2013 Tesla Model S Long-Term Road Test

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2013 Tesla Model S: Road Trip Range Anxiety

December 20, 2013

2013 Tesla Model S

Admission: I sort of cringe at the expression "range anxiety." It's a trite, too-easy sound bite in any discussion of EVs. But in this case, it's apt.

It happened during the 139-mile stretch between the Superchargers at Grant's Pass, OR, and Eugene, OR during my recent road trip in our long-term 2013 Tesla Model S.

I'd left the Grant's Pass Supercharger with an ample cushion of miles in the car's battery. See, up to this point in my trip I'd observed that the "rated range" display in the Tesla's instrument cluster had been optimistic by 15-20% compared to actual driving conditions. To compensate for this reality, I'd been charging with a commensurate buffer of miles in addition to that necessary to reach the next Supercharger. No problem. In fact, at Grant's Pass I'd even thrown in extra miles on top of the buffer. Good thing.

While on the road I periodically compared the rated range to the miles remaining to my destination (as shown by the nav). It's something you find yourself doing out of habit in this car. And at one point after leaving Grant's Pass I saw that my buffer of extra electrons was being consumed at an alarming rate.

I'd been driving conscientiously, not running A/C at all on this trip, no heated seats, and just keeping the temp at a reasonable delta over ambient so as not run the heater too hard. Cruising speed was between 70 and 74 mph. No unduly abrupt or large throttle inputs. So far, it was an approach that was working well. But the terrain on this stretch, it turns out, was much hillier than previous legs, and it was quickly gobbling up range.

Once it became apparent that the rate at which the rated range and the digits on the nav display were attempting to converge could conceivably result in a bad day, I turned it down to 65 on uphill sections. Very shortly afterwards, I locked it at 65 at all times. Then 60. Then 55. We were crawling. I turned off all unnecessary current draws. The instrument panel was dimmed to its lowest setting. No radio. No iPods. Just trundling along the near-empty freeway at night in a $94,000, 461-hp car like a Prius driver. At least I wasn't camping in the left lane.

I rolled into the Eugene Supercharger station with 8 miles left in the tank. In retrospect this sure sounds like ample extra range so what's the big deal, but I have to admit that I was watching those digits like a hawk for most of the leg. And I was counting on no curveballs being thrown at me along the way. Had there been an unexpected freeway detour or an exit closure, I might have been calling a flatbed.

Instead I plugged the Tesla in at the Supercharger located behind the Holiday Inn in Eugene, OR, and walked away. It was in the low 30s outside. I found the nearest restaurant and had dinner.

Jason Kavanagh, Engineering Editor

Comments

  • dunning15 dunning15 Posts:

    139 miles. And the Model S tops out at 265 rated, correct? So you're sitting at a SuperCharger that can fill you to 265 and you leave with less than that? Why? You say you left a 20% cushion so does that mean you charged up to around 167 miles. You left almost 100 miles on the table at that last SuperCharger? Why? You only had to wait another 20 minutes and you would have had zero range anxiety, could have heated that car up to your heart's content, blasted the stereo and traveled at 80mph. You caused your own heartache and maybe that's part of the lesson learned. As a long-time pilot I learned years ago to take as much fuel as you can before each flight whether you think you need it or not. Same applies here.

  • gslippy gslippy Posts:

    You're obviously not an EV driver. There is a popular misconception that non-climate control accessories draw a lot of power - they don't. The radio, dash lights, heated seats, etc., all draw negligible power. Really, you should have filled it up to begin with. No EV driver looks at their trip and figures 20% margin is enough - particularly if you're going to speed and climb mountains. You could have had a nice trip by simply filling up, but instead you've given ammo to the anti-EV crowd by blaming the car after poor planning on your part.

  • throwback throwback Posts:

    ".not running A/C at all on this trip, no heated seats, and just keeping the temp at a reasonable delta over ambient so as not run the heater too hard." Quite a bit of compromise in that one sentence.

  • quadricycle quadricycle Posts:

    I agree with dunning15 about filling her up for another twenty to thirty minutes, but I can see a scenario where this can become very inconvenient. The superchargers are convenient if you're going to eat while charging, but what if you're really not hungry, or you ate a meal at the last supercharger stop? At the supercharger location in question, there's a sit-in restaurant, a McDonalds, a Wendy's, and a Taco Bell. Not really anything else to do. If I've already eaten, I only plan to let it charge for as long as I can bear sitting in Wendy's dipping fries into a chocolate frosty. Depending on if I had company or not, I could fairly easily sit there for half an hour but would be more than ready to just get underway with my trip. I'm going to leave as soon as I have what I believe to be a reasonable buffer. Sure, I can stay another twenty minutes more, but I'm getting close to having spent an hour at the place if I do that, not having done any more than twiddling my thumbs and thinking about the miles ahead. I don't know if this is what happened here, but I can easily see that scenario happening.

