Tesla is just short of a flying car

07/22/2014 5:31 PM

07/22/2014 5:33 PM

I thought by now we’d be living like the Jetsons, complete with flying cars that fit inside your briefcase. Or maybe the flying DeLorean that Marty McFly drove in Back to the Future.

Recently I got a chance to experience the next best thing. It didn’t fly, although it sure felt like it.

Mark Maness, a friend of about 20 years, recently bought a Tesla, the electric supercar developed by Elon Musk, and he took me out for a test drive.

All I can say is wow!

When I got a chance to stomp on the gas — or maybe I should say turn on the juice, since obviously there was no gas involved — it was like lighting the afterburner on an F-35. Zero to 60 mph in about 5 seconds.

And it sounded like this: Nothing.

It was eerie.

I’ve been in a Bentley, which costs about four times the $70,000 base price of the Tesla Model S, and it doesn’t compare in terms of quiet or acceleration, although of course the Bentley does win the overall luxury amenities contest (but it doesn’t have a giant 17-inch iPad control center like the Tesla!)

I’ve also driven a Toyota Prius, and after that I doubted I would ever be interested in an electric car because the get-up-and-go never got up and went. I want to be able to quickly get out of danger if something happens on the highway and didn’t feel it in the Prius.

The Tesla was a completely different story.

One of the advantages of driving a Tesla, of course, is the ability to avoid gas stations. The car is charged in your garage overnight and you’ll get about 250 miles to the “tank,” depending on your driving habits. For me, that’s about what I drive to and from work in a week, and about $4,000 a year in gas savings.

There also aren’t any sparkplugs to replace. Or oil to change, or antifreeze. No fuel pump or alternator to go bad. No air filter.

All you need to do is add windshield wiper fluid!

If you have to make a longer trip, you’ll have to plan ahead a little. Although Tesla is in the process of putting free charging stations all over the country where you can get a half-charge in about 30 minutes using a “supercharger,” the closest stations if you get outside of Texas right now are western New Mexico, Georgia to the east and Kansas to the north.

But many hotels, businesses (or maybe relatives) all have 240-volt outlets that can be used with Tesla’s mobile charger, although it’ll take about six hours to fill up.

Consumer Reports gave the Model S 99 points out of 100 when it rated the car. Only one other car — the 2009 Lexus LS460 — ever earned a score that high from the magazine, which has wide influence among car buyers because it buys the cars it tests and accepts no paid advertising, so their reviews are generally viewed as unbiased.

The only reason the Tesla didn’t get a perfect score was the charging issue. If the Tesla could be recharged in about three minutes, the magazine’s chief tester said, “it would have scored about a 115.”

The downside for Texans right now is that you can’t go to a showroom and test drive or purchase a Tesla, because the company hasn’t agreed to operate under the same laws and regulations that all other car dealers who do business here abide by. Those laws which forbid direct sale by a manufacturer to the consumer.

Lee Chapman, president of the Dallas Fort Worth Metropolitan New Car Dealers Association, says dealers here would love to have the opportunity to sell Teslas if the company would change its business model to comply with Texas regulations.

That makes sense. The playing field needs to be level for everybody.

About Jim Witt

Jim Witt

@jimelvis

Jim Witt is executive editor of the Star-Telegram.

Email Jim at jwitt@star-telegram.com.

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