Voices

I drove a Tesla … or rather, it drove me (and it can drive you too)

Tesla, just about everyone on the planet has heard of the electric car company and all are in Wizard-of-Oz like awe… Jane Speechely gets her hands on the wheel of a Tesla Model S.

UNTIL NOW, TESLAS have remained an unaffordable dream for many who have been enticed by the power brand’s carefully-crafted image. Cutting edge technology, environmental credibility, and the mysterious aura of the charismatic Elon Musk.

Tesla Model S and Jane Speechely for Practical Motoring
Photography by Samuel Broomy, @samuelbroombyphotographer on Instagram or www.samuelbroomby.com.

But now, thanks to a new Australian-first business, you can hire a Tesla for the bargain price of just $319 for a few hours. Which means muggles like me can find out what it feels like to drive a car that retails for around $138,000 on the road. They loaned us one for the afternoon, so we could write this article.

So, what’s it like to spend a few hours in the car of the future? Well, it’s quite an experience.

First, they’re a challenge for us motoring journos.

Normally when we review a vehicle, along with our opinion and description of the experience, we’d include a lot of standard facts and figures that help to compare different vehicles. Things like engine size, number of cylinders, fuel tank capacity and fuel consumption, even service intervals.

Absolutely none of which applies to the fully-electric Tesla. It’s literally incomparable.

If you like your numbers, there are still a few we can throw around, however. We drove the Model S 70, where the 70 stands for the 70kWh battery. It produces around 235kW of power and will drive you around 360km when fully charged. There’s also a 90 model that’ll take you a bit further.

The key is pretty cool.

Recently here on Practical Motoring, we’ve had some lively discussion about the lack of ‘key’ in ‘car keys’ these days. But if you’re a fan of smart design, you’ll love Tesla’s version.

Tesla Model S and Jane Speechely for Practical Motoring

The key is shaped like a small, stylised version of the vehicle. Click on the roof to unlock and lock the car (try to resist the urge to do this a dozen times, just to watch the door handles extend and retract).

Press on the bonnet to open the bonnet. Press on the boot to open the (you guessed it) boot. Such sweet simple logic!

It’s bigger than you expect.

Friends and colleagues who are seeing the car for the first time inevitable remark upon its size. Perhaps it’s the Tesla’s reputation for sporty performance that leads people to expect it will be smaller. Or maybe we’re used to electric cars being more compact? Either way, make no mistake, this is a full size, five-seat luxury vehicle.

Tesla Model S and Jane Speechely for Practical Motoring
Photography by Samuel Broomby, @samuelbroombyphotographer on Instagram or www.samuelbroomby.com.

All in all, it’s just under 5 metres long with a 3-metre wheelbase, and just under 2 metres wide with mirrors folded. To put it in perspective, it’s about 15cm wider than the current model Camry.

The 17-inch screen should be in every vehicle (and probably will be one day).

Imagine all those plastic dials and switches in your centre console – stereo and climate controls, hazard lights, seat adjustments, etc. – were replaced by one, big screen. That’s the Tesla experience. It’s not completely seamless – we struggled a couple of times to find our way back to the home screen – but most of the time, it’s oh so easy.

Tesla Model S and Jane Speechely for Practical Motoring
Photography by Samuel Broomby, @samuelbroombyphotographer on Instagram or www.samuelbroomby.com.

They actually come fitted with a SIM card as standard, so it’s streaming 3G internet all the time. This means everything from navigation to Spotify music is available at the touch of a fingertip, without relying upon your phone and its data supply.

Honestly? It makes you feel a bit like you’re driving a car in 2050.

It’s not as quiet as you’d think.

The lack of engine noise in electric cars is well known, but that doesn’t mean it’s a quiet ride.

Other road sounds, including road and tyre noise, are very apparent, and may be made more obvious thanks to the lack of engine noise to mask them?

It’s a very smooth, comfortable ride, but don’t expect silence.

The acceleration is awesome. AWESOME.

This was the first surprise of the day for me. I’d heard about the slingshot acceleration of the Tesla, thanks to the lack of the lag that you get with a traditional engine (and no gears to change). But it really does have to be experienced to be believed.

