We have been itching to take our Tesla Model S on a long trip, and the opportunity finally arrived when it became our Washington, D.C., office’s turn to experience the car.
Last time we brought a car down for the Consumer’s Union advocates to experience green-car living, we had to trailer our Nissan Leaf. This time was much different: we simply drove. (Read about our experience with the Leaf in Washington, D.C.)
The Tesla, with its 200-plus mile range and (so-far small) network of Supercharger DC fast-charge stations along highways is the first electric capable of making such a trip. And, to be honest, we’d been skeptical of reports of other media having trouble making the trip between the necessary Supercharger stops, so we wanted to try it ourselves. Along the way, we learned a little more about living with an electric car. (Read our complete Tesla Model S road test.)
Even as capable as the Tesla is, making such a long trip—285 miles—requires more planning and preparation than driving a "normal" car. For starters, there’s covering that extra 85 miles. As I was combining the delivery trip with a visit to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, I had a 2 p.m. deadline to arrive in Washington. To accomplish this goal, I had to arrive at Tesla’s Newark, Del., Supercharger station early enough to allow replenishing the battery pack and complete the trip.
The problem is that Supercharger is 192 miles from my house. A full charge in our Tesla Model S lately has been showing about 232 miles. That doesn’t sound like a problem in theory, but I know from driving it that I usually go through an additional 20 percent as I’m driving the car at highway speeds, whether its from going over hills, running the air conditioner, or just keeping up with traffic. Adding 20 percent to the 192 mile trip put me right at 230 miles, which felt way too close for comfort with my deadline. I could try setting the cruise control at 60 mph and staying in the right lane for the whole trip, but even that didn’t seem like it would guarantee I’d make it.
Fortunately, Tesla recently opened another Supercharger station about 30 miles from my house, in Darien, Conn. So I planned to drive to Darien and charge up, even though I’d still have a good 200 miles showing on the battery and it would take me on a circuitous route using New York City’s Cross Bronx Expressway—not my preference.
Another problem is that DC fast chargers only work at maximum speed when the battery is below about ¾ full. So I didn’t know how long it would really take me to replenish the 30 miles I’d driven to get to Darien, or how long I’d need to charge in Delaware. So I started my adventure at 5 a.m. to give me enough time.