Tesla made history this week.
The all-wheel-drive Tesla Model S P85D sedan outperformed any other car ever tested by Consumer Reports, scoring a 103 out of 100, requiring the magazine to adjust its scoring system to account for the rating.
“This is a glimpse into what we can expect down the line, where we have cars with the performance of supercars and the comfort, convenience and safety features of a luxury car while still being extremely energy efficient,” Jake Fisher, Consumer Reports’ head of automotive testing, told Bloomberg.
Shares of Tesla (TSLA) were up 7% in midday trading.
The milestone was just the latest notch in the electric-car maker’s belt. Yahoo Finance wanted to see what all the Tesla hype is about. And that’s how I ended up at the Mall at Short Hills in New Jersey ready for a Tesla test drive.
As you’d expect from such a future-focused carmaker, the Tesla showroom has an ultra-sleek, minimalist aesthetic. The store is somewhat of an attraction at the mall itself, as shoppers stop in to gawk at the cars or buy paraphernalia – like driving gloves or T-shirts – with no intention of driving away in a Tesla.
As I check out the stunning, midnight blue 2015 Model S in the center of the showroom, Tesla’s government relations manager Will Nicholas interrupts my gaze. He drove in from New York City (in a Tesla, naturally) to show me around the gallery. Nicholas doesn’t start off with your typical slick sales pitch, but rather lets me poke around before giving me the lowdown on the car.
The tech within Tesla
Nicholas tells me to pop into the driver’s seat of the showroom Model S. I giddily approach the car, but… how do I actually open the door? The absence of handles leaves me a bit mystified. Turns out, Teslas have zero-profile door handles to create a seamless surface for air to pass over. I just have to lightly touch the door’s silver surface and the handles pop out.
OK, I’m in. Sensory overload ensues.
A glossy 17-inch touchscreen monitor controls most of the car’s functions. With a swipe or click, you can adjust the steering mode, see what’s going on behind you with the high-def rearview camera, and open the panoramic sunroof. The mapping system comes with Google Earth imagery but Tesla’s engineers designed the navigation platform itself.
What I find most surprising is that I can interact with the screen at all times, which seems like a dangerous proposition. With the web, radio, and navigation at your fingertips, the monitor screams “distraction.” But I guess in the world of connected devices, Tesla is systemizing something we’d be inclined to do anyway.
Some drivers – parents in particular – might notice there’s no center console and the backseat is completely bare. That means no cup holders or compartments to stash books, iPads or toys. Nicholas says this is all part of Tesla’s “Spartan aesthetic.” Of course, add-ons are available for purchase.
The deal with filling up charging
When you go electric, you need to charge. Nicholas says most owners charge every night when the car is parked in the garage. And like the door handles, Tesla manages to hide the charge port. After looking around, I find it concealed in the left side tail light. With a simple tap, the port opens and you plug the charging cable in.
One full battery charge typically lasts for a 265-mile drive, and when you want to drive more than that, Superchargers come to the rescue. They’re intended to recharge you quickly on road trips and can replenish half the battery power in 20 minutes.
The car’s navigation system shows series of red gas station symbols that represent superchargers in your area. Worldwide there are 500 stations with 2,818 Superchargers.
Behind the wheel
Now that I feel like I have a decent understanding of how the car works, it’s time to hit the road. Nicholas directs me out to the parking lot and there it is – a gorgeous black Tesla S P90D, the most tricked-out version of the sedan. The P90D came out in July and cheap it is not – Nicholas tells me this car retails for around $138,000; the starting price is $118,000.
To my disbelief, I am allowed to drive this car. Did I mention it costs $138,000? I’m a little nervous, but once I hit the accelerator, there’s no looking back. Nicholas and I go for a ride around Short Hills, weaving through local roads, and it’s quickly apparent that this is the most intuitive and reflexive car I’ve ever driven. It responds to every slight rotation of the wheel, and I’m not surprised when Nicholas tells me that 90% of Tesla drivers say they’d never buy another vehicle.
A defining part of the test drive is the moment I put the pedal to the metal (per Nicholas’s suggestion). In the blink of an eye, I’m at 60 miles per hour without any jolting or thrusting. I can see how speed junkies could get greedy with the accelerator. Even as I turn a sharp corner, the car glides across the surface seamlessly, without being abrupt or awkward.
When we pull back into the parking lot after about 20 minutes, a trickle of mall-goers come by to check the car out, even snapping a few selfies with it.
If I wasn’t sold before the test drive, I am now.
I’m told that the barebones Model S goes for (gulp) $75,000.The most expensive model can cost up to $140,000, and that’s if you choose the P85D or P90D. What makes these options special is their “Ludicrous” speed upgrade (yes, as in “Spaceballs” ludicrous speed), which lets you go from 0 to 60 in just 2.8 seconds.
Nicholas and I start designing my own personal (fantasy) Tesla using one of the “design studios,” large touchscreen monitors, because why not, a girl can dream. I choose a 70 kWh battery, all-wheel drive model with a red shell and dark brown interior. Final price: $82,000.
Once I’m happy with my selections, Nicholas indulges my Tesla fantasy further and talks me through payment options.
If you can pay cash, hooray for you. But there is a leasing option for those who can’t. About two-thirds of Tesla drivers choose to lease, Nicholas says. You need to pay a $5,000 down payment if you're leasing or a $2,500 deposit if you're buying. This starts the purchase and manufacture process at the Tesla Gigafactory in Fremont, Calif., where all Tesla cars are built. There are also financing options through the company’s partnerships with Wells Fargo and US Bank.
Tesla launched a referral program in July that gives anyone who orders a new Model S (before Oct. 31) using the referral link of a current owner $1,000 off their purchase. The current owner gets a $1,000 discount toward his or her next car, service center visit or accessory.
Placing the order...no turning back now
Once I’m credit-approved and place my order, it takes between four to eight weeks for my car to arrive.
Another key difference between Tesla and other car dealerships is that it keeps inventory low. There were only two models available for test-driving and/or purchase at the Short Hills location. I’ll be assigned a delivery specialist who will keep track of my payment and registration every step of the way, and I can check on my Tesla’s status online.
Forget the new, I'll take pre-owned!
OK, say I’m getting cold feet, and have decided to forgo the scarlet beauty if I can slash the price tag. I’m in luck, because there’s a certified pre-owned program, which currently has 100 cars for sale. Every Model S comes with a 4-year, 50,000 miles warranty. Pre-owned Teslas start at around $60,000.
Nicholas says the popularity of this option shows “Tesla is not just for the top 1%, and many millennials are interested. A car’s most defining feature for young people now is the technology inside of it.”
In case of fender benders
Because a Tesla has fewer replaceable parts than other models, there’s less maintenance needed. There are two options when you have car troubles: brick-and-mortar service locations or Tesla’s “ranger service,” which sends a technician to wherever you are. The former is free except for the cost of the part, whereas you’ll have to pay a per-visit fee for the ranger service.
Ready to drive
After a pretty thrilling day at Tesla Motors, I’m lusting for a Model S, but can’t wait until the Model 3 finally hits the road in 2018 because it’s at an easier-to-swallow price point – $35,000 (after tax credits). And if I start saving now, 2018 is right around the time I might be able to afford one.