Model S Test drive - First Tesla Model S in Melbourne

I test drove the Model S last night in Melbourne. Here are my first impressions.

Exterior

As it was night time, the black P85 (not plus) was a sleek silhouette under the street lamps. 

This was a good thing, as it made me focus on the major design lines of the car, rather than fussing on the small things. There can be no doubt that the design was inspired by others, but unique in its own right. The lines are clean and sophisticated. 

I think this is one of the absolute keys in the success of the Model S. While other electric car designs are puny (Leaf), bizarre (i3) or overwhelming (i8), the Model S promotes acceptance through an elegant European gracefulness. As this is the first thing people notice about a car, it’s vitally important for the future of electric motoring in Australia that the masses accept it, and I think Tesla have done a fantastic job of that.

As they say – it’s a beautiful car, it just happens to be electric.

I also noticed that there were lights under the door handles. While this is a great design feature and illuminates (pun intended) a highlight of the car, it also shows up swirls in the paint and fingerprints around the door handle very clearly. As this is a “high traffic” area of the car, I think it’s imperative to get it protected. I am getting a full Opti coat and paint correction as soon as I get the car, so hopefully that will help.

The lights under the handles are included as standard.

As we move to the front of the car, I have to pause and pour out my praise for the headlights. OMG the lights. I asked Cary to turn on the lights just on their own, and my jaw dropped at their effect in person. Eyelashes both beguiling and powerful. Seeing this in your rear vision mirror would definitely make you curious.

Overall, whilst the design of other electric cars will provoke heated debate, sometimes applause and sometimes disgust, the Model S will always appeal to 99.5% of people, because it looks like a sophisticated, European saloon. And Tesla is better for it. Congratulations to Franz von Holzhausen.

 

Interior

It’s a spaceship. There’s no doubt about it.

Instrument Cluster

What captures you immediately, apart from the 17” centre command console (CCC) – that’s what I’m calling it, is the beautiful one screen instrument cluster in front of you. This is what you’ll be looking at most of the time. The recently re-designed instrument cluster bezel is very effective, and I think it looks better than before. I didn’t immediately know why I liked this instrument cluster more than, say, my Peugeot. Then I realized – it’s because there is no “interruption” to the presentation of information. It’s all on the one screen, whereas on other cars there’s separate “screens” for RPM, Km/h etc.

Despite watching endless walkthroughs and videos on the subject, it still took a bit of fiddling to get my head around the customization options on the instrument cluster. I loved how much choice there was. In this regard, I’d like to think that Tesla was thinking more “Android” than “iOS”.

Design Lines

The design lines on the inside of the car mimic the outside: clean and minimalistic. After reading so many reviews about how disappointing the interior quality is, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked it. My preferred aesthetic naturally leans towards the stark and minimalist, so I think I am biased but there is certainly a gorgeous simplicity to the cabin.

Interior Features

All the parts seemed well put together, and almost everything had a quality edge to it. The leather is not as soft as you would find on a high end handbag, but I don’t think it needs to. The wood grain looked nice in the dark, but felt slightly cheap to the touch.

I didn’t get a chance to put a drink the cupholders, and when I was driving my arm was not leaning on the centre rest bit, so I couldn’t tell you if the cupholders were in an awkward spot.

The car had a matching yacht floor. 

Lighting

One thing I didn’t really like were the LED lights. Compared to the rest of the cabin, these felt generic and cheap. I don’t know how you would design these to look better, but given how well designed the rest of the car is, I’m surprised they couldn’t come up with a better option.

My wife remarked how much she liked the ambient lighting package. I have to admit, in the dark, it really adds to the luxury feel. I think if you can afford it, you should get it. I’m going to see if I can install aftermarket parts to enhance the lighting. Maybe I can fit it to resemble the “nightclub” themes of the new S Class 

Seats

Oh the negative reviews about the seats, all these people complaining.

I thought they were fine. I don’t know if they were the new ones or the old seats, but I felt supported throughout my entire test drive. Sure they are not as soft as a Mercedes S class, but they were still comfortable. I can see why on first “sit” some people might be concerned though. Then again, I sleep on a firm mattress so each to their own.