  • dunning15 dunning15 Posts:

    Maybe talk to your wife? Talk to your son about school? If it's not raining maybe take a football out of the frunk and play some catch with your kid. How about you all grab a really great book and read for 30 minutes? Maybe you open up some snacks you brought with you and eat them and laugh about things? Maybe listen to some classical music or jazz and discuss the music? How about a great audiobook that you all love? Why not surf the web a bit and Wikipedia some cool stuff about Elon Musk? Or just go into the McDonald's and eat some fries with Ketchup. Or you can leave early and have stress and range anxiety for the next two hours.

  • I sit here and read about running with no A/C, no heated seats, not even the stereo running just to go on a 140 mile trip and THIS is supposed to be the way of the future???? No thank you. The Tesla would be an absolute dream car......if it had a real engine in it. As is, again, no thank you.

  • dunning15 dunning15 Posts:

    Absolutely brilliant. You managed to miss every salient point.

  • handbrake handbrake Posts:

    Full disclosure: we just bought a Model S. The other vehicle we have is a Ford F150. I use it mostly for hunting and other off road stuff. I know that when I’m off road and in 4wd I get about 10 mpg*. The truck has a 36 gallon tank. So if I am about to go off road and stop at a gas station before I leave the road, and I know that I’m going to be going about 200 miles off road before I get to the next gas station, under the logic of this reviewer I’d put 24 gallons in the 36 gallon tank. I don’t know anyone who would do something like that, even if it took an extra 20 minutes to squeeze the last 12 gallons in the tank, unless they were trying to get stuck. I think that with an EV, you have to plan like you’re going off road in a truck. You make sure you have plenty of cushion when you’re filling up. *I’m just guessing at the 10 mpg figure because off road mileage depends on how much muck I’m going through, how steep the trails are, etc. It’s different every time.

  • Absolutely brilliant. You manage to come up with an excuse for every single inconvenience and drawback and then attempt to turn them into actual "positives". Remind me again why its actually better to have to wait 20 minutes to fill up rather than 3? Extra time to talk to my wife? Epic.

  • dunning15 dunning15 Posts:

    Ok, I will. A) It's a road trip. It's not something you do all the time. They've had the car for a year and they've done what, 3 of these trips? And they are a CAR REVIEWING company so they'll do more than the average Joe with a Model S. B) Because the SuperChargers are free. You're paying nothing for that roadtrip electricity. So your three minute fillup of gas costs you $70. The hour on the SuperCharger costs you zero. C) A person like you is not a person for this car. I have had my Model S for six months and I've never once turned off the heater or AC for range reasons, I've never lowered my speed for range reasons, I've never had less than 40 miles of range remaining before charging, and I've never experienced range anxiety. Of course my longest trip has been 180 miles roundtrip and I have taken the exact same amount of roadtrips in my Model S as I did in my previous S-Class Mercedes - None. So it is a car for me. So you see, your remarks are absolute rubbish because you do not know what you are talking about.

  • This review suggests drivers of electric-only vehicles: 1) need to plan an electric's longer trips carefully, 2) get a full charge every chance offered, even if it takes a little more time than planned.

  • nomercy346 nomercy346 Posts:

    long story short: yes, you can take an EV on a long road trip. no, you can't do it without compromise yet(!). With a gas powered car I don't think twice about how much fuel to put in the tank because the difference between full and half is what? a minute? On a long trip you'd rather hit the road again instead of waiting there watching your car charging so I understand why you would take off with a 20% margin for error. (which would not be a problem in a gas car BTW because you can fill up anywhere)

  • fordson1 fordson1 Posts:

    Dunning15, even you must admit that adding 20% to 139, then adding "extra miles on top of the buffer," as he clearly says, and even then almost running out of range, is problematic. I mean, how much DTE error is OK in a modern car - 30%? Most ICE cars have a DTE estimate that is pessimistic...now people who are used to that dynamic are supposed to just immediately adjust to a car in which it's 20%+ OPTIMISTIC? Wasn't that just...I dunno...a BAD idea on Tesla's part? I understand that for Tesla's marketing thrust for the Model S it is important to make its range look as great as possible, but look at how widely the EPA's old exaggerated mpg figures have been excoriated - wasn't there a lesson in that, to NOT exaggerate, and has not Tesla obviously missed that lesson? If your old S-Class overestimated its remaining range by 20%+, via its fuel gauge and trip computer, that car would have ended up on a flatbed plenty of times, too - ? Think about it. Also, doesn't the Tesla's nav system know there are a lot of hills in a given stretch, and use that information in generating and updating the DTE estimate? You criticize the Edmunds staff in taking "only" 3 road trips in this car, but then you freely admit you have taken your car only 180 miles at a clip...but you're on here chastising them and other posters, and presenting yourself as some kind of authority on how it's done. Lastly, I found your suggestion to "Wikipedia some cool stuff about Elon Musk" pretty funny. Question: on the Model S browser, alongside the Home button, is there a Shrine button, that owners hit, which pops up a screenshot of an altar with Musk's photo on it and points the car toward Palo Alto for prayer five times a day? Do Model S owners have to do a two-year mission to proselytize about the car's virtues?

