Tesla Model S Review & Evaluation - December 2017
By Nigel Cooper
On Tuesday 12th December 2017 I had a two-hour test drive of the Tesla Model S car that I’d previously booked via the Cambridge Grand Arcade Tesla car centre. Here is my review and evaluation of the Tesla Model S after the two-hour test drive and much research.
Having already gone over all the usual stuff regarding pricing, charging infrastructure and various unique features of the Model S in a previous meeting, I arrived at the Tesla car centre in Cambridge at 2pm prompt for my test drive. The salesman drove the car for the first 10 minutes or so while he told me about some of the things that make the Model S unique – more on this later. Then it was my turn to take over at the wheel so the salesman pulled in and we swapped seats and I got myself comfortable, well, sort of. I kind of have OCD when it comes to the ‘driving position’ in a car. Everything has to feel right and comfortable with the various controls logically laid out and easy to reach. The first few gripes were immediately evident for me. I’m six feet tall and even though I’d put the seat in the Model S as far back as it would possibly go, I felt that I didn’t quite have enough leg room, and the Tesla Model S is quite a large car, on a par with the Jaguar XF or a BMW 5 series. Admittedly, I do like to have the seat quite far back, possibly further than most people, but the Model S was a disappointment in the driver leg room department, for me at least. Even my current 3 series BMW has more front driver leg room than the Model S, and the 3 series is a smaller car. This probably won’t bother most people, but I just felt I wanted the driver’s seat to go back another two inches. The next gripe followed soon after when I went to adjust the mirrors, namely the rear view mirror, which I felt could have done with being a little bit bigger as it reminded me of one of those tiny ones that you used to get in those old tiny British sports cars.
As with all EVs (Electric Vehicles), the Model S is totally silent when sitting idling, well, there is no engine to idle so there is nothing to be heard. So I pulled out onto the main road and enjoyed driving around some of Cambridgeshire’s winding B-roads as well as a fast stint back up the M11 to Cambridge and through the City centre back to the Grand Arcade shopping centre to the Tesla car centre.
There are several things I want to point out about the Model S EV. First, everybody says that EVs are totally silent due to the lack of an engine and gearbox, but this is only true in part. Sure, EVs are silent when sitting stationary in traffic, or at traffic lights, and even at low speeds (up to around 25mph in my experience) but once you get above 30mph, wind noise and tyre noise become evident, just like they do in a regular petrol-driven car. This is not a fault of EVs, it’s just what happens with speed in any car, wind and tyre noise are unavoidable, it’s simple science that comes with the perpetual motion of any car, be it EV or petrol. I first noticed this while having use of a Nissan Leaf EV for four days and the Tesla Model S is no different. Once you get out of town and above 50mph (which would be the case with most B roads, A roads and certainly motorways) the Model S sounds just like any petrol-driven car – let me explain. Providing you are driving a quality petrol driven car, and I have to compare apples with apples here, so I’m going to use the Jaguar XF, BMW 5 series, Mercedes E class and Audi A7 Sportback as comparisons as these are the cars that are in the same class as the Tesla Model S, especially the Jaguar XF in terms of overall dimensions and general looks. I’ve driven all of these cars (and, being a car enthusiast, I’ve driven a ton more) and with petrol/diesel cars from the likes of Jaguars, BMW, Mercedes and Audi, once you are up to speed and you’ve set the cruise control you just don’t hear the engine anymore as the sound insulation and engines are excellent with these cars. If you do hear any engine noise at all while cruising or under gentle acceleration, it’s a barely audible hum that you don’t really hear due to wind and tyre noise being a tad louder – wind and tyre noise are generally louder than the dull hum of an engine in top marques like those mentioned above (I’m not talking about a 1 litre Ford Fiesta screaming at the top of its lungs while on the motorway, I’m talking about more luxurious cars). So, the Tesla Model S is just as loud (or quiet in this instance) as the equivalent Jaguar, BMW, Mercedes or Audi cars. Whenever I test drive a car I always make use of the decibel sound measuring app and vibration monitoring app on my iPhone and I can tell you that both the Mercedes E class and BMW 5 series recorded quieter decibel readings and less vibration at both 50mph on a B-road and 70mph on the motorway while in cruise control mode.
