Owning the Tesla Roadster 2.5

February 15, 2011

I’ve had the Tesla Roadster for over 4 months now.  It’s got about 3100 miles (5000km) on it.  I’ve been able to drive it with the top off on 50-70F (10-20C) weather, in ice cold -5F (-20C) mornings, rain, snow (with winter tires), and near-ice conditions.  It’s had a number of minor issues which resulted in servicing it both in my driveway as well as in the NY service center.

Overall, I’m enjoying the car.  I’ve had it long enough that I’m (mostly) over the giddy excitement and can start taking a balanced look at it.  Any negative comments I make are meant to shed light on what could be improved, and not to argue against BEV’s (Battery-Electric Vehicles).  I believe in their future, but it’s a huge uphill battle.  I’m also keenly aware that this is a sports car and isn’t exactly designed for the New England weather I’m putting it through (especially without a garage) — but I’m commenting on it anyway as there’s still stuff to learn from it.

Performance

Acceleration

I enjoy acceleration (much more than top speed).  I’m no stranger to it — my other car is a modified STi which will go 0-60 MPH in less than 5 seconds stock — if you’re good at shifting and launching.  With its current modification, it has incredible power even in third and fourth gear on the highway.  I usually don’t feel the need to downshift from 6th to make an aggressive passing maneuver on the highway.  It has a top speed of 160 MPH.

The Roadster’s 0-60 is definitely fast.  What’s most incredible about it for me is that it’s an effortless and smooth experience.  No shifting, no jarring movements.  Just floor it and grin … or black out.  Full torque is available at essentially 0 MPH and without winding up the engine or pre-loading the turbo.  It’s available immediately on command.  I’ve had a couple people in the passenger’s seat complain about being unable to handle the acceleration (nausea, feeling like they’re going to pass out, etc.)  Clearly, they don’t like amusement parks, either!

Even more impressive is flooring it when you’re cruising at, say, 30 MPH.  I describe the experience as being rear-ended by a Mack truck because it’s so instant and so powerful.  There is no comparison to any normal “ICE” (Internal Combusion Engine) vehicle.

Acceleration above 60 MPH, and especially above 75, is not impressive to me.  I’m probably spoiled by the STi in this area.  Fortunately it doesn’t bother me because it’s more than adequate and my commute doesn’t involve the highway.  There’s a section of road that I’d have fun flooring the STi and getting up to 90 MPH before slamming on the brakes to make the corner.  I’m lucky to get the Roadster up to 80 MPH on that same run.  Realistically, I’m very happy to see that this electric car has a top speed of 120 MPH (versus others that top out at 70 or 80 MPH).  It’s one less reason to think BEV’s are a joke.

Braking

The regenerative braking in the Roadster is atypical and important to understand to see its incredible value.  By merely letting up on the accelerator pedal, the Roadster will behave as if you’re hitting the brakes.  This process of slowing down the car recharges the batteries.  What’s important to realize here is that you can generally drive in traffic without moving your foot to/from the brake pedal — you just adjust your position on the accelerator pedal.  I find this to be a significant advantage and particularly attractive feature of the Roadster.

What may not be obvious, especially in light of the way regenerative braking works in the Roadster, is that the throttle mapping — the design of how the car accelerates/decelerates based on how far you’re pressing the accelerator down — is extraordinarily well-designed.  Tesla engineers really nailed this (and I imagine it was a long and difficult process).  I don’t think I could be happier with it.

The actual brakes are weaker than I expected.  I have tried mashing the brakes as hard as possible at 60 MPH.  I need to apply far more force and slow down less quickly than I expected.  My STi does much better here.

Cornering

The weight distribution of the car is about 65% rear, 35% front.  This significantly uneven distribution of weight makes it difficult to design a car for balanced traction while cornering.  The Roadster suffers from significant understeer — which means the front tires lose traction before the rear tires.  While this is safer than oversteer (rear tires give way, which leads to losing control of the car), the car doesn’t corner as “quickly” as I’d hoped.  It’s certainly  better than average, but it’s not as good as it should be.  I’ve seen other Roadster owners (who own the Sport edition, which comes with adjustable suspension) say that a lot of this can be cured by adjusting the suspension and sway bars.  I kind of wish I’d ordered mine with the adjustable suspension.

