Saturday, March 16, 2013

Vancouver and Back Again

Just got back from our first family trip in the Tesla, which is also the first time I've driven the car for more than about 30 minutes at a stretch in familiar territory. Overall, it worked great for a trip of this length, but it does have a few issues I didn't expect.

For the trip from Seattle to Vancouver, we planned a stop in Blaine, where they have a 70A charger, which turned out to add one mile of range per minute. We stayed for about an hour, which is a challenge if you don't plan on having lunch at one of the handful of places along the waterfront. There's a fine ice cream parlor, which was good for killing half an hour or so, followed by walking around most of the west side of Blaine, and stopping in the library for a bit. As it turned out, we really didn't need the additional range. It also served to be yet another demonstration that these are the early days of electric cars. Most of the electric cars out there are tiny (Nissan Leaf, Chevy Volt, Mitsubishi i-MiEV). They also seem to have standardized on having the charging port in the front. The Tesla Model S is big, and the charging port is in the back on the driver's side. This matters especially in Blaine, since the rear driver's side corner is the farthest point on the car from the curbside charger, and the cord is just barely long enough to reach if you run it over the top of the hood. In the future, I'd probably try backing into the spot, like I have to do at work.

One feature I hadn't experienced with the car before was that, as part of the navigation system, it gives you lane hints under some circumstances, so you know which lanes are going to go away or force you to turn well in advance. Discovering that as we crossed the border and came to the first freeway exchange was a nice surprise, although it didn't really make up for the other surprise we got upon crossing the border...

The car comes with its own 3G connection / contract. The first year of service is included with the car, and they'll contact us at the close of the year to let us know what our options are, with the expectation from the salespeople that most people will choose the option of tethering through their existing phone contracts. As we crossed the border, we turned our phones to airplane mode to avoid international roaming. Apparently Tesla also didn't opt for international roaming, since we lost 3G connectivity as we got into Canada. This means we also lost map tiles for the navigation system for the large tablet-style display in the car. It still plotted the route over a black background, which was something, The smaller navigation display for the driver still had imagery. Once we got close to our destination, we found we had a cache of the tiles around our destination, which was quite helpful. We also found out that, even when we tried using them, our phones wouldn't pick up a signal either. Not surprising for my Verizon phone, but not at all what I was expecting from my other Galaxy Nexus or the Nexus 4.

We managed to fully charge the car overnight in downtown Vancouver for about $6, plus two one-way trips on the SkyTrain. As my first SkyTrain experience, all I can say is that I was very disappointed, because the entire trip was underground. If you're going to go with that sort of name, you need to embrace it.

The trip home was pretty uneventful. It was nice to get network connectivity back, especially for traffic information coming into Seattle. For audio, it wasn't such a big deal, as the car has ports for two USB drives, which works out really nicely. In theory, it can also pull music via Bluetooth, but apparently that hasn't been working for a little while on our car, so we need to have that looked at (along with a bit of a rattle in the dashboard somewhere). It doesn't seem capable of streaming audio from the phone via Bluetooth, so you can't play podcasts or books at any speed other than 1.0x, but it definitely beats dealing with CDs.

The one big issue coming home was also a bit of an issue heading north, but became more frustrating as time went on. The cruise control isn't terribly intuitive. With every other system I've used, if you tell it to accelerate by pressing a button or lever, it goes up or down by 1 mph or so. With the Tesla, the first press does appear to adjust by 1 mph. The second one adjusts by about 5 mph. So, if you want to change by 3 mph, you wind up having to disengage the system, get to your preferred speed, then figure out how to get it to reengage at the new desired speed. Pretty awkward. Maybe I need to look at the manual or something.

Notes on range anxiety: we did plan an hour long stop on the way up that didn't turn out to be necessary. We skipped that on the way back, and finished with about 90 miles of range left. "Max Range" mode was good for an extra 20-30 miles, so it still would have been comfortable, in both directions, without using that. However, one really confusing thing was that, for a significant portion of the trip, our average power consumption line was below the "ideal" line on the energy display, but our predicted range was lower than it said the ideal range was. Not sure how that math works out.

After we got home, I went to fetch Stewie, and decided to poke at the voice commands, which I hadn't gotten to work before. As it turns out, you need to hold the button down the entire time you're speaking, and the audio notification that you've activated the system sounds a couple seconds before you're supposed to speak. There's a text prompt that tells you when it's actually time to speak. Seems to work okay for navigation: it picked up the dog boarding place on the first try, but didn't know what I meant when I told it to navigate to home. Telling it to play songs was much more hit and miss. I attempted about 15 songs, and managed to get 4, I think. Of those I did get, in every case, the car popped up a search on the big display and I had to then manually select the song I wanted. When the car understood me, which didn't happen as often as it should have, it generally got the right result. When I asked for "Number of the Beast" by Iron Maiden, though, I was given a long list of options with various phrasings ("Number of the Beast " vs. "The Number of the Beast", etc.), all claiming to be Iron Maiden. I know from my own collection, I have ten different versions of this, so getting such a list wasn't too surprising (and also happened with some of the other songs I successfully pulled up). There wasn't any way to tell which would be the original studio cut, which was from Live After Death, etc., so I picked the fourth one on the list. That one turned out to be "Cowboys From Hell" by Pantera. A fine song, but I'm not quite ready for the future where my car stereo overrules me on musical selection.

In summary, it worked fine, was very comfortable for the trip, performed better than I expect a car of that size to perform, both on acceleration and handling. Honestly, I'm pretty sure that's the second quickest non-Porsche I've ever driven, only topped by Mikey's M3 with the Dinan supercharger installed. It did seem to pull a bit under braking in the rain, so we probably need the alignment checked. As a car, I'm pretty happy with it. As Car of the Year, though, while it has a number of really amazing features, I certainly can't say it's automotive perfection.

No comments:

Post a Comment