48 Hours in a Tesla: Driving an All-Electric Model S to Amsterdam and Back

By Rory Buckeridge on at

The problem with electric vehicles is mostly that you cruise silently to Aldi, then head over to Maplins and then inconveniently run out of juice, right? And my kingdom for a sodding plug. Well, Tesla aim to banish this “range-anoia” – a term I’ve just this second made up – by inviting Gizmodo UK to drive to Amsterdam and back, using just three of their clever superchargers. Challenge accepted!

Thursday 10.10am. Tesla supercharger station, Westfield, London. Range: 151 miles

We meet at Tesla’s showroom at the swish and massive Westfield shopping centre for fluffy pastries and coffee. The PR then gives a quick tour of the Model S and the 17-inch iPad-like touchscreen that dominates the interior. It’s a seriously impressive device, offering all the car’s controls under seven “apps”: Media, Nav, Calendar, Energy, Web, Camera, Phone on the top, with car settings on the bottom. You can double up, too, splitting the screen horizontally for two views. We preferred satnav on top with the rear view camera below, but you can have any combination of options.

The car controls offer a stupidly exhaustive delivery of tweaks, from percentage sunroof opening holes to which rear seat you’d like to deliver a bum warming to. The car’s also 3G connected for internet and satnav updates and the entire firmware can be updated remotely via a Wi-Fi connection at home. If you want, you can read the entire car manual from the driver’s seat.

Off we go.

Thursday 11.20am. Tesla supercharger station, Maidstone. Miles driven: 42.6. Range remaining: 98 miles

First impressions of the drive is what all EV drivers find. It’s eerily quiet. Pedestrians and cyclists are eternally surprised to see you creep up behind them on the road, but it’s a sublimely easy drive. It’s an automatic, but there’s no kick down as you speed off, power is supplied smoothly and confidently and immediately it feels like a very nice place to be. Seat and steering wheel settings can be personalised and saved to named individuals. Handy. This does, on no account, feel like a second stab at a car from a start-up established in 2003. It’s a very, very nice place to be.

Thursday 12.10pm. Tesla supercharger station, Maidstone. Range: 248 miles.

Now as a passenger, the first thing to do is fire up the 3G-connected browser and Tweet and Facebook status update from the dash. This never gets old. The system won’t play videos so as not to distract the driver, but it’s a fully functioning internet tablet. And the car options are insane. From the touchpad you can open the sunroof in percentages, if 12 per cent is stupidly shuttered but 13 per cent just right. And handling, ride height and traction control are all tweakable. You can even save a ride height setting to a GPS co-ordinate if you have a driveway at a crazy incline, for instance.

One of the other chaps on our convoy managed to put their Model S into neutral on the M20 because they mistakenly reached for the gear shift on the right which looks and feels suspiciously like an indicator stick. But nothing untoward happened and it was really only “new car issues”, but watch out for that thing, eh?

Thursday 2pm. Channel tunnel station, Folkestone. Miles driven: 31. Range remaining: 187 miles.

After a wee tussle with “Operation Stack” on the M20, we arrive at the Channel Tunnel terminal in Folkestone. And we’re realising pretty quickly that the range estimate is a “driving Miss Daisy” figure, not a real world, actual figure. We’ve driven 31miles but lost nearly twice that on available range, which is another thing to look out for.

Thursday 4.55pm. Channel tunnel station, Calais. Range 178 miles.

It’s lost a little bit of juice over the Channel crossing, but nothing too serious. And we’ve discovered exactly how wide the Model S is. It’s a big, old unit, with it’s 2,187mm width leaving just a few centimetres of wriggle room each side on the chunnel train’s car tracks. This does, however, mean there’s loads of room inside, and as the electric engine sits over the rear axle, this means there’s no transmission tunnel running down the centre of the car, so there’s acres of room inside, front and back.

