Seeing is believing with Tesla

The preconceptions and the reality of driving a Tesla are miles apart, according to bodyshop magazine deputy editor Alan Feldberg, who sat behind the wheel of an electric car for the first time at a Ride and Drive Day hosted by Chartwell House, Derbyshire, this week.

‘I’d never driven a Tesla before and like a lot of people I imagined an electric car to be slow, steady and a little unresponsive – it certainly wasn’t that. It was like stepping into the future.

‘People often marvel at its utter silence, and it definitely was strange to see the car reversing towards us on the forecourt without hearing a sound, but for me it was the power of the Tesla Model S that is most remarkable.

‘Our instructor gave us a small taster when pulling onto the motorway, and the sudden burst of acceleration literally pinned you back in your seat. Not many of us have had the privilege of driving a racing car, myself included, so the only thing I can compare it to is a plane taking-off.

‘And I was told the car we drove was a long way down the performance list when it comes to Tesla variations, with some of its cars going from 0-60mph in 2.8 seconds (apparently the G force is greater than freefalling).

‘That wasn’t the only surprise, though. Fitted as standard is an autopilot function, which maintains speed, steers around corners, changes lanes and even brakes behind other vehicles before returning to cruise speed once the road is clear.

‘Trusting the autopilot software is counterintuitive at first and the instinct to grab the wheel is difficult to resist. But everything radically new requires a change in mind-set and I honestly don’t think it would take long to feel settled and safe in that mode.

‘Essentially, it’s just trusting the technology, and we all do that every day with almost every aspect of our lives. And really, that is what Tesla is – technology in the shape of a car.

‘It was described to me as an iPad on wheels and that sums it up nicely. The software enables continuous learning: if you go around a corner too fast the car will remember and slow down the next time it’s on same stretch of road; if you adjust the suspension going over a bump (yes, you can do that from your seat and there are three settings) it will remember and automatically adjust for the next time.

‘And it’s not just your own Tesla that remembers these settings – the knowledge is shared throughout the fleet and each vehicle on the road will drive more intelligently as a result.

‘Software updates are also carried out automatically and remotely, so when you get in your car the next morning the upgrades will have been completed without any inconvenience to you. Oh, and during these winter months it might be nice to know you can heat up your Tesla from your mobile, too.

‘I was one of 44 guests at Chartwell on the day, and I’d be surprised if any of them were left a little underwhelmed. Certainly everyone I spoke to was converted, and if the statistic that 98% of Tesla drivers would buy another one sounds like exaggeration, drive one and decide for yourself.

‘Tesla doesn’t have a budget for advertising or marketing. All that money goes on days like the one I attended. The company argues that there is too much new and revolutionary about its cars to squeeze into one campaign, it would be information overload.

‘Instead, it lets its cars do the talking. In this case, I think seeing is believing.’