2012 Tesla Model S: First Drive Of All-Electric Sport Sedan Page 2

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2012 Tesla Model S, brief test drive, New York City, July 2012

2012 Tesla Model S, brief test drive, New York City, July 2012

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In the Tesla Model S, you can easily find yourself not only pulling away from traffic, but traveling 20 mph over the speed limit. And as in the Roadster, at least in the Model S Performance model, you'll want to do it again and again and again.

Michael Sexton, who runs the Tesla Store in Manhattan, says that it took him about six months before he stopped using his Roadster that way and just drove it--knowing that he had sheer acceleration on tap when he wanted it.

Less regen than Roadster

Smooth but aggressive regenerative braking was a hallmark of the Tesla Roadster. There are only two settings for regenerative braking--Normal and Low--in the Model S, and the (highest) Normal setting felt less aggressive.

Experienced electric-car drivers often prefer "one-pedal driving," planning ahead enough to use solely regenerative braking to slow down almost to a stop. That's not quite as easy in the Model S, since its weight gives it more rolling momentum.

But the new and much larger pool of tech-oriented luxury car buyers who will consider the Model S (Tesla hopes) are likely to want it to drive in a familiar fashion, like an automatic BMW or Audi sedan. In that, Tesla's new sedan succeeds.

The handling inspires confidence, with an obviously low center of gravity, but the Model S is a little heavier-feeling than we'd expected. It was more like the Mercedes-Benz S-Class we recently tested than the last BMW 5-Series we drove a couple of years ago.

And we look forward to the head-to-head comparison tests that traditional auto magazines are likely to do whenever they can get a Model S for more than an hour at a time.

Big fast touchscreen a generation ahead

Sitting behind the wheel, the driver sees three control stalks on the left and one on the right, all seemingly identical to those in Mercedes-Benz cars.

The two on the left are an upper cruise control and a lower turn signal, meaning that Model S drivers will try to signal with the cruise lever until they retrain themselves, just as in a Benz. There's also a tilt-and-telescope adjustment for the wheel.

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Comments (43)
  1. Great summary and attention to detail John. Have you heard anything yet about Tesla's Q3 deliveries and what that might be due to? Misaligned velcro, perhaps?

  2. Tesla has stated that they are beginning production at a rate of one car per day so they can get the kinks out of the process and institute high-quality production standards.

  3. That report is unsubstantiated, and TM denies any problems or production schedule changes. Could be defensive disinformation from short-holders?

  4. As you said, the report is completely unsubstantiated. Tesla clearly is not delivering any vehicles to customers at this point, but even if production is completely shuttered right now it doesn't mean that it will affect the production schedule to any great degree.

    The planned initial production rate of 1 car per day leaves Tesla with a ton of wiggle room. A month of lost production at that rate is minuscule, and their overall 2012 production plan is extremely conservative compared to their capacity.

  5. There isn't any solid information on production, other than that Tesla still claims it will deliver ~5,000 vehicles in 2012.

    Deliveries are not taking place at this point, but it seems very unlikely that there is a production issue, or problems with quality. The existing cars are salable as is, and they were all built using the existing arrangements.

    My guess (pure speculation) is that the issue is that Tesla is making changes to the interior to address customer feedback. We know they are adding opportunity consoles (for additional storage in the center console) as a direct result of customer feedback. If they are making minor changes like that, it would explain the pause in deliveries.

  6. I'm so glad you finally got a chance to drive one John! I personally think it's the best road car I have ever driven!

  7. It's defenatley going to be the game changer the auto industry needed. Hopefully the Model S will inspire the competition to compete.

  8. That's definitely not defanatley. No matter how you pronounce it.

    Not much sign of the competition doing its job yet, is there? That's a great line. I'm stealing it.

  9. Sorry about the typo.

  10. A couple of errors:
    "There's a small amount of idle creep built in, mimicking an automatic transmission car." No, that's the Roadster. The M-S rolls like a standard.
    "full web broswing" -- browsing.

