Sunday, June 26, 2016

Driving a Tesla will make you hate your car

Let's cut to the chase: reading this article will NOT be enough to describe what it's like to drive a Tesla. You won't come to the end of this page and truly know the experience. As a science-fiction author, it's my job to reel people into fantastic, futuristic worlds and make them believe in a new reality. But Tesla isn't science-fiction. Tesla is real. Tesla is what science-fiction wishes it could be.

I have never felt more powerful than I did yesterday, when I was driving Model X. Maybe it's because I was driving the most technologically-advanced car in the world. Maybe it's because of the utter silence that surrounded us, even in heavy traffic. Or maybe it's because the Model X pulls from 0-to-60 in a matter of seconds and blows away every other car on the road--no exceptions.

The experience started as we were walking in the mall toward the showroom. As we approached, a red wall appeared among the whites and grays and browns of the other shops, followed by the Tesla logo and the clean white storefront with TESLA hanging overhead.

The Ross Park Mall Tesla storefront!

I was surprised at how small the showroom actually was. It's probably due to the fact that it right in the middle of a mall, so there weren't many space options to choose from. That, and there's a Model S near the front, and a stripped-down base at the back, which take up a lot of room. There was also a tall desk at the center and entire murals detailing Tesla's mission covering the walls, one of which even had all of the options available on the S and X so that you could design your own car right there in the store and purchase it on the spot.

The Ross Park Mall Tesla showroom

After checking in early for our test drive, the Tesla Rep -- who was only 26 years old, and therefore bonded well with us four 20-to-23 year olds -- took us out to the parking lot, where there was a charging station loaded up with four Teslas (three Model S and one Model X). I should note that this charging station is free and open for public use, a definite convenience for an expanding customer base in the Pittsburgh area.

Anyone who knows me know that I follow Tesla and SpaceX and virtually everything that Elon Musk has his name tied to. I read every article, watch every video, even teach all my other friends and coworkers and followers about Tesla and SpaceX. But nothing prepared me for the sheer beauty and power and endless features that these cars have to offer as our Rep showed us everything from top-to-bottom, back-to-front. Seeing the Model X up close and personal was a surreal experience.

And here I thought I was excited just sitting in the Model S a few weeks ago.

The Model S interior

With the push of a button, the rear-most seats fold down so you can load up the trunk (and the trunk compartment itself is a little deeper than the average minivan's). Each seat in the middle row slides forward independently, again with just a tap on the massive touchscreen. If you have the subzero weather package, all the seats are heated, not just the front two. The steering wheel is heated, too. There's also the massive windshield that extends past the driver's head, giving you the most open view of the sky you've ever had in a car. No more craning your neck trying to see the stars, or airplanes, or UFOs.

With this windshield, Tesla solved another problem: the burning hot leather seat problem. Normally when your car sits out in the sun all day, the seats get burning hot. Not in the Tesla. The windshield has a special coating that repels not only UV, but most infrared heat, too (anybody who knows about sunlight knows that UV converts to infrared through glass, and that's why cars heat up so quickly). So when we sat down, the seats were mostly cool to the touch, despite the car sitting right where the sun was beating down on it.

The Falcon Wing doors are another debated feature of the Model X that caused the car's 18-month production delay. But now that we're past that, I can say these doors are just plain cool. With a 12-inch opening width, you can open these doors in the tightest of parking spaces (and if someone feels like a particular jerk that day and parks way too close to you, you can always use the car's summon feature to pull out of the parking spot before you get into the car, another convenience we wish we all had).

When you approach the car (with your keyless sensor on-person, that is), the driver's door automatically opens. So cool. And if you're standing in its way, the door won't fully open until you move.

The interior layout was different from any other car on the road, too. The gear shifts are a handle on the steering wheel: push down to go into drive, push up for neutral, and up again for reverse. To park, just tap a button at the end of the handle. Simple. Easy. Quick. The only other handles were the Autopilot and windshield wipers/turn signal.



Tesla has single-handedly redefined what it means to drive a car. Remember at the beginning how I said I wouldn't be able to accurately describe what it's like to drive this car? Yeah. We've reached that point. I can give a few basics, but they won't do it justice. Here goes.

