2012 Tesla Model S: Seven Little Things A Buyer Doesn't Like

Let's make one thing clear right up front: I think the 2012 Tesla Model S is the coolest freaking car in the history of Western Civilization.

I put down my $5,000 deposit more than two years ago. I've chugged the Tesla Kool-Aid, extra-large size.

But after a 7-minute spin in a dark green Model S last week at the Tesla "Get Amped" test-drive tour stop in Mahwah, New Jersey,  I have to conclude--sadly--that the car is not (yet) perfect.

Yes, the acceleration was mind-boggling, the ride and handling were sublime, the in-dash technology is whiz-bang. But, in my humble (perhaps idiosyncratic) opinion, a few little things just aren't right.

1.  No "creep" mode. Every automatic-transmission car in the world creeps forward when the driver's feet are off the gas and brake pedals.  We've driven this way all our lives. The Nissan Leaf,  Chevy Volt, and Toyota Prius Plug-In all have built-in creep mode to mimic this effect.

Tesla Motors [NSDQ:TSLA] has inexplicably omitted this feature. A driver-selectable idle-creep mode, with the option to turn it off, would make everybody happy.

2.  It's hard to get in and out of. I'm 6'2" and hardly limber, so I'm accustomed to a bit of gymnastics getting in and out of small four-door cars, like my Chevy Volt. But to my surprise, the larger Tesla required virtually the same level of contortion. It's the price I pay for a low-slung, swoopy, aerodynamic car.

Fortunately, the Model S's adjustable air suspension can take some of the sting out of the daily in-out routine. There are four ride heights: Normal, Low (for aerodynamic efficiency above 60 mph), High (for snow and rough ground below 20 mph) and Very High (below 5 mph).  The car defaults to Normal and squats automatically above 60 mph.

The high settings are driver-controlled on the center touch screen; if I touch "Very High"  as I pull into my driveway,  the car will silently rise about two inches, thus facilitating a more graceful exit.  It will then stay up on its haunches until I return.

3. Regenerative braking settings are awkward to change.  Like the Volt, the Model S has two settings for regenerative braking: "mild", to simulate the engine-braking feel of a normal car when you take your foot off the gas; and "strong," which gives a sharper, sportier deceleration and feeds more power back into the battery.  Strong regen has become a signature of electric-car driving.

To change settings, the Volt driver flicks the floor-mounted shift lever back and forth between D and L.  I quickly learned to integrate the two regen settings into the Volt driving experience. It's actually kind of fun, like downshifting.

But sadly, the Model S regen control is controlled solely through the central touch screen, a few screens down, which  takes it out of the driving loop.

"It was never meant to be adjusted on the fly," a Tesla rep told me. Too bad. It should be.

2012 Tesla Model S Charging Connector

2012 Tesla Model S Charging Connector

Enlarge Photo

The paragon of regen control is the Volkswagen E-Golf, which features four regeneration settings, controlled by paddle shifters behind the steering wheel. Leave it to the Germans to integrate regenerative braking into the driving experience seamlessly.

4.  Charge port location is inconvenient.  The 2012 Tesla Model S charge port is cleverly hidden under the left taillight lens. Okay, there's no unsightly charge port door to mar the flawless lines of the car. And yes, it certainly demonstrates that Tesla engineers are clever fellows.

But it's an obviously inconvenient location that requires a longer charge cord and more driver fussing around--especially at public charging stations designed for nose-in charging.

This bloody sacrifice of utility on the altar of beauty calls to mind the original  iMac.  Obsessed with its curvy aesthetic, Apple supplied the first iMacs with a round mouse. Sure, it looked cool. But it proved to be utterly useless;  there was no way to orient it by feel. I bought a standard replacement mouse the next day.

2012 Tesla Model S display screen [Photo: Flickr user jurvetson]

2012 Tesla Model S display screen [Photo: Flickr user jurvetson]

Enlarge Photo

Too bad I won't be able to do the same with my Tesla charge port. And this is one Tesla can't change in software, either.

5. Turn-signal lever badly placed.  Three times during my test drive, I attempted to signal a turn and hit the cruise control stalk--which is positioned precisely where the turn lever is on every other car--by mistake. The turn lever itself is inexplicably placed well below it.

Blame this one on Mercedes-Benz. As part of its deal with Daimler, Tesla uses an off-the-shelf Mercedes turn/cruise lever assembly. Mercedes-Benz engineers will tell you that forces drivers to put their hands "where they should be on the wheel." Great.

Tesla should come up with its own, with the lever positions reversed--or at least rotate the assembly to put the turn signal where it ought to be.

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Comments (50)
  1. I for one am glad that the charge port is not on the front of the car since I back my car in everywhere. Statistically speaking you are much less likely to get into an accident if you back into parking spaces. Maybe you should just adopt this habit.

