The times, they are a changin’…
And how time flies. Spring 2012, Geneva Motor Show, is where I first saw a Tesla Model S. Not yet production ready, the attending staff warned everyone that this was not the quality to expect later on, quite apparent since some of the fancy door handles had failed.
“Nice idea, but…” I thought to myself and wandered over to have a look (and drool) at the new V8-engined Audi S7.
Fast forward to October 2013, and I had my first drive in the Model S, now fully equipped with working doors, and, in its P85+ guise, extremely impressive driving characteristics.
“Nice car, but…” - interior and exterior quality was still below a level I would want in a 100k+ car, the touchscreen was confusing at best, maybe even distracting (those smudges!), and Tesla had cheerfully glossed over any kind of driving assistance besides an old-fashioned cruise control and parking (beep) sensors. Electric drive was nice, but I was not really electrified, and could happily drive home in the Diesel A7, confident I wasn’t missing anything.
Two years later, and now the Model S was starting to drive itself, handing its customers a beta software called “autopilot”. “Nice technology, but…” isn’t this just the same radar cruise control, active lane keeping and auto parking our now 2 and 2,5 year old Audis had already?
Sure, lane change is nice, but, toy, beta, potentially unsafe, just see on Youtube.
Tesla, willing to remove the “but…” in everyone’s mind, had just happened to send an invitation to another test drive, this time hassle-free in my new home town of Landshut. And since I was still curious, I found myself on a Sunday evening at a nearby hotel, cheerfully (as always) welcomed by the attending Tesla representatives.
And sure, we can try the autopilot, the car had been updated just a few days ago and has that new feature now. A phrase you would never hear on a current Audi, BMW or Mercedes.
First impressions were impressive indeed. In just two years, Tesla’s interior had made a jump from “yes, it’s an American car” to something closing in on Audi (which is high praise).
I also had made a jump, from “I hate touchscreens in cars” to “guess I will have to live with touch screens in cars”. Therefore, the giant, “we don’t need no stinkin’ buttons” iPad contraption in the centre console was more fascinating than annoying this time around, though that may also have been a function of sunset already behind us and therefore, no smudges!
Also, my attention was instantly drawn to the updated virtual cockpit you can see in all its glory at the top of this post.
With the new software version, there is a clear focus on the autopilot features of the car, and here indeed it constantly shows you what’s going on. This is perfect.
All lane markings recognized, the cars position in that lane, any detected obstacles or traffic around you, and the car in front of you are clearly marked and up-to-date.
This makes you as the operator/driver very aware of what the Model S is “seeing”, and even thinking. And leads to the effect described by the accompanying Tesla rep as “You’re getting confident in the car very quickly!”
While we were cruising on the Autobahn. At 140km/h. Doing a lane change. “Look Ma, no hands!”.
(hands at all times near the steering wheel as instructed by the car itself when switching autopilot on. of course.)
To sum up, the “autopilot” may be beta, but only in ways Google Mail was beta for many years.
Which is to say, it works really well. Which is to say, I want this on my morning commute. Now. Please.
And the rest? Impressive as always. The Tesla Model S effortlessly speeds up, regeneratively slows down, corners in ways of much smaller and sportier cars, navigates you to where you want to go, plays some internet radio at the same time, and looks like a fashion model while doing so.
Things I didn’t like? The stereo starts making noises whenever I keep my phone near that “iPad”, something I have never seen on other cars. Tesla, please.
And, being used to very bright and very white shiny LED headlights, the Model S’ Xenons appeared rather dim and yellow. Not bad, but such a futuristic car deserves a bit more forward-looking (and energy saving) lighting technology. Of course, American regulators still live in the 70s, so hoping for an American carmaker to invest in things like Audi’s Matrix or Mercedes’ Multibeam LED is probably wishful thinking. Still, that would be icing on the high-tech cake.
But even with these minor annoyances, I am starting to ponder things now. Things like what kind of range I really need, and if a 20 minute supercharger stop every 400km or so isn’t actually a good thing forcing me to take that recommended break I forgo much too often?
The answer is more and more leaning towards “Great car, this could actually work”. And I am becoming more and more confident that my future may not hold a shiny V6, or even V8 (no hard feelings, Audi S7?), but an electric car with batteries.
And even if it won’t be a Tesla, because the people at Audi Landshut are so damn nice, and those four rings are just what I need, I will be very happy if there is a fully electric Q6 in time, and maybe even more battery-driven models. And I will know that this is thanks to Tesla, because seriously, after witnessing the Model S, you will agree that this is the well-deserved kick in the butt German auto makers need.
Many thanks go to Tesla Germany, and especially the fine folks at Tesla Munich, for the kind invitation to and arrangement of this test drive. If you are in Munich, spend some time to visit them, they really are a very friendly and enthusiastic bunch.