Tesla officially became a mass-market automaker this month, as it rolled the first Model 3 vehicle off its California assembly line.
The $US35,000 Model 3 was designed to open up Tesla ownership to a much wider range of people than the relatively expensive Model S and Model X.
New Tesla owners will quickly discover than electric cars have one major difference from gas-powered vehicles: they have to be charged up. The Model 3 has a range of 200 miles, superb for an EV, but it will need to be rejuiced, and if you’re used to refuelling in five minutes, EV ownership required some advance planning and behavioural changes.
Fortunately, Tesla operates a network of Superchargers that make longer trips possible (the automaker asks owner to do their everyday charging at home). The company has also worked with partners to install even more charging locations that offer slower charging than what’s available at Sueprchargers but provide a gap-filling fallback.
I’ve spent a lot of time driving EVs. In 2015, I drove one of my kids to camp in a BMW i3, an extended-range electric vehicle that at the time was rumoured to be a basis for the Apple Car.
The trip went great, so last year I decided to make our annual camp sojourn to the scenic Catskills in upstate New York a regular EV-paloooza. And what better car to serve as our futuristic chariot in 2016 than … the Tesla Model S?
And not just any Model S, but a P90D with Ludicrous Mode — at the time the baddest, fastest, coolest Tesla in all the land (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 mph in 2.8 seconds, claimed — could handle a journey of decent length (about 240 miles round trip) involving two adults, three kids, and gear for a pair of campers for two weeks. 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.
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The pearl-white Tesla, equipped with everything, landed in the driveway of our suburban New Jersey test car HQ.
... 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.
But enough about the fancy stuff. Can this ride handle a lot of gear? Well, here's what the rear hatch swallowed up ...
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.
In 2015, the BMW i3 got us to our destination, but it did so at a lower sticker price, about $50,000 less than the Model S P90D, and with less cargo space. We only had one camper's gear to deal with for that trip.
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.
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.
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 120-volt, wall-socket-level rejuicing.
No exactly the most scenic location. We had to ask the camp maintenance staff to find us an outlet that we could use.
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.
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 sauteed onions and mushrooms, sprinkled with dill, plus a side of sour cream. Totally hit the spot.
By the next morning, at a charging rate of 3 miles per hour, we have enough juice to make the closest partner charging location.
But this time, we're charging much faster. In a few hours, we'll have enough power to get to the closest Supercharger location.
There's an alluring spread of breads, bagels, fruit, jams, and preserves, as well as heartier breakfast fare.
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).
Some of the route was over unimproved roads, so we saw how the AWD system performed -- and it performed just fine.
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.
.. 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.
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.
This doesn't change with the Model 3, or for that matter ANY electric car. Since 2016, I've had the chance to try out the rival Chevy Bolt, which has about 200 miles of range per charge. The same general rules about planning ahead and keeping a nearly full charge in the battery apply.
In fact, the rules will apply to all EVs launched over the next few years. In this respect, Tesla has an advantage in that it's invested so much in the Supercharger network, which is coast to coast and enables Tesla owners to take long road trips to most locations without ever worrying that they will run our of juice.
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