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Rapid charging at a Tesla EV "Supercharge" station

Consumer Reports News: January 29, 2013 10:08 AM

Shortly after we received our own Tesla Model S, I was lucky enough to snag it for a three-day weekend. Not only is the Tesla cool and really fun to drive, this is the first EV that can I can actually use for my 160-mile round trip commute.

When I've needed to take home other EVs we've tested, I had to flat-bed them on a trailer. Beyond simply driving the intriguing Model S, I was eager to try Tesla's newly installed "Supercharging" station at a rest area off Interstate 95, in between my office and home. (Read our complete road test of the top-scoring Tesla Model S.)

We've mentioned before that the Tesla folks seem determined to remove any obstacles to driving an electric vehicle (EV); the two biggest ones being slow charging times and limited driving range. With the Model S, range is addressed by three available battery packs, spanning up to the 85-kWh option in our car, rated at 265 miles. Another element in Tesla's strategy is installing a nationwide network of fast DC chargers that can fill the battery to half charge in 30 minutes—roughly 150 miles worth.

If "driving green" wasn't enough, there's this bonus: Tesla owners can use the fast chargers for free. In the Northeast region, in addition to the Connecticut venue, Tesla has also installed a "supercharging station" at a rest area in Delaware. The idea is to enable a Model S owner to drive from Boston to Washington, D.C., while "filling up" only twice. So far there are also six other such stations along the most-traveled highways in California.

To give it a shot, I set off on a Friday afternoon with a full charge, which in this case was an indicated range of 240 miles. After 60 miles I arrived at the Milford Supercharging station, with my indicated range down to 160 miles after a mixed route of rural country roads and highway. Another factor here was the chilly ambient temperature: it was 30-degrees out. Cold weather and cabin heat always cut into battery range. After 45 minutes, I was back at full charge with a seemingly robust 242 mile range. I figured it was enough for my typical local driving, as well as getting back to work.

Overall, the car was a delight throughout the weekend, with quiet and immediate acceleration, athletic moves in the corners, a solid-yet-supple ride, and plenty of room for the family. It's hard not to get mesmerized by the 17-inch touch-screen display. Though it's the sole interface for the audio system and other common vehicle functions, it's easy to use and responds quickly to taps.

As my excursion reminded, this is one car that draws a crowd fast. If you're an early adopter, you might as well get used to answering questions from curious strangers and getting admiring glances.

The night before my voyage back to work, I had 88 miles left, according to the car's computation. I knew that would be cutting it pretty close, so I planned on a 30-minute supercharging session in Milford to gain some juice and added peace of mind. But while parked outside my house overnight, the temperature dipped and so did the indicated range, which now read only 58 miles. (Yes, a little range anxiety began to set in.) How can 30 miles evaporate just like that? According to Tesla, the car's computer takes into account the freezing temperature and readjusts the remaining range. The company also said that, upon restarting, the battery warms up and the computer once again updates the range. I didn't notice it adding miles to the range but the range remained steady for most of my 28-mile drive back to the supercharger. I connected to the charger with 50 miles on the meter and after 30 minutes, I was back to 150 miles—more than ample range to get back to our East Haddam test track.

These Superchargers are exclusive to Tesla; unfortunately, they will not charge other EVs. The connector is unique to Tesla and, well, Tesla foots the bill for the juice, which mostly justifies this proprietary arrangement. The company plans to install more of them, as well as some that are compatible with other EVs. Such a move could greatly facilitate a broader move to more all-electric driving.

Consumer Reports takes delivery of its own Tesla Model S
Tesla Model S - The electric car that shatters every myth
Inside the impressive Tesla Model S electric sedan

Gabe Shenhar

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