There was a bug with the back seats. The Model S has the standard annoying warning when someone doesn’t do up their seatbelt. They obviously do this through weight sensors. When I leaned on the middle back seat, it thought I was a person and kept asking the middle passenger to do up their seat belt. It went away when I stopped leaning. But, as the Tesla boys acknowledged last night, they would need to do something about that, in case someone had a parcel on it.

The heated seats worked well and I liked the fact that you could see the level of the heating straight away on the CCC. This car also had the winter package, so all the back seats could be heated too.

Technology

CCC

The 17” tablet has been covered in depth so I won’t really get into it.

One thing I will mention is that Google Maps loaded up fast, even in Satellite mode. That leads me to believe that they went with a really good telephone carrier, and there’s only one I can think of that would do the job over 3G, and it’s not Vodafone…or Optus…or Virgin. 

Everything was intuitive. Pinch and Zoom was responsive. One thing I didn’t realize was that a lot of the options came up as “pop up windows”. So the base screen behind the options you’re looking at doesn’t change. 

Audio

This car had the upgraded audio package. Even turning it up to “level 5” was enough to show its prowess. The bass did not distort. The highs and mids were clear, no trill. Certainly, it’s no high end Bowers and Wilkins, but it’s so far above what I have now that I couldn’t help but be impressed. I’m not sure what the standard audio package sounds like, but I’m glad I got the upgraded one, as the additional bass sounds fantastic.

I listen to a lot of AM, and was concerned by reports that the AM reception in the Model S was abysmal. I was therefore pleasantly surprised that 774 was picked up very well at my place. I think it will be fine for other stations. If all that fails we can just use digital radio.

Rdio integration worked really well. You can search for any song and it will show up. We searched for a slightly fringe Scandinavian singer, and it showed up. But given that they also show up on Spotify, I’m not surprised. Very happy that the Rdio subscription is free, and extremely glad that it’s included in the car. I didn’t test out voice control.

High Def Backup Camera

I don’t normally use a backup camera when backing out, preferring to rely on my side mirrors, so this backup camera is more of a novelty than anything else. I’m also therefore not worried about the lack of parking guide lines, and have no idea how useful they are in reality.

The backup camera was quite clear with only mild grainy distortion at night time. When you put the car in reverse, a light comes on the left rear side of the car, so you can see in the camera more clearly.

Parking Sensors

I liked the presentation of the parking sensor information. It’s displayed prominently and squarely in front of you on the instrument cluster. The red line appears at 20cm, which I think is a good safe distance, and allows for some small mistakes.

Storage

Not much to say here. The Frunk is a lot bigger than I thought it was, and I think I might use that most of the time as it has good enclosures and won’t let things slip around.

The boot, as expected, is absolutely huge, and will be great when I need to buy furniture. The space under the boot, where the rear facing seats would ordinarily be, is also a great space to carry tools, a UMC (when it comes) or expensive cargo.

The parcel shelf looked and felt a little cheap and flimsy.

I didn’t get a chance to fold the seats down to see the full extent of the space available, but I’ll be sure to do that when I get a chance.

Charging

While the car was at my place, we tested out the charger. After some initial confusion, it charged fine. Drawing 32 amps.

Mark that as a tick for JET Charge (shameless self plug).

Driving

So having said all of that, you don’t buy a car to just sit and admire. You buy it to get from A to B when you need to. I have a feeling that when the Model S gets here, I’ll be making up all kind of excuses to go to “B”.

Steering Wheel

I’m very glad they went to the Mercedes stock bin for this. Why reinvent the wheel (pun intended) when you can get one of the best mass market wheels available? It instantly felt familiar and solid. Given this is your main point of contact with the car, Tesla needed to offer something with a sense of security, and I think the Mercedes wheel delivers. 

The Steering wheel is adjustable for optimum driving position, as are the seats. All of this information can be stored as your “driver profile”.

Pedals

I didn’t mistake the accelerator pedal and the brake pedal.

Nor did I think they were too close together.