  • Dunning I totally agree with you that this is not a car for me. In fact I agree with most of your last post (until you said I don't know what I'm talking about). I assure you I do know what I'm talking about, its just that my opinion is vastly different than yours and that's OK. I love the ICE and will own one as long as I'm alive and legally allowed to. I love the mechanical quality of a finely designed and conceived MACHINE. I do not like the simplistic design of a motor that basically has one moving part. I get the efficiency argument, I really do. Its nice to not have to pay for your fill up as it were (though I'd remind you that its NOT free; the taxpayers are simply picking up your tab here). But I simply enjoy the visceral experience that is a small block Chevy V8. Or a hand built AMG 6.2 liter. Or the satin-silk smoothness of a BMW inline-six. Hell, I'm really loving the turbo-4 golden age we are living in right now. So yes I know what I'm talking about, its just what I like and don't like is different. Its like trying to tell me that I'm wrong that green is my favorite color...

  • evodad evodad Posts:

    Am I the only one who thinks that for the majority of TESLA owners, the model S is a second or 3rd car for the family, i.e. if you're going on a long trip and the least bit worried about range you have another option. Most are likely similar to dunning who DD the car and don't take it on long trips. I could count on one hand the number of road trips I've gone on since being married and having a kid that would have given me range anxiety had I been in a tesla and in each such case we have a second vehicle anyways! I'd love a model S as a DD as it would be great for me. I'm not saying it is without convenience compared to an ICE vehicle when it comes to 'refueling' but again how many owners really need to worry about that because they don't have another mode of transport.

  • Maybe when there are more charging stations in place, then the Tesla will be a mainstream vehicle, but not until then. Same for LP fueling stations, and every other alternative fuel source. I'm in SWFL and just couldn't use the Tesla like those in SCA.

  • dunning15 dunning15 Posts:

    Fair enough Majin. I agree with you.

  • gslippy gslippy Posts:

    @majin_ssj_eric: One nit with your comment - the taxpayers are not paying for the Supercharger network or the power they supply; Tesla is, and by extension, its customers are. The only taxpayer relationship with Tesla now is the EV tax rebate.

  • Wow, didn't know Tesla funded those. Thanks for the info (just assumed the govt did considering their push for EV's). As I said, I love just about everything about this car except the motor. It is a striking vehicle with great styling and the interior is beautiful (the tech geek in me LOVES the center screen). I guess if I was loaded this would be a great DD...

  • k5ing k5ing Posts:

    markinnaples: Why couldn't you use one? First off, your main charging would be done at home. You would leave with a full "tank" every morning. Just stay under 250 miles (or 200 to be really safe) per day and you would be fine. Tesla has superchargers in Florida, one is just up the road from you at Gulf Coast Town Center in Fort Myers. There are others also in Port Orange and Port St. Lucie with another under construction right now in St. Augustine.

  • dmclone1 dmclone1 Posts:

    I'm probably in the minority but if I was going to spend $90k on a car the last thing I want to do is start playing games to see if I was going to make it to my destination. So lets say I want to make a trip to Minneapolis for a weekend get-away. This is about a 250 mile trip for me. 1. Fill up the car the night before I leave 2. Pack my stuff in the car for the overnight 3. Set the GPS 4. Set the cruise at 14mph over posted speed limit. Slow down when V1 tells me too 5. After a couple of hours stop for 5 minutes to go to the bathroom, grab a pop, and fill up the tank (even though it's not needed). 6. Arrive at destination During the whole trip the only thing I had to worry about was what was playing on the radio and people camping out in the passing lane. I think having a Tesla would be great as my every day work car but I'd have another vehicle for my weekend get-away car.

  • k5ing k5ing Posts:

    dmclone1: I'm confused. Everything you mentioned could have been done in a Tesla except maybe the speeding. Keep it at the legal limit and providing there are no mountains in your way (like the trip Edmunds went on), the Tesla will do 250 miles. Plug it in overnight at your weekend destination and you're ready to go home again. I don't know where you're coming from in your trips to Minneapolis, but there is a Supercharger operational now in Worthington, MN, and more under construction right now in Madison, WI, Albert Lea, MN, and LaCrosse, WI. Any of those on your way? Two questions... how often do you do weekend getaways? And, if you could afford a $90K car, wouldn't you probably already have an ICE car in addition to the Tesla if you needed to go farther than 250 miles anyway? The other option would be to rent a car with the gas savings the Tesla would give you for the occasional trip.

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