Tesla Model S at 36,000 miles: Car and Driver's long-term Midwest test

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2015 Tesla Model S 70D in new Ocean Blue color

2015 Tesla Model S 70D in new Ocean Blue color

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We're long past the days when car enthusiast publications sneered at electric cars as underpowered golf carts.

Much of the credit for that goes to Tesla, the first all-electric carmaker, whose Model S won the hearts of 'buff-book' writers everywhere for its speed and shape.

Now electric cars, including Teslas, have become enough of a part of the market that they get reviewed just like any other vehicle—long-term tests included.

DON'T MISS: Tesla delivered 25,000 electric cars in Q1 2017, plus or minus

That's what led Car and Driver to test a 2015 Tesla Model S P85D luxury electric sedan for 36,000 miles of highly varied usage, much of the time around its home base in a suburb of Detroit.

The magazine's final long-term test report includes not only daily usage but also one exceptionally lengthy road trip of 3,650 miles to test the company's Supercharger network.

On that front, they concluded, "Tesla should be celebrated for building the infrastructure that’s crucial to electric-vehicle adoption. No other automaker has made such a commitment."

2015 Tesla Model S

2015 Tesla Model S

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The review wrap-up article launches with the delivery of the car, now almost exactly two years ago, on a transporter that pulls up to the publication's Ann Arbor offices.

It was the first-ever long-term test of an electric car for the magazine, which is now more than 50 years old. Of course, the P85D's "eye-popping, neck-straining performance" gets high marks.

Overall, the buff book's writers and editors liked the Tesla for its smooth, silent, surging power and also, interestingly, its ability to upgrade various capabilities through over-the-air software updates.

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That, the magazine hints, is not something that any of its many other test vehicles could do. "In many ways," the reviewers wrote, by the end of the test, "it was as if we were living with a different car."

The car they tested was fully loaded, with the 85-kilowatt-hour battery pack (the largest available when they ordered), the "D" all-wheel-drive system, and a host of options that took the price above $100,000.

The main conclusion, though, is that the electric car was capable of doing normal-car duties in day-to-day usage, with a rated 265-mile range that staff calculated to be about 200 miles in real-world use that included highway speeds.

2015 Tesla Model S P85D, May 2015 [photo: George Parrott]

2015 Tesla Model S P85D, May 2015 [photo: George Parrott]

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The review goes on to say:

The exact [range] number wasn’t as important as the fact that the Model S effortlessly covered our staff’s day-to-day demands with plenty of juice to spare.

It wasn’t off-limits to staffers with long commutes, nor did we ever feel uneasy taking the car for a weekend, when charging was less convenient or assured. There’s good reason newer EVs are targeting the 200-mile threshold that Tesla cracked.

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Car and Driver noted that its home state of Michigan still makes it illegal for Tesla to sell cars online to actual buyers within its borders, although the company can legally service cars in the state—allowing some repairs to be done by Tesla service techs in its parking lot.

Their Model S was dependable "in the big picture," the review says, although several quality glitches pointed out that "Tesla is the youngest automaker by a large margin."

It's worth reading the whole review for a sense of how enthusiast auto writers cover this very different technology, and how they approached this unicorn that landed in their midst.

By the end of the test, readers will get the sense that a Tesla is no longer a unicorn but just another test car, one that requires plugging in.

That's progress.

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