- I’ve driven many electric cars, and every vehicle Tesla sells. I’ve endured some mishaps and adventures when it comes to charging.
- Tesla has an extensive network of Superchargers, but if you don’t trust the vehicle to guide you to them and calibrate charging times, you can still get into trouble.
- This requires an adjustment, if you’re used to travelling in gas-powered cars and refuelling at plentiful gas stations.
I’ve driven a lot of electric cars, and for a few years I always tried to test one during my summer sojourns to my kids’ sleepaway camp.
I’ve had to change that pattern of late because I typically need a big SUV or pickup truck to transport up to four kids, two adults, and their gear. But for a couple of years, the roughly 240-mile round trip was a perfect EV test.
Of course when driving electric one must be mindful of how much juice is in the battery and where the nearest charging options might be. This continues to be a work in progress. Even Tesla, with its widespread Supercharger network, can’t cover every single eventuality.
As I learned the hard way years ago, when I drove to camp in a Model S P90D with Ludicrous Mode – then the baddest, fastest, coolest Tesla in all the land. (At least until the P100D arrived in early 2017.)
The idea was to see if this four-door luxury “family car” with supercar-beating acceleration – zero to 60 in 2.8 seconds, claimed – could handle a journey of decent length, with maxed-out passengers and cargo. Quite a test, eh? And with a few scheduled stops to dine, take in the sights, and recharge the battery.
Our adventure began on a pleasant Sunday in July, and all initially went according to plan. Until it didn’t.
Read on to learn all about our most excellent misadventure with the world’s most famous electric car. And what I learned from it!
The pearl-white Tesla, equipped with everything, landed in the driveway of our suburban New Jersey test car HQ.
My Prius was intimidated.
Our Tesla was the Model S sedan …
… in P90D trim. The “P” for “performance,” the “90” for the 90 kWh battery pack, and the “D” for a dual-motor, all-wheel-drive setup.
Just in case you needed a reminder: All-electric equals no tailpipe emissions.
The P90D is loaded with sexy extras, like this carbon-fibre spoiler …
… and door handles that retract flush, but present themselves to you when you get close by.
But enough about the fancy stuff. Can this ride handle a lot of gear? Well, here’s what the rear hatch swallowed up …
… meeting my son James’ approval.
And here’s what we got into the “frunk,” a front trunk that’s there because the Model S doesn’t have a conventional engine.
James also dug the frunk!
In 2015, the BMW i3 got us to our destination, but it did so at a lower sticker price, about $US50,000 less than the Model S P90D, and with less cargo space. We only had one camper’s gear to deal with for that trip.
We were all smiles as we saddled up in 2016.
The trio in the back was joyful.
My lovely wife was psyched.
I even pulled out my lucky hat.
It would shield me from the rays pouring in through that humongous sunroof.
Oh yeah, lucky hat!
We’d rely on Tesla’s massive center touchscreen for all our infotainment and navigation needs.
The trip would cover 117 miles, one way.
The Model S, when fully charged, has 270 miles of range, enough to comfortably make the journey up and back. But we wanted to investigate the charging options along the way, so we didn’t top off before departing. Still, almost 200 miles of range! Plenty, right? My plan was to get to camp, then head over to a Tesla destination partner charging site, get enough juice to make a Supercharger station on the return route, and be home by early evening.
We had Tesla’s innovative, redesigned cupholders to keep us company …
… as well as the old-school versions.
Ample storage for gadgets and chargers.
And classic rock!!
The Model S has Tesla’s simple digital instrument screen …
… which can display various types of data.
Gorgeous weather to start!
And away we go!
Some threatening clouds along the route. Little did I suspect that there was some dramatic foreshadowing afoot.
What road trip is complete without a stop at McDonald’s? Sadly, this burger has been discontinued by the chain.
Happy Meal, happy kid.
We arrive! But there’s just one problem …
I’ve screwed up my range calculations. We don’t have enough to make the closest partner charging station. The car was warning us of this, but we needed to get the boys dropped off on time. So we took a chance and ended up ALMOST RUNNING OUT OF GAS, er … ELECTRICITY!
There’s a cable in the truck of every Tesla that enables you to charge on the fly. But there are no high-speed-charging options up here in the middle of nowhere in the Catskills. So we had to resort to the slowest option, good old 110-volt, wall-socket-level rejuicing.
You plug into this small charging port at the left rear of the Model S.
No exactly the most scenic location. We had to ask the camp maintenance staff to find us an outlet that we could use.