In terms of overall comfort the Model S was a nice smooth and comfortable drive. But was it as smooth and comfortable to drive as a Mercedes E class, BMW 5 series, Jaguar XF or Audi A7? With the Jaguar it was very similar, the BMW 5 series is a trifle smoother while the Mercedes E class was markedly smoother and quieter. I personally find the Mercedes E class and BMW 5 series to be more refined drives, more comfortable, smoother and quieter (under gentle acceleration or with the cruise control set) than the Model S. Also, the driving position and the way the cockpit feels around you is just better in every way in a Mercedes, BMW, Jaguar or Audi. The Tesla Model S has a strange cockpit design that will not be to everybody’s taste, especially the massive touch screen that is about the size of a home computer screen planted vertically right in the centre of the dash. In a Model S you won’t find an assortment of buttons and switches all over the place like you do in most other cars. Instead, everything (and I mean everything) is done via the massive touch screen. Of course you still have an indicator stalk, a steering wheel with a horn and the usual necessities for day-to-day driving, but everything else is controlled via the touch screen, which brings me onto some of the Tesla Model S’s good points. I get the impression that Tesla hired more software engineers than they did hardware engineers for this car as the technology and the computer side of things is pretty impressive.
Although the Tesla salesman told me that Tesla are trying to render car obsolescence a thing of the past by making future features a simple software update, I have my doubts. I’m confident that certain new features could be made available to Tesla owners via a software update, but others, such as better battery packs with faster charging times and longer ranges, will not. But software updates on cars is nothing new, the likes of BMW have been doing this for years, admittedly, not for a super cool new feature, but they have been doing software updates in their cars for quite a few years now. Just because there is no huge computer screen taking up majority of the car’s dashboard doesn’t mean there is not a computer and accompanying software/firmware in other cars that have been around for many years.
The massive touch screen in the Tesla does an awful lot, too much to get into here, as the computer screen alone would require its own review/tutorial. I like how it shows you the various charging points all over not just the UK, but Europe and the rest of the world. More on charging later. And, being such a large screen the satnav side of things is superb.
Premium brand cars are premium for a reason. If you buy a car from the likes of Mercedes, BMW, Jaguar, Audi or Lexus for example, you do so safe in the knowledge that you are going to get a car that is put together fastidiously and built to the highest quality. Of course, some of these premium brands are still built with certain budget constraints, unlike some Rolls Royce models, but, unlike say Ford or Vauxhall, premium brand car makers have set way higher budget constraints, hence the superior build quality, drive, technology, and higher price of course.
Tesla is a premium (and very sexy) brand – or so they claim. On first glance the Tesla models do appear to be very impressive. You only have to stand outside the Tesla car centre in the Grand Arcade shopping centre in Cambridge and watch people taking photographs of the Tesla cars in the showroom to see this. However, upon closer inspection it soon becomes clear that the build quality of a Tesla is just not up to scratch, nowhere near that of the German premium car makers and, if I’m totally honest, the latest Ford Mondeo (Aston Martin front grill) has better fixture and fitting and overall build quality – seriously.
The Americans build some things really well, such as guitars for example (Fender and PRS for example – and lets face it, the Americans have the blues music thing nailed), but cars are not one of them – I have to agree with a certain Mr Clarkson on this one. While driving the Model S, and after getting back to the Tesla car showroom, I inspected the car more closely and the closer I looked the more disappointing the build quality was. I found some of the plastics inside the car (especially the large cup holders and cubby bits between the seats) to be a little on the tacky side and they just didn’t have the solidity and feel of a premium brand. The handle that opens the doors from the inside also feels questionable, like it could break off in time, it is also annoying in the way it works with an unnecessarily sharp edge across the top. The same goes for the handles on the outside of the Model S, you have to push them and then wait for them to pop out before you can actually open the door. I know Tesla is trying to be flash here with door handles that sit flush to the rest of the metal on the door, but using them in the real world day-in-day-out would soon start to annoy me, not to mention passengers, who would have to ask you how to open the door as the handle is recessed, yup, you’d soon get annoyed having to explain to every passenger you give a lift to how to open the door. Also, some customers have reported problems with the automatic retractable door handle mechanisms reliability – if it stops working it essentially locks the owner out of the car. And on the subject of reliability there have been reports of motor failures as well as door handle failures. Other known faults include: brake discs, leaking cooling pumps for the battery pack, alignment issues with the wheels, misaligned latches for the front bonnet and rear boot, panel alignment issues, numerous squeaks and rattles and other build quality issues.