Thursday 6.30pm. Tesla supercharger station, Ghent, Belgium. Miles driven: 92.5. Range remaining: 47 miles

As we’re in Belgium now, it seems a fine time to change the speedo to kilometres (we’ll keep figures in miles to avoid confusion) and this is a surprisingly complicated affair, frowning through five menu trees to uncover the setting. It also highlights a (bit of a first world) problem with the touch screen. It’s a lovely thing to be sure, but changing any settings on the fly is too complicated to be intuitive. You wouldn’t pick up an iPad and start delving through menus while driving, and this feels similar.

Thursday 7.50pm. Tesla supercharger station, Ghent, Belgium. Range: 244 miles

Car swap!

Thursday 7.55pm. Tesla supercharger station, Ghent, Belgium. Range: 240 miles.

We’ve swapped cars to have a pop in one of the other variants, but the range remaining is the same. This is the P85, with performance pack. The engine and acceleration are unchanged, but there’s a handling pack included for a bit more sporty fun. To be honest, it makes pretty much zero difference driving in an eternal straight line down a motorway, but it would be strange if it did.

It does, however, deliver an opportunity to bring up the Tesla’s performance. And it is more than a bit naughty. A two-second YouTube search will deliver an avalanche of videos featuring Tesla S models creaming Ferraris and Lamborghinis in drag races. This is usually until the Italians hit third gear, but the benefit of a single speed automatic electric motor is that you get all the performance, all the time.

Hit the gas and you’ll zoom from 50mph [to over 70mph] in an impressive matter of moments, with only a slightly wheezy sigh from the motor behind the rear seats and a swift speedo clock shooting upwards to demonstrate. Make no mistake, this is supercar performance with no emissions and free fuel. And it’s incredibly fun. Official figures go thusly: the 363bhp motor delivers 440Nm of torque, supplying 60mph in 5.4 seconds, to a top speed of 125mph.

Thursday 9pm. Tesla supercharger station,  Oosterhout, Netherlands. Miles driven: 78. Range remaining: 127miles

Here, handily, there’s a McDonald’s on site so 20 minutes for a Dutch coffee so strong it could dissolve spoons and a quick break and leg stretch.

Thursday 9.30pm. Tesla supercharger station,  Oosterhout, Netherlands. Range: 214 miles

Back in for the final stretch to the hotel.

Thursday 10.30pm. Volkshotel, Amsterdam, Netherlands. Miles driven: 58. Range remaining: 118 miles

And so we ease into the car park at Amsterdam’s Volkshotel (which is lovely, by the way. It’s a boutique hotel which doesn’t feel ostentatiously “boutique”. Check it out if you plan a visit) with rear view camera and rear sensors taking all the worry out. Time for one beer and a chat before hitting the sack.

Friday 10.30am. Volkshotel, Amsterdam, Netherlands

Day two sees us pile luggage for three, and all the photographer’s inexplicable miscellany of gear into the back. The rear boot space is a cavernous 31.6-cubic-feet, and as there’s no engine, there’s space for another bag or two in the front, with the added advantage of the entire space from the wheels forward being a safety crumple zone. The Tesla is one of the safest cars on the road, achieving a full NCAP five-star rating.

Friday 10.50am, Tesla supercharger station, Oosterhout, Netherlands. Miles driven: 58. Range remaining: 21 miles.

Sitting in the nearby café in Oosterhaus, we get the low down on the proprietary supercharger tech that the Model S uses. You can pop the charger flap from the main screen, but if you forget, a button on top of the big, old plug pops it for you. Then, it shovels 120 kW of direct current power straight into the battery, starting off with the maximum charge transference and easing off as the battery fills. We found that 20 minutes of juice added on average about 150 miles of range.

You can charge your car at home with a conventional plug, but at the Government is currently subsidising specialist home chargers which charge at 68 miles of range per hour, so for a one-off payment of £95, you can get one installed in your home. Most of Europe is now covered by the supercharger network, with only Spain and Italy having glaring holes, but they’re being filled slowly. For the full network of superchargers head here.

