10 things you didn't know about the Tesla Model S

From advanced safety features to software Easter eggs, the Model S is full of surprises

Published: May 28, 2015 12:45 PM

By now you’ve surely heard of the Insane Mode acceleration in the high-performance Tesla Model S P85D electric car. Beyond that go-fast button, we’ve found a ton of other features in the few weeks we’ve owned our P85D that you might not have heard of.

Here’s what has stood out so far:

1. Active cruise control accelerates to pass

Many luxury cars these days have active cruise control that will automatically slow down when approaching a slower car a few car lengths ahead. Some drivers love it—especially the drivers of other cars. The Type As among us have found that these systems will keep slowing down and slowing down to allow more and more cars to cut in front. To prevent being routinely cut off in most of these cars, you have to override the cruise control. Not in the Model S. Just turn on the left turn signal, and the Model S accelerates back to the set speed so you can dart into an open hole in traffic in the lane to your left. If you can’t get there, it will still hit the brakes in time to avoid running into the car ahead.

2. It has a full Web browser in the dashboard

That leads to one of the biggest convenience breakthroughs of the Tesla: full Google maps with live navigation and traffic, on a large screen that can be pinched to zoom in or swiped to move in real time, just like a smartphone. There’s no quicker way to spot traffic ahead and find an alternate route than than combination of real-time information and intuitive controls. Plus, the full 17-inch screen provides a nice big view. Beyond that, the mobile Internet connection allows you to stream radio as you drive. Of course the temptation to browse is there, but think of it as a convenience for your passenger only. Otherwise, the driving distraction is significant.  

3. You can open the sunroof with the steering wheel controls—sometimes by accident.

There is no conventional button to open the sunroof. You can either select “Controls,” then “Sunroof” on the center control screen—which gives you a giant image of the Tesla’s roof—and drag the sunroof open on the image (to any position you want). Or, you can press the right-hand scroll wheel on the steering wheel, dial it down to Sunroof, press it, then dial it open to your desired setting. If you leave the setting on Sunroof, it’s easy to bump it open by accident.

4. The manual is embedded in the controls

With all of the advanced features in the Model S—on top of a whole new control paradigm—it’s not always obvious how to do things. For example, on my first drive, I went a dozen miles before deciding I just couldn’t find the blind-spot indicators. So it’s handy that the car’s whole owner’s manual is programmed into the center screen. I just pulled over, and I was able to look it up. We definitely don’t recommend doing this while driving!

5. The parking sensor displays in inches

Increasingly popular, parking sensors that beep as you approach obstacles to indicate distance to an obstacle can be found in all vehicle classes. Many also display green, yellow, or red indicators on the rear camera screen that signal an approaching obstacle when backing up. The Model S takes that one step farther and displays the number of inches you have to go before you reach the obstacle, whether you’re creeping forward or backing up. We think that’s much clearer.

6. It has no starter button (and you never have to touch the key)

Just get in, sit down, and close the door behind you, and the car turns on. (It’s indicated by the battery charge dial flipping over to show the speedometer.) Turning the car off works the same way, which is a little more disconcerting. Press the Park button on the steering column stalk, lift your weight off the seat, and the car turns off and the speedometer disappears again.

7. Blind-spot warning shows only by speedometer

Most blind-spot warning systems show a yellow light either in the outside mirror or on the windshield pillar next to it when there’s a car next to you, likely obscured from view at the rear flanks. The Tesla only shows little hash marks next to the lower corners of the speedometer when a car is there. Some of our drivers find it’s hard to notice the indicators when their head is turned looking in the mirror.

8. Slip Mode

We’ve frequently touted electronic stability control (ESC) as the most statistically effective automotive safety feature since seat belts. Yet most cars have a button on the dashboard labeled “ESC off.” Why would you want to turn off a key safety feature? Because ESC is designed to keep your wheels from slipping, and if you’re stuck in the snow, you may need to get the wheels spinning to get unstuck. ESC would prevent that. Tesla labels its onscreen ESC override button “Slip Mode”—which we think gives a much better idea of what you should use it for.

9. The charge port door closes itself

You never have to touch the car to open the charge port. When you hold a Tesla charge cable near the port and hit a button on the cable, the door opens. When the car is charged and you unplug it, after a couple of seconds the door closes itself. That should eliminate all the times we got into our old Tesla and found it wouldn’t go because we’d forgotten to close the charge-port door after we unplugged it.

10. It has Underwater Mode

For every Model S driver who buys a Tesla to save the planet, there are more who buy the car because it sits on the cutting edge of technology. They want to have the latest James Bond gadget. And the Model S doesn’t disappoint. Both the instrument cluster and the center screen have big images of the car that mirror exactly what’s going on with the car. When you open the driver’s door, the driver’s door opens on the screen. When you turn on the lights, they light up on the screen. If you hold down the big “T” Tesla logo at the top of the center screen, it gives you a box to enter in a service technician’s code. Enter Bond’s agent number, “007,” and the car on the center screen turns into Bond’s Lotus Esprit submarine. Maybe that’s not surprising, since Tesla CEO Elon Musk is reported to own the real Esprit submarine movie prop.

Eric Evarts

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