Yesterday was one of those rather different days. The day began with me driving to Birmingham in my Citroen XM. The reason? I had an appointment with a Tesla Model S. Excited? You bet.
As I arrived rather sooner than was necessary, I headed to the Midlands Art Centre in Canon Hill Park – somewhere I spent a lot of time as a child. I thought I might grab a nice, quiet brew but the place was all of a bustle. Just to add to that, Strictly Come Dancing’s Alison Hammond was in the queue for coffee, having just finished with her day job on ITV’s This Morning. I used to work with Alison in a really boring office job. She always wanted to be on telly, and I always wanted to write about ‘boring old cars.’ It seems we both achieved our dream! I opted not to attempt a reintroduction (remember me? I’m that really boring car bloke you used to work with!) and went off to find a quiet spot for my brew.
But this celebrity nonsense was not the highlight of the day. No, that would come at the brand new Tesla showroom in Digbeth. I chatted with the staff, examined a bare chassis (briefly pondering what alternative bodies might be fitted on top) and then headed off for a 1.5hr drive. I filled the car with my video camera gear and quietly drove away, in a Tesla Model S with a list price (in this Performance model form) of £98,000.
I won’t go into too many details here, because the video review will contain much more. Certainly, it was exciting, even if comfort levels were rather lacking for a so-called executive car. Instead, I shall use my blog to challenge some perceptions.
For instance, a lot of petrolheads refuse to take electric cars seriously. Until a few years ago, they were probably right – electric cars were generally a bit rubbish. Those days are gone though. They are genuinely good motors and can be exciting to drive.
Yet, some petrolheads almost see it as insulting to consider liking electric. They see it as a sin to consider anything other than internal combustion. Sure, electric power may be quick, but you don’t get the excitement that comes from a screaming V8. This is true. But, I still liked it a lot.
For me, I think the genuine revolution is not actually in terms of power source. It’s the transmission of that power. The reason manual gearboxes remain popular is because the alternative has always been a rather poor compromise. Despite many advances, automatic gearboxes still leave people disappointed. They can be slow to react, or keep choosing the wrong gear. Modern ones, which can have eight speeds these days, then tend to want to change gear all of the time. I find this hugely frustrating.
But with electric power, there is only one gear. You just press the ‘quiet’ pedal, and you seamlessly gather speed. Around town, I found the Tesla astonishing. It has a really strong regenerative braking set-up, that means that you control pace almost exclusively with the throttle, and barely touch the brake pedal. Some automatics creep too quickly (you can turn off the creep function in the Tesla if you so wish) or require you to hammer the middle pedal to control the pace. You often feel like you’re fighting the power of the engine with the brake pedal, which feels hugely wasteful.
It led me to rethink just why I like manual gearboxes. In truth, I don’t think I do – I just consider if the least bad of the alternatives. The clutch in the XM is a pain, and the gearbox not entirely pleasant to use. But an automatic version would drink more fuel and they have a habit of developing faults. They also have a reputation for not choosing the right gear – 30mph tends to be done in third, so is noisy.
This is the point. With an electric motor, there is no battle to keep the motor in its happiest place for torque or power. There’s just grunt. An endless stream of it in the Tesla. When you mix in genuine range potential of 200 miles or more, you can see why the electric car is definitely here to stay. The only disappointment for me, asking price aside, was comfort. I got out of a £98,000 car into a £375 and it was an absolute pleasure. That’s a bit of a concern.
More thoughts on this will be revealed once I’ve edited the video. Stay tuned.