Friday 11.45am, Tesla supercharger station, Oosterhout, Netherlands. Range: 211 miles.

Nearly an hour of charging has added almost 200 miles of range and I should have gotten over this tech by now, but somehow it’s still impressive. Sitting in the driver’s seat, watching the range click back at a rate of knots is still weirdly compelling. And the enforced, short breaks have made the drive far less stressful on both mind and body than a one-stop petrol aggressive dash would have been. Remember, you’re supposed to take regular breaks on long journeys, all the Tesla does enforce that.

Friday 1.35pm, Tesla supercharger station, Ghent, Belgium. Miles driven: 78. Range remaining: 105 miles.

Friday 2.05pm, Tesla supercharger station, Ghent, Belgium. Range: 199 miles.

Now the last stretch on the wonderful European motorways and their silky, smooth tarmac, where drivers use lanes properly and mostly politely. It’s another world. And we’re going to miss it.

Friday 3.28pm, Channel Tunnel terminal, Calais, France. Miles driven: 94. Range remaining: 56miles

You can get out on the train if you wish, which involved some key-fob paranoia. A swish touch is that you shut down and lock the car when you walk out of a 10-metre proximity range with the key fob in pocket, but this feels strangely counter-intuitive. Hitting a button and watching your car reply with a merry parp and cheeky light flash tells your brain job done, it’s safe to walk away. But if you’re not 100 per cent sure that the car’s not locked, going back to check the door handle unlocks the car and turns it on again. A sweet detail is that the recessed door handles swoosh out to greet you, but walking away from a car rarely felt secure enough to well, secure it. Humans, eh?

Friday 3.25pm, Channel Tunnel terminal, Folkestone, UK. Range: 51miles.

Again, just a four-mile loss under the sea. You can turn the car “off” if you so wish via the touchpad, but after a period of inactivity it shuts itself down anyway, before coming to life again with a prod of the brake, or if it picks up a proximity alert from the key.

Friday 3.55pm, Tesla Supercharger station, Maidstone. Miles driven: 31. Range remaining: 8 miles

Just made it. And with just 8 miles in reserve, it did feel a bit squeaky bum at the end, but it’s essentially the same as carrying on to the next petrol station with your fuel light on. The problem with this car is that it’s just so much fun, that even though your brain’s saying, “Keep it to 70, you plum. Save fuel”, your heart’s yelling: “We can take that Audi. What’s the worst that can happen? Who’s with me?” Right now, if you do run out of juice, rather than the AA man rolling his eyes and producing a jerry can from the back of his van though, you’re looking at a tow. And gleeful schadenfreude from fellow motorists.

Friday 4.15pm, Tesla Supercharger station, Maidstone. Range: 158miles

And back we head into London. At a “sedate” pace, dictated by its soul-destroying congestion.

Friday 6pm, Tesla Supercharger station, Westfield, London. Miles driven: 44. Range remaining: 108 miles.

And we finally drop the car off, back to Tesla in Westfield. And we’re card-carrying Tesla converts now, evangelists, even. This is absolutely one of the most compelling cars on the market today. Of course, it’s an intimidatingly expensive thing to buy. But if you do slap your money down on a counter in one of Tesla’s all-owned dealerships you get a car which costs £8 to fill up at home, and free at a supercharger.

Charging it to the daily recommended state of 80 per cent will cost pennies, while delivering over 200 miles of range a day, something you’ll struggle to use ever; it’s only for long journeys you’d ever consider supercharger use and they cover most of Europe now. Any farther and you’d fly. Emissions are zero. As is congestion charge and road tax. Plus, it’s wrapped up in such a compelling car that’s well made, immensely fun to drive and will leave a Ferrari pondering why there’s no exhaust to be eating at lights as it stares at your back number plate. God, I really, really want one.

We drove a £67,980 Tesla Model S 85 with extras including the “tech pack”. Prices start at £49,380. See Tesla Motors for more details.