I’m not really sure how to describe the sound that comes with the acceleration, except to say it’s exactly how you imagine the car of the future would sound. This coupled with the pick-up had me grinning from ear to ear when I experienced it in the passenger seat, and prompted audible gasps and ‘woo!’s from my passengers when I was driving. 

Tesla Model S and Jane Speechely for Practical Motoring
Photography by Samuel Broomby, @samuelbroombyphotographer on Instagram or www.samuelbroomby.com.

Worth noting that, while taking off from a stop is impressive enough, the real fun is had when speeding up while on the move. Picking up from a starting point of 20-40kmph, even if only to 60 or 80kmph, will throw you back in your seat.

Sadly – or maybe fortunately – the infamous Ludicrous mode (named after this scene from the movie Spaceballs) wasn’t installed on this model. If it was, it would’ve gotten us from 0-100km/h in around 3 seconds.

‘Range anxiety’ is definitely a thing.

Too many joyrides for my workmates meant that, by the time we set off to try out the run to our nearest highway charge point, the range estimator had us on 4% battery on arrival. Throw in a couple of stops for photographs along the route, and we were pushing our luck. Hey, we did say we wanted the full ownership experience!

About half way along our trip, our Tesla started shifting into a lower power mode to make sure we reached our destination. This included advising a lower speed and not allowing us to use the Autopilot, for example.

Charge points are popping up all over the place – in public space and at many hotels, for example – and Tesla has them mapped in to the on-board navigation, so they’re easy to find (it was only our cheekiness that put us at risk of an unscheduled highway stop). Many of these public and private charge points are convenient, but are generally slower than the Tesla Supercharger points – charge times quoted range from 20-30 minutes for rapid chargers, to several hours.

Tesla Model S and Jane Speechely for Practical Motoring
Photography by Samuel Broomby, @samuelbroombyphotographer on Instagram or www.samuelbroomby.com.

Frustratingly, there are already a couple of different styles of fitting on the market, but your car should come with an adapter; and some networks will require you to register first and swipe a card.

There are 8 of Tesla’s own Supercharger stations (with three more set to come online by 2017) with a total of 200 destination chargers located all over Australia, including one about every 200km between Sydney and Melbourne. We visited the one in Goulburn NSW, and to take our near-empty battery up to around 80% took about 50 minutes.

The charge cable locks in place when you lock the vehicle, so – again, as strange as it may seem – you can do what we did, and walk away to have dinner somewhere while your car is charging.

Tesla Model S and Jane Speechely for Practical Motoring
Photography by Samuel Broomby, @samuelbroombyphotographer on Instagram or www.samuelbroomby.com.

And yes, you can charge your car from your standard home power point – it’ll just take a lot longer (generally, overnight). Tesla recommends you have a proper home connection installed which will charge at the rate of about 80 kmph per hour.

The Auto Pilot is actually pretty handy.

Of course, the big-ticket feature of the Tesla is the autopilot mode, often referred to as ‘self drive’.

It’s very easy to turn the feature on – you just flick the wand on the left side of the steering wheel toward you. From there, you have two options.

Flick it once to switch on Adaptive Cruise Control, which is regular cruise control improved by the use of the forward camera and radar. This keeps you a safe distance from the car in front, automatically slowing down or even stopping as necessary.

Tesla Model S and Jane Speechely for Practical Motoring
Photography by Samuel Broomby, @samuelbroombyphotographer on Instagram or www.samuelbroomby.com.

Flick it twice, and you’ll be in full Autopilot mode, which has the addition of autosteering, which uses the camera to sense lines on the road and automatically keep you on track. Note this is distinct from lane departure assist, which will alert you if you cross the line, but won’t steer you back.

Now is good time to remember that you really must keep your hands on the wheel. The law says you’re responsible for controlling the vehicle at all times, and while your legal argument will be the least of your worries in an accident, the ‘it wasn’t me, it was the Tesla’ line definitely won’t hold up in court.