  11. @Brian: Thanks for catching that typo, which I'll fix. However, in the Model S I drove this morning, there *IS* a small amount of idle creep. Did you drive an early production car, or a beta?

  12. It doesn't matter. It's a software change. There has been rampant speculation that Tesla would quickly add that feature, and it should not surprise anyone if they did so in the past few days.

    Until your report, every reviewer was adamant that the vehicle stood still, and there were many suggestions to program a creep.

    The other change folks are speculating about is a hill hold feature. So far in test drives Model S will roll backwards on a hill like a standard transmission. If you happened to stop on a hill, we would love to hear if they have changed that as well.

    As I stated in another post on this thread, little changes like these (along with minor changes to the interior) seem to be why Tesla has paused deliveries.

  13. @Thomas: My limited test drive was on entirely flat Manhattan streets and roads, so I can't comment on whether the Model S I drove rolled backward on hills--didn't experience any.

    I'll keep an eye out, though. I'm fond of the hill-hold feature since back in the 1980s when it was a Subaru feature (deleted for awhile, now seemingly coming back on several brands).

  14. My Renault Fluence ZE does this hill hold very nicely but you have to actually know how to use it. I only figured it out completely after reading the whole manual.

    You have to come to a complete stop with the brakes holding. Then it will hold you for 2 seconds: after that it does creep back unless you re-press the brake.

  15. @Thomas: See comment below to @Brian, with correction to idle-creep mention (and me scratching my head).

    In regard to a hill-hold feature, Tesla spokesperson Christina Ra responded, "There is not yet a hill hold feature, though we plan to introduce [one] via software update in the future. Given our unique ability to do these sorts of updates, all customers will gain that capability at that time."

    There you have it.

  16. @Brian

    Best guess for Tesla's hill hold is that it will hold the car and keep it rolling backwards once you come to a complete stop, without any special actions by the user. You'll be able to turn the feature on or off in the center console, but it will just be a setting that gets saved.

    Changes like that are a big advantage of an electric drivetrain because it doesn't require any special engineering. Just change the software and send out an update.

  17. @Brian: Your question bothered me, so I contacted Tesla this morning. Here's the update I just posted to the article:

    [UPDATE: After speaking with Tesla the next day, we learned that we were wrong: There is no idle-creep built into Model S cars right now. We're baffled as to what we experienced; the only thing we can imagine is that we were on an almost imperceptible downward slope when stopped, and the car has such low rolling resistance that it began to roll. In any case, we apologize for the error.]

    Still scratching my head a bit over that one, but you were right: The Model S currently has no idle creep. Sorry 'bout that.

  18. Meh.. thats the less important one anyways. The one folks really want is the hill hold feature. Either or both look to be a simple software change. It's the testing and validation that take time.

    What is clear is that Tesla paying very close attention to customer feedback from the Get Amped Tour and the main Tesla user forums at the company website and www.teslamotorsclub.com

    One of the verified in the works changes that have come as a result of feedback is the "Opportunity Console" to replace or modify the center console to introduce additional storage, better cupholders, etc. Also the hill hold feature has been widely expected for a couple of weeks since the issue was first raised. Other things as well, but the console is primary.

  19. If you want a chance to scoop the financial press as to the reason for the pause in deliveries you really should try following up on how Tesla is using feedback to improve the product in realtime.

    The Opportunity Console (and other minor interior tweaks), and hill hold feature are verified changes due in the very near term and might be the reason all by themselves (or more accurately the changes to the interior which are physical features and affect production).

    There is also info that Tesla is working hard to increase the RPM limit on the motor by ~2000, which would allow higher top speeds. That might not be a near term change, but other similar improvements to the top end have been implemented very, very recently. (re Dan Neil +others)

  20. Memo to Tesla: Hill Start
    From the Renault ZE Pdf Manual, Tesla, this is how you do it:

    Hill start assistance
    This function assists the driver when starting on hills. It prevents the vehicle from rolling backwards, depending on the slope, by automatically applying the brakes when the driver lifts his/her foot off the brake pedal to depress the ac- celerator pedal.

