2013 Tesla Model S P85 service loaner vehicle [photo: David Noland]

2013 Tesla Model S P85 service loaner vehicle [photo: David Noland]

A few months ago, some minor glitches in my 2013 Tesla Model S were fixed at the Tesla service center in White Plains, New York.

It was a perfectly satisfactory experience, pretty much like any other service visit: Drive to the shop, read magazines for a couple of hours, get the car back, drive home.

The notable differences: a longer drive (about 45 minutes each way), a mechanic who took the time to talk to me in person, and no blaring television in the waiting room.

Not bad, as far as servicing your car goes. Still, it was a wasted, boring day.

ALSO SEE: Life With Tesla Model S: Trying Out The Service Program

But that was "then", before Tesla's service program was completely up to speed. I've just experienced the "now" of Tesla's new fully-formed service program.

If my experience is typical, it appears that Elon Musk & Co. have once again changed the automotive landscape.

As with the car itself,  it will be very difficult to go back to car-business-as-usual.

Fob story

My second Tesla service adventure started one day last month when I came back to my Model S in a parking lot to find all the windows down. 

A week later, as I was getting out of the car, all the windows went down again--on their own.

When I called the service center, the rep suggested the problem might be the key fob, which can lower the windows remotely if the lock/unlock button is held down.

Sure enough, I noticed that the cover over the lock/unlock button had fallen off, exposing the button and making it much more sensitive to any pressure.

With the key fob in my pocket, I had apparently been doing the automotive equivalent of the cell-phone pocket dial (aka butt-call).

2013 Tesla Model S P85 service loaner vehicle [photo: David Noland]

2013 Tesla Model S P85 service loaner vehicle [photo: David Noland]

I needed a new fob. And unfortunately, I was told, they couldn't just send me one.

The new key would have to be programmed to the car itself, a process that took a couple of hours and could only be performed at the service center.

But instead of me having to drive to White Plains and hang around for a couple of hours--essentially blowing another day--Tesla would now send someone to pick up my car and leave me a loaner.

And not just any loaner: a $100,000 Model S 85-kWh Performance, the tippy-top of the Tesla line.

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Punch list

Since my car was going into the shop anyway, I added a few other minor items to the punch list:

  • The right rear door handle wouldn't extend when touched, though it extended normally when any other handle was touched
  • The cover over the button on the charge cord had also fallen off. (What is it with these button covers?)
  • The "smart" wipers had been acting remarkably dumb lately
  • The front fascia panel under the headlight didn't seem to fit snugly
  • Lastly, I requested the just-released software update Version 5.0, which is said to reduce the dreaded vampire power drain.

I had to wait almost three weeks to get an open slot. But on the appointed day and time, an enthusiastic young Tesla guy (does anyone over 30 work at this company?) showed up at my house in an immaculate black P85 Model S with about 600 miles on the odometer.

2013 Tesla Model S P85 service loaner vehicle [photo: David Noland]

2013 Tesla Model S P85 service loaner vehicle [photo: David Noland]

We filled out some paperwork, and before he handed me the keys, he mentioned that all the loaner P85s were electronically limited to about 80 mph--although there were no limits on the acceleration up to that point. Then he drove away in my car.

Within minutes, I jumped into the loaner and headed out to a local two-lane blacktop to learn first-hand just how much faster the P85 would get to 80 mph than my lowly 60-kWh car.

The ear-flattening, eye-bulging, vestibular-system-rattling answer: a whole lot faster.

P85 envy

Tesla has said that it provides the P85 loaner cars to give owners of other models a taste of what they're missing, in hopes that they'll eventually trade up to the highly profitable top-of-the-line models.

(Your local crack dealer uses similar methods with great success.)

My 60-kWh car is seriously fast, powerful enough for any conceivable real-world driving situation. The acceleration is enough to make me giddy with delight.

LEARN MORE: Tesla: Worth More Than Fiat, Which Is 100 Times Its Size?

2013 Tesla Model S P85 service loaner vehicle [photo: David Noland]

2013 Tesla Model S P85 service loaner vehicle [photo: David Noland]

But the P85 Model S takes it beyond giddy, up toward jarring, even a little scary.

There's no actual need for such brutal acceleration, of course. It's an automotive parlor trick, something to make my car-guy buddies howl in delight. (Which they did, of course.)

But frankly, once the novelty wore off, after maybe half a dozen flat-out runs, I never floored the P85 again during the three days that I drove it over 150 miles. Done that.

Headlights and Suspension

A few other differences between my car and the P85 loaner caught my eye.

  • The Xenon headlights of the P85 are much brighter, and I loved the sidelight that comes on when the steering wheel is turned. Definite envy there.
  • This particular P85 had the standard coil suspension, while my car has the extra-cost air suspension that was required on the first few thousand cars.  I don't regret my decision to accept the air-suspension "option"--it allowed me to get the car several months sooner--but the coil suspension feels tighter to me, costs less, and has much less potential for expensive repairs down the road. More envy.
  • The P85  with its Tech package (which mine doesn't have) would automatically lock itself when I walked away with the keys. On my return, the car sensed my approach and automatically unlocked itself and extended the door handles. Nice.
  • The sunroof struck me as a noisy annoyance. Glad I saved my money on that one.
  • The big 21-inch wheels on the P85 are a bit over the top stylistically for my taste. And I've read owner reports that the high-performance tires on the big rims have very low tread life--as low as 7,500 miles in some cases.
  • Over 150 miles of driving, I averaged about 340 Watt-hours per mile in the P85, compared to 300 Wh/mi recently in my 60-kWh Model S. So my car seems to be about 13 percent more efficient.

2011 Chevrolet Volt and 2013 Tesla Model S [photo: David Noland]

2011 Chevrolet Volt and 2013 Tesla Model S [photo: David Noland]

No, thanks

Tesla's grand strategy to get me to trade up failed . When the kid showed up three days later with my car on a trailer, I was actually happy to get it back.

What can I say? I'm not a flashy guy.

I was also delighted with the service results: a new key fob, a new right rear door handle, a tightened-up fascia panel, and a wiper sensor cleared of bird poop.

In addition, to my surprise, four service-bulletin items were performed, the tires were rotated, the fluids topped up, the car was washed (complete with Armor-All on the tires), and I received new, more robust front and rear floor mats.

Total bill: $0.00

READ: Why Men Love Their Tesla Model S Electric Cars

Still no anti-vampire upgrade

There were a couple of bummers, however. The anti-vampire software update 5.0 was not yet available for downloading. (Will I ever be freed from this loathsome beast?)

And my charging cord--the one with the missing button cap--had been fixed, but somehow ended up in another car that had been delivered to Connecticut.

The Tesla service rep sent me a new one via FedEx the same day, and I received it the next morning. No charge, of course.

If this is the future of car service, count me in.

It almost makes you want something to go wrong with your car.


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