  2. Actually safer to pull in front first (there are even laws against backing in some places). You have reverse llights to alert others you are backing out. There is no indicator (unless you have daytime running lights) that you are ready to pull out if you back in.

  3. On private property, which is most parking lots, using your signals to indicate which way you are turning out of your parking space may not be the law, but would be prudent. And that would be your indicator that you are leaving your parking space. Additionally, backing in means you can drive out, thus observing if pedestrians are coming...something difficult to do backing out.

  4. This is the most useful article yet on this subject. I'm Tesla's biggest fan, but this is the most thoughtful criticism I have seen to date. It's also an argument for getting the Model X instead of the S, perhaps.

  5. Or just wait n get a 2014 Model S when they get these n other bugs out.

  6. The title of Nolan's first article: "Tesla Model S: Will Winter Weather Ruin Its Range?"
    Now his second article describing more things he doesn't like about the car. Only 2 contributions but the pattern of negative reporting is already clear and frankly it's something this blog really doesn't need any more of.

    And it's not as if he doesn't have a point with some of his complaints, but I feel he is the sort of person who would be better off with a Camry or something rather than be an early adopter of something new and radical like the Model S.

  7. Yes, Chris, because he obviously hates the car, as he expresses clearly in this sentence:

    "Let's make one thing clear right up front: I think the 2012 Tesla Model S is the coolest freaking car in the history of Western Civilization."

    Yeah, someone who absolutely loves the car but has very minor complaints about minor changes he'd like. Yes, that certainly is yet another attack on Tesla by this site... Does it ever end with you? You whine that you don't mean that every criticism of Tesla is off limits, but again, you show just the opposite.

    What part of a 99% positive review (of a car, I might add, that you have never even been in to even have your own viewpoint) troubles you the most? Feel free to note Daniil Leshkov's comments below.

  8. Obsessive hater....

  9. Logic-challenged crybaby... As always, even 99% positive isn't good enough for you.

  10. @Chris: RLY? The man put down thousands of dollars, says the car is the "coolest freaking car in the history of Western Civilization," and you think he only deserves to drive a Camry because he has a few criticisms?

    With the greatest of respect, I have read a lot of fanboi comments from supporters of various cars, but your relentless insistence that anything other than total, utter, 100-percent approval of everything and anything that Musk & Co offer up is treason borders on the ... well, let's just say blind faith in a company trying to do something that hasn't been done since 1924.

    We obviously disagree, and I enjoy having your comments, but seriously ... you think Nolan would be better off with a CAMRY ?!?!?!? LOL.

  11. Good to hear. Genuine criticism on such an issue is hard to find, so hearing a supporter talk about what he doesn't like means more than a repeat of the usual blabber.

  12. Great article. Finally some FEEDBACK on the car. I know it's hard to get a sense of the car in just a few minutes, but it shows great insight to be able to think about using the car on a daily basis and extrapolate personal preferences. I'm glad that the Model S has upgrade-ability as this leads to a more personalized experience. David - you will be able to have much that you'd like, even where I (& others) may disagree. What a welcome way to think about using a car.

  13. I don't quite get it. Seven things a certain buyer wants. I bet if I thought about it there are seven things on my current car that I prefer to be different. The beauty of the Model S is that it has the ability to change based on programming. If they aren't changed to suit his needs before the car ships that 6 months or a year from now a new program can be uploaded that allows him to have what he wants. No other car has offered that choice - ever. Of course Tesla can't adjust the fact that Mr. Noland is 6' 2" and the car doesn't fit him exactly right. Sorry, you're tall. I think article falls under the category of "you can't please all of the people, all of the time."

  14. I am in agreement with Grendal. There is no perfect car nor will there be one that "fits" every body.

    It is all about compromises and what one most wants and is willing to further "put up" with.

  15. Telsa S is a midsize to large luxury sedan. Therefor the S should be able to fit easily a two meter tall driver. If it doesn't then it limits, at least in the U.S., who can drive/buy it.

  16. I still wish they had gone with a j1772 port rather then come up with their own unique system. All the charge points in my area are j1772 and most EVs and plug-in hybrids are j1772. I'm sure the adaptor will be easy enough to use and its nice that Tesla's system can handle levels 1, 2, and 3 all on the same port. But why go against the grain and make us fiddle with adaptors, even the Rimac_One electric supercar uses a j1772 port. I'm not complaining it isn't a big deal I just wish they had kept it simple. And I'm sure with the best range of any EV I'll be charging at home anyway.

  17. The J1772 port maxes out at a meager 6.6 kWh charge rate. The baseline model S charges at 10 kWh (and up to 20 kWh with a dual charger). Putting a charging port on a car with a 85 kWh battery pack that would limit charging so dramatically would have been a huge mistake (not to mention the lose of DC super charging).

