Test drive: DC to Boston in a Tesla Model S
Writer test drives Motor Trend Car of the Year
Can a Tesla Model S make it from Washington D.C. to New England without riding on a flatbed truck?
The electric luxury car recently had some trouble making the long-haul trip up the Eastern Seaboard, running out of juice during a test drive conducted by the New York Times.
The subsequent review -- which affected Tesla's share price -- set off a war of words between the paper and Tesla CEO Elon Musk.
What's being called into question isn't the car, but Tesla's network of fast-charging Supercharger stations. They're supposed to make long trips like this possible in a battery-powered car. Or, at least, in a Model S.
I asked Tesla if I could try their Northeast charger network myself on a trip from D.C. to Boston, and they agreed.
As you can tell from the dateline, I made it to Boston. The final stretch, about 150 miles from Tesla's Milford, Conn. Supercharger station located on Interstate 95, was a piece of cake.
The most taxing part of the trip: Before reaching Milford, my last chance to fill the Tesla's roughly 270-mile battery pack had been in Newark, Del., about 200 miles back.
That mere 70 miles of buffer made me a little nervous, especially after I missed an exit and added a few miles to the trip. I followed Tesla's recommendations and kept the cruise control pegged to between 60 and 65 much of the way and kept the climate control at 72 degrees. And I minimized stops.
I had expected this leg of the trip to feel ridiculous. I had expected that, all the way from Newark to Milford, I'd have one eye on the rearview mirror watching fast-approaching cars threatening to rear-end me. But I didn't.
Instead, I found myself maneuvering around slower cars. Now, I normally spend most of my time on the New Jersey Turnpike out in the left lane going at least 10 or 15 miles an hour faster than I was in the Model S. But sitting in the middle lane, I was keeping up with traffic. I certainly didn't feel out of place -- except for the fact that I wasn't burning any gasoline.
When we got to Northern New Jersey, we had a choice to make. We could take the shorter route to Milford -- over the George Washington Bridge and through the Bronx -- or a route 30 miles longer that avoided New York City, and its battery draining traffic congestion altogether.
I discussed it with the people at Tesla, as well as photo journalist Jeremy Harlan and producer Abby Bassett Heffernan accompanying me. We opted for the longer route. That seemed smart, until we hit traffic. While it wasn't as bad as the epic parking lot that is the Cross Bronx Expressway, I had gone 30 miles out of our way to avoid traffic and I got it anyway. This did not seem like the road to success.
But as I drove into Connecticut, I realized something amazing. Not only did I have enough battery range left, I had plenty. I had at least 40 miles -- more than an entire Chevy Volt's worth of electricity -- left to play with. I sped up, cruising over 70, riding in the left lane, mashing the gas pedal just to feel how fast the car could shoot from 65 to 80. I was practically giddy.
In the end, I made it -- and it wasn't that hard.
Looking back on the trip, it would be even easier if Tesla would install one of their fast-charging Superchargers along the New Jersey Turnpike. (These charging stations can fill up a nearly dead battery in Tesla's longest-range cars in about an hour, which is enough time to stop for a meal.)
Tesla's working on that, spokeswoman Shanna Hendricks said. But the first priority was to install enough to make this trip, even if you had to take it easy most of the way.
But I didn't have to take it that easy, which is good because the Model S provides a pretty amazing mix of smooth and silent performance along with brain-squishing acceleration. So even if you're not driving from Washington to Boston, it's an impressive car, all on its own.
As for the Supercharger network? Turns out that works, too.
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