Lofty Review: Tesla Model S 70D

Every so often, something comes along in life that seems just about perfect. As a little kid, that was playing with my toys on Saturday without a care about life and it’s many problems. As a teenager, it was feeling of freedom that came with driving on my own. And as of right now, it is the Tesla Model S and the way it makes me feel every time I take a drive.

For the past 3 months or so, I have had the privilege of swapping my car, a 2014 BMW 335i, for a 2016 Tesla Model S 70D that has pretty much every option checked. I’ve driven it for roughly 4,000 miles, all around the Chicagoland area, through varying weather conditions and environments, and now I am here to tell you about it.

So, without any further rambling, let’s get on with this review.


The Design

I’ve always been a fan of Tesla, with the Model S being my favorite car in their lineup. Every time I see a Model S, no matter which spec, I can’t help but drool a bit. Hell, I did double takes every time I parked and walked away.

 The exterior design is damn sexy, arguably one of the best looking cars on the road…ever. The 70D I piloted was built during the limbo period between the refresh. It features the classic nose cone, new wheels, and new interior. The exterior is finished with a standard black paint along with the new base 19 inch wheels. It is not an aggressive design by any means, but aggression doesn’t equate to beauty. The lines are long, soft, but pronounced. The front is small, but sporty. The length is long and the rear is wide, giving it a noticeable road presence. The door handles retract into the body, leaving a pretty much smooth and undisturbed exterior. It’s a classy…slick…a cool looking car.

This trend of coolness continues into the interior as well. The entire interior looks like it belongs in a modern furniture gallery. Everything looks chiseled and sculpted, especially when finished in the light grey leather and glossy black trim. That said, the cabin of the Model S is a very comfortable place to be. The seats, though they look hard, are very comfortable and supportive. The flat bottom steering wheel feels great in the hand, thanks to the nice thickness and leather. In fact, all the interior surfaces feel great to the touch. Everything is covered in leather, metal, wood, or really nice plastic material. Nothing really creeks or feels cheap. It's a very well built machine. My only real complaint is the air vent design. While they look nice and minimalistic, they are bit small and don’t direct air as well when the blower is set to auto. It’s annoying, but not a deal breaker by any means.


The Tech

 All the car systems are controlled by a giant touch screen, located in the center of the dash. Best way to describe it is like a giant iPad. The touchscreen is nice and responsive and everything works as one would expect. Swiping, scrolling, pinching, and zooming all work as they would on an iPad. The navigation system is powered by Google and is great, controls are relatively easy to access, and telephone integration is top notch. I was shocked at how well the system played with my phone. Bluetooth connection is near instant, and I was able to stream music from my phone with no issues. The upgraded speaker system is very nice, but there are nicer systems out there. Steering wheel controls are great and intuitive as well.

The instrument cluster is also a screen, displaying navigation and media information along with speed, power consumption, and Autopilot information (more on that later). Speed is displayed in the center, above the Autopilot view, which shows blind spot alerts as well as other traffic around the car. Unlike other cars, the parking sensor system in the Tesla actually gives a distance value, which is really handy when executing tight park jobs.

Only thing that is missing is a HUD (heads up display). I’ve been using one in my personal car and have become accustomed to seeing car information on the windshield. I was a bit surprised that the Model S did not come with a HUD option, but then it dawned on me that this car doesn’t have a lot of toys that are found in the cars of competing brands, like Mercedes and BMW. Ventilated/massage seats, cooled cup holders, and wireless charging are just a few things that aren’t available on Tesla’s (yet), but are available on Bimmers and Benz’s. I wouldn’t say that these are necessary to things to have, but on a car that costs around $100,000, more comfort features are expected.

Then again, this car has features that no other car posses. Like the ability to move the forwards and backwards with smartphone. One can “ghost ride da’ whip yo” without worrying about a runaway car, as this feature only works as long as the button stays pressed. Ok so not that useful, if I’m honest, but it’s cool nonetheless.

Probably the coolest, the most useful, the most controversial, and arguably the best is feature of the Model S is Autopilot. Autopilot is basically active cruise control, with active lane assist, that destroys every other active cruise and lane control system on the market. Pretty much every active cruise control system on the market, even the Mercedes-Benz Distronic+ system, is trash when compared to Autopilot. Yes, it’s that good.