  18. I am aware of that, I guess my concern is with compatibility. Tesla's connector is unique to Tesla and if I misplaced the adaptor in an emergency, I'm going to end up on a tow truck. I also shouldn't post comments when I'm having a bad day, so yes my previous comment was stupid, I'm glad I don't have a Facebook account.

  19. John, that's incorrect. J1772 can go up to 70A, 16.8 kW. Most public EVSEs installed don't support this, but they do exist. ClipperCreek CS-100 were pretty common for Tesla Roadster enthusiasts. And yes, you can charge your Roadster or Tesla S with their respective J1772 adapters.

  20. Ron, that's incorrect. J1772 can go up to 80A, 19.2 kW.

    Sorry, couldn't resist.

  21. CDspeed, What would you like them to do to allow the flow of 200 Amps at 400 Volts for fast charging? J1772 is limited to 80A at 240 Volts. Would you like two connectors on the car? I don't know if that's really simpler...

  22. @ Peter, a J1772 port on the car would allow you to just pull up and plug-in. I've left my umbrella at home before after vacuuming my car so I'm sure the same could be done with an adaptor. But I did think of one other interesting point, since Tesla's port is unique that does mean that you can't go out and buy a less expensive EVSE like a GE WattStation for example. Tesla's charging system is sleeker and smarter and I'd like it to become the new standard but who knows if it will catch on. It could catch on if Tesla could get their two biggest investors to use it Mercedes-Benz and Toyota.

  23. Idle-creep is indeed something I like on my Volt and miss a bit on the BMW ActiveE we have. But how many electrons does it use? If at a stop, sending enough juice to the motor to make it want to creep against the brakes is juice that could add range, I'd vote against it.

    More significant is lack of on-the-fly switchable regen. I use "L" in my Volt regularly for driving in close traffic. From a purely regenerative aspect, putting the car into low vs using the brake pedal lightly has the same regen effect. But I do like being able to switch from dual to single pedal driving though. Unlike our ActiveE which is always in single pedal mode and has no brake pedal regen at all.

  24. Idle-creep in my Renault is not working against the brake. Foot on the brake = no motor power. It's completely software.

    I will film a video of how it works (very nicely) on a hill. Now that I'm paying attention to this I tried it out on a steep incline in my underground car park. I can't fault the behaviour and hadn't realised how intuitive it was.

    Idle-creep is just like having a very delicate application of pressure on the accelerator. It's nothing like an ICE spinning against automatic transmission fluid and leading to permanent inability to properly de-clutch.

  25. The Prius has had this for years. If the foot is firmly on the brake, there is no motor torque. If your foot is only lightly on the brake, some motor torque is applied.

  26. If implemented rationally, creep mode is not powering the motor until brake pressure drops below a certain point.

  27. Agree with you. We should be focused on BASIC transportation right not, not "gadgets" that plug in. I do not see this company making it. It is a modern day Hoover. All flash, and no substance.

  28. You clearly missed the point of the article. He is talking about minor issues with the car, not deal breakers. You also clearly have little to no education on the company or the car. Either that or you're just trolling and I haven't had enough coffee to realize it.

  29. Trolls are getting harder to spot these days. sigh. I suspect he was meaning what he said. :-O

  30. He's complaining that the charging port is on the back rather than the front? That's like complaining that the fuel filler is on the right side of the car rather than the left - Just back in!

  31. And yet, I'm not the only person I know who thinks fuel filler doors on the right are stupid and curses ever rental car we get that has them.... So I kind of empathize.

  32. I have no idea why some cars put fuel doors on the right, makes no sense at all.

  33. I have charge ports left and right just in front of BOTH doors on the front of the car :-) 4m cable and I can charge from front, back left or right.

  34. LOL! Totally agree!

  35. 3 or 4 of those complains can be addressed with a software change if the sw is written in a way to allow that. At least 3 of them should be able implemented by sw (creep, eco/sports and regen switch in the menu). Maybe the charge indicator can be changed via a OS change...

  36. 6. No Eco and/or Sport modes. In some ways, Tesla pulls out all the stops to wring the last smidgin of range out of every kilowatt-hour. (See: retractable door handles.)