Setup

Regen was set to standard. I wanted it set to “low” because I was scared I wouldn’t get used to it, but Cary assured me that it would be fine, and that it was better to learn on the “standard”, as you’d get used to the car quicker. He was right. I’d be very interested to find out at what speed the brake lights come on if you’re just using regen, but I didn’t get a chance to test it out during my test drive.

Suspension was set to low.

Steering was set to “Sport”. Both Comfort and Standard modes felt too light. I like harder and more responsive steering.

Preparation and pep talk

I was nervous. I have driven expensive cars before but this felt different. 

Cary put on his serious face and talked me through all the insurance liabilities. My heart was beating pretty fast.

We’re off

I waited for a break in traffic and pulled out from the curb. I was used to driving my folks’ S class, so I didn’t mistake the indicator and the cruise control. First hurdle, tick.

I lightly pushed the accelerator down and the power delivery was smooth. I let go of the accelerator and the regen was definitely there but not as strong as I imagined. I turned into a side street, went around some roundabouts just to get the feel of the car.

Like other commentators have remarked, this is an amazingly light feeling car despite its weight. Everything drove like a normal luxury sedan at low speeds, and that’s a really good thing. Being able to pull away, and drive around, with virtually no sound, is an absolutely amazing experience. After all the brainwashing we’ve gone through that we must necessarily associated cars with noise, this was a revolutionary re-learning. 

So we drove around at 50km/h for about 2 minutes.

We then stopped at a traffic light on the corner of Malvern and Kooyong Roads, and my instinct took over. A white sedan pulled up next to us, and didn’t really pay any attention to the “future” sitting next to them.

I re-gripped the steering wheel, checked my mirrors, straightened in the seat, and waited for the light to turn green, revving up my internal engine in the absence of any engine noise.

The light turned green and I punched it. Even after watching every video and reading every review, and even though I knew exactly what to expect, I still couldn’t help but burst out laughing at the pure joy of it. We were at 80km/h before I even had a chance to take a breath. The white sedan was so far behind us they might as well have not hit their accelerator. 

I believe my exact words were “Holy f*ck that’s awesome. Holy Sh*t I’m so glad I got this car. F*cken hell this is the future guys, this is the future”. 

The wheels screeched and the tail wobbled a bit, but I never felt out of control. It was stock 19” on this P, and I think you need 21” for true grip. I wonder how aftermarket wheels would fare.

After that little outburst, Cary said to me that in his experience, I had not even floored it, and that acceleration is what I would feel in my normal 85. Needless to say I was pleased about that!

The shackles had come off, and I was in my car comfort zone now. That was quick!

I started getting used to the regen and I was punching it everywhere I went. I tried to go a few varying streets – down the straight of Kooyong Road, turning onto Dandenong road where the car was in its element. I even took it through the car park of Malvern Central just to see how it would feel in small spaces – it performed wonderfully throughout.

I have not had the pleasure of driving Ferraris, Lambos, Mclarens or high end Porsches, but I can say that the steering (even without the plus package), the comfort over speed humps, and definitely the acceleration were all out of this world.

For what it’s worth, my wife, who doesn’t drive all that much, had a go as well. She got used to it very quickly, and when she pushed it up the hill at the corner of Kooyong and Toorak roads, she said later that it felt exhilarating and liberating. She also loved the noise the electric motor makes when you make it work hard.

By the end of the test drive, she was repeatedly questioning me why we didn’t get a P85. I said to her it’s because we needed money to eat.

Conclusion

I guess you all knew this was going to be a positive review based on how obsessed I am with this car. But there were many things that pleasantly surprised me, and also equally things I thought needed improving, but there is absolutely no doubt this is one of the most important cars in the world right now, and could be the first piece of the puzzle to a sustainable motoring future.

I’m glad I stretched many times my car budget to get this car.

I’m also glad that I can be a small part of the Tesla expansion through my work with JET Charge, and my soon to be launched after market parts store EVnomics.

I think once the Sig cars hit the road, Tesla will start getting more and more interest from Australians. We may be a small nation, but I think many of us are forward thinking, and I hope we can be a vital part to the success of companies like Tesla.

Cannot wait for it to hit our shores!

I’ve uploaded some photos at our Facebook page, check it out if you’d like.

https://www.facebook.com/jetcharge