The Tesla Model S is a very unusual motor car (I am starting to sound a little like a Rolls Royce / Aston Martin salesman!) in that it is large (wider than an S-Class Mercedes), beautiful (often mistaken for an Aston Martin or Maserati) and very, very fast (the new P85D is faster to 60 MPH than the iconic Ferrari Enzo and a host of other ‘Supercars’).
Much has been written about the Tesla Model S in the motoring press but these journalists may have only driven the car for a few days and so, with the official Tesla Forum open to owners only, it can be a challenge for prospective owners to understand what it is really like to own a Tesla Model S.
This article is intended to provide a summary of the differences that you will experience when moving from ownership of an Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) car to the Tesla Model S. To provide some context for the article it is worth mentioning that I am a long time car enthusiast and have owned a variety of high performance cars. I currently have a P85 Model S and am anxiously awaiting delivery of my P85D in July 2015 (we are a little behind in the UK!).
I am starting with the driving experience because I consider it to be exceptional, although I expect that many readers will skip straight to the charging section because it is so different!
The Tesla Model S is a fantastic car (irrespective of the method of propulsion) and the driving experience is amazing. The abundance of power available leads to a very relaxed style of driving (in the same way that large dogs barks infrequently because they have nothing to prove) and Tesla’s rethinking of everything-you-thought-you-knew-about-operating-a-car from the ground up makes driving easy and convenient to the extent that it is my favourite car to take for any type of journey. The absence of engine noise has a surprisingly relaxing effect – I frequently hear birds singing as I pull out of my drive.
I often drive other high end cars and have to say that, since owning a Model S, they all seem rather old fashioned. Teslas feel like they are light years ahead of the competition when it comes to ‘how would our customers want it to work’ type thinking.
I hate to kick a man when he is down but Jeremy Clarkson of Top Gear fame (allegedly) faked running out of charge in a Tesla Roadster. By doing this he highlighted to a huge audience what is the bugbear of most EV owners: range anxiety, the fear that your current state of charge will not allow you to reach your destination.
In reality there is no need for range anxiety with the Tesla Model S as it will realistically do 220-250 miles on a single charge. My wife and I have driven all over the UK in our Tesla and as far as Spa, Belgium, for a track day and have been able to easily and accurately plan range and therefore charging points en route.
If you are concerned about being caught out by the unavailability of a planned charging point I recommend (with self interest duly declared) that you register with TesLowJuice.com to gain access to a private charging network designed for exactly these circumstances. Teslowjuice is currently UK only but will be rolling out to Europe and other regions in the near future.
This is the biggest single difference between owning a Tesla and an ICE car: you will never need to visit a petrol station again! Much is spoken about the availability of charging networks (Tesla and 3rd party) but in reality you will find that, unless you have very unusual driving patterns, 95% of your charging occurs at home. I simply drive to my house, plug in the car, and the next morning it is full of charge and ready to drive. After a few months of ownership you will be surprised when you realise how few times you have visited petrol stations in your ICEmobile!
When you do want to go on a longer trip the Tesla SuperCharger network is now well enough developed in the UK, Europe and USA to plan your route around and the speed of charge is incredible (~150 miles of charge in half an hour).
Please see our [article link] for a more in depth explanation about charging options for the Model S.
Locking and unlocking the car
This sounds like a trivial item but I have included it to illustrate how deeply Tesla have thought about how to delight customers.
Every premium manufacturer has their version of Keyless Go™ (Mercedes’s term for locking and unlocking the car without having to use a key). Some of these are better executed than others, but none of them is a patch on Tesla’s version of entering your car and driving away. This is how it works:
- Walk up to your car with the key fob in your pocket and the door handles will extend for you*
- Open the door and sit in the drivers seat
- Press the brake pedal and select drive (or reverse if required!)
- Drive away
That is it: simple, intuitive and delightful to experience (just grit your teeth when you enter an ICE vehicle and have to start by pressing buttons and other pointless procedures…).
*requires Tech Pack to be specified on the car
There are only 3 buttons in a Tesla (interior lights, hazard warning lights and a glovebox release): other than the steering wheel/column mounted controls everything else is controlled via the giant 17” touchscreen mounted prominently in the centre of the dashboard.