When I opened the boot of the car more questions were raised regarding fixture and fitting. With the boot open, just above the lights you can clearly see ‘spot weld’ marks holding down the metal where it has been folded over. This folded and spot welded metal running up the car doesn’t look great and if you look closely on either side of the fitting, folding and spot welding is not even perfectly symmetrical. Looking around the car, boot, bonnet and inside there are other signs of ‘questionable’ build quality and overall fixture and fitting and it doesn’t bode well for how the Model S would stand the test of time. There are 20-year old BMWs and SAABs with 250,000 miles on the clock that are still on the roads today and the trim is all still in place and working as it should be. I just don’t have the confidence that an American-made Tesla car will still be on the road in 20 years. The Tesla Model S is a very good attempt by a very new car maker (the first Tesla car was sold in the UK in 2014) and I can only hope that the build quality and fixtures and fittings and materials used will get better in the future, but for now they almost have a ‘Made In China’ feel about them. Yes, I know that the BMW 1 series is made in Asia, for the Asian market, but you know what I mean.
The Tesla salesman saw me running my finger over the dimples left by the spot weld joints and my close examination of the folded metal edge and when I pointed out the weld joints and questionable fit and finish of the car the Tesla salesman simply said, ‘Well, if you want absolute perfection you’ll need to buy a Mercedes.’ The thing is, a brand new Mercedes E class is cheaper than a Tesla, way cheaper. Mercedes E class cars start at just £35,150, you can even buy an E class Hybrid for £44,840. When you compare that to the cheapest Tesla Model S, which is £64,700 for the smallest 75 kWh battery, or £86,200 if you want the 100 kWh battery for better range, well, you can see that the base model Tesla cost £29,550 more than the base model Mercedes E class and the 100 kWh Tesla Model S cost £41,360 more than the E class Hybrid car. And the price gap gets even larger with the Jaguar XF and BMW 5 series, making the Tesla Model S one seriously expensive car, double that of those from Jaguar, BMW, Audi and Mercedes, which begs the question, why would anybody ever buy a Tesla? The fact is, Tesla is not a sexy brand or a premium brand like say Mercedes, BMW or Audi. Tesla simply pretends to be a premium brand and it is doing a great job of convincing the world that it is, but it isn’t.
Charging & Cost Savings (or lack of)
Lets face it; nobody is going to buy a Tesla because of the savings that it will bring. Sure, this EV (electric vehicle) will save you money, as electricity is cheaper than petrol with regard to miles-per-gallon, or miles-per-charge. But, the extra cost of buying a Tesla to start with far outweighs the saving in petrol.
Let’s make a quick comparison with a comparable petrol car, the Jaguar XF (well, it is about the same size and looks very similar and is a premium brand car). The basic model Jaguar XF cost just £32,490. But, I’m not going to go with that model, to hell with it, I’m going to splash out on the top of the range Jaguar XF, the 3.0 litre V6 Supercharged Petrol 380 PS Automatic that comes in at £51,100 and has a really crappy mpg (official combined 34.0mpg, but in the real world it is probably closer to 25) when compared to the 2.0 litre diesel version (official combined 70.6mpg, but in the real world it is probably closer to 50mpg).
I am going to compare my 3.0 litre petrol supercharged Jaguar to the comparable Tesla Model S, the 100D (100 kWh) battery version. The Tesla cost £86,200 new while the Jaguar cost £51,100 new, that makes the Tesla £35,100 more expensive. So, how long is it going to take before the Tesla breaks even and starts to turn a profit in petrol saving? Well, let’s assume that you drive 12,000 miles per year, and I’m being favourable to the Tesla here as the national average in the UK is 10,000 miles per year for most of us.
Above: Jaguar XF 3.0 litre petrol supercharged car
In the Jaguar it would cost £2,640.37 in petrol per year, based on 12,000 miles driven at 25mpg at a petrol cost of £1.21 per litre (in Cambridgeshire, national average is a little lower than this according to the Tesla site – £1.17 per litre – so I’m being generous to the Tesla). Ok, so we have £35,100 to make up here (the extra cost that the Tesla costs to buy in the first place), which means it would take a little over 13 years to recoup that extra money spent on buying a new Tesla, just to break even. Then, in year 14 of owning the car you would start to see the savings, but wait, no you wouldn’t. Because we can’t forget that it actually cost money to charge a Tesla – electricity isn’t free – be it at your house or at the various charge points around the UK.
Let’s start with the home charger. After you spend £460 on the home charger plus another £400 fitting costs you will then be able to charge your Model S 100D at your current energy supplier’s rates. Having a Tesla home charger installed is a must because if you choose, instead, to simply plug your Model S into a domestic socket at home you will only get 7 miles (maximum) for every hour it is plugged in and charging so it will take 7 hours to charge the car enough to travel 70 miles, an easy equation I know. Installing a home Tesla dedicated charger will give you 25 miles for every hour it is plugged in and charging, so in the same 7 hours of charging you will get a range of 175 miles, 100 miles more than using the domestic electrical outlet in your kitchen/garage/whatever.
