Black & White
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Tesla Model S
Test Drive

Mark D Larsen
May 21, 2014

Earlier in the week, I was delighted to find in my inbox a message from a couple who own a Tesla Model S, Craig and Patty. They had evidently seen my entry on the PlugShare charging map for the St. George area, and wanted to ask if I would allow them to recharge their car from my EVSE or the NEMA 14-50 outlet in my Milbank RV panel. Naturally, I was more than happy to accommodate them. As far as I knew, theirs would be the first Model S to visit our area!

Craig and Patty live in Glendale, CA, and are on an extended EV roadtrip from coast-to-coast, taking advantage of Tesla’s SuperChargers as much as possible. There are still some unfinished stations along their intended route, and one of those spots is... the St. George area. Although an 85 kWh Model S could probably make it from the chargers in Las Vegas to those in Beaver, Utah (225 miles), they knew that their 60 kWh model would necessitate staying overnight here to recharge the battery. We arranged to meet them for dinner at a sidewalk cafe on Main Street, and it was thrilling to see their Model S pull up to the curb, shown below on the left. They had their Maltese, Kiki, with them, which made our Pomeranian, ‘Tisa, wary at first, but eventually the two of them settled down and were content to share the sidewalk together while we ate and chatted.

Main Street, St. Gorgeous
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Desert Dessert
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I had already seen several Model S at the 2013 Plug-In Day event in Las Vegas, but this was the first time Tamara had ever laid eyes on one. Craig and Patty probably didn’t appreciate her drooling all over their car, and she later exclaimed that the occasion was a blatant conspiracy to make her covet glands swell with envy. After dinner and lots of fun banter, ‘Tisa and I drove back home in our Leaf while Craig took Patty and Kiki back to their motel, with Tamara as an oh-so-reluctant passenger.

Not long after that, Craig and Tamara also arrived home, and he gave me a ride around our Kayenta subdivision while explaining many of the impressive features of his Model S. We turned onto Highway 91 briefly and he put pedal to the metal to demonstrate its awesome power. He then offered to let me test drive it, and my response was: Oh, please don’t throw me in that briar patch! I’ll elaborate more on my impressions behind the wheel below. I basically retraced our tread marks to return to the house, but with a slight detour to the top of Kayenta Parkway to snap a few photos of the Model S with the Red Cliffs as a backdrop, like the one above on the right.

I then drove us back to the house, Craig backed his Model S into our garage, and we plugged it in. This wasn’t the first time that two EVs were connected at the same time in my garage, but it was the first time that the guest EV stayed overnight to charge fully. You can see below on the left the two vehicles drinking electrons like two thirsty camels.

String Theory
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Outlet Mall
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Instead of using my AeroVironment EVSE with his J1772 adapter, Craig opted to plug his onboard cordset into my NEMA 14-50 outlet, as shown above on the right. This was, in fact, the best choice because the EVSE is only rated at 32A, but the outlet at 40A, and thus the Model S would charge faster. I then shuttled Craig back to his motel.

By the time I picked him up again the following morning, the pack was full, with a 202-mile range predicted. Consequently, despite the steep ascent from St. George to Cedar City along their route, Craig and Patty were able to make it to the Beaver SuperChargers without any problem that day.

I had been itching to get a chance behind the wheel of a Model S ever since Tesla first started selling them. I am sure that my general reactions echo those of the vast majority of test drivers. The most impressive feature that immediately grabs you —quite literally— is its awesome power. Flooring the accelerator is gut-wrenching, mind-blowing, wicked, if not downright... scary. With its heavy battery underneath the floorboards, keeping the center-of-gravity so low, the handling is just as euphoric, as though the car were tethered to the road. It is more than obvious why Consumer Reports concluded that it performs better than any car they’ve ever tested: “not just the best electric car, but the best car.”

Besides the superb engineering behind its drivetrain, the Model S boasts other amenities that make other cars seems spartan by comparison. Rather than cluttering the console with buttons and knobs, a humongous 17-inch screen handles all of the car’s functions and settings, the sole exceptions being a button for emergency flashers and another to open the glove box.

That display truly is a wonder to behold, and I predict that other automakers will be hard pressed to incorporate such a user-friendly interface in their future models. Craig observed that the screen in my Leaf is useful enough, but was probably put together by automotive engineers, gearheads who obsess about numbers and information. The display in the Model S, in contrast, provides just as much —if not more— data, but bona fide graphic artists have evidently put the finishing touches on the engineers’ work, to render the interface much more attractive, eye-catching, palatable, and intuitive. I would have to agree with him.

The Model S is also a very good-looking car that advertises its upper-crust, luxury class to passersby. Tamara thinks it is knock-down, drag-out gorgeous. I also like its sleek lines, although my tastes are seldom swayed by outer appearance. Consider, for example, that I really like the iMiEV’s funky egg-shape. And it is not as if my Leaf would win any awards for its looks.

What’s not to like in the Model S? Not much, that’s for sure. I don’t think the seats are as comfortable as in my Leaf. They’re harder, thinner, and don’t have as much body-hugging lateral support —which strikes me as an odd omission in a car that embodies the epitome of that old BMW slogan: “Happiness is not around the corner; happiness is the corner!” The vehicle also seems very large, more the size of my in-laws’ Lincoln MKZ. Its interior is more cavernous than comfortably cozy, but does allow for the kind of passenger and cargo room that my Leaf can only dream of. Obviously, both these quirks are more the result of what I am currently used to driving rather than actual faults in the Model S.

And, of course... its pricetag is well beyond my meager budget. I could probably buy two top-of-the-line Leafs for that amount of money. Then again... wouldn’t it be wonderful to have the range of two Leafs in one vehicle? It just goes to show: you really do get what you pay for. If you can pay for it.

That Craig and Patty would contact me was a fortuitous opportunity. Markhammed couldn’t go to the mountain, so the mountain came to Markhammed! I am now very glad that the St. George SuperCharger is still pending completion. Otherwise, I might have never been able to test drive the crème-de-la-crème of electric vehicles. And I really enjoyed meeting Craig and Patty. EV enthusiasts have a lot in common, it seems.

Now... is there a remedy for range envy?