Sunday, December 30, 2012

Driving my Tesla Model S

Now that I've had my Model S for a couple of weeks, I think its time to talk about how it feels to drive.

After sitting in the driver's seat, you press the brake pedal to ready the car to drive. You can then use a steering column mounted lever (which is actually a Mercedes-Benz part) to put the car in drive. After putting the car in drive, the first thing I noticed after being in a gas car for so long is the silence. The loudest noise you hear is the A/C if you have it running or the sound system if you have it on. Turning both OFF creates total silence. As you pull forward, you'll then hear some road noise. I think this is probably the same or less road noise you hear in a gas car but it's likely drown out by the engine of a gas car.

Punch it


Accelerating is when you immediately notice the next big thing about the Model S. In short, accelerating is exhilarating. Acceleration is beautifully smooth with no hesitation. If you punch it, it feels like you're in a rocket. The Tesla Model S has a single speed gearbox which means that there is no shifting of gears as in a car with a typical automatic transmission.  The difference is very noticeable. As you rocket forward, the lack of any pause for shifting of gears results in a perfectly smooth acceleration. Because of the torque applied, the power is equivalent to about 400 hp. You're pressed back into the seat and you push forward fast. With no engine noise and no shifting of gears, you're left with a feeling of effortless speed. "Effortless" is a good word for this because you have no feeling that the car is strained in any way. It is truly a rocket ship on wheels without the noise.

Decelerating with Regen


The next thing that is different has to do with decelerating.  The Model S has a "regenerative braking" system. This means when the car is in motion and you want to slow down, it can use the motion of the car to turn the electic motor into a generator and generate electricity which is then fed back into the batteries. So the electric motor can be used to convert electricity into kinetic energy or vice versa. What I've found is that this transition occurs very smoothly. When you reduce pressure on the pedal with your foot, the regen starts. The more you let up, the more regen occurs. And the more regen, the greater the deceleration of the car.  The result is that you almost entirely control the car using one pedal. You press to go and you learn to let up in a controlled way to slow the car. As you approach a stop light, you may let up entirely on the pedal which may kick in the maximum regen. That turns out to be a fairly smooth deceleration at a good rate that you get used to. You can control that maximum rate in the car's settings by the way, but I've found that the standard setting is great. You still have normal disc brakes and a brake pedal and can stop immediately with the anti-lock brakes if you must - but I suspect that you'll tend to wear out your brakes a lot less because of regenerative braking which is another interesting advantage.

One more note on regenerative braking. If you are slowing the car by simply letting up on the pedal without actually hitting the brakes, the car is smart enough to turn on the brake lights if your deceleration crosses some threshhold. That way, when the car is slowing down even when you're not hitting the brake, drivers behind you know that you're slowing. I was nervous about how much the car would slow down without me hitting the brake pedal until I drove the car at night and realized the brake lights were indeed coming on when slowing using regen only.



This is what the speedometer looks like when accelerating. Notice the orange bar on the right. It's indicating the kW of power being applied.
 

This is what the speedometer looks like when decelerating and regenerative braking is occurring. The green bar on the lower right shows how much power is being generated which can be up to 60 kW if you take your foot completely off the accelerator pedal. This slows the car while recharging the battery.
 

Handling


The Tesla Model S also takes corners and handles very well too. One of the original objectives of the Model S was to build it from the ground up as a modern car. In other words, take advantage of modern technology and the EV drive train to build a better car. One of the results of that was a decision to put the batteries along the bottom of the car. The bottom is flat and batteries are slung low - the batteries contribute to a lot of the weight of the car. The final result is a low center of gravity. This shows up as you take corners because, even though it is a large, heavy car, it doesn't "roll" as much as a traditional "top heavy" car when you take a turn. Remember that in a gas car, the engine is very heavy and most of that weight sits above the axle. This raises another interesting advantage. Because the batteries are "spread out" from front to back of the car, the weight of the car is more evenly distributed than a traditional car too. To sum up, the weight of the car is lower and distributed more evenly than in a traditional gas engine car which improves how the car feels to drive and likely improves safety too.

