5 Things That Surprised Me About The Model S

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Image Credit: Kyle Field

Disclaimer: I am a recent investor in TSLA. I’m in it for the long haul with no plans to sell anytime soon.

For readers that don’t frequent CleanTechnica, I recently bought a Certified Pre-Owned Tesla Model S and drove it across the country. If that 4,180 kilometer trip wasn’t enough to convince you that I was a risk taker, I didn’t actually research the car too much before buying it. I like learning on the fly and while I have spent a lot of time getting familiar with the big things Tesla is doing, I wanted to leave a bit of mystery when it came to experiencing the car itself.

Tesla Model S Cluster Display | Image Credit: Tesla Motors

ONE… That big, beautiful touchscreen and the cluster display (with the speedometer, etc, on it) need to be rebooted manually about once per week. I was caught completely off guard by this but it kind of… almost… makes sense. It first came up for me when I was leaving work one day. The touchscreen was acting a bit glitchy with delayed reactions to button touches, stuttering streaming music, and other performance-related issues… then it crashed. As I merged onto the freeway, a cold sweat came over me. What the heck! I just signed up to pay how much for the car and now it’s dead?

Before you freak out, cancel your Model X reservation and sell all your TSLA stock, all of the important bits in the car still worked — the throttle, brakes, steering, etc… but the touchscreen and its many functions were gone. No climate control, no music (gasp!), no navigation… just gone. I nervously pulled out my phone and, with voice control, asked it to bust out some google-fu for me to find some answers, stat.

The search returned a video I was able to listen to while heading down the highway as my cold sweat dissipated. The video talked me through the process of rebooting both my 17″ main display as well as the gauge cluster display, which apparently fails occasionally as well. My wits were apparently not with me as I blindly attempted the reboot while driving down the road. In retrospect, it was a really bad idea… but thankfully one I wouldn’t have to pay for, as it went off without a hitch.

Check out this video for a quick tutorial of what I’m talking about. This is also a great trick to file away for current Tesla owners who wonder why the display is so glitchy, future Tesla owners, people with friends who own Teslas, and some solid context for what it’s like to own a Tesla.

So, why does it make sense? You’re probably thinking, “how could something like this make sense?” That brings me back to my analogy that the car is basically more like a smartphone than a car. It is a beautifully designed electric car with all sorts of great features in that vein… but also packs some serious tech. 17 inches of navigation? Yeah, baby! Dynamic displays of speed and power consumption? You betcha. 17 inches of CleanTechnica for the drive to work? No problem (but for your safety, please don’t… unless you’re the passenger 😉 ).

The list goes on and on, but as with most modern smartphones, this bad boy needs a manual reboot… which brings me to the rub. People who buy a phone for a few hundred bucks are okay with the occasional reboot, but to have this issue in a car that costs tens of thousands of dollars? That seems a bit shortsighted. Can’t you just reboot it every night when I’m sleeping… or when I power it off… or something? K, thanks!

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new vs old
Tesla Model S New vs Old Handle Mechanism | Image Credit: Kyle Field

TWO… The ~20 changes per week that Tesla makes on the Model S results in TONS of micro-variants of the car. Coming from a conventional vehicle manufacturing mindset with a new model year that’s made for a full year and only really improved in large ~4–6 year updates, it’s a bit tough to grasp what this actually means, so let me break it down for you with a few examples.

Door handles — My only issue with the car has been related to the door handles, one of which decided it didn’t want to work when it was pulled on. The original design of the handle mechanism (which my car came with) extended from the car when the driver was detected, with the inside of the handle sitting flush with the body of the car. When the driver gave a gentle tug on the handle, it would not physically move at all, but rather, two microswitches would detect the force and trigger the door to open.

When I had my car serviced to repair a handle mechanism that no longer detected a tug on the door, it was replaced with a handle mechanism that behaved differently. The newer handle mechanism came with 3 microswitches and sat slightly recessed, so when the handle was pulled on, it would move out a bit, which feels more natural to those of us who grew up with mechanical door handles. Minor change, but noticeable.

Charging door auto-close — My 2013 Model S charging door opens via a button on the touchscreen or when the button on a Tesla charger is pushed. This works fine, but in newer versions of the car, the door can also close automatically. Another minor change, but one that I was surprised at when all the cars I had test driven and played with at the Tesla stores had charging ports that could be closed with software.

Homelink — One of our regular commenters and contributors here at CleanTechnica, Chris Dragon, noted that his Model S did not include the garage door opener, which means no Homelink. Definitely not a game-changing innovation, but just one.more.thing…

There are many more major changes that I can think of in addition to what I’m sure is a much longer list of small items that I haven’t even noticed. Bottom line: Tesla innovates like crazy and rolls those innovations out as they are ready, not all batched up to try to sell a better car next year… but the best car it can possibly make, right now, today.

Tesla Model S Lights | Image Credit: Kyle Field

THREE… The fog light assemblies in the front bumper pull double duty as turning lights. When heading around a turn at night, the turning light on the inside of the turn kicks on, lighting up what the car is turning into. It’s a pretty neat little bit of tech that helps when taking turns at night. This is apparently included in the tech package and has come in handy for me more than a few times.

Tesla Model S Media Interface | Image Credit: Tesla Motors

FOUR… Playing Music via USB. I had read horror stories about how bad the Model S media system was, but after playing with a few options, I found I’m able to load up ~320 gigabytes of music (takes a solid ~5 minutes to build up the music database when it’s first plugged in or after a software update) and play music straight off of the drive in random order, by artist, etc, and it works flawlessly.

Most cars just plain suck at media. A few have started adding SD card ports (our Mercedes B-Class has this), on-board media hard drives (our B-Class has this as well, but it’s terrible), and even integrated streaming music, but none that I have been in do it so well as the Tesla. It’s not a mind-blowing experience, but it is equivalent to what I’m used to on my smartphone, which says a ton.

I’m also eagerly waiting for the rumored Spotify Premium launch in the US, which would kick it up one more notch.

Navigation Route Improvement Suggestion | Image Credit: Kyle Field

FIVE… Route recommendations? Many modern navigation apps will recommend better routes or give you the option of skipping traffic, but it caught me off guard one day when leaving work when a popup on the touchscreen asked if I wanted to take a faster route. I had not entered in a destination for navigation, so it must have realized that 90% of the time, I head straight home from work, and also determined that it had a better route for me.

This is extremely encouraging, as it shows that Tesla is building predictive “Google Now” style pattern recognition into the car and is already pushing improvements to users based on the the insights. Ironically, the day it recommended the change to me, I was not going directly home, but it still made me happy to know that it was thinking about me… after all, it’s the thought that counts, right?

The Model S continues to amaze me and is a pure pleasure to drive. In addition to these specific items, the fact that it continues to change and evolve over time — like the two software updates I have received in the 2 months I’ve owned it — is pretty amazing.

Dual Charging | Image Credit: Kyle Field

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Kyle Field

I'm a tech geek passionately in search of actionable ways to reduce the negative impact my life has on the planet, save money and reduce stress. Live intentionally, make conscious decisions, love more, act responsibly, play. The more you know, the less you need. As an activist investor, Kyle owns long term holdings in Tesla, Lightning eMotors, Arcimoto, and SolarEdge.

Kyle Field has 1657 posts and counting. See all posts by Kyle Field