2016 Tesla Model S, now with fewer miles for less money
Suffering from a migraine, I could either drive the 2016 Tesla Model S 60 home from the office for my medicine, and risk not being able to make it to the next Supercharger station, or head straight over to the Supercharger station in San Mateo, charging the car's battery but potentially facing a pain-related vomiting session.
And thus went my week in Tesla's current most-affordable electric vehicle. I was constantly weighing the car's need for electricity against my own personal needs and wants.
When it comes to specs, the only thing to care about in an electric car is kWh, or kilowatt hours. The Model S 60 has a, you guessed it, 60 kWh battery. That's enough to power it from nothing to 60 miles per hour in 5.5 seconds and to a top speed of 130 miles per hour. Of course, should you choose to hammer down that right pedal, expect the 210-mile driving range of the Model S 60 to drop. Precipitously.
If you want a bit more electric oomph, the Model S 60 can be upgraded at any time to 75 kWh for 259 miles of range, and there is an all-wheel drive version available with 218 electric driving miles. As it stands, the rear-wheel drive 60 kWh trim line starts at $66,000, making it the most affordable Tesla currently available.
Aside from the badge there isn't much to distinguish this base Tesla from the uber-pricey upper trims, but this year a few changes have taken shape across the model lineup. Where once a kind of stand-in grille looked out from the front fascia, it is now completely closed up. The LED headlights have been tweaked a bit from 2015, but by and large the rest of the car remains the same.
The big drawback to driving a Model S is that they are legitimately fun to drive. I know that sounds weird but stay with me. My rear-wheel-drive test car was a blast behind the wheel. Power was immediate and I shot off the line every chance I got. While in the twisties, the electrically driven Model S was always ready to power out of a turn with just the slightest touch of my foot on the right pedal.
The chassis tuning makes the Model S more of a cruiser than a corner carver, and tipping the scales at well over 4,000 pounds doesn't do the car any favors. Still, the batteries are under the floor of the Model S, giving it a low center of gravity to help with the fun factor.
But that fun comes at a price. The more aggressively the car is driven, the more quickly the batteries drain. Unfortunately, the Roadshow garage has only a 120-volt outlet, requiring that I park the car for up to 12 hours to get a full charge. A 240-volt charger can replenish the Tesla in about 4 hours, and using one of Tesla's adapters at a Level 3 DC fast charging station can get you there even faster.
By far the most convenient way to fill up is at a Tesla Supercharger station. It's free and will give you 205 miles of range in about 45 minutes. Tesla means for these to be used as long-distance charge points only. As such, there are over 600 Superchargers on major highways throughout the country. Tesla has also partnered with various destinations like restaurants, hotels and resorts. But be warned: the stations at these places aren't necessarily Superchargers and many of them require you to be a patron.
As for the Bay Area, there are four Supercharger stations, but none in downtown San Francisco. There are no destination chargers where I live in the East Bay, and there isn't an extension cord long enough to go from my apartment to the street, which left me in a bit of a pickle as I tried to decide between my head exploding from a migraine and the Tesla's need for electricity.
In the end, my head won and I drove (slowly) home for my medicine. After a few hours, I was ready to plan the next day's driving. The Chargepoint app pointed me toward DC fast-charging stations in downtown Oakland, but it was now past 10 p.m. and the last thing I wanted to do was sit in the car by myself after dark for a few hours. I opened the Tesla app and saw I had 30 miles of range left. The closest Supercharger was 19 miles away, in Dublin, California. My decision was made.
With all of the press that Autopilot, Tesla's suite of driver assistance features, has gotten lately, I was eager to try it out for myself. I don't picture myself ever trusting a computer to drive for me, but found the technology to be pretty slick. One pull of the lower left-hand stalk engaged adaptive cruise control, which is by far one of the best systems out there. It followed the lead car smoothly, coming to a complete stop and restarting again when necessary, with no input from the me. It can be used in slow or fast driving conditions, whereas some manufacturers limit their adaptive cruise control to speeds over 25 miles per hour.
Another pull of the Autopilot stalk turned on the steering guidance. Tesla's forward-looking camera and radar detect surrounding traffic, projecting cars, trucks and motorcycles on to the gauge display. The car stayed between the lane markings reasonably well, but there were a few times the Model S took a turn too wide.
The car periodically asked me to put my hands on the wheel, at firstly nicely then through a series of ever increasingly loud alerts. If I had disregarded the warning, the Model S would have come to a complete stop and turned on its hazards. That's not an ideal situation for highway driving, so it's best to pay attention the entire time. Despite its name, Autopilot is a driver assistance program, not a means of autonomous driving.
The Model S can park itself, naturally, and can even drive to you via the Summon button on the Tesla app. I had grand ideas that the summon technology would mean the Model S would unpark itself and drive to me, but alas, it only moves forward or backward in a straight line.
Most of the Model S' features are controlled by a massive 17-inch capacitive touchscreen. It's large enough to have two apps running at the same time, so you can check out your directions on the Google-powered maps while keeping tabs on your internet radio. The car is LTE-connected and the fees are paid by Tesla, handy for passing the time in a charging station. Updates to the car are sent over this LTE connection, so owners are constantly getting the latest and greatest Tesla has to offer.
However, a few bits of technology were glaringly missing. There is no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto nor any kind of hands-free text-messaging function. Additionally, there is no satellite radio unless you upgrade to the premium audio package for an additional $2500, and the internet radio seemed finicky, with genre submenus sometimes appearing onscreen and other times not. Moreover, Tesla hasn't added any other third-party apps since it launched in 2012. Four years is a long to time to just offer Slacker and I Heart Radio. Many folks would love to have the option of Pandora and other third-party apps.
As I pulled into the Supercharger station in Dublin that night, I gave a nod to the two other owners who were charging past their bedtime. We all had brought along something to occupy ourselves as our Model Ses charged, as we knew that driving an electric car means committing to a lifestyle choice. The trade-off for instant torque and solo carpool lane driving is moments like this: sitting at a charging station watching Netflix.
There are a lot of reasons to like the Tesla Model S, and in particular this 60 model. It starts at $66,000, which makes it the most affordable Tesla model on the market today, at least until the Model 3 comes out in 2017. Autopilot adds $2,500, and a panoramic glass roof and destination fees brought the total of the example I drove to $71,200.