Traction

Many people ask me if I can spin the tires by flooring it.  It won’t on dry pavement (even with traction control off).  I don’t have the Sport edition (which might have enough low-end torque to do it), but I also don’t have the ultra-sticky sport tires, either.  I actually think it’s good design that it’s just on the cusp of being able to spin the tires — it means the tires are just right for the application (and not too big, which would just mean excess weight, rotational mass, and frictional loss on the road leading to poorer range).

The traction control on the Roadster is nothing like what you’ve ever had before.  It’s incredibly sensitive and accurate.  I’ve driven it uphill in 3 inches of soft snow, packed wet (nearly ice) snow, and slushy snow — about the worst traction conditions you can have.  The TC system kicked in without me noticing — except that no matter how much I modulated the accelerator pedal, the forward acceleration remained constant.  I was unable to detect any adjustments the TC system was making to keep the wheels from slipping.  It was an incredible experience.  There were no signs of your typical ICE-based TC behavior (increase torque, slip, decrease torque, increase torque, slip, repeat).  Even on dry pavement with the winter tires (which sometimes can’t handle the full torque output depending on the terrain), the TC does a perfect job at maintaining the tires at their maximum output without losing traction.  Check out the videos at the end for some insight into what it’s like.

Comfort

Interior

The seating in the 2010/2.5 Roadster is different than previous models.  For example, there’s no adjustable lumbar support.  I find these seats plenty comfortable.  They strike such a good balance of comfort and support that I’ve never made a mental note about them while driving.

Your legs stretch out nearly horizontally which was a little weird at first but I quickly got used to it.  I find my legs rubbing against center console which can be uncomfortable depending on what I’m wearing.  Some of my jeans have a seam that’s in the same spot and I have to adjust my leg as I’m driving or try to adjust the pants such that the seam lands in a different area.  There’s not a lot of side-to-side leg room but I find there’s enough even while I’m wearing boots.

Overall, once I’m in the car, I’m pretty comfortable.  For me, the steering wheel, leg position, seat position, etc. work well.  This changes when I have a passenger in the car, especially if that passenger isn’t a super-thin individual or they’re wearing a thick winter coat.  My right arm has trouble finding room to operate the car (steering).  It’s definitely tight quarters in there with two people.

Suspension

I had long become used to the stiff ride of my STi.  The Roadster (non-sport) is actually a softer ride in most respects.  Anything that causes large sudden movement in the suspension is louder than the STi, but the Roadster handles it well.  Speed bumps are softer in the Roadster — especially in the rear due to all the weight on the rear axle.  My daily commute involves 5 large speed bumps (2 rated at 15 MPH, 3 at 20 MPH).  I go 5-10 MPH faster over them without trouble.  The rear is probably a little too soft for a sports car, but I find it’s a good balance for the driving that I do.

Railroad tracks are handled better than my STi.  The ones I drive over regularly aren’t the bumpiest, but it’s a good testament to the way the Roadster generally handles road imperfections.  I’m pretty happy with it.

Driving Difficulty

The Roadster has no power steering.  I wasn’t worried about that since one of my first cars lacked power steering.  I even remember missing it when I got my next car which did have it — you don’t feel the road or tires so it’s harder to gauge what’s going on and it’s not as fun to drive.  You learn to steer after the car is moving and you learn to enjoy feeling the road.  Even the steering wheel is significantly smaller — and that’s a good thing considering how little room there is inside the car.  I actually like the size, and find that when I go back to the STi, the steering wheel feels HUGE.

Controlling the speed of the car is effortless.  You can take a gentle ride, commute, or go for a spirited drive — all for the same low effort.  There’s no manual shifting, and there’s no automatic shifting.  There’s no concern for predicting how long it will be between when you move your foot on the accelerator to when you’ll have power.  There’s no flooring it in advance to make a passing maneuver.  It goes as fast or as slow as you want it, the moment you want it.  That’s it.