Everything that you use regularly can be controlled from scroll wheels mounted on the steering wheel or voice control which, after a couple of hours of driving, become very intuitive. I haven’t once had to consult the manual to work out the controls on the car.
As mentioned in the introduction to this article the performance of this car is staggering. It is wider than a Mercedes S Class, weighs in excess of two tonnes and outperforms the Mercedes S65 AMG by some margin. It has better acceleration than many Supercars and, since 100% of the torque in an electric motor is available at rest, the launch to 30 mph is an incredible experience and the cause of the ‘Tesla grin’ (which you will see on the faces of your passengers in your rearview mirror as you accelerate hard from standstill).
There are no gears in a Model S so overtaking is simply a case of seeing a gap and squeezing the throttle for instant performance. Expect to spend very little time on the ‘wrong side’ of the road as you pass that poor unfortunate ICE driver!
As mentioned above, the equivalent Mercedes (S65 AMG) costs over 50% more than a fully loaded Tesla Model S P85D. In addition, the Tesla has tax breaks in most regions (for example in the UK Tesla owners get a £5k government grant towards purchase, are exempt from road tax and the London Congestion Charge, get free parking in some London Boroughs and qualify for 100% write-off against corporation tax and reduced Benefit in Kind for company car drivers).
The 85kWh battery models have free SuperCharging for life (i.e. free fuel from Tesla) and, in addition, most national charging networks are currently free. When you charge at home a fill up costs about £9 depending upon your electricity tariff.
Regenerative braking means occasional replacement of friction materials versus an ICE vehicle so the major running costs for a Model S become tyres and insurance (which every car requires).
A fully loaded Model S P85D is ~£100k after the £5k Government Grant so I would estimate that the low running costs make the Total Cost of Ownership equivalent to a £60k ICE car.
Early adopters were very concerned about residuals in such an unproven marque but Tesla have introduced a buy back programme through its leasing partner in the UK. This guarantees 50% of purchase base price and 43% of options after 3 years, providing a floor for future values. In fact, Teslas in the US and UK currently enjoy far better residuals than their natural competitors the S Class Mercedes and 7 Series BMW.
You get upgrades for free
The Model S has both 3G and Wi-Fi internet connections to enable the downloading of software updates from Tesla on a regular basis, which means that new features can be introduced without having to return the car to Tesla. I have had at least 5 useful updates in the 9 months that I have owned my Model S, ranging from a music streaming service implementation to advanced trip planning applications to having guidance lines added to my reversing camera.
Tesla customer service
Tesla is unique amongst motor manufacturers in that they wholly own their sales and service centres. Sales staff are incentivised to please rather than earning commission by pressurising potential customers and Service Centres are operated to make customers happy rather than as profit centres for the company.
This unusual arrangement results in some out-of-the-box thinking and behaviours by Tesla staff. Take a look at our [Beyond the call of duty actions by Tesla staff] if you would like to know more about the great service you should expect with the car.
Interest from strangers
Whether you are driving down the motorway, parking or charging somewhere public, be prepared for people to walk up and ask you all about your car. “How far does it go on a charge?” and “Is it an Aston Martin / Maserati?” are the top questions asked of me. Driving down the motorway don’t be surprised to see people pull up alongside with iPhones at the ready to get a shot of your car. My personal favourite is lip reading people behind me at traffic lights mouthing to their fellow occupants “what does the T stand for?”.
The car is unusually large and good looking and generates more friendly interest than more exotic vehicles that I have owned.
An extra boot (Frunk in the US, Froot in the UK(?))
The Model S has more usable storage space than a Range Rover Vogue (I have directly compared both on a trip). The ‘back’ boot (trunk in the US) is larger than that of a 7 Series and in addition there is a completely separate ‘front’ boot under the bonnet (hood in the US) which totally amazes those to whom you are showing the car.
Is the Tesla Model S flawless?
No. Like any premium car it has many systems and I have had some niggles (none of which has prevented me from driving the car) but these have been quickly resolved by Tesla Service and, in addition, they have always managed to provide me with a Model S loan car whilst my own car was in the garage.
I have had no more teething troubles with my Model S than I have had with other new premium marque cars (in fact I have had far few than with some cars!) which, given Tesla’s status as a maturing start-up, is as remarkable as the car itself.