Let's start with the obvious: starting the car. You approach the car and it just turns on before you're even to the door. Then the door opens for you, you sit down, hold the brake, tap the drive handle, and go. That's literally all there is to it. No chug of the ignition. No awkward fumbling with the gear shift.

When you press the accelerator (not the GAS pedal, due to the obvious fact that this is an electric car), you don't hear a sound. You just start moving. And when you let go, the car automatically begins braking (and simultaneously recharges the battery using kinetic energy, just like in the Toyota Prius and other hybrids). This feature takes some time getting used to, because in most cars, when you let go of the pedal, you coast. Not in a Tesla. Every time you let go of the pedal, you feel the brakes kick on, whether you're on the highway or in the parking lot. Maybe you'll like that, maybe not. I'm more neutral about it, to be honest, but remember that this is just my impression after a 20 minute drive.

Turning corners and going around turns. WOW. Tesla's have a low center of gravity thanks to the battery pack being on the bottom of the car. A low center of gravity means you take turns going WAY faster than you would in any other car. In fact, I'll go so far as to say if I had been in my normal car, a Kia Soul, it probably would have flipped over. But in the Model X, you could feel the tires gripping the road and holding you rock steady. It was like a constant roller coaster. Once I took a few turns like that, I settled down and just felt so safe.

Driving on the highway was one of the cooler parts of the test drive. Our Rep told me to back off the car in front of us when we got on the ramp, and then as we merged onto the highway, told me to just gun it.

Pedal. To The. Metal.


The Model X we were driving didn't have the Ludricrous Mode that the Model S is so famous for. But it literally didn't matter. You put your foot down, and suddenly you're blowing by every car on the highway left and right. Your body presses into the seat. Your arms and legs feel like jelly. Adrenaline pulses through your veins and you're left breathless, laughing at the sheer power you just experienced. It's a drug. You want to do it again. And again. And again.

I was looking forward to autopilot, and it didn't disappoint. Tap the lower left-hand handle twice, and then you hear a soft "ding-ding." It's that easy. Let go of the steering wheel, tuck in your legs, and the car is in control. The steering wheel tilts a tiiiiiny bit this way....and a tiiiiiny bit that way, keeping you right in the center of the lane. The digital dashboard shows all the cars around you. Trucks look like trucks, motorcycles look like motorcycles, "normal" cars look like Model Ss. When the car in front of you brakes, the Model X brakes. If a car turns, the Model X slows down, lets it go, and then speeds back up when it's out of the way. Changing lanes is pretty cool, too. You hit the blinker, and it just slides over. If there's a car in the way, or within an unsafe distance, guess what? The Model X won't change lanes until the obstacle is clear. No more blind spots (although I think Tesla needs to have this feature activated at all times, with or without autopilot. Some people might forget to look at the dash to see if there's a car near them as they change lanes. A warning beep would be enough to let you know about obstacles).

When you're in standstill traffic, the Model X sits and waits, then pulls forward when the other cars pull forward. It reads the lines on the road (and if there are no immediate lines, it shows a blurry road around your car). As you pass speed limit signs, cameras on the car read them and show you what the speed limit is (and if it's in autopilot, the car will automatically speed up or slow down to reach that, unless there's a traffic pattern that prevents it from doing so).

The largest pitfall of autopilot is that it won't stop at traffic lights or stop signs, or, really, any sign that suggests you yield or stop in some way. If you're behind a car at a stop light, this isn't an issue, because autopilot will come to a stop by itself. But I assume that it would roll through a stop sign once the car in front of it goes--which is why you shouldn't use autopilot in housing developments and such. The highway or any major stretch of road is the safest option until the infrastructure of roads changes to compensate for the rapidly-growing EV and Self-Driving market. And a larger market will drive more innovation!

Getting back onto the highway was a thrill. We were the first car on the exit ramp, so it was a clear road ahead (and, thankfully, a clear highway). I turned onto the ramp--and just GUNNED it. There was one sound (aside from the excited gasps and laughter of my sister and friends in the backseat): a all-but-silent "whhhhhhhrrrrrrrr" that sounded like the hum of the Batpod from Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy. It was sooooo futuristic sounding. No rumble of an engine, no kick or sputter. Just all-out acceleration like your own personal roller coaster.