There are some quirks, however.  The system mimics the way an automatic wants to accelerate at low speeds when you let off the brakes, but it’s not exactly the same.  At a complete stop, the motor is not trying to push the car against the will of the brakes.  Instead, when you lift off the brakes, the motor engages a few moments later — which  means you can roll backwards a bit.  It also means that if you don’t sufficiently lift off the brakes, you’ll simply roll backwards until you do.  The other problem with the design is that as you’re slowing down and approach zero, the forward push that the motor is providing suddenly stops, which makes for a less-than-smooth stopping experience.

Regenerative braking is generally a joy to work with.  As I’d mentioned before, it’s an integral part of the experience, and means that you don’t have to swap back and forth between the brakes and accelerator in traffic.  There’s one unfortunate quirk in this system in temporarily low-traction situations.  A number of times, I’ve been slowing down and hit a low-traction situation (going over a large bump, spot of ice, etc.) and the regenerative braking doesn’t just back off, it completely shuts down — which means I’m lurching forward faster than I’d intended, and without my foot on the brake to correct the situation (since regenerative braking is performed on the less-effective rear wheels, there’s still plenty of brake power left in the front wheels, but only with the brake pedal).  While rare, it’s a particularly unsafe situation — but I’m not sure what could be done about it without regenerative braking independently on all 4 wheels.

Noise Levels

Turning the car on is about the same amount of noise as turning a traditional car to the “ON” position without starting it — you hear beeps, a little noise from the brake pump, and a bit of noise from the battery coolant pump.  It never gets old telling people “yup, the car is on!”

Crawling forward in the car is nearly silent — you hear the tires on the road and any noises from the tires meeting debris.

Anything above 5 MPH results in enough tire noise that you can tell there’s a car moving.  The difference is, there’s no engine noise.

Flooring it results in a little bit of in-cabin electric motor noise.  It’s really amazing to be able to really gun it without creating a lot of noise.  From outside the car, you pretty much only hear tire noise.

Normal cruising is simply about the tire and wind noise.  The wind noise in the Roadster is significantly higher than in most cars — primarily due to the design of the removable top, windows, and seals.  It took a little bit of getting used to, and I look forward to the day of an EV where you can barely hear the wind or tire  noise.

I haven’t had the opportunity to drive with the hard top on to see what effect that has on noise levels, especially in the rain.  When it’s raining, you can definitely hear it on the soft top, especially while driving.  I’ll take this over engine noise any day.

There are rattles (detectable at low speeds) which seem abnormal (and I’ve had Tesla investigate, without success).  Rattles drive me crazy and I’m doing my best to ignore them.   Whether they’re normal in the Roadster or not, I don’t know — but if they’re normal in the upcoming Model S, I’ll not only be disappointed, but very worried about the complaints Tesla will receive.

One last minor nit-pick is with the sound (and feel) of the play in the transmission (the single-speed reduction gearbox).  When the torque output switches directions (e.g. while driving in traffic — forward acceleration followed by regenerative deceleration), the play in the transmission can be felt and heard at low speeds.  It would be great to clean up this experience.

HVAC

You might think that the electric heat on the Roadster is quick and powerful — but it’s not.  In near-freezing temperatures, it’s fast enough — warm air in 30 seconds.  When it’s well below freezing, it becomes inadequate.  I turn the heat on to the floor for several minutes before pointing it into the cabin because it takes a while for it to heat itself and the air ducts up.  Even then, the air is luke-warm.  If the car sits perfectly still, it’s enough to get the cabin comfortably warm.  But due to all the air leaks (read: wind noise), it’s insufficient while driving.  Even worse, the design of the floor heat is such that the passenger foot-well gets warm, but the driver’s-side stays cold.  Running the heat consumes approximately 3,000 watts — which would probably be enough with added insulation and fixing the air leaks.

There are heated seats, which are plenty powerful.  They’re great for keeping warm while driving around with the top off in cool weather.  They also consume VERY little power.

