Given that at Advanced Drivers of North America [ADoNA] we teach defensive and advanced driving, the use of assistance features which reduce the tasks and sadly also the concentration of drivers is not a key area for us. (How new safety technology might actually be making our driving worse.)
That aspect, however, is not the theme of this write-up. Instead, I will focus on the Tesla being driven normally, with the minimum of automated features and with maximum smoothness for the chauffeur context plus, of course, maximum regard for driving safely
In the photograph above, the door handles are pulled in, flush with the doors, and the exterior mirrors have been swung inwards towards the windows, to minimize any risk of them being damaged while the vehicle is parked. As you approach the vehicle with the ‘key’ — a lozenge-shaped, plastic covered object — in your pocket or purse, the exterior mirrors and the door handles move outwards to their correct positions, and the vehicle unlocks (see the next photograph).
The first thing that is immediately noticeable when getting the car ready to move off is the absolute silence and zero vibration. Even though the car is ready to go, there is rather obviously no engine noise at all, and the first time this happens you may find yourself looking for a clue — any clue — that anything is happening. But simply do the usual essential tasks: adjust the seat, steering position and mirrors, pop your belt on, select forward or reverse on a steering column stalk control, check all around for safety and signal if appropriate, press gently on the accelerator, and in magic-carpet-style silence, away you go. (Be aware that the parking brake is a completely hidden function. It automatically switches itself on when you terminate a journey and just as automatically switches itself off again when you press that accelerator pedal to move off.)
With all electrically-powered vehicles the silence aspect, in itself, can be a safety issue because nobody can hear your car approaching. As a result, there are times when it is very important to be willing to use the horn (and we teach how to do that not only for the best safety outcome but also with the least likelihood of annoying anyone who is too easily upset by such things).
Apart from the obvious controls, such as steering, footbrake, accelerator, turn signals, gear selector (which offers only the options for Drive and Reverse), the wipers, high & low beam, seat and steering position settings, and the horn, virtually every other control can be found in the central display screen, which in turn is huge and very clear to view.
Like all computer operating systems, these days, adjusting the various settings is simply a case of finding the right key words then following a logical sequence of options — but naturally this must only be done when the car is stopped and in a safe location. In addition, a surprising array of options may also be linked to your cell phone, if you like an even more personalized touch. As mentioned at the start of this article, though, these facilities are not what this high-level driving course was about.
It is worth remembering that the car we were using was bought for it to be used by chauffeurs, but it is also driven by its owners who undoubtedly enjoy taking it for a run themselves on occasion. The chauffeur aspect effectively guarantees that it is by no means a small vehicle, and its width is very noticeable when you are getting ready to drive it for the first time. This applies to a lot of superb cars and only requires that you get used to the dimensions before driving in tight confines.
In gasoline-powered cars, the act of easing off the gas triggers something called engine braking, in which the reduced speed of the engine itself helps to slow down the vehicle. In true advanced driving, the increase or decrease of pressure on the gas pedal is all known as “acceleration sense,” using the word acceleration in more of a physics and engineering context. Interestingly, in the Tesla, the act of easing off or completely coming off the accelerator altogether, had a significantly greater engine-braking effect than in any other of the thousands of cars I have driven. But while this may be disconcerting to someone not expecting such an effect and can result in the car slowing down too vigorously or too soon, it can in fact be used to very good effect for immensely smooth speed control. I liked it a lot!
The Tesla we were using was over four years old but none-the-less could cover a very useful distance before recharging the batteries became necessary. On one of the driving days, however, we did get to the point where a “top-up” became the wise choice to get us home, so it was simply a case of stopping at a Tesla recharging station, where a 25 percent boost to power can be had in just ten minutes (see the above photo).
Other than that, overnight charging is the norm with all electrically-powered cars, and the Tesla is no exception.
All I can say is that I greatly enjoyed this vehicle and hope that I get to spend a lot more time in one in the not-to-distant future, and perhaps the opportunity to do a full safety review.