Summary


Overall, it is a fast, quiet, effortless acceleration and smooth deceleration with smooth transition between. You have a low center of gravity for excellent cornering - especially for a large sedan - remember this is no compact car.

Driving this car has made me think that an electric drivetrain truly is the future of cars. It feels so much better to drive. It's like having a modern smart phone (iPhone or Android) vs. an older cell phone from 10 years ago. Who would want to go back? Though the price is still high, I think the technology is compelling and eventually will be what everyone wants even if they are paying more. The proposition goes beyond simply the cost of gas vs. electricity or initial cost vs. TCO. It is simply a better experience overall to drive.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Interior Pictures

Finally managed to get some pictures of the interior. I chose black leather seats and obeche gloss as the accents. Also got some pictures of the panoramic roof.








 

Friday, December 21, 2012

The Key

I wanted to start writing about the many of the features of my Model S to help show what the day to day experience is like. So what better place to start than the key.

The key isn't really a key. It looks kinda like a toy car the size of a matchbox car. It's sleek and black with a small Tesla symbol at the "front" of the car to help indicate the front vs. the rear. That's important because there are 3 areas of the key that are pressable as buttons.

The Key
 

The Buttons

When you press the front of the key twice (double click), it unlatches the "frunk". That's the front area under the hood where there is storage space. The key opens the frunk but since its not automatic, you still have to lift it open and close it by hand. The middle area of the key locks and unlocks the doors. Single click - locks while double-click unlocks. The rear part of the key controls the trunk. My car has the tech package so double clicking the rear key button will open and close the trunk automatically.

Keep the Key in Your Pocket

The best part of the key though is the fact that the car detects when its near and can automate entry, exit and driving. There are various options that can be set on the touch screen that controls some of this behavior. For example, in the settings, you can turn on "Auto-present handles" and "Walk-away door lock".

"Auto-present handles" - When ON, as you approach the locked car, it detects when you are near the door and automatically extends the door handles. The door handles normally are recessed into the body of the car enhancing the exterior's sleek appearance and improves the aerodynamics when on the road. They extend under various circumstances including when it detects that you are approaching the door. For me, this is usually about 2 feet way. Its a beautiful feature. When I walk to the car, the key stays in my pocket and just as I'm reaching my hand out to open the door, the handle extends to greet me. The timing and distance is perfect.

The Door Handle Retracted

The Door Handle Extended


"Walk-away door lock" - When ON, as you walk away from the car, once you reach a certain distance, the doors will lock and the handles will retract. For me, the distance seems to be about 30 feet or so but I haven't actually measured.

Additionally, when you sit in the car, everything turns on. The key doesn't "go anywhere". As long as its near and detected in driver seat area, the car is ready to go. You just hit the brake and put it in to Drive or Reverse and go. So combined with the "auto-present handles" and "walk-away door lock" features, the key can simply stay in your pocket. This provides a really smooth entry, exit and use of the car. You walk up, the door handles extend. Open the door and sit down. Push on the brake with your foot, put it in gear and drive away. Then when you park, just get out and walk away and doors lock all without fumbling for the key. Nice.

video
Short Video Approaching the Car
 

Just One Caveat

Here is one caveat I've found though: If I keep the key in my pocket where my phone is, I've noticed it doesn't detect my presence very well as I approach a door. Sometimes I'd have to stand there for a moment or even take the key out of my pocket. So I switched the key to my other pocket and it works perfectly. Maybe the phone interferes with the signal, not sure.





 

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

First Impressions

After my Model S was delivered last Wednesday night, I spent some time over the next few days learning about it. Now that I've driven it to work the last couple of days and had a chance to see more of it, I wanted to talk about my first impressions.

I absolutely love this car. It's beautiful inside and out. Mine is metallic blue which turned out to be a great choice. At night, it looks black but in the day it's blue. It has sleek curves like a Jaguar, looks like sports car even though it's a four door that can seat five comfortably with a ton of storage space. On the inside, the design is stylishly simple. Since the 17" touch screen in the center provides control over most of the functions of the car, there are very few additional buttons or knobs. The interior design is as sleek as the outside. Smooth curves along the doors and dashboard. The leather seats look great with tall narrow headrests that help to preserve the open feel inside the cabin. The panoramic roof also turned out to be a great option. It blocks just enough light to give an open feel inside the car without having too much glare and light beating down on you.

