Update: Tesla Model S, One Year On

It's still plugging along after its first birthday

Published: December 26, 2013 12:30 PM

With a year of Tesla Model S ownership under our belt and 11,380 satisfying miles under its tires, we continue to be impressed, despite a few mild irritations. 

Those who follow our car Ratings will remember that last spring the Model S earned a road-test score of 99 on our 100-point scale, making it the highest-rated car we've tested in the last five years. 

Adding to the accolades, it got highest-ever marks in owner satisfaction in our latest annual auto survey, and it landed an Average reliability score based on the experiences of 637 CR subscribers who own one. That's pretty darn good for an early production niche luxury vehicle from a California start-up company.

Tesla's thoroughly rewarding driving experience, rocketlike launch feel, and supreme quietness might make you want to overlook any drawbacks, but a couple of notable quirks have emerged:

All the range. Despite a cruising range that's close to a gas-powered car, which is one of the Tesla's major drawing cards, we've been a little disappointed with our top-spec 85 kWh version. The company initially bragged that the Tesla had a 300-mile range, but it turned out that it wasn't what you could expect every day. When charged normally, as opposed to the "max range," which the maker advices against doing too frequently, the most we get is about 225 miles. That's still a lot (relatively)—much more than any other EVs get—but it's even less than the 245 miles the EPA calculated.

As with every other electric car, the indicated range drops in freezing weather, which here in Northeast region is a fact of life. Sometimes when driving along in weather that's
30-something degrees and you've got the cabin heat is on, the remaining-miles calculator tends to drop 3 miles for every mile that you actually travel. That really gets your attention. It's also confusing to figure out which of the displays you should depend on, the one in the instrument panel or the one in the center iPad-like touch screen.

We previously reported that the range indicator tended to drop 10 to 15 miles while the car was parked outside overnight. The company has supposedly beamed a software update to all Model S Teslas that's supposed to reduce those "vampire" losses. We still see a drop of 5 to 10 miles when the car is left off the charger for 24 hours.

Running cold and hot. If freezing temps can shake your faith, then blistering hot summer days can leave you in a sweat. In mid-summer we found that the air conditioning fell a bit short of what we consider to be the comfort zone. And it doesn't help that the panoramic sunroof has no retractable shade to keep the rays at bay.

Long-distance runaround. Here at our test track in Connecticut, we benefitted from easy access to two of Tesla's Supercharger stations, which let us top up the battery halfway (about 120 miles worth) in 30 minutes. Superchargers greatly reduce range anxiety as long as you're planning a trip along the routes where they're located.

Those Supercharger stations also made it possible to drive from our headquarters in Yonkers, N.Y., to our satellite office in Washington, D.C., and back without stress. Our D.C. staff found the Tesla to be a wonderful commuter car, driving in and out of suburban Maryland and Northern Virginia during rush hours. During the day it was partly recharged at a public parking garage using the Chargepoint network for what amounted to peanuts compared with gas money.

Updates via cloud. A few weeks ago our car received its latest software update, designated version 5.8. (These enhancements arrive like software updates on your PC.) Among other things, the new software added a few upgrades to the multimedia system, and the ability to tether a mobile device and connect to a Wi-Fi source.

After three accidents in which Teslas caught fire when road debris penetrated the battery pack from below, the company said that it would readjust the car's ride height through a software update. Post-update we measured our car's ride height at 5.25 inches, which was actually a quarter-inch lower than our previous measurement. But supposedly the car will now ride higher than it used to at highway speeds, making encounters with road debris less likely.

After a year with the Model S, everyone at CR who drives this car is still impressed by the quiet glide, instant and irresistible power, serene ride, agile handling, and well-done, ultramodern interior. The short list of shortcomings hasn't dampened our spirits yet.

—Gabe Shenhar

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