2013 Tesla Model S P85+ Long-Term Update 6
The first time I took a trip with our long-term 2013 Tesla Model S, I was nervous. For very good reason. After years of driving electric cars and encountering A: ranges so short they can barely get you across the L.A. basin (but not back), B: public charging stations hidden in parking lots by diabolical electricians (or behind locked gates or that just didn't work at all) and C: charging times that leave you mumbling on the brink of insanity, I was like a New Jersey governor in a George Washington Bridge traffic jam. Trust us, Supercharger travel will be fun! Yeah, trust us.
Of course, I'd studied Tesla's online map speckled with Supercharger station dots, noticed how each one's range comfortably overlaps others, and read all the numbers about how supernaturally fast they worked.
But as they say, you shouldn't believe everything you read on the internets.
On my inaugural voyage I set off with the battery charged to the hilt, kept the AC off and drove precisely at the speed limit - plus one mph because, hey, I'm a fast-driving automotive journalist. All the while I was doing non-stop mental calculations comparing the cars displayed range to what was really happening and forecasting how far I was actually going to go. When I arrived at the first Supercharger stop-over – there was 100 miles of range to spare. Huh. That's insanely better than I expected. The next leg of the trip was more relaxed, and on the one after that I'd become a nonchalant, long-range EV-traveling pro. It works!
In quick succession, I subsequently made four more, 700-miles round trips visiting essentially the same basic area, either stopping at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, disturbing my in-laws in Carmel Valley, or dropping daughter Catherine off at a summer camp in hills above Santa Cruz. These gas-free (and cost-free) trips had gotten to be such old hat that I had established my favorite chargers to plug-into (they're all alike, I know), began to smell the orange chicken at the Panda Express next to the Lebec station 20 miles before hand (why do I always eat so much there?) and delight in the walk from the Gilroy station to the Starbucks on the other side of Leavesley Road. It's the same coffee of course, but it's an unusual open-air stand with shaded tables scattered around; crazy stuff for a Starbucks.
After a while, though, it became awkwardly apparent that I was the only editor on the staff doing this. Nobody else had any concept of my strange new world of high-voltage car travel. "Hey" I'd explain to a colleague passing in the hall "over Thanksgiving the Superchargers went up in power from 90 kW to 120!" They'd go by with one eyebrow raised. Worse than that, a couple of staffers hadn't even driven the car to lunch yet. "Me – ah – drive the Tesla – ah – how about – ah -next week?" they'd stammer.
Maybe they were quietly afraid of the car. Not that they are scaredy-cat types, ever-ready to get into some sort of awful squabble over the keys to a 700-hp German autobahn projectiles when they shows up. But the world of Tesla travel is just so…electrical. Filled with weird words like volts and amps and kilowatt-hours.
So I began to lightly pressure them to take the go on trips. I got two bites.
First head out of the foxhole was Brian Vance who drove the car from El Segundo to Reno, Nevada, followed by Scott Evans who initially retraced my well-worn route towards Monterey, but improvised his way to La Selva Beach. Here's what they had to say.
"Range anxiety is certainly a real thing…at first", Scott Evans said. "I made the first half of my drive with the ventilation fan on, but not the AC compressor, for fear of using too much power. But after the third Supercharger stop, I was using energy like it was going out of style because I was confident I'd make my destination easily without running out of power." That was exactly my experience.
Brian's route led him along the supercharging network from L.A., north on Interstate 5 to Sacramento and then east on Highway 50 to Reno during Easter weekend "I brought skis along, and once in Reno, took the car to Mt. Rose ski Resort for the closing day." We're all secretly jealous of Brian, who lives a sort of Groundhog Day existence wherein every day - he's 19 again!
However, genuine adult worries did eventually befall him. After eating a Subway sandwich while the car charged at Harris Ranch, Brian got a bit brave and decided to ignore my advice and drive directly from Harris Ranch to the Folsom Supercharger station (196 miles, and there's elevation climb). Brian said that "at the start, the car allotted me only 13 miles [indicated] to empty, which made me slightly nervous." He made it through. "Everything is Awe-some!"
Actually, "Supercharging is incredible" said Evans. "Seeing that much power being safely dumped into a battery that quickly is nothing short of impressive. The relatively little amount of time needed to add a week's worth of commuting distance really is stunning."
There are some things to keep in mind though. Brian tended to keep the car at around 72 mph, and Evans was surprised at how much external temperature, speed, and AC usage affected the range. "Driving the same 135-mile stretch at day and night, five mph faster during the former, yielded very different results. When it was warmer and I was driving slower, the loss of estimated range was roughly equal to the distance traveled. When it was colder and I was driving faster, range dropped more quickly. Over the 135 miles, it added up to a difference of 30 miles of estimated range in the two scenarios. Adding AC to the mix didn't have as big an impact as I expected."
Supercharger travel does mean stopping more frequently, and for a longer amount of time. Evans: "It's best not to be a road trip camel like some folks in this office. I usually stop at least once (on this trip) for food or restroom. Making two stops is slightly inconvenient, though no more so than when driving a thirsty sports car or truck. The greater "refueling" time is more of an impediment, as it means I must plan to have a meal or simply sit for an hour to 1.5 hours along the way, extending an already long trip." Vance agreed "My overall trip from Reno was 10.5 hours instead of my typical 8 hours."
Compounding his trip's duration, though, was a busy Harris Ranch station "One of the chargers had been disabled and the station was full on a Sunday evening around dusk; I had to wait about 30 minutes before jumping on." On the other hand, he thoroughly enjoyed chit-chatting with other Model S owners (everything is awe-some! - again).
A problem I've definitely shared with both Brian and Scott, though, is that the stations are generally located between destinations, leaving you to your own devices once you arrived. Brian, unusually, thought ahead "With no supercharger in or near Reno, I had my friend rewire his clothes dryer plug in order to charge in his garage." Evans' trip was last-minute, though. "Finding a friendly outlet ahead of time is prudent, and at least investing in the full assortment of charging adapters rather than the three supplied would be wise." Confessed Scott, "Had I thought ahead, I'd have made sure I had the right adapter for the plug at my destination. This is the only real hang-up in driving the car long distance."
Along the way, Scott said he "found cruise control to be a serious blessing. Not only did it help improve energy efficiency, but it gave my right ankle some relief. While I love being able to drive the car effectively using only the accelerator pedal to control power and regenerative braking, the added strain of always keeping my leg muscles engaged grew tiring quickly as I was never able to coast. Adaptive cruise control would be icing on the cake."
Nevertheless, Evans concluded that the car's range and short recharge stops on road trips makes this a 'real car.' " That's high praise, apparently. At least I've finally got a few colleagues who've shared my Supercharger travels. Any more takers?
More on our long-term 2013 Tesla Model S P85+:
|Service life||22,537 mi|
|Average fuel economy||86.2 MPGE|
|EPA City/Hwy/Comb Fuel Econ||88/90/89 MPG|
|Energy consumption||39 kW-hr/100 mi|