With this in mind it will take way longer than 13 years to even break even because the national average for electricity to your home is approximately 14p per kilowatt hour (according to the Tesla site), though you might be able to get an Economy 7 plan that could get it as low as 7.1p per kWh. Lets be fair to Tesla for a moment an assume that we all have this cheaper 7.1p rate, what the hell, lets drop it to just 7p per kilowatt hour – bearing in mind you can only get this cheaper price by charging your car during the hours of 10pm and 8:30am (but check with your electricity supplier).
If you have a Tesla Model S 100D it will cost you £7 to charge it from empty to full on this cheap Economy 7 tariff, or if you’re on a regular tariff of say 14p per kWh it will cost you £14 to charge the Tesla from empty to full i.e. £14 for every complete charge, which equates to a real world driving range of 330 miles with the Model S 100D (larger 100 kWh version). I know Tesla claim 393 miles, but in the real world it is closer to 330.
So, back to our super low Economy 7 plan (to be kind to Tesla) and the £7 per every 330 miles. This equates to approximately £210 added onto your home electricity bill for every 10,000 miles (about every year) that you drive. So, if we add this yearly electricity/mileage cost into the 13-years above, over 13-years that comes to £2,730, which roughly means it is going to take 15 years to break even on that initial outlay. Hmmm, will you still be driving the same car 15 years from now? More to the point, will a Tesla Model S still be roadworthy and actually running 15 years from now ?– it’s not a premium well-built German make remember.
One other thing regarding fuel saving. On the Tesla website (check it out yourself) - www.tesla.com/en_GB/enterprise - there is a ‘Fuel Savings’ calculator where you can type in the cost per litre of fuel, the MPG that your petrol car currently gets and then you can slide a slider along a ‘Miles Driven’ line and it will tell you the cost of petrol and the cost of the Tesla in electricity based on cost per kilowatt hour, where you can also type in the kilowatt hour cost that your energy provider charger you. I did this by putting in £1.17 per litre for petrol, 25mpg for the supercharged petrol Jaguar XF and the national average kilowatt hour charge of £0.14p and over 120,000 miles (the maximum the slider will allow, what it would take most of us 12 years to achieve) the cost of electricity to charge a Tesla Model S at home would be £4,889 while the cost of petrol for our thirsty sports performance Jaguar XF would be £25,530. So, yes, fuel costs way more, but even £25,530 of petrol over a 12-year period is way, way, cheaper than the £35,100 more that the Tesla Model S cost over the 3.0 litre supercharged Jaguar – and I know which I’d rather be driving. Oh, and with the Jag you don’t have the hassle and inconvenience of having to charge it every night, or working out your longer journeys to account for Tesla Supercharge points and Stopover points etc. Instead, with the Jag you simply spend 3 minutes every couple of weeks or so filling up at the petrol station – I’m sure you have one somewhere near your house ;)
Above: As you can see on the Tesla 'Fuel Savings' calculator, over 120,000 miles (about 12-years of driving for most of us) you would save £20,641 (after taking off the electric bill of £4,889). This dosn't even come close to compensating for the £34,100 extra that the Tesla cost over the Jaguar supercharged XF in the first place.
Above: Shows the fual savings over a 10,000 mile range (about a year for majority of the UK's drivers). If you take the electricity bill of £407 off the fuel cost figure then a regular car (and I've used my own BMW 320i, which returns an average - combined - mpg of 36) costs £1,121 per year more to run than the Tesla.
Another big problem with EV cars is that well used batteries should, by rights, make them worthless on the used market in the future. However, there are some advantages to EV cars though, such as maintenance costs as there is no engine, gearbox, exhaust, catalytic converter, particulate filters and the like to cause expensive repairs and maintenance. I know EVs have electric motors and I guess only time will tell how much the maintenance and parts will cost on an EV car in years to come, same goes for the reliability of EVs. At the moment, motors and battery replacement is not cheap.
Tesla Charging Points In The UK
According to the Tesla website there are four types of charging points that you can stop at to charge your car: Stores & Galleries, Service Centres, Superchargers and Destination Charging points. Currently, in the UK there are 18 Stores & Galleries charge points, 11 Service Centre charge points, 40 ‘Supercharger’ points and about 100 Destination charge points. Tesla Supercharger points are free to use, but the 100 (at time of writing, more will crop up I’m sure) ‘destination charge points’ are for customers/patrons only i.e. a destination charge point at a hotel means you have to be staying at the hotel to be eligible to use it. Or if there is one in a restaurant car park, you have to be a customer eating at said restaurant to use it. Realistically you should have the Tesla home charger installed then stick a compass in map and draw a 100 mile radios (for Model S 75d) or 150 mile radios (for the Model S 100d) and treat your home as your base – safe haven.
