I test-drove a $100,000 iPhone (aka Tesla)

My friend Joel and I went to go test-drive a Tesla electric car yesterday in Washington, DC. And I have to say, it was $92,000 worth of good clean fun. (The car goes for around $60k, but by the time you add-on the extras, the price rises.)

testla-featred

The first thing I noticed when getting into the Tesla as a passenger was the handles on the doors. They don’t move. They don’t lift up, they don’t click, they don’t control some metal components inside the door. The handles stay in place, sense your hand, and the door clicks open. The same, somewhat unnerving, but ultimately quite cool, thing happens when you go to “lift” the handle to get out of the car. Pretty cool.

tesla-panel

Joel drives the Tesla down the section of Washington, DC’s Pennsylvania Avenue which runs from the White House to the Congress.

Joel took the first stab at driving. The first thing the Tesla guy told us to pay attention to was the lack of any engine noise. Being an electric car, it runs on a battery – there is no engine, there is no engine noise. We were in a parking garage, going up a ramp, and there was nothing but silence. It was wild.

The car has a huge interactive screen – you work it like you would an iPad, pinching and scrolling with your fingers. The screen has a GPS, but also controls the sun roof and much more. Among the screen’s features, a camera showing you a quite wide-angle view of behind the car (which includes your blind spot on the right and left).

tesla-display

The screen shows a rear view, but is large enough to show the GPS at the same time.

Joel drove all the way to the Pentagon, then I drove back. It’s a fascinating drive. The car accelerates quickly — more quickly than most cars I’ve driven in — and it slows down just as fast. An interesting feature of the Tesla is that when you ease off the “gas” pedal, the car starts to brake itself (in order to recycle the energy). The effect was enjoyable on the highway, but somewhat unnerving in city driving. You had to get used to only lifting your foot when you truly wanted to brake the car. In city driving, I found myself driving like a bit of a grandpa when I’d come to a stop-light — lurching a bit. But after a while I got the hang of it.

tesla-inside

The front seat was comfy. I found the back seat a bit small — not too small, but not large either. The back seat, and back floor, have no hump. Making it far easier to ride with 3 people in back.

Another neat feature, you can adjust the wheel for what kind of driving you want — a more responsive wheels that doesn’t require much movement, or a wheels that requires a lot of movement to turn the car.

As for the battery, it takes about 8 hours to charge on a 240 volt outlet (the kind your washer and dryer use). You can plug it into a regular 110 outlet, but it will take 3 days to charge. A full charge costs around $6 to $8, and goes around 300 miles. That’s about the price of 2 gallons of gas, which definitely won’t take you 300 miles.

tesla-plug

The car is plugged in, charging.

To recharge the car, they do have superstations around the country that you can use for free. You plug the car in, and in 20 minutes you get half a charge. I seem to remember being told that in 30 minutes you could get a full charge — though full is relative. They recommend you only recharge the battery to 80% to help extend the battery life. Here are the 115 stations in the US and Canada, and they also have 66 in Europe and 23 in Asia. And they’re building more. The supercharging stations are meant more for when you’re planning a road trip, and need to drive more than 300 miles round trip.

teesla-charging-stations

If you look at the chassis, you’ll see that the car really isn’t make up of much other than a small motor and some batteries throughout. I’m pretty sure when Joel and I stopped by another Tesla start back in July, they told us they also pack batters in the side of the car frame as well.

Rear of the car, with the battery.

Rear of the car, with the battery.

Front of the car.

Front of the car.

As we pulled back up to the dealership, the guy had me pull into a driveway and stop right before a gate that was up. The car dutifully warned me that I was 4 feet away from the gate with a quick noise, then as I got about 2 feet away it started beeping again. At the same time, the dashboard immediately started indicating how many inches I was away from the wall I was approaching:

tesla-dashboard

One interesting thing, when Joel was driving, and backed up into a parking space against a curb, it beeped to let him know he was 4 feet away, then didn’t beep again to warn him that he was getting awfully close to the curb. I asked the Tesla guy why. Because the car sensed that the curb was so low, the back fender would clear the curb so there was no need to warn the driver to stop – if Joel backed up too far, he would feel the wheels touch the curb and he’d know to stop. Again, pretty cool.

Overall, it’s like driving an iPhone. The entire experience, from talking to them in the shop, to driving the car, feels like you’re dealing with the cult of Apple. And not in a bad way. It’s fun. Even to a guy like me, who was never into cars. But I do like gadgets. And this was one big honking $92,000 gadget.

Our little baby, dutifully parked 18 inches from the gate.

Our little baby, dutifully parked 18 inches from the gate.


Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Instagram | Google+ | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the Executive Editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown; and has worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, and as a stringer for the Economist. He is a frequent TV pundit, having appeared on the O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline, AM Joy & Reliable Sources, among others. John lives in Washington, DC. .

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