I accelerated the Tesla S 85D hard into an expressway on ramp, pulling high G’s through the bending curve. Not something you normally do at 34 degrees in freezing rain with an unfamiliar vehicle on an asphalt road. It’s not every day you get to test drive a Tesla S, much less in another country. As the President of the US Renewable Energy Association, I often have access to a variety of products sold in the renewable energy industry, but for this treat, I had to pass Canadian Customs in Windsor, Ontario, to meet an Ohio Tesla Dealer.
Because Tesla doesn’t sell through a traditional Auto dealer network, Michigan, Texas, Arizona and others have seen fit to make it illegal to sell or demonstrate a vehicle without a franchise dealer network. This seems crazy to me while the US Renewable Energy Association is working to promote advanced technologies that solve problems, improve our lives and the environment. To buy a Tesla, you must “Import” it into these restricted states after purchase elsewhere. Dealer or not, Tesla is renowned for quality, service and support to its exclusive customer base.
I had a quick ½ hour test drive scheduled, hardly enough to be comprehensive, yet I kept wondering to myself, why did I wait so long to get this ride? With a tight schedule and lots of people wanting to demo the car, things happen pretty quick when your turn comes up. The graphic display on the 17” touch screen is really impressive, and includes vehicle status, moving map display, rear camera, climate controls, sunroof controls, and any number of high tech information. The info is very well thought out, with great graphics and more features than I could review in my limited time. It seems strange to not turn a key when entering, since the Tesla S knows when you are near and almost greats you with door handles that move out to welcome you. I’m surprised it didn’t know my name as I approached. But maybe next time.
Engaging the drive system is simply a matter of pushing a “Turn Signal Like” lever in towards the steering column, and selecting “D” for drive in the graphic display. On this morning it was a cold, rainy, sleet filled day, not the kind you would want to dust off the roof with high G maneuvering. I felt like there was something else I needed to do before we left the driveway, but I was told to just push the gas (I mean accelerator) and go!
The first several miles were through the downtown area of Windsor, with lots of stops and starts. The regenerative braking was apparent once underway, and almost felt like I was touching the brakes a bit when I would let off of the accelerator. The S is incredibly smooth in power application, braking and every aspect I experienced. Did I mention the power? Wow! Oh yeah! Not wanting to break a pricey toy in a foreign country, much less have a one-on-one meeting with the local authorities, I kept the performance on the reasonable side of judgment, (most of the time). I was actually shocked when Noelle, the Tesla Representative, told me to crank it up a few notches. While not ready to admit to shattering any speed laws in the country of my mothers birth, let me just say I was stunned with the acceleration and control, even in the wet and slippery driving conditions. Passing at highway speeds is a non-event, as the Tesla almost teleports itself around lesser vehicles as if standing still. If you enter your destination in the display, the info-graphics screen will inform you of miles available after arriving at your destination, while providing every sort of performance, endurance and related info you could want.
With rocket like acceleration of just over 3 seconds 0-60mph, I found myself trying to get my mind back to the days when I was a master mechanic and service foreman for a Chevrolet Dealer in Detroit. Back in the day, I remembered the thrill of test-driving various Corvettes, Camaro’s, or Trans-Am’s, and now I find myself wondering if my mind would let me compare them to a modern electro-muscle car. I was not disappointed in the least. Though memory is a funny thing. I’m sure checking the “drivability” problem of a 454 Corvette back when I was 21 years old, down a long straight 16 Mile Road leaves a bit different chemical imprint in the brain than two kids, a dog, house, mortgage and lifetime later.
I am hopeful the bucket seats are self–correcting from the imprint my body surely left, while accelerating from above the legal highway limit to Ludicrous speed. This car is fast and nimble and even at highway speed will push you back in your seat under heavy acceleration.
Make no mistake; this is a performance car in every sense of the word. Make no mistake this is a clean enviro-friendly touring vehicle with incredible range. Having written about the Tesla many times over the years, and thinking I knew what this car was all about, I must admit the Tesla S was way beyond my expectations. Fit, finish, handling, safety and performance are all top-of-the-class. This made me think about the marketing behind the Tesla, and how the brand might change its focus. As I think about this battery-powered car, I consider what a battery really is: A device consisting of electro-chemical cells that convert stored chemical energy into electrical energy. So My contribution to the Tesla, A.K.A “Yes, It’s a HEMI” with the Dodge/Chrysler brand, brings me to the proverbial “Yes, It’s a CHEMI !” campaign.
While I would love to detail a more comprehensive review, that will have to wait until Tesla sees fit to grace me with a loaner car for a while. If fate gives you an opportunity to test drive a Tesla, run, don’t walk. If you drive a Porsche, Corvette or similar performance car, Tesla will certainly impress. But if you drive an SUV, mini van or family mover, keep dreaming. Your ride is just over the horizon.
On my trip back home, in my humble 32 mpg GM vehicle, I had to punch it while the tactile feelings were still fresh in my mind, just for comparison purposes. Mind you I had no misgivings about the categorical difference between an SUV and an electric car. But with the gas pedal (yes, gas pedal) to the floor while at highway speed, I slowly witnessed the speedometer clawing its way from 65, to 66, then to 67, over a comparative eternity. Reality check. Tesla… “Yes, It’s a Chemi ”
Gerry Zack 1-18-2015