What happens when a non-gearhead drives the Tesla Model S?

driving the Tesla Model S
© Martinko

A gorgeous new car was sitting in my aunt and uncle’s driveway when I arrived for a visit at Easter. It was an all-electric Tesla Model S, sleek and shiny black. I was excited to see it in person, since I’ve heard so much about these cars and read posts on TreeHugger about Tesla Motors’ incredible innovation.

First I should clarify that I am not a car expert, nor have I been following Tesla’s development over the years, which means that my interaction with the Model S was, in a way, more objective than someone who knows a lot about electric cars and may already love it; hence the ‘non-gearhead's review.’

My uncle tossed me the key, which was actually a thumb-sized black fob shaped like a car, and told me to take it for a spin. I recruited my husband to come along, since he’d already driven the car and could explain its baffling lack of anything to push, pull, press, or shift in order to make it move. There was no place to insert the key. I tapped the small gear selector attached to the steering column and reversed out of the driveway, trying not to be distracted by the rear camera view on the gigantic iPad-like screen on the centre console.

© Martinko

Out on the paved country road, the car felt unbelievably smooth. Imagine a plane on the runway during takeoff: depress the right pedal and you're met with an instant, unrelenting kick in the backside. Gasoline-powered cars have to shift gears, and with those shifts come brief pauses in acceleration.There is nothing like that in the Tesla Model S.

“When the Tesla salespeople take you for a test drive, they don’t say anything. They just let the car sell itself.”

The strange thing, though, was the regenerative braking. As soon as I took my foot off the accelerator, the car instantly slowed down, as if I were braking or driving a car with a manual transmission. When I approached a stop sign, I lifted my foot at the time I normally would when driving my own Toyota Matrix, but the Tesla almost came to a stop, instead of coasting. I had to use the accelerator again in order to reach the stop sign.

Then I wanted to test the horsepower, since it’s not every day I get to drive a car with 362 hp. I slowed the car down to 10 kilometres per hour, and then floored it on a straight, empty stretch of road. I got that airplane feeling again. The acceleration was so strong and steady that I felt the force of it push me back into my seat. (I learned later that the Model S can accelerate from 0 to 100 km/h in 5.6 seconds.)

The Model S is beautiful on the inside. There is a lack of visible pockets, cup holders, and storage compartments, which gives the interior a very clean, simple look. The seats were roomy and comfortable, even when I sat with three adults in the back row.

The car is very expensive (starts at $65,000), but it costs only $5 to charge the car fully; with the Tesla-sponsored supercharger network, it’s completely free. Compare that to the cost of gas. Here in Canada it's approaching 138 cents/litre (approx. USD$5/gallon) and rising. Suddenly the Model S isn’t quite so pricey if you plan to drive it for many years.

My uncle told me, “When the Tesla salespeople take you for a test drive, they don’t say anything. They just let the car sell itself.” Now I understand why. This car is in a realm of its own, unlike any other vehicle on the market. If I had the money, I’d buy one.

Tags: Driving | Electric Cars | Tesla Motors