Since I received the car in October, I haven’t had the need to use the air conditioning for anything significant.  The compressor is variable-speed so I haven’t heard what it’s like at full-throttle.  However, when I received the Roadster, it was very loud even at the lowest speeds.  Turns out it was defective and has since been replaced.  Now, when I used it (e.g. to defog the windshield), all I can hear is the ‘click’ when it turns on — I can’t hear it operating anymore.

The effect that heat and A/C have on range vary on, of course, the temperature, but also the speed at while you’re traveling.  The short version is that my range has been affected about 10-20% when it’s really cold outside — some of which is due to the loss of regenerative braking when the car has been sitting in the cold without being plugged in (which keeps the batteries warm enough for charging).  There’s more detail on this below.

Design

Ingress and Egress

Getting in and out of the car is far from easy.  It’s very low to the ground, the seats are even lower, and the door sill is really wide.  It’s amusing to watch my friends get in and out of the car.  I’ve figured out the tricks needed, but it’s never easy — especially if I have a coffee or things in the passenger seat to take with me.  It’s a lot easier with the top off.  The difficulty is one of the reasons a sports car isn’t “me” and I’ll probably move on to a Model S (4-door sedan) when I can.

Charging

Charging the Roadster is easy.  There are a number of options, mostly based on using standard receptacles.  In the U.S., this ranges from typical household 3-prong 120V connectors, to 4-prong 240V “stove” or “dryer” connectors, to a 240V welding plug that you might find at a mechanic’s shop.  I personally usually plug into a 50-amp 240V receptacle (running at 40 amps) which is good for recharging from empty in 6 hours.  Since I plug in every night when I get home, the car is always full in the morning.  There is a high-power “home charging” option which requires a 90-amp circuit (supplying 70 amps) which can fully charge the car in 3.5 hours.

You can set the car to start charging on plug-in, or at a particular time (to take advantage of off-peak rates).  A more useful feature would be to tell it when you want it to be done charging so you don’t have to predict when to have it start charging.  Additionally, you can tell it to consume less than the maximum power if you know the circuit can’t handle it.  I pretty much always keep it set to charge on plug-in.

Given that I don’t have a garage, I disconnect the cable and bring it in since the cable itself isn’t designed for wet environments and the charging port can get filled with snow.  Something designed for outdoor use would obviously be convenient.

The connector that Tesla uses in the Roadster is proprietary, heavy, and difficult to use in the cold.  In the U.S., the J1772 connector is becoming the de-facto standard; a conversion to this standard would help me find more higher-powered charging stations, and alleviate the previously-mentioned concerns.

While charging from standard plugs has been important for the adoption of the Roadster, getting to standards, more charging stations, and the ability to locate them, will be important for wider EV adoption.  While I know I can plug in “anywhere” I am not inclined to spend the time finding these plugs or walking up to restaurant owners to ask if I can plug in, etc.  Others have had a lot of success in this area (because the Roadster and electric-vehicle concept is so neat to most people), but I don’t plan ahead of time and often don’t feel like taking the time required to locate a plug.  It’s also more difficult in the cold and snow.

Gauges

The dashboard contains a couple of analog gauges — speedometer and kW (power).  Both are functional and work well — I particularly like how the newer models replaced the RPM gauge with the kW gauge.  Below these gauges is a digital display which gives you current amperage (less useful since there’s a kW gauge), estimated range, odometer, and trip meter.  There’s probably some better information that can be displayed there, like outside temperature, speed, time to complete charge, etc …

There are plenty of warning indicators in the dash.  Unfortunately, one of them lights up when it’s near freezing outside to warn you of slippery road conditions.  I’ve seen this in other cars, too — but it trains your eyes to ignore warning indicators in that area.  A permanent place for the outside temperature would be great for this, too; right now it’s only visible on one of the screens in the VDS above the center console — not convenient to look at or get at if you’re on the wrong screen.

The VDS (Vehicle Display System) has all sorts of information on it.  I find that I usually leave it on the watt-hours-per-mile charge (to see what my current and average efficiency readings are).  I sometimes switch to the temperature gauges (which I’ll probably do more frequently when it’s hot out) and the battery level gauge (which contains the outside temperature).  It has room for improvement — it’s small, slow, and makes harsh noises — but it’s useful for its target audience.