    Yet it ignores a basic range-stretching strategy used by virtually all other electric and hybrid cars: different power modes that give varying degrees of throttle response and power output. Max range or max power, take your pick. It just makes sense.
    I am glad that Tesla didn't put in a so called eco mode which would hobble the performance until its switched off. That way you can either choose to drive it like a hypermiler and ring out every watt in the battery but if you need to you can hit the acelerator to merge onto the freeway or get out of harms way if you need to

  37. Out of all the criticism posted here lack of idle creep would seem to be the most noticeable and perhaps unsettling to some feature vrs ICE car or some of the other EV's that have it. I feel Tesla could make a software change that would allow for idle creep as long as it doesn't reduce range and cuts out torque when the foot is firmly on the brake. As to having an Eco mode well I feel that Tesla could design a really cool app for the car that would show you how green you are driving. I for one am not impressed with animated little leaves that fall off trees and most buyers of Luxury sport sedans do not want to make a green statement. As to the charging port in the back of the car you could simply back into the charging area rear first.

  38. Too soon for there to be a general public consensus on how various aspects of electric driving should work. And so for the time being we'll tend to get whatever the designers and engineers think are best. As more of these hit the road, the market will weed out some of the sillier notions and other choices that aren't yet clear will become clear. I'm still hoping for "trim-wheel" controlled regen but I'm not overly optimistic!

  39. Yes, that's my fantasy, too--infinitely and instantly variable regen control. Trim it just like an airplane. Maybe when people start to realize that electric cars are high-performance enthusiast vehicles rather than tree-hugger-mobiles, we'll see it.

  40. EVs can be both

  41. I too am a Model S reservation holder and appreciate the critical eye. I think much of what you discuss is probably software upgrade-able, with the exception of the charge port.

    One thing I'll be paying attention to at my test drive in a few weeks is the interior finish. The beta model I was in seemed much less elegant than my current Cadillac CTS, and I was very disappointed by the lack of interior storage. No center console (I know, by design), no map pockets in the doors and no center armrest or cup holders in the back (although I have seen pictures of some sort of retrofit center armrest).

  42. I think it is great that these are the problems listed for the car. My tastes are different so it sounds like I will be perfectly happy with it. TESLA has done a great job if this is the list and they are all personal preferences that for the most part can be selectable features on the screen after a software update. I agree with other comments that the charge port location is like complaining about where your gas fill is at. That has NEVER swayed my decision in buying a car.

  43. I hear him on the MB shifter, but my experience is that after about a day or two you're used to it and it's your new 'normal'.
    And I switch back and forth to an American car all the time with no issues.
    Candidly I like the MB layout better, but it is, indeed, different.

  44. Good article. I and most others above don't think number 4 is an issue. I suspect most, if not all, other minor problems listed by the lucky author will be corrected within two years. Hopefully by the time my 2014 Model S is built.

  45. Me thinks thou dost protest too much!

  46. This was a fair review. I also test drove the Tesla in Mahwah. It was amazing. A few of your points in this post are definitely on target. Your best idea is a "range" mode (just like on a laptop, where you can set it to extend battery life). That might help me with my major concern--range anxiety. I'm not happy about the drop from 300 to 265 miles due to the EPA review. And the chatter about delays in production due to range issues are concerning. When I asked the people in Mahwah how the cars were performing in the test drives, they told me that they were "topping them off." Not comforting. So far, I have no credible evidence that this car will reliably make it 265 miles on a single charge. That's make or break for me.

  47. Half of the points on your revue are ridiculous.
    Trouble getting in and out - have you never owned a high end sports sedan from Germany or England? they have those same low clearances.
    Maybe you would be better suited in a minivan or SUV! The charging port is in a perfectly fine location. As has been said you can just back in just like in this picture http://www.greencarreports.com/news/1077738_how-do-public-charging-stations-fit-into-better-place-service.

    Turn signals
    Again If you have driven any German car you have experienced this. And guess what it only takes a day or two to get used to it.
    Not everything in every car is in the same place as the car you are driving now, that does not detract from the car, you became accustomed to that

  48. I have some niggles with the Model S after my "Get Amped" test drive:
    1. I would really want ventilated seats here in Sacramento and for $100k
    2. Map and storage pockets on the doors and behind the seats, for sure.
    3. A higher placement of the front seat belt anchors. My wife opines that they are so low that women will break their fingernails search for the attachment insertion--NOT good for keeping domestic tranquility!

  49. Re #3: The seat belt anchors are not ideal for kid booster seats. But you can get extensions on Amazon to your liking.

  50. This article is pretty much all miss-information. It's definitely out of date and this point and just wrong.

    1: (Wrong) Model S HAS a Creep option.
    2. (disagree) Don't know what to tell you. One size doesn't fit all. I'm 6' and I have no trouble. My wife and kids have not trouble getting in an out.
    3. (disagree) I think it's unsafe todo so while driving. I think the simpler option is better and it's safe for family to have one settings.
    4. (disagree) I like the placement, it hidden, and an ergonomic height.
    6. (Wrong) Model S HAS 3 steering modes in addition too Traction Control settings and a Range option.
    7. (Wrong) The charging screen DOES have ticks and also has the percentage. The HUD also shows how many Volts and Amps

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