Surprise Wrenching Visitor! The Tesla Model S

Occasionally, something truly special happens at wrenching.  Last Tuesday night, a new wrencher who works for Tesla stopped by with a prototype Model S, and proceeded give a couple of test rides and let us crawl all over it.Tesla Model S Prototype @ Wrenching.  Photo courtesy of Telstar Logistics. I’ve gotten more interested in electric cars recently, so I was curious to see if it was any good.

From the outside the S is a decent looking car.  It has gynormous wheels – this model had 21″ rims.  I don’t really buy into the enormous wheel thing, but hey! Whatever floats your boat.  It looks like a modern luxury car.  It’s proportions are similar to a 5 or 7 series, but it has a slightly longer wheelbase.

Getting into the car you already get the idea you’re looking into the future.   It’s got futuristic gadgety door handles which will probably be expensive/difficult to replace when they go wrong. When you get in to the car, it’s still a car, but the floor is mostly flat because there’s no drivetrain underneath, which is nice.  The cabin is spacious, modern and inviting.  The 17″ flat panel multi-function touch screen in the center of the dash jumps out at you, as does the flat panel guage cluster.

Ergonomists may point out that touchscreens in cars are suboptimal because you have to look at them to know what button you are pushing.  I’ve spent some time using non-touch complex avionics controlled by buttons and knobs, and I’m not convinced this is any easier for a complex system, although cars are a different ballgame than aircraft; where you can safely bring your eyes into the cockpit for a few seconds without fear of beaning a cyclist.  I suppose we will learn fast weather this is a good idea or not.

When you’re ready to move, the S takes of effortlessly and silently.  The model we rode in is the less powerful one which produces around 300 Nm of torque; or about 220 foot pounds.  This is enough to propel the car to 60 in under 6 seconds.  There a little whooshy whiny noise when this is going on, apparently caused by the motor consuming around 900 mind-boggling amps of alternating current, but it’s not loud; perhaps just awesome.  The result is the same as doing the same in a gasoline powered car: grins all around.  The ride is smooth, the tires sticky and it takes corners certainly as well as my BMW 3 series, and possibly a little better.  Getting on the 101 was just as much fun as it is in my Subaru Turbo, and we were comfortably able to dart around traffic in adolescent fashion.  The pull of the motor is strong, and it feels good to keep pushing it at every opportunity.

The car we rode in had been charged in Palo Alto and then driven up to the city, and had picked up an additional person on the way to my house.  The computer said it had about 180 miles of charge left in it after the second ride of the evening.  I might expect only a further 140 or so, but even so, this is a solidly respectable range, and would be more than enough for the vast majority of my driving, especially given that it would be fully charged every morning.

One thing that did surprise me is that, like the humble Porsche 914, the S has 2 trunks; front and rear.  The lack of hazardous emissions means this is a perfect place to store the kids*; allowing for quiet transportation with minimal fighting.  In seriousness; there is an option for a rear-facing seat in the rear trunk, which would allow the transport of 7 people, which makes the S extremely practical.

All in all, I was extremely impressed with the car.  It’s clear that with a little improvement in battery tech, this is exactly the future; and it will be better in every way.  We’ll give up the noise, smell and unreliability of gas engines; but motors, power and driving still have character and evoke emotion.

(Hat tip to Telstar Logistics for pictures.)
(*No, I do not transport my children in the trunk, and you shouldn’t either.)

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