    System operation
    It only operates when the gear lever is in a position other than neutral (other than N or P) and the vehicle is completely stationary (brake pedal depressed).

    The system holds the vehicle for approximately 2 seconds. The brakes are then gradually released (the vehicle will move according to the slope).

  21. There are more comments in this thread
  22. Sheeesh, Voelcker gets to have all the fun!

  23. Yes, we are all "very green" ....with envy.

  24. great write up but still too much money. hoping the X is as good. that might be worth waiting for

  25. I believe the Model X pricing is about the same, based on options and battery pack size.

  26. That's yet to be seen. Model X wont even offer the entry level 40kWh battery, so it seems likely to start at more than the entry level Model S.

  27. It's only "too much money" in the same sense that a BMW 5 series is too much. In terms of straight price/performance comparisons all of the Model S tiers match up very well with its competitors.

    If you factor in total cost of ownership the Model S is a bargain. With typical use you can easily save $10k over 5 years thanks to electricity being so much cheaper than gas.

    With the midrange battery you get a 5 year TOC close to an entry level 5 series with better performance and a semi-decent ~240 mile range. The big battery compares very well in TOC to the high end 550i's of the world while beating them in overall performance.

    And the ~$85k Model S Performance, is actually cheaper out of the box than the ~$90k M5 that it competes with.

  28. "The last car company started from scratch in the U.S. by entrepreneurs whose brand is still with us today was Chrysler, in 1924. "

    That company filed bankruptcy twice. I hope Tesla does NOT.

  29. If Tesla keep working at it and eventually coming out with a 3-series competitior and similar price, I might be able to talk my wife into letting me have one of those...

  30. That looks to be the plan. ~$30k to start (after $7,500 tax credit) will likely get you a 3 series competitor with equivalent range to the MS40 (~140 to ~160 miles).

    If they follow the Model S template, +$10k gets you a medium battery (MS60 @ ~220 to ~240) and +$20k (~$50k total) gets you a big battery (MS85 @ ~260 to ~300).

    Bigger batteries also give better performance as well, so its like incrementing up through the 3 series product line, with stronger "engines" at each step.

    I'd also guess that ~$60k will get you a Performance version which will go head to head with the ~$60k M3, just like the ~$90k Model S Performance goes head to head with the ~$90k M5.

  31. The 5.6 secs 0-60 mph times for the standard Model S is for the 85kWh battery pack. Dropping to the 60 kWh pack costs you 3/10ths of a second and 5 mph top speed.
    The basic 40kWh pack is slower by an additional 6/10ths sec and 10 mph over the 60 kWh option

  32. Yes. Besides range, the battery affects performance in exactly the same way that choosing a more powerful engine does. It's almost best to think of them as separate models, just like the 528i is different from the 550i.

    Instead of saying "Model S with 60kWh battery" its easier and more intuitive to just write MS40, MS60, MS85 and MSP (for Performance).

    Each version up to the MSP gets you more range and more speed. The MSP doesn't add range, but it gives more acceleration and all kinds of sport features.

  33. As far as likely problems to impact sales, after doing some calculations, I think its going to be actual highway diving range as measured by the automags.First I examined Tesla's range chart, which assumed ideal conditions (constant speed,300 lbs aboard,
    windows up,level terrain,no AC/heat) and adjusted for interior air conditioning using Musk's claim of 5 to 10 percent. Since higher speeds reduce the impact, I choose the 55 MPH range and used 10% and then adjusted downward as MPH increased. This provided ranges under ideal conditions (AC/heat on) of 270,239,218 & 208 miles for 55,60,70&75MPH. Then, using EPA's range, obtained 242,210,189 and 180 miles of range. We need actual test data. Down here the interstate speed limits are 70
    and 75.

  34. "Then, using EPA's range, obtained 242,210,189 and 180 miles of range."

