 when it ships.
The bottom line is the Tesla is a big family sedan that you can stuff all the kids and their stuff into, and you get to drive it like a sports car with roller-coaster grade acceleration. The fact that you get to do all that without putting a drop of gasoline in it is just icing on the cake.
In my opinion, this is the best of all worlds. You get to have your cake and eat it too (for a price). If you can afford a car like this, you’d be doing yourself a disservice not to get behind the wheel of one for a test drive. It is a life-altering experience.