Following this accident in the USA, Tesla actively reminds you of this fact regularly, so if your hands do stray off the wheel, you’ll get a flashing reminder to put them back. Ignore this, and the subtle flash becomes more urgent beeping. Keep ignoring it, and your car will assume you’re either a total goose who shouldn’t be behind the wheel, or you’ve lost consciousness. Either way, it will slow down, pull over and switch on the hazard lights for you.

Tesla Model S and Jane Speechely for Practical Motoring
Photography by Samuel Broomby, @samuelbroombyphotographer on Instagram or www.samuelbroomby.com.

With this knowledge, we give the autopilot a few cautious tries, and it’s actually not as terrifying as I expected. Many Tesla owners save it for highway use but as Slava (the owner of this Tesla) shows me, it works just as well in peak city traffic. Just be prepared for the fact that the car brakes and turns a lot later (and more sharply) than you or I would – it takes some getting used to.

The second big surprise of the experience is how useful the autopilot really is. It really feels very comfortable to cruise down the highway with hands gently resting on the wheel. You can feel a little more confident in turning (some of) your attention to changing the music, checking progress on the GPS, or chatting with your passengers, without feeling as compromised.

Tesla Model S and Jane Speechely for Practical Motoring
Photography by Samuel Broomby, @samuelbroombyphotographer on Instagram or www.samuelbroomby.com.

Bonus: flick the wand four times to unlock one of the notorious Tesla ‘Easter eggs’, the Mario Kart Rainbow Road feature from Nintendo 64, with matching soundtrack (see it in action here).

When you don’t need a motor, you get a lot more storage.

Even when you know what to expect, it’s pretty strange to pop the bonnet and not find an engine.

The Tesla has a surprisingly large boot with a couple of hidden extra spaces, and a generous bonus storage cabin under the bonnet as well.

Tesla Model S and Jane Speechely for Practical Motoring

Combined with 60/40 split fold rear seats, you’ve got just under 900 litres of storage space. Not bad for a sedan.

So you want to get behind the wheel? Here’s how.

The Model S 70 we drove is just over a year old, and which retailed for about $112,000 plus on-road costs as the entry level of the range.

If that’s still out of your price range, the new Model 3 should land in Australia in mid to late 2018. It’s the more affordable addition to the current range and can expected to retail at around $60K plus on-road costs.

Tesla Model S and Jane Speechely for Practical Motoring
Photography by Samuel Broomby, @samuelbroombyphotographer on Instagram or www.samuelbroomby.com.

But if patience and commitment aren’t your strong points, there’s a new Australian start-up than has the solution. Eveeh (pronounced ‘eee-vee’, www.eveeh.com.au) has a fleet of two Teslas – with plans for more – that are available for hire in Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra.

They can be used locally, but the energy-conscious company is particularly keen to see them used as an option for travelling between the three cities. Driving to Melbourne might take some extra enthusiasm, though one customer recently hired a car to drive from Sydney to Melbourne and back in a 24-hour period, just for the Tesla experience.

But particularly for the much shorter drive between Sydney and Canberra – and with a special introductory flat rate of $319 – this could be a real game-changer.

And if you book before Christmas, you’ll get a Christmas hamper plus $50 off a future rental.

Can you see yourself switching to an all-electric car? Would $60k be enough to get you into a Tesla? How about the option of hiring one for a few hours?

Tesla Model S and Jane Speechely for Practical Motoring
Photography by Samuel Broomby, @samuelbroombyphotographer on Instagram or www.samuelbroomby.com.

  • Martin Winlow

    Hi Jane,

    A decent all-round ‘EV newbie’ article, thank you…. BUT (as an S owner and Tesla shareholder) you should really delete the references to Autopilot (Ap) being ‘self-drive’ (it absolutely isn’t… yet) and the ones referring to ‘not having to pay quite as much attention to driving’ whilst using Ap. 2 people have died as a result of ‘not paying attention’ whilst (apparently) using Ap and I don’t want to see anyone else end their days like that. Unfortunately, your comments will be picked up on by the easily led (or plain stupid) with potentially disastrous consequences.

