Test driving a Tesla, an automotive marvel
TAMPA (FOX 13) - It took a mere 4.2 seconds to go from zero to 60 miles an hour -- repeatedly flooring it -- and not a drop of gasoline was used in the process.
I spent six stomach-flopping, jaw-dropping, testosterone-laced hours test driving the all-electric Tesla Model S.
Alexis Georgeson, a Tesla spokeswoman, warned me in no uncertain terms that I had never, ever driven a vehicle quite like the battery-powered Tesla Model S. She was absolutely right.
"It's going to blow your mind," she said.
And, if I were in the market for a new car, this elegant all-electric sedan would also blow my budget.
"It starts at 62-four," she said.
That's $62,400 -- for a base model. The P85 version we tested easily tops $100,000.
Sticker shock aside, the vehicle is incredible.
The interior is sleek and functional. Its centerpiece is an extraordinary 17-inch internet-connected touchscreen display. Someone will surely hack this mobile HDTV and play movies while driving.
But, officially, the double iPad gauges everything from power consumption to air conditioning.
"It's the brains of the car," Georgeson said.
Model S is a super-modern luxury car, without a doubt. The real marvel, however, is in its clever engineering.
Beginning with the door handles, which retract into the door to improve aerodynamics, it is evident this vehicle is designed to be the model of transportation efficiency. But most clues to the car's pioneering design are actually found in what's missing.
The battery system, hidden in a layer at the base of the chassis, endows the interior with additional room. Different from its gas-guzzling competitors, there is no bump between the seats to accommodate the trappings of a combustion engine. Instead, the space is perfectly flat and wide open.
The Model S engine, said to be size of a large watermelon, is nestled between the rear wheels. Instead of an engine up front, owners enjoy a second trunk.
Or, as Georgeson calls it, "the 'frunk.'"
The absence of a grunting, petroleum-thirsty motor under the hood is no drag on power. Not at all.
The model we tested boasted 416 horsepower. And those ponies were easily harnessed with even the slightest tap of the accelerator. On my first run, I pinned myself to the seat and snapped my neck into the headrest.
I giggled. And in subsequent "tests," I laughed myself silly with the sheer power.
"It's the rollercoaster effect," Georgeson observed.
Again, she was absolutely right.
Georgeson and a colleague explained to me that I'd quickly discover the Tesla was a "one pedal" vehicle, even though there are two.
I nodded and passed off their advice, opting to tinker with the touchscreen.
Then I drove it, and I realized immediately what they were describing.
As soon as I would ease my foot off the accelerator, the car would rapidly begin to slow on its own. Gravity was taking over. This 4,647-lb. sedan, morbidly obese by modern automotive standards, would nearly bring itself to a complete stop. Nearly.
Thus, the brake pedal – for that final few mph.
On the open road, Model S cruised smoothly and quietly. The glass roof passed the test of glaring Florida sunshine. The tint balanced the light nicely, allowing enough sunlight in to brighten the cabin, yet blocking the excess that would convert the interior into a rolling oven.
As I drove, the dashboard kept me abreast of two bits of data: my speed (never greater than 70 mph, I promise) and the dreaded distance to empty.
Tesla says drivers can milk as many as 300 miles out of a single charge. That's impressive, and it's ideal for daily commutes or short hops. But what about long hauls?
Tesla points me 134 miles south for its solution. A few blocks off an Interstate 75 off-ramp, I find what might be the filling station of the future. The glossy white "pumps" are futuristic, reminiscent of something in a sci-fi movie.
But each is capable of delivering a complete recharge in as short a span as 75 minutes – a huge improvement over the 10-hour charge time at home via an ordinary 110-volt plug.
Georgeson said the location of this SuperCharger station and 33 others is strategic, so as to keep Tesla drivers moving.
"Stop for 20 minutes, put half a charge on this car, and get back on the road quickly," she said.
And that's exactly what we did. Tesla's SuperCharger coverage map still has gaping holes. But Georgeson says routes such as Boston to Miami, New York to Los Angeles, and Vancouver, B.C. to Phoenix will be connected by the end of this year.
And Tesla plans even more new stations by 2015.
"They'll be everywhere," she said.
The fill-ups are free; perhaps "prepaid" is a better term considering the $62,400 price tag. Still, Tesla plans to sell 21,000 of Model S this year.
And this battery-operated marvel is turning heads, especially in Detroit, where the General Motors CEO has eyed Tesla as a threat and has appointed a team to monitor the upstart's every move.
"We're a bit of a disruptor in the automotive industry right now," Georgeson said with a smirk. She turns serious as quickly as the Model S races to 60 mph.
"I don't think Tesla is something that can be ignored any longer."