Weekend Road Trip to Monterey, Part One - 2013 Tesla Model S Long-Term Road Test

2013 Tesla Model S: Weekend Road Trip to Monterey, Part One

October 1, 2013

2013 Tesla Model S

A couple of weekends ago my wife and I dashed out of town to watch the Grand Am races at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. And we drove up and back in our 2013 Tesla Model S, the only pure electric vehicle on the market that can make the 750-mile round trip in anything approaching a normal time scale.

Best part: Fuel for the trip cost us exactly zero dollars and zero cents.

Tesla Superchargers at Tejon Ranch and Atascadero got us up there, and the one in Buellton got us home. In between, overnight charges on our hotels' free Level 2 charger kept the Model S topped up for our daily runs to the track.

Here's how it went on the trip north.

2013 Tesla Model S

The green flag dropped at the office in Santa Monica with a full battery in extended range mode. The DTE meter (distance to empty) read 261 miles. But before I could head north on Interstate 5 I had to drive 50 miles south to my home in Santa Ana to gather up my wife and our luggage. Including this significant detour, the total distance to the Supercharger was 162 miles. With 100 miles in reserve there would be no range anxiety, no need to drive like a grandma.

Still, anyone who's ever left the LA basin knows there's a 4,144-foot mountain pass to climb over before you get California's great Central Valley and the Laval Rd exit where the Tejon Ranch supercharger is located. How would the Tesla's range be affected by an extended climb up the grade to the summit?

2013 Tesla Model S

The first climb out of Castaic is the steepest, and it pegged the consumption meter, which can only display a maximum of 900 Watt-hours per mile. It's pretty clear we were draining the battery at a rate of over 1,000 Watt-hours per mile (1.0 kWh) for a period of some minutes during the ascent.

That initial push was followed by a couple of sets of rolling descents and false summits, which show up here as a series of waves. Eventually the climb resumed at a steady but somewhat more relaxed pace toward Gorman. The position of the arrow on the right side of the graph corresponds to the 4,144-foot Tejon Pass summit we crested just before this photo was taken.

2013 Tesla Model S

Once over the top, the road (and the graph) plummeted as we passed Fort Tejon and descended into the valley through Grapevine Canyon. There's no such thing as perpetual motion, of course, so the most the Tesla could regenerate on the downslope was 300 Watt-hours per mile (0.3 kWh).

Even so, the alarming drop in DTE miles we saw on the upslope reversed itself here as a handful of miles reappeared as the regenerative braking system kept the Tesla from running rampant down the hill.

2013 Tesla Model S

At the Supercharger, our dashboard told the tale. We'd travelled 162.2 miles and had 81 left in the tank, which works out to 243.2 total miles. Compared to the 261 miles we started with, we'd missed the predicted range by only 17.8 miles or 6.8 percent.

That's not bad considering the grade we'd just come over. And we'd been running the A/C the whole time, too.

2013 Tesla Model S

The six-space Supercharger was empty except for a Department of Water and Power employee parked in the shade of the solar array in a Ford van, eating her lunch.

We plugged in and walked across the small parking lot to the Chipotle burrito place to get some food of our own. We could have eaten at the Panda Express next door or the Iron Skillet across the narrow side street. A five-minute walk would have brought us to an In-n-Out Burger and a Del Taco. Point is, it's easy to multitask while your unattended Tesla sits there and charges.

Forty-two minutes later we walked back to a mostly-full Tesla, messed around with our luggage for five minutes, unplugged and headed on our way. The DTE meter now read 238 miles, which was plenty because our next Supercharger target in Atascadero was only 130-something miles ahead.

The surplus was enough to tempt us onto Highway 58, a sinuous stretch of two-lane that attracts more crotch-rockets than Corollas. The Tesla did not disappoint, and the instant torque of its electric motor made it ridiculously easy to overtake in 58's frustratingly short passing zones.

2013 Tesla Model S

The Atascadero Supercharger is brand new, and it has 8 spaces. Two other Model S sedans were already there when we arrived at 3:15 pm with 73 miles left, so we picked an open spot, plugged in and hopped out.

We normally don't gravitate toward Denny's, but my wife had her eye on a Chocolate Sundae and it's hard to screw up one of those. And in the 99-degree heat the Big D had the advantage of being 100 feet from our parking spot. Several other restaurants stood across the street had we been craving something else.

Our hotel was but 127 miles away, and the route ahead was fairly unexciting freeway. So we paid the bill as soon as we were done, walked outside and unplugged, not caring that the range meter read just 206 miles.

Once on Highway 101 we put the hammer down, which is another way of saying we cruised in the fast lane with the flow of traffic. So far this was feeling like a perfectly normal trip. We'd have stopped twice in a gasoline-powered car, and for about the same length of time, too.

2013 Tesla Model S

A couple hours later we rolled into the hotel's bag-drop with 43 miles left on the DTE meter. There is no Supercharger in Monterey, so the key that made this trip work was a 240V Level 2 charger in our hotel's parking structure. Better still, the Clement Intercontinental doesn't charge for the juice, just the parking, which we would have paid for just the same in any other car.

The slower Level 2 recharging time (about 11 hours with 43 miles left) wasn't an issue since we were putting this car to bed overnight. We'd have a full battery each morning on the way to the racetrack and, most importantly, for the first leg of the trip home.

How much did we use? What was our consumption in kWh/100 miles? Search me. Tesla's Superchargers don't display the number of kWh dispensed. And I suppose it doesn't matter in cases like this when no one's charging for charging.

Dan Edmunds, Director of Vehicle Testing @ 9,019 miles

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