    Also the reference to “…4,876 superchargers located all over Australia…” I assume should have read ‘4,876 superchargers located all over the World”…? Last time I looked (www.supercharge.info) there were only 9 SuC locations in Oz (with another 3 coming). They do pop up very quickly, though…

    Also very curious as to why the base Model S 60 costs AU$116k in Oz and ‘only’ the equivalent of AU$90k in the UK, at todays exchange rates? You can see yourself using the Design Studio on Tesla’s website (change the country at the bottom for local pricing) – https://www.tesla.com/en_AU/models/design?redirect=no

    One last thing… range anxiety. As an EV driver of 8 years I can attest to this phenomenon having driven my 3rd EV (a Mitsubishi i-MiEV in French drag) on several 300+ mile journeys using the, then, very flakey rapid charging network in England. However, for the vast majority of car drivers and their journeys, the i-MiEV or Nissan LEAF would work perfectly well, even in Australia (where, as we all know, 90% of the population live in the cities).

    Most people use their cars on a very predictable basis, doing the same or similar trips every (week) day and maybe something a bit different a the weekend but, again, the same, from one to the next. Once you have done those journeys in your chosen EV and find that you still have 20-50% range remaining when you get home, all the RA evaporates. For the rare occasion when the routine goes out the window, well, then you should be able to rely on a strategically located, *government-backed* network of rapid chargers. Leaving it to the whim of private industry will never work.

    Or, we just carry on do the same thing as we have for the last 100 years…

    Martin Winlow.

    • Jane Speechley

      You are a well-informed Tesla owner indeed, Martin! You’ve managed to correctly pull out the couple of errors I had in the original copy (the model and the number of chargers) – which should already be corrected by now. Entirely due to my own misunderstanding.

      I had actually originally written ‘often incorrectly referred to as self-drive’, but I did notice that ‘self driving’ is the terminology Tesla themselves use frequently, so I amended it to be consistent. I do agree it’s a loaded term though, and I know Eveeh – the company that owns this car – only use the term ‘autopilot’ ..

      I hope the key message about ‘you’re still in control’ comes through. As well as the key message ‘if you run out of charge, you only have yourself to blame’ 😉

      Thanks for your input.

      • Martin Winlow

        You’re welcome. One other thing – should you or any of your readers ever end up driving an EV and suffer the ‘range anxiety’ thing… To avoid getting stuck (assuming you left with sufficient range to get where you were going, + a little buffer, in the first place), all you have to do is compare the remaining range as indicated by the EV with the distance to go from you satnav over a period of time, say 10 minutes. If the difference between them remains reasonably constant or increases then you will reach your destination. If the difference starts reducing then you simply have to *slow down*. If you knock 10kph or so off your speed and doing the sum above *still* diminishes, then slow down some more.

        Yes, it is conceivable that you may end up doing only 30kph but if that is what it takes to avoid getting stuck with a flat bat, then so be it. Just bear in mind that a fully charged Model S 60 will do about 500 km at 30kph! For all EVs (all vehicles, in fact) what murders range is speed and the relationship is not linear ie driving at 100kph uses twice the energy that driving at 70kph does (very roughly). It’s an aerodynamic thing. MW

  • imotorhome

    I drove a Tesla Model S 85 today for a couple of hours (a mate’s car) and absolutely loved it. Civilised, refined, innovative, practical, stylish, kick-arse performance and my first experience of having a car drive me – while I paid very close attention! Would buy one tomorrow if it was half the price; will probably lease one in about 5 years time when the technology is more sophisticated and the prices (hopefully) a little more reasonable. Can’t wait, to be honest. Today was a genuinely life changing experience…

Jane Speechley

Jane Speechley

Jane Speechley is an experienced freelance writer whose natural curiosity means she knows enough about cars to hold a decent conversation. While happily admitting her Toyota 86 makes promises her street driving can’t quite keep, she’s relishing the opportunity to review some of Australia’s most interesting new vehicles from an ‘everyperson’ perspective. She’s on a mission to understand and explain how all those features and gadgets actually impact upon your driving experience. http://www.charismaticcommunications.com.au