    It's not clear how you're going about derating the EPA range. The EPA 5-cycle test already includes various driving conditions, including a high speed cycle at 80 mph, an AC cycle, a cold weather cycle in addition to the previous city and highway cycles. Yes, you can use Tesla's speed vs. range graph to calculate estimated ranges at various constant speeds. However, the EPA test already incorporates a mix of speeds and conditions, including a high speed run at 80 mph, when arriving at their composite 5-cycle range estimate.

  35. Yes, its just ludicrous to assume a simple linear relationship based off of the EPA 5-cycle test. Your initial adjustments are closer to reality.

    But the 10-15% adjustment for climate control cited by Musk is based on extreme heat or cold, and going faster actually reduces the amount of energy spent maintaining climate control because you get to your destination quicker and can turn off your AC/heater.

    Here is the link to the info you based your calculations on so people can see for themselves.


  36. As a postscript, my estimates for driving range was for a vehicle with a new battery pack. If yearly capacity losses were known (and constant) then the estimates could be revised to show year by year declines in range. I am also unaware of how much power loss is experienced each year.

  37. Your range calculations were wrong, but not wrongheaded. It's just not a simple linear relationship. And battery degradation is similar. It's more based on how many charge, discharge cycles you have rather than time.

    Larger battery packs will have a lot less degradation, because you don't have to recharge them as much. For example, on the small battery a 100 mile trip represents ~65% of a charge cycle, while its just ~33% of the 85kWh battery. Both batteries get "X" number of charges, so bigger is better.

    Thats a big reason why the battery warranty changes between the 3 batteries. All of them get 8 years but the 40kWh gets 100,000 miles, the 60kWh gets 120,000 and the 85kWh gets unlimited miles.

  38. I'm rooting for these guys, the auto industry needs a non-mainstream, visionary company like this to push their envelope.

  39. This write-up's knock on the Chevy Volt is really uncalled for and arguably goofy. Without extensive infrastructure, the Volt remains the most practical electric car in the world given its ability to run on gasoline for any distance, yet function as a pure and great-driving EV within local range. And it's even easily affordable to lease by the average person with decent credit.

    The Tesla is an exciting entry and as a Volt owner I'd love to try one out. But even the baseless and vicious political shots from the right have not changed its strong appeal to reasonable people, and its momentum of increasing sales is something that right now Tesla can dream of, but has yet to achieve.

  40. One thing about the Tesla is that they are making a trade off between efficiency and performance. According to the Tesla's website, 40KWh = 160miles, 60KWh =230miles, 85KWh =300 miles. Those are rated range at 55mph.

    That is 4 miles per KWh, 3.8 miles per KWh and 3.5 miles per KWh. Leaf can easily do 4.5 miles to 5 miles per KWh. Volt can easily do 4 to 4.5 miles per KWh (@ 55mph).

    That is probably due to the "weight" of the vehicle. But generally, at 55mph, wind resistance (Coef of drag) and tire resistance dominates the efficiency. I would expect Tesla to be better than Leaf and Volt in terms of efficiency.

    Is there an eco mode in Tesla S?

  41. The Tesla is not in the class of the Volt or Leaf and is definitely not competing against them. It is a luxury sports car! It's price is around that of its competitors, unlike the Leaf and the Volt. They charge a large premium over an equivalent ICE-powered vehicle. So comparing their stats is pointless. Compare the Model S's stats to the BMWs, Jags, Audis and Mercs, in its class; not a small electric hatchback or a four seat plug-in hybrid.
    The Model S is a nicer car in every way. It is safer, offers more cargo room, is faster, looks better, seats up to seven, and has luxury features such as a massive panoramic sunroof, power-adjustable seats, a 17in touchscreen, leather, wood veneer, lots of space for stuff, 3 zone climate control, etc.

  42. And no, there is no Eco mode because it is Eco whether driving fast or slow.

  43. it seems as if the model s is the only ev that can compete price-wise with its ice competitors.

    this tells me one thing - there is a lot more profit in luxury ice cars than in regular ice cars.

    in order for that snowball to fall though, we need to get sales in the "average joe" market.

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