Now let's get to how the car drives. After all, that is why we have cars ultimately. It's a joy to drive. When hitting the throttle (it's hard to get out of the habit of calling it a gas pedal), the car immediately responds with perfect smooth acceleration. Without a sound, you rocket forward. My favorite experience started while sitting at a traffic light. There were cars both to my right and behind me. As soon as the light was green (and no more cars), I hit it. Rocketing forward, I glanced in my mirrors after a few seconds and there were only small and shrinking cars in my mirrors and no one around me. The electric motor provides quiet acceleration and since there is a single speed gearbox, there is zero hesitation - no shifting of gears. The speed and acceleration is so smooth and quiet that it is truly a unique driving experience like nothing else I've had.

Then there is the modern features of the touchscreen and all of the attention to detail. The touchscreen computer is extremely well designed. Since I am in the software industry, I have an appreciation of a good user interface and this software is very well designed. There is a lot of functionality to deliver. It includes control and settings over music and media from many sources (Normal FM/AM, XM, Internet radio, Phone via bluetooth, USB thumbdrives), navigation system, Phone integration, web browsing, Energy statistics, climate control plus all of the numerous settings for the car itself. There is a huge number of features to design into an interface that is designed to be used while driving. I've used this touchscreen while driving and it's super easy to get around and to do what you need - and safely without having to take your eyes off the road for more than a moment.

I've imagined how would I explain to folks why I like the car. It's really hard to describe in a few words because it is really the entire package. It is a a car that drives wonderfully, looks beautiful and has completely modern, computerized features. To me, it's the first truly 21st century car. Here are my first pictures below.


 

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Delivered

The Tesla has landed! It arrived at my house around 7pm. And on 12/12/12 - a cool way to remember the date! The delivery specialist had been running late due to traffic and other issues so it was actually dark when it came. So no pictures tonight. I was in disbelief tonight as the delivery specialist took me through all the ins and outs of operating the car and the touch screen. It really struck me how different and modern this car is. Virtually everything is controlled through the touch screen. Its beautifully designed and very user friendly. I think touch screens have been knocked in cars quite a bit due to the lack of tactile feedback, but I think this screen is so large and easy to read and navigate that they've made it quite usable and better in fact. I'll know more about that after I've used it a lot.

But it doesn't stop with the touch screen. The "key" is unique. It isn't a traditional key. It looks like a toy car. If you double click the trunk of the "toy", it opens the trunk. Double click the front of it and it opens the "frunk" - the front storage area. Double click the top of the key and it unlocks the doors. Oh and the doors- they are very novel too. The door handles are recessed into the car - flush with the body. With the key in your pocket, the car detects when you approach the door and extends the door handle automatically. You open the door and sit in the driver seat and the dashboard and touch screen both automatically light up and the car is now "on". You don't really do anything with the key - just sit in the car with it in your pocket. To drive, you hit the brake and put it in reverse or drive - the gear shift is different too - its a stick on the steering column, but you toggle it up to put it in reverse and down for drive. To put it in park you can toggle it back or just hit a button on the end of the stick as a short cut to put it in park. Well, there's many more interesting things but its getting late so I'll have to write more later and get some pictures going too.

One last thing that I thought was interesting. The delivery specialist said that while driving here some other drivers along the way recognized my car in tow (it was brought in on a trailer but very visible). They saw it was a Model S and would either blow their horn or look over and give a nod or an OK. So many people recognize this amazing car. That's really cool.

More to come when I have a chance - and some day light!

Monday, December 10, 2012

It's Almost Here!

A couple of weeks ago I got a notification by email that a batch of cars for reservation holders in my area had been built and that my car was done and on its way! Tesla apparently builds a batch of cars for a region at once and ships them together to be more efficient. They send the cars to their service center for a final check up. Then they contact you and arrange for delivery; That call came tonight! Very exciting. I've arranged for a delivery time of Wednesday evening.

Can't believe after waiting since May of 2009 that the time is almost here. Christmas has come early.