The estimated range is based on the last 40 miles of driving.  However, the VDS displays up to only 30 miles of history.  The VDS displays temperatures as bar graphs which don’t represent winter temperatures, so I can’t see how close the batteries are to freezing.  There are no points of integration with, e.g., an iPhone.  Displaying nearby charging stations, iPhone applications, SMS alerts, etc. will be important features for EVs.  I hope Tesla stays ahead of the curve here for the Model S (and eventually gets this technology to the Roadster).

The gauge lights dim like any other car, but the lights for the transmission control (park/drive/reverse/neutral buttons) don’t dim as well as the rest, and are a little distracting in the dark.

Convertible

The Roadster is the first convertible I’ve owned.  I’ve only had the occasion to take the soft top off a handful of times, which is a relatively simple procedure.  I’m definitely looking forward to the warmer weather!  Driving around with the top off was an excellent experience partly because the wind isn’t particularly intrusive but also because the car is so quiet that you can still hear the birds chirping while driving around the back roads.

I don’t have the hard top, and I’ve been through the winter without a garage without an issue.  I’d be worried about a lot of heavy snow piling up on it, so if I were away or aware of a large heavy-wet-snow storm, I’d want to make sure to keep the top from taking on too much snow (lest it collapse).

The soft top does hold a lot of moisture, so while it’s raining, you’ll need to run the A/C to dehumidify the cabin.  I’ve read that this is less of an issue with the hard top.

Storage

The soft top stores easily in the trunk — although it takes a relatively significant amount of room since trunk is so small.  Similarly, the Universal Mobile Charger (UMC) also fits easily but takes a fair amount of space.  Getting my computer bag in the back is more challenging when either one is already stored there.

I’ve fit a 50 pound bag of cat food and two 40 pound boxes of cat litter and various grocery bags using the trunk and passenger seat.  I’ve surprised myself by how much I can get in there.  I also know that if I did have a passenger, fitting enough stuff (e.g. for travel) for the both of us would be challenging.

The glove box is tiny  — but gives me what I need.  I have my sunglasses, tire pressure gauge, documents (e.g. registration), gum/mints, napkins, bluetooth headset, toll road transponder, etc. in there.

Driving

To the user, driving is as easy as it gets.  There are a couple differences compared to a traditional car, but you quickly get used to them.

The first difference is the push-button “gear” selection.  It’s definitely weird (and a fun talking point), but it’s natural.  There is a problem with it’s safety mechanism to prevent you from making an unsafe “gear” change that ends up being unsafe.  It’s designed to prevent you from switching from drive to reverse (or vice-versa) when your speed is too great.  However, when it denies this change, it leaves you in the previously-selected gear.  While there’s an audible warning, it takes too long and before you know it, you’re stepping on the accelerator and going the wrong direction.  This has happened to me twice now while doing a three-point turn, and in one case, I scraped the underside of the car on a steep driveway entrance because I went forward instead of reverse.  This is a very serious safety issue, and I’ve raised it with Tesla engineering.  My recommendation would be for it to place the car in neutral if it needs to deny the “gear” shift.

As I mentioned before, the regenerative braking engages by easing up on the accelerator.  The mapping between how far you’re depressing the accelerator to how much torque the motor provides is hard enough to design.  Adding this regenerative component to the mix is even harder — the amount of braking force will depend not only on the accelerator position but your speed as well.  Tesla engineering really nailed this design — it’s very natural and I couldn’t be happier with it.  It took me maybe 10 minutes to get used to it and once I did, I really enjoyed it.  I enjoy driving in traffic now (well, except when I’m late).

I don’t usually use cruise control (it’s too fun to use your foot!) — but the two times I have shed light on an issue where if you cancel it (via button or tapping the brakes), full regenerative braking comes on and you slow down a LOT faster than you’d normally intend to.  The owner’s manual warns about this, too.  In a non-emergency situation, it’s probably best to find where the accelerator position is, hold it, and then cancel it.  That said, it’s incredibly accurate.  It keeps your speed exactly where you set it, including downhill (since it has access to regenerative braking).

