Experiences and review of a Tesla Model S, Feb 2017

Background: My previous regular car was a hi-end Volvo S60 with the tech package. I have also driven a new Audi A6 regularly (with its braindamaged user interfaces). On occasion, I have driven various $100,000 cars. I know what an auto-pilot is---I hold a private-pilot license. My daily commute is on a curvy large city street (Sunset Blvd), which more often than not is stop-and-go traffic between 0 mph and 40 mph. My next most common route contains the I-405 and 101 freeways, which are often also stop-and-go. If I understand it correctly, Elon Musk takes the same daily commuting roads as I do, too. Elon---you are one incredible entrepereneur in a league of itself. There is no one IMHO even close.


My Model S car was delivered towards the end of January 2017 with new hardware.

As a car, the Tesla S is without a doubt the nicest experience I have ever driven. The silent and perfectly smooth acceleration is breathtaking. No more tuck-tuck-tuck. When the car starts, I still sometimes find myself waiting for the car to tuck-tuck to life. The driving experience is almost etherial. The car handling is superb, too.

As for creature comforts, the model S has mostly pluses but a few minor minuses. There are no rear seat pockets or nets to store odds and ends. I don't think I have had a car for 20 years that lacked this kind of storage space. There are (expensive) third-party addons, but they also need installation. There should be real sidepockets in the doors, too. (and where should the tissue box go??) Other than that, the creature comforts are close to perfect for me. Good storage space in the center console now. Good glove compartment. Great display. Great entertainment system. Excellent ergonomics. I know some people complain that the interior is sparser than that of other cars in the same price class, but it does not bother me a bit. The car has a clean look, and frankly, I don't care if there is mahogany or metal.

The standard A/V/control system is excellent. After a day of getting used to them, the touch controls are now far more intuitive than anything else I have used. They are well integrated with the dashboard display, too. Sometimes, the map could be smarter in following my car when it drives beyond the map area, but this is trivial and minor. The non-upgraded audio system is just fine. The voice control is better than others I have used. HOWEVER, there are two unnnecessary shortcomings:

  • [1 = minor] The software could link into my google-play music account. Everything else is already integrated. Why not add this one as an additional app (just like the map)?
  • [2 = major] It is 2017 now. I can talk into my google voice box on my android phone and say "please pick up my kids" and it is transcribed by google with 99% accuracy. Why can't I say "SMS to Brunhilde colon please pick up the kids" ? It could optionally read back the SMS message and then ask whether it should send it.

The adaptive cruise-control is much better than it was on the S60. It makes smarter decisions of when to slow down and when not. It also does not shut itself off after a few seconds. So I don't get annoyed as much by stop and go.


Now the aspects that were a little more disappointing.

First, the brand-new car shipped with outdated software (v8.0, 2.50.180). This should not be happening. I find it ok that software takes a while to roll out (though I do not understand why updates cannot be pushed out to many or most owners at the same time---perhaps ask the drivers how aggressively or conservatively they want to be updated). I don't find it ok that I have no idea whether my already-released software update will come in 3 days or 3 weeks or 3 months or 3 years. I should know when to expect it. There should be a Tesla website that explains the current state of the software versions, features, and rollout, and not just Musk tweets.

After about one week, the car finally updated its software to v8.0 17.5.28. This version enables basic autopilot features on the new hardware.

It took a few days for the car after the update to finish its camera calibration. Not a problem---though it would have been nice to display a progress report. I have no idea whether the sensors are now all calibrated, or whether the car is still self-improving.

The autopilot with the new hardware is still somewhat disappointing.

  • Good: The adaptive cruise-control works as expected. As noted above, it already works better and smoother than the one on the Volvo S60.
  • Medium: A car of Tesla's caliber should not allow me to crash deliberately into an obstacle. But I have not tried the auto-brake on obstacle feature---I need a plastic obstacle that will not ruin my car if I run into it. Does anyone know how well this works? (Also, lane changing does not work, either, but this is minor. Also I also don't know how to have the car parallel self-park.)
  • Bad: The autosteer feature is promising, but it is surprisingly unhelpful as-of-yet.
    1. First, I cannot enable autosteer on Sunset Blvd, which is my stop-and-go 0-35mph traffic. (More info, please. It says it is disabled on this road. Is this permanent or temporary? Why?) It should not be hard to get this working. I am usually surrounded by cars on all sides. Many cars should have sent back telemetry and/or video info on this road to Tesla, as my Sunset Blvd segment seems overflowing with Tesla cars. (There is very little pedestrian and bicycle traffic, although it does appear on rare occasion.) Especially when the traffic goes from 0 to 20mph, I think the car should be able to just flow in traffic by itself, and even without a hand on the steering wheel. Second, on the freeway, the autosteer is not that useful, either, because it seems limited to 50mph. The stop-and-go I am experiencing on the 405/101 ranges from 0 to 65mph.
    2. The "hand on the steering wheel" detection is also badly executed. I have a soft hand (finger, actually) at the bottom of the steering wheel. Alas, the car often seems to think that I do not have my hand on the steering wheel, when I in fact do. My idea is that when the car autosteers successfully, I should not push against it. Or should I?? This is just weird.
    3. In sum, autosteer would be useful if my commute was over a freeway segment with a speed limit of 45mph.

      (Incidentally, I wonder if the autopilot is linked to the destination setting on the navigation setting. This should help it determine whether I want to stay on the main road or exit, for example.)

    It would help a little to have a document detailing the exact limits of the autopilot, but I understand that documentation is a tough and not-fun job for software engineers. It would help even more to have some idea of a planned timetable, and after a new software release, an idea of when it should appear in my car.

Buy Again?

Yes, absolutely. Software updates can and hopefully will fix all the issues between what I have an what makes an ideal car.

Update: Not in 2021. The Model 3 is way more fun to drive. (The build quality is still lousy. Various plastic parts have fallen off.)

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