This one was down by a maintenance shed.
We are charging away …
… and the Model S looks plenty sharp …
… but we’ll be getting only 1 mile per hour of charging! That’s mega-slow.
A few hours, a few more miles in the battery, and we have enough to head back through the lovely scenery to find lodging — and charging — for the night.
The Blue Hill Lodge was nearby.
There’s a café and store.
And beautiful views of the Catskills heavens.
My son Dante had endured a long, rough day. He conked out over a plate of chicken tenders and fries.
I enjoyed a delicious specialty of the house, small Russian dumplings covered in sautéed onions and mushrooms, sprinkled with dill, plus a side of sour cream. Totally hit the spot.
We retired to our quaint, blue-doored room.
And once again plugged into a basic outlet.
Still lookin’ good, Model S!
By the next morning, at a charging rate of 3 miles per hour, we have enough juice to make the closest partner charging location.
Off we go!
It was located at the charming Inn at Lake Joseph.
We’re plugged in …
… and drawing power again.
But this time, we’re charging much faster. In a few hours, we’ll have enough power to get to the closest Supercharger location.
The inn beckoned.
There was an alluring spread of breads, bagels, fruit, jams, and preserves, as well as heartier breakfast fare.
The decor is soothingly old-fashioned.
And pre-internet distractions.
But most important for me … a bottomless cup of coffee!
After breakfast, we retired to the billiards room …
… where I taught Dante the art of the hustle.
My wife took in the scenery.
Later, Dante reconnected with the modern world.
The Tesla, meanwhile, stayed connected to its power supply. Tesla has set up these partner charging sites to provide relatively fast charging in more places and to fill in some of the Supercharger gaps. A Tesla vehicle can find them all using GPS and can calculate the state of its charge at all times so you never end up like unlucky, stupid me. Trust the car!
I couldn’t resist messing around with some of the high-tech Easter eggs, including the famous Lotus submarine goof from the James Bond flick “The Spy Who Loved Me” (Tesla CEO Elon Musk is a big Bond fan).
With 76 miles in the battery, we can comfortably get to the nearest Supercharger.
It’s about 50 miles away, in Newburgh, New York.
Some of the route was over unimproved roads, so we saw how the AWD system performed — and it performed just fine.
At last! Superchargers! We should have been here a whole day earlier.
I’m thrilled — and finally relieved. Our excellent adventure had become a misadventure. But the car handled everything fantastically well: It was fast, smooth, quiet, comfortable, roomy, and the navigation was flawless — and the infotainment options kept us entertained.
One hour on a Supercharger will get us a whopping 206 miles of range.
Bzzzzz … electrons in, at high velocity! Go Supercharger, go!
Cosimo’s restaurant is right there, and it’s time for lunch.
They have one of these …
.. and they used it to make one of these. Really tasty, some of the best I’ve ever had. This is my new favourite Tesla Supercharger location.
I got myself fully fortified for the remainder of the trip …
… and so did the Model S. Yep, almost a full charge for what’s left of the drive.
Tesla makes it abundantly clear how charging its vehicles works. You can look it up … in the car! We explored — unintentionally — three choices: 120V slow charging, destination partner charging at a faster rate, and Supercharging. My takeaway? ALWAYS START WITH A FULL CHARGE. And then plan to hit a partner charging spot or Supercharger along the way, with some margin for error — say, 50 miles of range.
We made it home in style, and I returned the Tesla to its Brooklyn home. Now, let’s update you on some more recent Tesla journeys.
For the record, I know my way around the Tesla lineup. I’ve driven the original Roadster.
That’s right, the same car that SpaceX launched into Mars orbit atop a Falcon Heavy rocket.
As well as the Model 3, Tesla’s newest car.
No to mention the Performance version of the Model 3, the most expensive version.
Perhaps more importantly, after my overly complicated adventure with the Model S back in 2016, I learned my lesson. The NEXT road trip I undertook, in a Model X SUV, was governed by me trusting the car about charging.
In fact, I probably erred in the side of being too cautious. I made at least one needlessly long Supercharger stop.
That said, there was no shortage of Supercharging options on my route.
I’m kind of a Supercharging pro at this point.
In fact, you can always monitor your Tesla’s charge levels using the company’s smartphone app.
Charging is Tesla’s killer differentiator, when it comes to EV. Nobody else has yet constructed such an extensive charging infrastructure. But obviously, as I’ve learned over the years, you have to trust it!
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