Fresh Dialogues finally got behind the wheel of a Tesla Model S Performance last week in Silicon Valley. Performance is the word: the acceleration felt like a rocket. It's quite formidable, especially for Toyota Prius drivers. Overall, it's an impressive piece of technology: sleek, stylish and powerful, just like an iPad. But there are two things we'd change.
We took it 0-50 in about four seconds and thanks to its low center of gravity (all those batteries), it was easy to handle on the winding hill roads around Palo Alto. Going 60 plus on Highway 280 felt smooth and effortless. In the latest test drive, Motor Trends confirmed a 0-60 mph time of 3.9 seconds; faster than Tesla's own specs of 4.4. That makes it the fastest American sedan. And remarkably, it's made in Silicon Valley at the the Tesla Factory.
I'd heard about the 'sensitive' accelerator pedal and wondered: could I control it in the confined space of the Tesla HQ parking lot? But I found it easy to navigate and control both in forward and reverse gears. Backing into a parking space was a cinch thanks to the rear camera.
The Model S has been called an Apple iPad experience wrapped in four wheels. The massive 17-inch touch screen looked like it could be a major driving distraction, but having experienced its utility, I'm more appreciative. Glad to see that most functions can be controlled from the steering wheel, including the impressive sound system. Spinal Tap fans will be delighted to learn that the volume goes to 11 (really!); a spec no doubt dictated by Tesla product architect, Elon Musk, with tongue firmly in cheek.
You can choose what appears on your dashboard: energy consumption, range, media, climate control, etc. Tesla's Christina Ra explained the energy charts and how the range is impacted by all that powerful acceleration.
The regenerative breaking was very noticeable. The second you take your foot off the accelerator, you feel it kicking in, giving you more control and increasing the range of the car. It's rated 265 miles by the EPA, but the way we were driving (not like Prius drivers), the projected range fell to 192. To get the maximum range, Tesla recommends an optimum speed of 55 mph, with the windows up and no A/C.
Two things we'd change:
1. These snazzy door handles certainly look and act cool. Tesla Factory worker Charles Lambert said it best, they're "Oh so sexy." According to reports, they're not just eye candy, they actually improve the aerodynamics of the car. I understand they're fitted with an anti-break-your-fingers release mechanism, but when I checked it out, the handle gave me a good finger squeeze -- not in a good way. It stung. Maybe I'm extra sensitive, but I think Tesla should consider adjusting the specs just a tad.
2. When you get in the car and sit down in the driver seat, the car switches on. Touch the foot break and the motor is on and ready to go. But when you stop, it feels disconcerting not to have an "off" button. Say you pull over to make a phone call... or enjoy the sunset? I'd be more comfortable knowing this super powerful motor is definitely off. And isn't suddenly going to take off....
Overall though, a remarkable driving experience and a giant leap forward in style and performance from my beloved Toyota Prius. Made in Silicon Valley is definitely a plus.
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