The Tesla Model S: The Prius of the 2010’s. Tales of my First Run in With a Tesla Model S…and its Owner.

5 years ago, the car in this picture would be a Prius.

In the mid to late 2000’s, the “go-to” car for condescending yuppies was undoubtedly the Toyota Prius.  If you were “green” and wanted everyone to know it, you bought a Prius.  Unfortunately, a lot of Prius owners at the time also thought they were better than the rest of society.

During the Prius’ reign, average members of society without proper “green cred,” including those poser Escape Hybrid hybrids, needed to be on constant alert for a verbal berating from a Prius owner.  Not only was the Prius the greatest thing since sliced bread, but Prius owners were saving the world and if you didn’t own one, you were a bad person and they weren’t afraid to tell you about it.

They also weren’t afraid to tell you how great their gas mileage was.  It was like a fishing story, the mileage always got better as regular cars started getting better mileage.  40mpg quickly turned into 50mpg over the course of a five minute story depending on how good the mileage of the non-Prius owner’s car in the conversation got.

The problem of course was that, despite its price, the Prius wasn’t much better for the world than a Corolla.  The Prius was aimed at yuppies who had some disposable income but wanted the green cred.  They were willing to sacrifice luxury and looks to drive a Prius and get such cred.  A Corolla or a small diesel car was far too blue collar.  In short, the Prius was the go-to car for the upper middle class quasi elite and Hollywood types.

Well, I’m here to announce that the Prius has been replaced by the Tesla Model S as the go to car for the quasi-intelligentsia.   Thank goodness because the Prius is now far too mainstream for proper condescension.  The Tesla Model S not only has more green cred than the Prius, but it is much nicer, prettier and, for now, it doesn’t carry the reputational baggage caused by years of condescending Prius owners.  The Tesla is very “cool” right now.  People instinctively flock to it like the salmon of Capistrano. Unfortunately a lot of the same types of people who used to buy Prius’ are now drooling over Tesla’s.  Luckily for society, most of these people can’t afford a Tesla Model S.

However, a couple days ago I spent a significant amount of time with a Tesla Model S owner and I am pleased to report that the spirit of the original Prius faithful lives on.  As you probably know, I am a car guy.  Most Prius owners are not, the one and only Tesla owner was sure to tell me, on several occasions, that he was not a car guy.  According to him, “I’m not a car guy, the only reason I bought this is because its all electric.”  I swear he closed his eyes every time he said “all electric.”  Of course, despite the fact that he and I had a pretty lengthy conversation, I can’t recall the color of his eyes since he had them closed for the duration.

For a guy who isn’t a “car guy” he sure knew a lot about his car, and could easily list every reason why it was better than every other car in the history of western civilization.  Here is the non-exhaustive list:

  1. It is “all electric”
  2. It has a completely flat floor since its “all electric”
  3. It is silent because it is “all electric”
  4. It is “insanely fast” (I swear, he said this about 20 times) because it uses an “electric motor.” Throughout our conversation, the car’s 0-60 time ranged from over 5 seconds to 4.3 seconds.  The number got lower after we talked a little bit about my car’s acceleration times.  He also informed me that his car is actually significantly faster in the “real world” because car magazines  measure “all electric” cars’ acceleration times differently than internal combustion engine cars.
  5. The range is so great, it can “get to Omaha and back no problem.”  He told me this at least 3 or 4 times.  He looked genuinely upset when I asked him whether he could “get to Omaha, run some errands, and get back no problem or perhaps go to Kansas City.”  He informed me that he would probably have to take his second car for that. Yes, his second car is a Prius, he bought it about 3 years ago.
  6. The interior is as nice a the “German makes.”  I nearly replied back “You’ve clearly never sat in a nice German car” but I bit my tongue.

The guy was pretty much your standard Prius owner but with a tech geek twist.  He was wearing a Pebble smart watch on one wrist and what looked to me to be like a Nike Fuel Band on the other.  While the guy was an ass, I can say I was pleasantly surprised by the car.

The Model S exhibits a much better build quality compared to the Roadster (there was a roadster at the same event, I did not get to meet the owner) and is on the level of an ordinary middle market car.  The interior is nice, definitely not a kit car, but it doesn’t knock your socks off.  Yes, it has a massive touch screen, which is cool.  But “cool” doesn’t mean “luxurious.”  Almost every grimey, beer soaked frat house in the country has a TV with a massive screen, most people wouldn’t call your average frat house luxurious.

I’ve heard a lot of people comparing the Model S to an Audi A6 or a BMW 5 Series. While it may be similar in performance and price, the interior is not on the same level.  When you get into an Audi A6, you know you are in a luxury automobile.  The tolerances are higher, the materials and colors are nicer, everything just screams luxury.  Once you get past the touch screen, the Model S’ interior is simply not in the same league as the main German Luxury brands when it comes to true luxury.  When sit in a true German luxury sedan, you are immediately bathed in luxury, from the materials, the touch, the fit and finish and even the smell.  When you sit in a Tesla, you might as well be sitting in a full size American or Japanese mainstream sedan with a large screen.

Audi A6
Looking at the pictures above, it is clear that the Tesla’s interior is on par with a large mainstream sedan like an Impala, Taurus, or Avalon. However, it clearly is not on par with the A6’s.  Your average driver would not complain about it.  However, your average driver isn’t dropping over $50,000 when he or she purchases a vehicle.

The Model S is by far the best electric car on the market.  From a engineering standpoint it is an impressive feat.  It is also the only electric car on the market that I would ever even consider buying.

However, at the end of the day, it is still not a car for the typical American.  While its range is impressive for an electric car, its range is not at all comparable to a car with an internal combustion engine.  Unless a buyer lives in a big city and has nobody or nothing out of town  they want to visit, the Model S will still require a potential owner to have a second car.

For the price, I’ll take the (real) luxury and practicality of a 5 Series, an E-Class, or an A6 without hesitation.  If I felt like saving the world through my choice of car, I would get the diesel version of all of the above.

Of course I wouldn’t be able to talk down to the people around me with tales of “pure electric” bliss.  This is unfortunate, but I probably wouldn’t care because I would be in a far superior car
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