Once Tesla Motors built out its Supercharger network of quick-charging stations along Interstate 5, my wife and I decided to drive from our home in Sacramento to Portland in our new 2013 Tesla Model S.
We make frequent trips from to Portland, as we really like the general "feel" of the city--and she is, by now, all but addicted to the pastries from their gourmet bakeries. In mid-November, we finally made it a road trip instead of flying.
2013 Tesla Model S at Supercharger station in Corning, California, Nov 2013 [photo: George Parrott]
It was almost 600 miles from our home in West Sacramento to our hotel room in Portland, so it would be a long day's drive. But we would save about $400 on airfare, and another $150 or so on not needing a rental car once we got there.
Starting with a full "range charge" of 271 miles in our 85-kWh Tesla Model S, we headed out at 5:30 a.m. to the first charging station in Corning, California, about 110 miles away. We arrived at the Corning Supercharger about 7:15 am, and after plugging in we walked 200 feet to the nearby Starbucks for coffee and a bathroom break.
We were on the road again in 25 minutes, with almost 255 miles of range, refreshed and heading for the next stop in California's famed Mount Shasta. We were using up about 20 percent more range than each recharge had provided, but we were also driving against a constant headwind.
I use cruise control pretty much all the time on the interstates, so I was holding to the regular "posted speed limit," either 65 mph or in a few areas an awesome 70 mph. The Model S is so solid and steady on the road that the only way we knew it was windy was after the sun rose...seeing how much the trees and bushes bent over in the gusts.
2013 Tesla Model S in Grants Pass, Oregon, Nov 2013 [photo: George Parrott]
Arriving at the Mt. Shasta charging units, in the parking lot of a nice Best Western Hotel, we had covered 107 miles from Corning in just under two hours. An indulgent breakfast was in order, so we walked across the street in the cold brisk wind to the Black Bear Diner.
Returning to the Model S, we now had a full 270-mile "range charge," and we headed out into the headwind (15 to 25 mph) towards Grants Pass, the first charging point in Oregon.
We crossed the 4300-foot pass between Mt. Shasta and Grants Pass and arrived about 1 pm, after covering only 88 miles. However, we had used up almost 110 miles of "projected range."
Since our next stop was to be Springfield, Oregon--almost 140 miles further north--we took a 25-minute charging break and left with 215 miles showing on the projected range display. It was still sunny, but the headwinds were also still fighting us.
From Grants Pass to Springfield was the longest segment between Supercharger locations; we arrived at Springfield with just 30 miles of range remaining on our dashboard display. The 140 miles had used about 175 miles of originally projected range! Headwinds hurt range.
2013 Tesla Model S at Supercharger station in Woodburn, Oregon, Nov 2013 [photo: George Parrott]
Here, the Supercharger units are behind the Holiday Inn Hotel parking lot, considerably further from the nearest Denny's or Starbucks. We stuck with the car for the brief charging time, using the bathrooms inside the Holiday Inn.
We were still averaging a bit over 60 mph for our actual road time; we left for the final stop--the Woodburn Outlets Supercharger--around 4 pm.
There, we found the first inconsistency in the Tesla descriptions for charging locations. Yes, technically, the Outlet stores are within view of where the Superchargers are located. But in the wind and rain we had by now encountered, this was not a "shopping option"--the chargers are really about 500 yards away through the service area of a car dealership.
However, an Arby's, an Elmer's Restaurant, and a Starbucks lie within 100 yards of the Superchargers, so snacks and bathrooms ARE available. They're just not at the promised "Woodburn Outlets."
2013 Tesla Model S in Mount Shasta, California, Nov 2013 [photo: George Parrott]
We arrived at these chargers around 5 pm, and took on a 25-minute "security charge" to get us comfortably to our Portland hotel. We already knew it would have overnight Level 2 charging in its parking lot.
As it turned out, we left that last Supercharger around 5:30 pm, and the traffic was heavier than we had projected, so we chose to find a dinner spot before arriving at our downtown hotel. We spent an hour at a warm and cozy diner not far off the freeway, and finally arrived at our hotel just after 7 pm.
Our West Sacramento to Downtown Portland driving time was about 9 hours and 35 minutes of actual driving, with another 2 hours in short Supercharger stops--plus a longer stop for a full recharge (for the car) and for us (breakfast) that took a full hour.
2013 Tesla Model S at nascent Supercharger station, Vacaville, CA, Nov 2013 [photo: George Parrott]
Bucking a headwind almost all the way, our total energy use was right at 200 kWh for about 600 miles.
As is too often the case, my hopes for a tailwind on the return trip several days later were quashed. The winds were even stronger going back south towards Sacramento.
Our Model S had received the 5.8 software upgrade during our time in Portland, so we "lost" the low-suspension setting for freeway speeds--which may also have contributed to a return-trip energy use of just over 212 kWh.
But the Model S remains a superb "road car," stable in both winds and rain. One amazing discovery during our trip was how unnecessary the rear-window wiper on the Model S actually is. The aerodynamics of air cause air to flow over the car at speed enough to completely sweep water off that back window.
We had heavy rains AND winds all the way from Portland back to Sacramento, but the view out the Tesla's back window was better than in our Nissan Leaf--which has a rear window wiper!
Over our trip of a bit more than 1,200 miles in four days, we didn't spend a dime on electricity. And for that: Thanks, Tesla!