Visibility

The windshield is so short that it’s difficult to see stop lights you’re waiting at.  This is sometimes a problem even for me (5’3″).   Taller drivers have also mentioned that the rear-view mirror obstructs too much of the forward view — where entire cars can disappear behind it.

Taller drivers also have difficulty seeing the dashboard (speedometer and kW meters) because the top of the steering wheel gets in the way.  Fortunately I don’t have this problem.

Lastly, the car has a number of blind spots.  The small rear window (obstructed by the seats) and the design of the rear obstructs rear-left and rear-right views.  Adjusting the side rear-view mirrors outwards such that you can only see the side of your Roadster while leaning towards that mirror helps significantly (although takes a bit of getting used to).

Ergonomics

The interior is a cramped space which causes problems with using interior features.  The buttons for the heated seats are difficult to get to and nearly impossible to see their status — especially if you have a passenger on board.  The iPod dock (if so-equipped) is similarly difficult to use and places the iPod/iPhone in a position where it’s difficult and dangerous to see or use the screen.

Parts of the radio (the Alpine unit as part of the upgraded electronics package) are difficult to see, including the buttons.  I also repeatedly hit the wiper when pulling my hand away from volume controls.

The steering wheel is comfortable to use — the smaller size works well, the “10 & 2” bumps are comfortable, and the metal spokes provide firm control points.  The fact that the horn control is on those spokes reduces my ability to quickly find the horn (and has also caused me to accidentally activate it);  I’ve had this design in a previous car of mine, too — and I find it to be a very undesirable design.

Lighting

The headlights are terrible.  They’re weak, have fogging problems (even in the newer model Roadsters which have a heated enclosure), and get covered with debris/frost/snow very easily due to the upward-facing enclosure.

The rear taillights are bright (“offensively bright” as a friend of mine who’s followed behind me several times has stated).  The reverse lights are plenty bright and enable me to see as I back into my driveway.

There’s a “dome” light which provides sufficient interior lighting and can be switched on/off/on-with-door like any other vehicle.

The interior dash lights are dimmable, from very bright to very dim.  Unfortunately, the lights for the push-button “gear” selector don’t dim well and end up being distractingly bright even with the dimmer at its lowest setting.

Cold Weather

One of the reasons I continue to drive the Roadster even in the New England winter is to prove out how an EV does in the cold and snow.  The winter here is far from over and we’ve had temps as low as -10F (-23C) and over 6 feet of snow.

Regenerative braking shuts off entirely when the battery pack goes below 40F (4C).  It does this because charging the batteries below freezing damages them.  Unfortunately, this alters the intrinsic behavior of the car.  Suddenly instead of slowing down when you lift off the accelerator, you simply coast.  You must quickly re-train yourself to use the brake pedal (and lose out on the range benefits of regenerative braking).

Before the car will charge, it will heat the batteries using up to 2 kW of power.  This can increase the time to charge (30-60+ minutes, depending on how cold things are).  Once charging is complete, the system will keep the batteries above 4C so that regenerative braking will function when you disconnect.  On cold nights, I’ve consumed as much as 6.6 kWh of energy keeping the batteries warm (more than half the power to recharge after my 32-mile round-trip commute)!  Unfortunately, there’s no way to keep the batteries warm any other way, so if you’re parked somewhere without the ability to plug in, you’ll lose regen (which can take as little as an hour if it’s -15C outside).

Here’s an example of the temperatures while it’s -12C outside — pay special attention to the blue line.

Here you can see how the battery heat cycles on and off while plugged in (the middle area contains a drive followed by a charge; the rest — the spiky blue and red lines — show the heating cycles):

The power output of the batteries isn’t significantly affected by the cold except for short periods in extreme cold.  I’ve observed as much as a 25% drop in top-end power, but by consuming so much power when the internal resistance of the batteries is higher due to the cold, you’ll quickly heat up the batteries and this 25% drop will fade away quickly.  Getting into the car and getting under way when it’s -20C is no problem (unlike a normal car where you’re worried if the car will start).  It’s almost impossible to notice the impact of the cold on how the car drives.

