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17-07-2014

Testing the Tesla Model S

EURA NOVA recently tested the usually praised Tesla cars (The Model S P85 in our case). While we were impressed by the engineering work behind such a vehicle, some of its aspects convinced us that the near 100k € price point can’t be justified, in particular on the Belgian market with its volatile fiscal rules. Flashback on a very fun testing session!

Tesla Model S P85

Tesla Model S P85

Introduction

Innovation at EURA NOVA is more than a selling point, it’s our way of thinking. As a company who proposes company cars, it was natural for us to keep an interested eye on the developments in the booming electric car market. With the Model S, Tesla is proposing one of the first electric car able to realistically replace a traditional car. After testing sessions with the Renault Zoe, the Renault Twizzy, and some other alternatives, it was time for us to confront the most promising challenger.

The Belgian peculiarity

Fiscal regulation in Belgium is a complex matter. In a few words, it’s very interesting for companies to propose cars to employees who might need one. This has several consequences:

  1. The Belgian car population is very young. Most cars are less than 5 years old and from the premium segment.
  2. The number of cars is huge. Our traffic jams are considered among the worst in the world.
  3. The pollution problems are in proportion.

 

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So it is each company’s responsibility to balance the economical aspects of the fiscal ruling with the societal responsibility. From this perspective, the rise of electric cars is a great opportunity to conciliate those aspects.

Of course, the Belgian government (When we have one!) is also closely following the trends in this market and adapting the regulation in reaction. From a company perspective, while electric car are firmly supported by the current regulation, there is no guarantee that this situation will last in the coming years!

The test

Four EURA NOVA individuals took part in the test. The black Model S P85 was waiting for us outside the Brussel’s Tesla showroom. A steward joined us in a one hour test drive around Brussels and its surroundings. Each EURA NOVA test driver took the wheel for around a quarter, giving just enough time to ride in various traffic conditions.

Driving experience

In one word: GREAT! Tesla engineers did a marvelous job with this car. Despite its heavy weight, the Tesla feels reactive and agile. The various setups of comfort and sportiness allows the driver to adapt the behavior of the car to its preference with just a few clicks on the huge central display.

The ever present torque and the impressive power delivered by the electric engines allows the driver to jump ahead of surrounding traffic with ease and security.

The only drawback to the driving aspect was the traction control. Its action came late and abruptly, completely cutting the power instead of decreasing it. This should not be a problem in most case, though.

User experience

This is were the Tesla fell short of our expectations. We expected the car, with its premium price point and its clear marketing on the luxury car segment, to be a defining player in terms of finishing and comfort.

What we experienced was far from that. Between the debatable quality of plastics, their approximate placement and the noisy back of the car (surrealistic for an electric car!), we were dubious as to the level of work involved in the user experience aspects.

Talking about user experience, the magnificent central display proved nearly unusable and even dangerous while driving: lags of several seconds between command input and reaction of the cars is a cocktail for unexpected results. In our case, an attempt to slightly increase the volume ended up with the radio screaming in the car, the driver trying desperately to decrease it while keeping an eye on the road (not that easy!). The ventilation settings showed similar limitations!

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Additionally, many on-board services (maps, directions, music, …) rely on a perpetual data connectivity. While this might be considered as granted in the USA, we can’t say as much in Belgium and this might cause a problem in rural areas.

Conclusion

While, for some aspects, we can agree with the Oatmeal review of the Tesla Model S, the overall feeling at the end of the test drive was disappointment. Tesla created a marvelous car, fun to drive, efficient, sporty and ecological. However, we feel it’s an “engineer’s car”: the technical challenges have all been solved elegantly, but the car falls short on usability aspects and finishing (something we can often see in IT project as well!). And while Tesla guarantees software upgrade for the full car life cycle, we are skeptical on their ability to propose significant hardware upgrade in the same way.

However, those problems might be solved in future generation of Tesla cars, and we will happily try the Model X when it becomes available sometime in 2015!

What is your experience with the Tesla and generic cars in general? Do you also consider the adoption of electric vehicles in your company car fleet?

 

2 responses to “Testing the Tesla Model S”

  1. Teslaliving says:

    Sorry to hear about your experience. On my Model S I haven’t experienced any of the traction control or user interface lag issues you mentioned. The quality is solid although not as plush as other cars in the same price range. I’ve been going through my experiences on my blog here if you’re interested:

    http://teslaliving.wordpress.com

  2. Nam says:

    Hi I just dropped by your blog and it is great to see that you enjoy your Model S.

    Could you tell us how frequent are Tesla software updates for the electronic systems?

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