Since I bought my cheap, 107,000-mile 2012 Tesla Model S a few weeks ago, I haven’t had any serious issues. Honestly, I didn’t plan on liking the Tesla as much as I do — and much to the jealousy of my gas-guzzling hooptie fleet, I find myself favoring the car more than others. There’s certainly a lot to love about my Tesla — but during these past few weeks, I’ve found a few things to hate as well.
The main reason I tend to favor the Tesla so much is how easy it is to drive. The key is just a little black pebble that stays in your pocket. That’s typical of luxury cars — but the Tesla doesn’t even have a start button. Entering the cabin automatically switches on the Tesla — but even when you’re away, the car periodically activates the climate control to keep the cabin comfortable. The act of driving is also incredibly simple — but still different from a standard car due to the regenerative braking system. In its active mode, you don’t need to use the brakes much, as coasting activates the regenerative braking while slowing the car down, and it’s dramatic enough that Tesla programmed the system to activate the brake lights. It takes some getting used to, and you can disable this feature, but I really like it.
Of course, the huge appeal of Tesla is all the cutting-edge technology — but this is where my 2012 is already beginning to show its age. I’m not sure how many software updates my car has, but it’s still on the original clunky 3G network coverage — and it can be pretty glitchy. It’s also not very encouraging when the instrument cluster has to reboot, especially the one time it happened while I was driving down the highway. This didn’t disable the car, but watching the screen go black and cycle through a 10-second restart sequence is still a bit unnerving. Plus, other automakers are quickly catching up with their own versions of giant touchscreens and spaceship-style instrument panels, so the novelty of this Tesla tech probably won’t last much longer.
Technology aside, the Tesla is still a fantastic car to drive. Mine was ordered with the optional air-ride suspension, giving it a very smooth, insulating ride that I tend to favor — but its floor-mounted power plant creates a low center of gravity, and the handling greatly benefits. The instant torque of electric cars is also a great rush, even with my non-“Performance” model — and I don’t find myself missing the sound of an engine, or the shifting gears. Range anxiety aside, I would favor this car for long trips — if it didn’t possess one trait with modern cars that I hate. As is too often the case with modern cars, the seats in this Tesla are rock-hard and uncomfortable for long trips. This is a typical gripe for me, as I long for the days of luxury car makers building seats with actual cushioning that doesn’t feel like cardboard.
Styling is another complaint I have with most modern cars — but not with this Tesla. I love its clean, European-looking design, and the fact that it doesn’t have weird styling indulgences like weird useless windows or strange body creases that most electric/hybrid cars in particular seem to have. Tesla even figured out how to make the practical, hatchback-style rear end look nice, which has proven a challenge for cars like the Prius, Panamera, and every Gran Touring-style BMW, in my opinion.
As a whole, I think my Tesla is beautiful — but I also find myself staring at a horrible panel gap. In between the front driver’s door and fender is what feels like a Grand Canyon-size panel gap (at least, by normal car standards) — almost like the fender is warped or bent. I know the car has never been wrecked, and it actually took a few days before I noticed it — but now that I’ve seen it, I cannot unsee it.
Admittedly, the car seems really well-built otherwise, and it would probably be a joy to work on. Electric cars in principle have less moving parts to wear out, too — but my huge gripe with Tesla is their unwillingness to share parts and diagnostic software. Where I live, in Wichita, Kansas, there’s no Tesla sales or service facility — only a supercharger located between a McDonald’s and an Applebee’s. If I did need any work done, I would have to drive the car several hours to Kansas City — and if the issues prevented it from being drivable, I would have to spend hundreds of dollars shipping it up there. If Tesla were more willing to share their diagnostic software and shop manuals, like every other automaker has, then an independent mechanic (like my Car Wizard) could repair things for me.
Even with my gripes, it obviously didn’t stop me from buying my Tesla — and, overall, I find myself really enjoying the ownership experience. Surely I’m not the only one that pretends to be Harry Potter with the charge wand, when it magically opens the door hiding the plug-in port, right? Now that I think about it, I doubt anybody else is that weird…
Tyler Hoover went broke after 10 years in the car business and now sells hamburgers to support his fleet of needy cars. He lives in Wichita, Kansas.