Range will be affected in 3 ways: 1) reduced efficiency, 2) using the cabin heater, and 3) loss of regenerative braking.  For short trips in -20C weather, this has affected my estimated range by 37% but it doesn’t matter on short trips (since range isn’t a concern).  For longer trips, range will be affected by 10-15%.

Snow

As I mentioned, the traction of the Roadster in the snow is amazing.  However, the car itself isn’t well-designed for the snow (a rather obvious statement).  The car gets very dirty, and snow gets into the door sills, making for quite the mess.  Storing the car outside in the snow is a different problem.  Snow gets into the front fits and radiator fans, which is very difficult to properly clean out (I want to make sure the fans remain free-spinning):

Cleaning the snow off the car in general is a little difficult due to all the curves.  I also pay close attention to the weight of the snow on the soft top (I don’t have the hard top) as I don’t want it to collapse under the weight.

A proper outdoor cover (which I’m working on securing) or a garage would obviously help.

Radio

I only have exposure to the double-din touch screen Alpine head-unit that comes with the upgraded electronics package.  About the only good thing I can say about it is that the sound quality (part of which is the speakers) is reasonably good — certainly better than your typical stock radio.

Everything else about the radio is terrible.  The user interface is clunky, the UI resolution is very low, the features are buggy, the HD Radio functionality provides an extremely poor listening experience if your reception isn’t perfect, and the GPS software is nowhere near as good as Garmin or TomTom.

Finding the soft buttons, especially while driving, is very difficult.  Worse, there are “pages” of soft buttons, so the soft-button area doesn’t always provide the same functionality.

The iPod/iPhone integration doesn’t always work, and the UI for accessing your music and playlists is rather clunky.  Music starts playing when you didn’t mean to (e.g. when shifting from Reverse back to Drive because the source is changing from the rear-view camera back to the USB interface).  It often sees the iPod but not the phone, so controlling the phone doesn’t always work.  I find that my friends can’t hear me on the hands-free when I’m going over 30 MPH — and I can’t adjust the microphone input while on a call.

The unit is re-branded for Tesla, and thus any software or map updates must be obtained from Tesla and not Alpine directly.

Misc

The range of the key fob is terrible — 10 feet at best.  I often have to press lock or unlock multiple times because I’m somehow out of range.

Quality

I’ve have numerous problems with the car — none of which have are specific to EV technology.  Some of these are possibly related to me storing and operating a sports car in the winter when it’s not designed to be.  The rest I believe to be the result of inadequate experience building a vehicle.  I’ve become aware of how much detail needs to go into the design of the car — things you take for granted; curves which affect water ingress, wind ingress and noise, debris collection, damage from debris, lighting, insulation, noise reduction, designing for -30F to +120F temperatures, etc.  The post-build QA process also failed to catch a few items.  I sincerely want Tesla to succeed (as I believe their EV technology to currently be superior, their ability to act quickly and efficiently, and their vehicles are more attractive to me in many ways than other EVs).  As such, I continue to be patient and continue to drive the car in these conditions so Tesla can continue to learn from me.  They’re very aware of my problems, have been more than helpful and understanding, and I have no doubt they’re taking this seriously and learning from it.

In the 4 months I’ve had the car, I’ve had a service technician visit me twice and the car has visited the NY store twice.  10 items were marked as broken and since repaired.  I continue to deal with rattles that I can hear at low speeds over mild bumps, which we haven’t been able to iron out.  I’m trying to learn to deal with them, but I would find these noises absolutely unacceptable on the Model S.  I’m a little more forgiving with the Roadster because it’s a relatively unrefined (on the inside) sports car.

The center console (which houses the “gear shift” buttons) flexes side-to-side when a leg presses up against it or while using it for leverage getting in/out of the car.  Friends have noticed it as well.

The stock wiper was junk — it skipped across the windshield since day one (meaning the rubber had become inflexible).  I replaced it with a Bosch wiper and it’s been so much better.

The stock wiper fluid froze solid when the temperatures were slightly below freezing.  That’s completely ridiculous (and turned out to be a poor choice to change suppliers somewhere along the way).