Now, Autopilot works OK in low speed driving (i.e. suburbs), though I wouldn’t recommend using it in those situations. Where it shines is in highway driving and traffic. Autopilot has no problem functioning at the “understood” highway speed limits. It stays centered in lane, takes handles curves, and applies brakes when needed almost as if human. Actually, better than an average human being. I wouldn’t take a nap while using it, but I would momentarily release my hands from the wheel to drink water or something. Once used to, this system really makes commuting less tiring, as well as safer.

During my 4000-mile test, there were many instances where Autopilot prevented me from braking hard or making an evasive maneuver. Not because it auto-braked before a collision, or swerved out of the way of an obstacle, but because it drove in a defensive matter when engaged. Autopilot keeps ample distance between cars, even at the closest setting. On certain roads, Autopilot does not allow speeds 5 over the posted limit. Autopilot also switches lanes when the turn signal is engaged, but not before making sure it is ok to change. It is impossible to cut someone off with an Autopilot lane switch (I’ve tried many times without avail), which is probably for the best.

 It’s also comforting to know that it’s easy to disengage as well. A simple tap of the brake or turn of the wheel will disengage the system. Yes, it’s not fully autonomous, and it has some kinks, but it’s the closest thing available to the public at this moment.


The Driving

 The Model S is a joy to command with Autopilot engaged, but it where it truly shines is when being driven. A lot of people refer to the Model S, and Tesla in general, as “anti-car”. After living with one for a while, I can say with confidence that the Model S is a driver’s car and Tesla is a true car company. The Model S drives like no other car out there.

This Model S is the 70D, not the P90D with the infamous Ludicrous mode. The 70D features 2 Drive Units (Tesla talk for electric motors) and a 70 kWh battery. It is rated at 328hp and 387 lb-ft of torque. Now, this may not seem like enough power for a car that weighs 4,600+ lbs…but it is.

With an internal combustion engine, peak power is reached once the engine has reached a specific RPM level, and even then it isn’t maintained throughout the rev range. Every time a gear is changed, the power produced is dropped and the cycle to build up to max power is restarted.

Electric motors are able to deliver max power from a standstill, and can maintain max power throughout acceleration. And in the case of the Model S, there is no transmission, which means no interruption or lag in acceleration.

Power is delivered instantly and without interruption, providing a sensation of acceleration that is hard to describe through words. Tesla touts that the 70D will hit 60mph in 5.2s. I’ve been able to in 4.9s. Even more impressive then the 0-60mph is the 40-80mph. No gears to downshift coupled with instant max power equates to literal neck snapping acceleration. This car is stupid fast, and will obliterate 90% of the cars on the road today. Quite a feat when considering that this is one of the slowest Tesla’s on sale. Just imagine what a P90DL is like.

Handling is another area where the Model S shines in practice, even though on paper it doesn’t really make sense. The 70D is a 4-wheel drive, 4-door sedan with a weight of 4,600+ lbs. It shouldn’t be able to take corners as aggressively as a Lotus…but it does. Yes, it is 4-wheel drive, but not a conventional 4-wheel drive. There are 2 motors, one at each axle. These motors act like differentials, allowing the car to corner at silly speeds. The weight distribution is near 50/50, with most of the weight being down low, which results in almost zero body roll and massive amounts of grip.

The electronically assisted steering system is probably one of the best in the business. In sport mode, the wheel is nice and heavy at speeds. With regenerative braking on it’s most aggressive setting, one can drive with a single pedal. And when the brake pedal must be used, rest assured the Model S will stop very quickly.

Many people complain that the Model S lacks emotion. This is 100% BS. Though the Model S may not make loud noises when in motion, it does have emotion and it definitely invokes emotion. It sounds like the Star Trek Enterprise during hard acceleration, which is awesome. It also invoked giggling, smiling, and happiness every time I took a drive. Midday post-office runs have never ever been so enjoyable in my life.

This indeed is a true driver’s car.


The Experience

 Along with being a fast and good looking car, the Model S is also very spacious and practical. Leg room is plentiful, storage space is abundant, and operating costs are a lot lower than an internal combustion car. The Model S is 100% electric, which means no gas (you’d be surprised how many people ask where the gas goes).