When we got back to the charging station, I used the massive rear-view camera with 720p resolution to back into the parking space. Then I just hit a button to park, another to open the Falcon Wing doors and mine and the Tesla Rep's. The Model X turned itself off as we walked away.

Back in the showroom, our Rep let me design my own Model X for a future purchase (yeeeaaars in the future, unfortunately, unless my sci-fi books hit it big soon). The car is totally customized to your preferences. That's how Tesla sells them: it's unlikely that two customers truly have the exact same car because of all the options and features you can choose). Mine came out at $111,750....or $96,000 after incentives. Although I'm obviously in no shape to purchase my own Model X (that's why I'm going to grad school for Space Studies and rocket science), without a doubt, one of Tesla's cars WILL be the next car I buy.

Pros of the Model X:
  • No oil changes
  • No engine tune ups
  • No being charged hundreds of dollars for stuff you didn't even know was wrong with your car
  • No more being scammed by the occasional shady mechanic
  • Never pay a cent for gas
  • Free charging for life at charging stations/superchargers
  • Can charge at your house and will amount to less than a year's worth of gas
  • Can charge on solar energy
  • Charges while driving downhill and while braking
  • Virtually silent, including tire noise
  • Acceleration the likes of which you didn't even know was possible for a car
  • Free software upgrades
  • More than enough space for 7 adults
  • Ultra-clear sound system
  • Autopilot and accident avoidance
  • The best handling and traction you will ever experience
  • Massive windshield
  • As much storage space as a Ford Explorer, and then some
  • Keyless entry, and automatic startup and shutdown
  • Driver's side door opens as you approach the car
  • People staring at you and taking pictures as you go by
  • It's just. Freaking. Fun. And I cannot emphasize that enough.
Cons of the Model X:
  • Letting go of the gas automatically begins braking in order to recharge the battery through kinetic energy, and you can definitely feel it, so it will take time getting used to. But I think I prefer the feeling of coasting--or, at least, not such an immediate braking sensation.
  • Autopilot can't be used around stop signs/lights/new traffic patterns. Not the car's fault, we just need new infrastructure to account for this new technology.
  • When you accelerate, you don't realize how fast you truly are moving partially because there's next-to-no-sound, and partially because it's just. That. Quick. Getting back onto the highway, I hit 82 miles/hour in under 5 seconds -- that is, before I even merged over. A few seconds later, after merging all the way to the left lane, we blasted off to more than 100 mph (and that's the reason why I'm glad the northbound lanes were mostly empty. I'm usually a very safe, stick-to-the-law driver and have only hit 100 mph once in my life....this being it).
  • Mentally, you feel...different. Just the act of driving a Tesla makes you feel powerful, and you feel like you're filthy rich. Whether that's good or bad is up to you, but I felt dazed for a while after driving it. Like I said above, I just wanted to drive it again. And again. And again. It was like a drug.
This article is the best I can do to describe the feeling of driving a Tesla. There's driving a normal car, and then there's driving THIS car. It's a new experience, a new way to drive, and a new way to think about driving. You simply cannot say: "Oh, it's just like any other car, except electric." No. That's not true. Driving this was the most unique driving experience of any car I've ever driven, and you can't truly understand what that means unless you experience it for yourself. It is, plain and simple, a revolution in the driving experience.

The Model X that I designed

When I returned to my own car, I was, admittedly, underwhelmed and kind of upset with how behind Tesla's technology all these other cars are. My mind kept going back to the whir of the acceleration, the massive windshield, the absolute silence. Once you've driven a Tesla, you kind of hate your own car. The experience solidified my decision: yes, my next car will be a Tesla; yes, Teslas are 100% better than gasoline/diesel cars in every single way; and yes, once the Model 3 enters production and EVs become mainstream, the world is absolutely going to change.



Alex Martin is a futuristic science-fiction author who explores the future of humanity as a multiplanetary species. Whether he's test driving Teslas, cheering on a SpaceX landing, or exploring virtual reality, he's always focused on educating the general public about important advancements in technology and science.

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