According to Tesla, ‘Supercharges’ charging stations will give you approximately 170 miles for every 30-minute charge. If this figure is accurate then Tesla owners won’t have long to hang around before continuing on their ‘longer’ journeys. Although there are only 40 Tesla Supercharger charge points in the UK, they are strategically located so no matter where you are traveling in the UK you should (with a bit of advance journey planning of course) be able to add a Supercharger charge station to your route. But, as a back up, Tesla cars can also be charged at Nissan (Ecotricity) charging points, but Ecotricity charges £5 for every 30-minutes you are on the charger and they round it up too, so if you are on a charger for 31-minutes they charge you £10. Also, the Nissan chargers are not as quick to charge as the Tesla Superchargers, the Ecotricity chargers will give you approximately 40 miles for every hour charged so it will take a 3-hour charge to get a 120 miles range into your Tesla – that’s a bit longer than a cup of coffee, it’s even longer than lunch, better take a copy of Gone With The Wind and get stuck in.
Ok, if you’re already bought a Tesla (or any EV for that matter) and you find yourself reading this out of curiosity, I’m sure you’ll be thinking that this article/review is a total and utter hatchet job, but I can assure you it is not, just look at the facts and figures and numbers above, they don’t lie. Also, people have a habit of justifying a terrible purchase and they will concentrate on the inconsequential small positives while papering over (with several layers) the cracks, and there are a monumental amount of cracks regarding Tesla cars, the whole charging infrastructure, let alone the humongous cost implications of buying the car to start with.
And please don’t say, ‘but you’re saving the planet by buying a Tesla,’ because you aren’t, you’re actually doing more harm to the planet than good and I’m not talking about electricity coming form dirty fossil fuel power stations either because I’m well aware that there are wind turbine farms and the like to generate electricity these days. There is a bigger picture than this, which is a different – and very long – article altogether.
To sum up, any rational and intelligent person wouldn’t bother with a Tesla; they would just buy a petrol car equivalent and leave the Tesla’s well alone. Unless of course you have millions in the bank and you just want to toy with the idea of a really fast EV – and there must be quite a lot of those guys as Tesla UK claim to be shifting about 5000 cars per quarter in the UK (I have my doubts about this figure) – but for the rest of us, leave well alone until there is a cheaper and more tangible alternative. For the record, I’m not a petrol-head, I actually really like EVs, it’s just that they are not viable yet and the infrastructure just isn’t ready and I fear that by the time it is there will be another alternative to petrol, hydrogen perhaps, or something else entirely. There was a company that built an electrolysis tech car with a house powering system to charge it. Li-ion batteries are an old technology so EV carmakers need to work on a newer tech. Personally, I’m sitting on the fence with the fuel cell hydrogen idea, it may or may not make it as there are pros and cons to it, and dangers. But, at least with hydrogen the Americans will be able to legitimately say, 'I need to fill the car up with gas'. I always thought it was funny how Americans referred to a liquid (petrol) as gas – well, hydrogen really is gas ;)
One thing I am convinced about, and this is pure logic, is this. Imagine for one second, if you will, a world without petrol cars and no petrol stations. All those petrol stations would have to be replaced by 100-storey charging car parks with 100 chargers per floor. Why? Because when was the last time you ever went to a petrol station and didn’t see a single car filling up on the forecourt? Every petrol station in the country has at least 60 per cent of its pumps in use at any given time – and most customers filling up are in the petrol station for an average of 2 to 3 minutes (less than the time it takes Jeremy Vine to play a Duran Duran hit from the 80s). With no petrol stations and a world full of EV cars all this would change, no in and out of the petrol station while ‘Girls On Film’ plays, instead, it would take about the same time as a complete (all three movements) one of Beethoven’s longer symphonies. Without 100 storey charging car parks with 100 chargers per floor to replace every single petrol station in the country there would be some serious queues, and you know how us Brits can be if we have to queue for too long, especially while listening to Beethoven’s ninth.
I suspect that petrol cars are going to be with us for some time to come – probably until every last drop of the runny black stuff has been extracted from under the North Sea. The UK government has said it intends to ban all internal combustion engine cars by 2040, which basically means they are going to do bugger all because, coincidently, by 2014 all the oil on the planet will have been used up – the UK government knows this.