No gas engine means no oil, engine coolant, and belts that need servicing. In fact, the only regular service needed is a wheel alignment. Battery coolant needs to be replaced every 80,000 miles or so, while brake pads have been reported to last well over 50,000 miles with regenerative braking on the full setting.

If you haven’t noticed by now, I really like the Model S. It is probably the best car I’ve had the pleasure to live with. I really do not want to leave it, but 2 major faults are keeping me from making this a long term experience as opposed to a summer fling. These 2 faults are with the range and charging.

As far as range goes, the Model S 70D has given me around 200 miles per charge. Tesla recommends keeping the battery charged at 90% for daily use in order to maintain the battery pack’s health. At 100%, the car was able to give me about 30 miles more. Tesla claims 240 miles with 100% charge, which seems about right. My aggressive driving style probably attributed to the lower of range.

For whipping around in the Chicagoland area on the daily, or really any area, the 70D is more than capable. For longer trips…not so much. I take long trips, with total distances approaching over 700 miles each way. Stopping every 200 miles to charge is quite annoying, considering the fastest of charging stops will take at least 30 minutes.

Charging during daily commutes isn’t really an issue since I am able to recharge overnight at home. For those curious, I calculated that it cost roughly $3.00 to completely “fill-up” the Model S using the home charger. As far as home charging is concerned, it’s been a relatively nice experience, given that I have access to 240V. With 240V, the 70D can fully charge in roughly 8 hours. I usually plugged it in overnight and had no issues. On a regular 120V, this process takes a not so convenient 3 days.  

Tesla charging station at Oak Brook Mall. 

Tesla charging station at Oak Brook Mall. 

For longs trips, finding a charger can be an issue. Yes, Tesla has a network of their Superchargers, which will allow for cross country travel, but they aren’t as prevalent as gas stations. For the sake of this review, I made a trip to my nearest Supercharger station (about 40 miles away from my home) and can report that it works really well. In 15 minutes, I had an additional 80 miles of range, at no cost to me. I really like this system, and could theoretically take a road trip in the Model S to any destination I please, but, the chargers aren’t located on the most direct routes. What may take 6 hours in a gas car will take more than 10 hours in the Tesla.

Tesla is also rolling out a system of destination chargers for businesses, which can be installed without much hassle. Though not as fast as Superchargers, destination chargers are already a lot more prevalent. However, though there is no cost to actually charge, there usually is a cost associated to use the charger. In cities, like Chicago and NYC, more than often one is required paying for parking before charging, which can cost as much as a tank of gas. Also note that some of these chargers limit the amount of charge, so fully charging up isn’t always possible.

Range and charging are the 2 biggest temporary problems with the Model S. Battery technology really hasn’t changed much over the past decade, mainly due to the lack of research in the field. Tesla is leading the charge (pun intended) to find new technologies, which I firmly believe will lead to a drastic increase in range over the next couple of years.

As far as charging goes, Tesla is also working aggressively to build a larger, stronger network. Destination charging is being offered to all businesses, at zero cost for equipment, and new Supercharger stations are being built. Hell, there are rumors of Tesla being in talks with gas stations in order to install Superchargers. Yes, these are issues that are holding me back from making the Tesla my daily for my current situation, but I’m confident that they won’t be in a couple of years for now. Partly because my situation will have changed, and partly because Tesla will have made a lot of progress. 


Conclusion

The Model S is quite a car. It isn’t by any means a 911, M3, or Ferrari killer; those cars will always have a place in the hearts of us enthusiast. But as a car to live with and daily drive, there really is no other car out there like the Model S. By now I will have parted ways the Tesla, and I am seriously bummed out by this. The Model S has been an absolute joy to drive, which makes returning to my BMW sort of a bummer. Yes, I know. #FirstWorldProblem. 

But seriously, the Tesla Model S has caused me to totally revaluate my standards for a car. The Model S is a fast, agile car that is also very practical, and has the look and cool factor of nothing else on the road. It’s the closest thing to a perfect car, and yet it’ uses 0 (zero, zilch, nada) gasoline.

I love this car. It’s not by any means perfect but, nothing ever is. This car is the closet thing to perfect out there right now. For daily driving and putting miles, nothing can touch this car.

I really have nothing more to say. It’s the best car I have daily driven. I’m sad to part ways with it, but excited to see where Tesla go next.