I drive a 13-year-old Honda Civic with nearly 142,000 miles on it, bought off Craigslist for about $7,000. No electric windows, no air conditioning -- but plenty of scrapes and scratches.
So when Tesla Motors (TSLA) lent me an all-electric Model S sedan for three days, I was understandably elated. It's not just an electric car -- gas stations, be gone! -- it's a new car, and luxurious to boot.
I didn't have big plans to put the Model S through Mario Andretti-like paces: I'm a fairly conservative driver. I'm a working mom who doesn't have time to think too much about my car: It just needs to work.
My concerns were about the day-to-day and the mundane: Is it going to be a pain to install the car seat for my 6-year-old? Can I enjoy this vehicle without worrying about its range? Can I charge overnight at home without blowing up my house?
The answers, in a nutshell, were No, Yes and the house is still standing. And while Tesla's price point for the Model S is still too high for me to afford -- the fully loaded model I drove costs $108,350 before any state or federal tax credits -- driving it was a taste of the future: a transportation system that is increasingly electrified, kinder to the planet and lots of fun.
My test drive of the Model S came after an infamous review in The New York Times, in which a reporter ran into problems in cold weather. The trip ended with the car being loaded onto a flatbed truck.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk published a blistering response to the article, and The New York Times public editor also weighed in, saying that the reporter took "what seems to be casual and imprecise notes along the journey."
Since then, the company has been on a bit of a roll; it said it would be profitable in its most recent quarter, a significant financial milestone. And it has been ramping up production of the Model S and sold nearly 5,000 in the most recent quarter.
I cover Tesla as a business reporter, and have been eager to drive the car for some time, so I leapt at the chance to test-drive the sedan.
I picked up the Model S at Tesla's Fremont factory on a Tuesday morning. I was given a silver "Performance Model" with a high-end 85 kWh battery pack, which has an estimated range of 265 miles per charge -- more than enough for my daily driving needs. I live in Oakland and work most days in San Jose. My main daily driving chore is taking my son to school in the morning, a 7-mile trip.
The car came with a panoramic sunroof, 21-inch tires, black leather interior, two rear-facing seats, an awesome sound system and the "Tech Package," which includes keyless entry, innovative lighting in the cabin and turn-by-turn navigation.
At first, how to turn the car on seemed shrouded in mystery, but all you have to do is press the brake pedal. The 17-inch touch screen, which includes music and radio, maps and navigation, Internet search, climate control and cabin settings, is like having an iPad at the ready in the dashboard -- especially for someone whose own car predates the first iPod.
Another great feature that's becoming more common in new cars: My iPhone conveniently connected to the vehicle via Bluetooth, letting me take calls without taking my hands off the wheel. Because the Model S is exceedingly quiet, I could have the conversation without trying to talk over engine and freeway noise.
I had a vague notion that being in a Model S would make me the envy of all other drivers, but that never happened. Every once in a while someone -- usually a guy in a Chevrolet Volt -- did a double take, but that was it.
Pulling into the driveway? A whole other story. Jasper, my mechanically minded son, came flying out of the house and climbed into the front seat. Within seconds, he'd turned on the hazard lights and the seat warmers and "swiped" open the sunroof via the touch screen. The Model S was like a new toy, shiny and glowing with an abundance of features to press and explore.
The next big test: the car seat. It's a basic booster seat, with its share of crumbs, and snapping the seat belt into place was pretty straightforward. We went for a drive up into the Oakland hills, with my husband, Matt, at the wheel. The car handled the sharp twists and curves of Grizzly Peak Boulevard with ease.
At one point, a notice on the touch screen warned us to check the tire pressure. I called Tesla, and my media contact explained that the company was having a minor issue with the sensor inside the tire. The tires were fine, and after that one incident the alert never came on again.
Our house is an old, 1910 bungalow that lacks a proper garage, much less one with electricity. Tesla assured me that I could charge at home by using the 220-volt dryer outlet, and the company gave me a very long cable that functioned as an extension cord. We plugged the cable into the dryer outlet, then ran the cable from the laundry room, out the door to the backyard and back through the gate to the driveway: a less than elegant solution, but it worked.
The only thing that suffered was the family laundry: A few loads sat in the washer longer than expected because we couldn't run the dryer and charge the Model S at the same time.
On most nights, I would let the car charge for a few hours. I never let it fully charge because I honestly didn't need that much range for the next day's driving.
My son loved going to school in the Model S and made a point of asking other parents and his teachers if they wanted to see "my mom's electric car." They did, and another mom took the car for a few spins around the block after drop-off.
Many drivers of electric vehicles keep scrupulous tabs on range and their energy use; others meticulously plan errands and trips around the location of public charging stations.
I never had to do that, which was an enormous relief. The Model S has a powerful battery, and when it became abundantly clear that I had more juice than I needed on a daily basis, I largely forgot about it.
The three days passed quickly, and before long it was back to my old car. A car whose carbon emissions are warming the planet and that's due for a smog check. I feel increasingly guilty driving it.
Jasper took the news hard that he'd be back in the Honda.
"The Honda!" he groaned. "I hate that old Honda. You have to crank the windows down and it doesn't have a sunroof."
I certainly miss the power controls and the sunroof. But far more than that, I miss the ability to drive without having to go to a gas station. Stopping the car, getting out to pump, the smell of the gas, the grime: I'm over it. Give me an electric car and a long cable to my dryer outlet any day.
Contact Dana Hull at 408-920-2706. Follow her at Twitter.com/danahull.
Tesla Motors allowed staff writer Dana Hull, who covers clean technology and energy policy, to borrow an all-electric Model S sedan for three days. She typically drives a 13-year-old Honda, so this was a major upgrade. Here's what she learned in her 72 hours with the Model S, and what she would improve.
(1) Charging is not that big of a deal. I'd much rather plug a car in overnight to charge than have to stop at a gas station.
(2) Range anxiety may be an issue, but not with a battery that gets 265 miles per charge. For my everyday driving, I never worried about running out of juice and had more than enough range to get where I needed to go.
(3) Keyless entry was a new concept for me. I like the sleek black key fob that Tesla uses, but it's a wonder that it didn't get lost. Maybe put it on a carabiner or metal loop, so I can keep it with my house keys?
(4) The visibility out the back window was a little smaller than I'm used to.
(5) I will be priced out of the Model S for a long time. Get working on that model with a lower price point!