Driving the new Tesla is a real electric dream ... if only we could develop better recharging points
TESTED: Tesla Model S 75D
I DID a bit of grocery shopping in Lidl in Thurles last week. What else would you be doing on a crisp November day with a big, black electric Tesla Model S at your disposal?
I'd driven one before for a while. But this time it was all about doing the everyday things with it; up close and personal over a few days and nights. How would it (from €91,395, car on test €105,847) really translate onto Irish needs and conditions?
I drove under all sorts of conditions during my 500km stint at the wheel of what is one of the most talked-about cars of recent years. Think diesel Mercedes S-Class rival on electric charge. Would I buy it over the Merc, I asked myself?
First off, I left Dublin at 10:06. I was in Lidl Thurles at 12:06 after stopping to make/take a couple of calls (including one from nature). I'd started with 386km in the battery. I had 170km left in Thurles. I'd driven at motorway speed (110kmh/120kmh) nearly all the way on cruise control.
It was effortless. The 17ins display/tablet in the middle of the dash covers and controls everything - there are no buttons. Better still, it has the best satnav out there. I keyed in Thurles Lidl and that's where it took me. No stupid questions about zip codes or city streets. Others please copy. Just don't expect to understand some of the placenames the voice comes up with. Hilarious. Think old Gaelic with Cantonese intonation.
Of relevance too is a criticism: there were no hooks to secure the shopping and laptop bags in the boot.
Via Two-Mile-Borris the next stop was Ballacolla (Topaz) where Tesla have their supercharging station (eight points). Satnav had me there in no time, with 126km left on charge. It's so simple. You flip open the little red reflector lens on the left rear light cluster, plug in and leave the charger to do its work. ALL chargers should be this simple. Why not?
It certainly got to work; the kilometre range ticked up fast. This is a model for recharging cars. I headed for a cup of tea, a muffin, another muffin, did a bit of work on the laptop and headed back. There was 383km in the tank. All in well under an hour.
I arrived in Dublin with 225km to spare. I plugged in at the house; a token gesture. I drove around (errands, gym), picked up the daughter from the airport. And still I had 140km left even after heavy use of headlights and climate control. I wasn't worried. The only annoyance was the noisy wipers and previous generation Mercedes' steering wheel/ switchgear, which is at odds with the look/feel of cabin 'S'.
My single biggest crib was the chassis's poor ability to absorb smaller surface abrasions, even on motorways, and the choppy feeling over anything but the smoothest of surfaces anywhere. Partly to blame was the coil suspension, now discarded in favour of air. That might alter perspectives. Something to watch for.
There's still a kick to come, but up to this point I have to say I'd enjoyed this immensely. Even after the 'newness' wore off, I felt there was a substantial intelligent, intuitive machine at my disposal. I could live with it on a daily basis. I'd plug it in overnight on the special wall connector (around €1,500 all in) and not worry about range. My instinct is my basic model would do 300kmh without (the Model X SUV claims 600km+ range).
Noticeable too was the level of regeneration of energy (slowing, braking). It can give a battery boost if your driving is urban for any appreciable time.
Third and last day with it, I intended bringing the cousin for a spin. I planned on charging at Enfield but some instinct prompted me to do so at Topaz Templeville Road, Templeogue (satnav excellent again).
Only the blinking charging point wouldn't charge. Not with a Tesla anyway, I was told by eCars. Everything fitted. I had a CHAdeMO adapter. Nothing. That's two weeks in a row this has happened with an eCars public charger. Doesn't instil confidence, does it? And the fast charger at Stillorgan Luas was occupied by a Nissan Leaf.
It left a bit of a sour taste. We have the cars; we need real availability, accessibility and help with the charging Points.Yet I left it back quite buoyed by the experience. The car is indisputably impressive in many areas. It is not by any means as well put together as a Merc S-Class; I won't labour the deficit of ride/handling quality with coils. But as an electric, digital entity primarily in its first major incarnation, it can't be rivalled. I've no doubt Mercedes, BMW et al will ultimately give Tesla a run for its money but for now this Model S is a benchmark.
So I'd buy it, then? Probably not. I'd wait for a better fast-charge network, more superchargers and see what's what in electric cars for a couple of years. But of course in an ideal world I'd be tempted. There isn't anything like it.
They claim €3,000/year (40,000kms) savings over a conventional engine, with a 75kW battery pack. 0-100kmh in 4.4 seconds - it is really quick. Two electric motors = all-wheel drive. €120 road tax. A 'fill' can cost around €12 on a home charge. Too long on a 3kW charger (25 hours from empty). Much quicker on a home 7kWh Wall Connector. Or with 16kW destination chargers, or superchargers (up to 270km in half an hour). New BIK 0pc rate for company car users makes EV attractive. But after grants it's still pricey at around €100,000. Free software updates for car's lifetime. Battery under floor. Rear seats elevated. Can have rear-facing jump seats; 17ins centre touchscreen - media, satnav, communications, cabin control, vehicle data. Intuitive interface. Several functions mirrored on instrument panel.
Standard: AEB, collision avoidance, cruise control. Enhanced Autopilot an option. Supercharger gets you 400kW hours free each year (about 1,600kms). After that it's 20c/kWh - €100 for 1,000 kms. Voice command wasn't great.
Four-year warranty (or 80,000km); eight years for battery. Four-year warranty on used versions.