No drama, no fuss, just a swelling accumulation of speed, tyre noise and rapidly climbing numbers on the speedo… I’d just opened up the Tesla S in a straight line for the first time.
Recently I had the chance to drive not one but two electric cars within short succession of each other. My wife’s IT boss had just purchased a Nissan Leaf- probably the most accessible electric car out there in terms of numbers. He was generous enough to come show us and let me take the wheel. Foot on the brake, slide the toggle into drive and you slip away without your ears recognizing your moving in a car. Now I must admit from the outset I had preconceived opinions that I wouldn’t like them. For me, like many, the noise, smell and vibrations from a petrol engine are all part of the experience of driving. However for the purpose of a commute home driving the Leaf was an eye opening experience. The design from my eyes isn’t the prettiest- it’s not really my cup of tea for what a hatchback could look like but trundling along in bumper to bumper rush hour traffic the peace and quiet of no noise was refreshing and also quite a relaxing finish to the day. The brakes are firm and the benefit of no gears and electric motors is that the torque is there immediately and acceleration linear. It does drive like a grown up golf cart. There is a hum when you accelerate hard and as speeds increase the whine does sound like the Jetsons space ship. Funny to use the cliche but it does feel like you’re driving the future. The brakes are regenerative so as you’re coasting the batteries are charging and you can see the range adjusting real time depending on your driving style and the roads you’re on. Up the hills it pulls like a normal hatch back and has the same practicalities as most. The nice thing with the battery packs being flat on the floor is that the rear seats have no transmission tunnel running between them so rear leg room is really good. Once you’re home you can simply plug the car into the mains for a recharge over night- I’m told it only costs about $2.50 for a full charge. So I left the drive impressed with the concept but still not sold.
Fast forward two weeks and there’s a burgundy red with black roof Tesla S sitting outside the house. Take two with the same generous boss. It has massive 21 inch wheels with 295 section tyres and a presence about the car similar to a Porsche Panamera.
It’s a big car- with a wide front track and hips. The design does say it’s the future but doesn’t shout it over the top in a tacky way. First to jump out at me are the amazing door handles. They recess into the doors to help keep the drag down and also wind noise at speed (given there’s no engine noise to mute it). When you approach the car with the car shaped silhouette key fob and double press the roof they extend out. Double press the front and the front boot opens. It’s nice an deep like a Ferrari 458 style front boot. The rear is where it really gets clever. With no exhaust manifold to worry about you get a huge boot which is the depth of the rear bumper, it also has two rear facing seats for the kids which can fold flat for extra storage if not in use.
Jump into the drivers seat the first thing that dominates your attention is the 17 inch iPad style centre screen. It displays real time the energy levels left, consumption you’re using and tracks regeneration when you get off the pedals and then shows the spikes in power when you stick our foot down. Being a screen you can also browse online on YouTube, pull up the navigation, entertainment plus you can watch a rear facing camera to see what you’re leaving in your wake.
Driving it is bizarre. There is no key to turn, no button to push. Keep the proximity key in your pocket and the seat will sense your butt on the seat- it knows that you’re ready to go. Foot on the brake, push the stalk into ‘D’ then press the accelerator and away you go. On the road it feels big but nimble. The steering is nicely weighted and the pick up of instant torque is infectious- like a light switch the power is there when you want it. Throughout the USA they are rolling out superchargers to recharge the battery in an hour. NZ is rolling out chargers with the owner of this car a big innovator in the space- you can read about them here. The big thing I never really thought of with an electric car, but now is obvious, there’s no need to speed time on smelly petrol station forecourts but it’s also a great time saver. Plugging your car in at home takes but a few seconds compared to standing lending against the car waiting for it to fuel up.
The question then is- if I had the budget would you I one? Well, yes and no. Really it’d depend on what you had in your garage. I can totally see that if you had a family and only had the one car it’d be an absolutely brilliant all rounder. Would I have it over an Audi RS6? Hmm hard to say point blank but the Tesla is a unique proposition. No noise, huge pace, technology to boot and also, well, two boots for your luggage. I’d think at the moment that the early adopters will be buying them and finding all the kinks in the system. I’m not sure what happens when the charge starts to run low on the batteries. The numbers I’ve seen say that it should be around $10,000 for new batteries in around 7 years but you’ll save plenty on the difference on gas over the years. No doubt by that stage battery technology will be far superior given the exponential improvements at the moment. If you want to see just how serious Tesla is to renewable energy then look at the new factory they are building here. Personally I waited until the iPhone 3 before taking the plunge. It’d tend to think I’d be same for an electric car- and it’d only be the Tesla S.