As for the EV-specific stuff (battery pack, motor, electronics, charging, etc.) — it’s been flawless.  That technology feels very solid to me, and combined with a better-quality Model S (due to the employees Tesla has since hired, higher volume, and factory-built process), I’m optimistically hopeful the Model S will be a truly awesome vehicle (which I plan to acquire).

Day to Day

Charging is a pretty easy process (albeit a bit hampered by bad or cold weather without a garage).  I spend less than a minute plugging it in when I get home, and it’s full the next morning.  I spend a few seconds disconnecting before getting in the car in the morning, and off I go.  No more visits to the gas station and dealing with the fumes, the cold, getting gas on me or the car, etc.  Instead of spending $45 to fill my STi with 93 octane for 220 miles of range, I spend about $10 in electricity (at a relatively  high 15 cents per kWh — which I’m sure I could reduce if I switched to a plan that gave me lower overnight rates).

I haven’t taken a long enough journey that required me to find a place to charge, primarily because I’m too lazy to spend the time finding such a spot that would work with my plans.  Fortunately, that’s not been an issue because, well, I don’t take long journeys.  I believe I can call Tesla for assistance in mapping a route if necessary, but haven’t tested that theory out.  I also find that the cold weather (my primary experience with the car) keeps me from taking the time to locate something or talking to, e.g., restaurant owners about it.

I’ve found that I’m grossly unaware of how far apart things are; can I make it to Cape Cod and back?  I get very uncomfortable when my range is below 30 miles because I have no idea how far away I am from my  house or a place to charge.  I don’t live in the city (I’m about 30 miles from Boston) and my typical destinations take me relatively far; I can’t imagine trying to work that into an EV with an advertised 100 mile range (which would mean 60 mile effective range in the winter) unless I had a second car for anything other than my commute.  Part of that is the lack of charging in Massachusetts.

Service

As you read in the quality section above, I’ve had a number of items worked on:

  1. Ignition locked out (key wouldn’t turn) — this nearly stranded me which would have required a flat-bed tow
  2. Rattles
  3. Squeaks
  4. Water ingress via door handle
  5. Fogging headlights
  6. Loud A/C compressor
  7. Bubble in 3M paint guard
  8. Alpine NAV muted (no voice guidance or button feedback)
  9. Trunk release frozen shut in sub-freezing weather
  10. Play in steering wheel
  11. Broken anti-lock brake system

All but #2 has been solved (and #3 remains to be tested — needs warmer weather).

Even though NY is the closest service station to me (200 miles), I’ve had no problems reaching people on the phone, getting them to show up at my driveway to fix things, or have them show up to pick up the car and take it down to NY for service and return it.  Overall, the service experience has gone well.

Conclusion

I thoroughly enjoy driving an electric vehicle — and not just because this is a super-fast sports car.  The way an EV drives is superior in so many ways that I really don’t ever want to go back.  I probably will replace the Roadster with the Model S (more practical in a  number of ways) and make it my only car.  While I’ve had quite a few problems with the Roadster, I’m confident in EVs, and I have hope for Tesla.  The other EVs on the market don’t interest me, and the plug-in hybrids (e.g. upcoming Prius) or extended-range EV’s (e.g. Volt) definitely don’t interest me.  The day will come when EVs have 500 or even 1000 miles of range — and I find that really exciting.

EVs have a huge uphill battle, but I think there’s enough appetite and technology today that they stand a fighting chance.  Consumers have a LOT to learn, and there will be growing pains — but we’ll solve them.  Every new technology has growing pains.  I feel excited and lucky to be part of the movement and truly hope the industry succeeds so we can wean ourselves off foreign oil (and end up with a superior car in the process!)

Videos

Youtube channel (mostly Tesla): http://www.youtube.com/goodwinb99

Photos

https://picasaweb.google.com/cinergi/Tesla#

https://picasaweb.google.com/cinergi/JohnsPhotos#

https://picasaweb.google.com/cinergi/Delivery#

https://picasaweb.google.com/cinergi/NEMA1450R#

https://picasaweb.google.com/cinergi/UMC240#

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