An Owners Tesla Model S First Impressions

Posted on Dec 27 2012 - 7:57pm by Russ

Tesla Model S Review

Well, I’ve had my Tesla Model S (85kWh performance) for about four days now and wanted to post my experience to date.  First off, let me say that I love the car and see much promise in the brand and the technology.  Tesla, and Elon Musk, started from scratch with the Model S and have accomplished some amazing things in a relatively short period of time.  Considering the big brands (think Toyota, Ford, etc.) have built up so much knowledge about every aspect of the industry from creating a user interface to building customer relations to the creation of manufacturing, delivery, and sales infrastructures, they are getting outmaneuvered in a big way by Tesla and the Model S.  Kudos to Tesla for this!

Now on to the important bits, let me start off with some of the not-so-shiny aspects of the Tesla Model S experience and I will finish with the things I love (very much).  Keep in mind that I will be updating as I learn more and open issues are resolved.  Read on.

Open Tesla Model S Issues (aka the negatives)

– I picked up the car from the Tesla factory in Fremont on 12/24/12.  It was the best Christmas gift to myself, ever.  Turned out that the car was missing a few items, which would have been nice to know in advance.  Not the end of the world, but frustrating.  There were no floor mats (normally I wouldn’t care about this delay but it happens to be a particularly rainy and wet month in typically-sunny California), no rear cargo hatch cover, the charging cable was missing a metallic piece with the Tesla logo, and the rear carbon fiber spoiler was not installed.  While I am confident these issues will be addressed, it still left a blemish on an otherwise great delivery experience.

12/31/12 update "“ Still waiting for the carbon fiber SPOILER floor mats, rear cargo hatch cover, and charging cable metallic piece.

(1/1/13)  The sunroof got stuck and will not open.  I made three attempts with no luck.  Fixed at the Tesla service center.


– One of the selling points that was reiterated to me on most of my visits to the Tesla dealerships is the fact that I would be able to charge the car, for free, at the dealership imagecharging stations.  For example, the Santana Row Tesla dealership has two charging stations behind the store.  This appealed to me, as I spend quite a bit of time at Santana Row and would have liked to use this perk.  However, the charging stations are still set up with the large Roadster connectors which don't work with the Model S.  The car doesn't come with an adapter for this connection and the cable costs approximately $650.  Ouch.  This particular dealership has one adapter that they will loan out when not in use, though so far on all of my visits it has been in use to charge their test-drive cars.  So, net-net, no free charging as of yet.

12/28/12 update "“ got my first time on the charger.  Sincerely hope they get more chargers and Model S connectors.  Thanks Tesla!
1/7/13 update – still very difficult to charge at Santana Row location as there is only one charge cable for the Model S.
2/14/13 update – the parking spaces have been reconfigured in such a way that they can now get approximately six cars parked now instead of two to three.  They have also added one Model S charger.  Fingers crossed that they get at least four Model S chargers so I can turn this portion of the post GREEN.
4/5/13 update – still only one Model S charger for six parking spots.  Bleh!
1/1/14 – Well late last year they added another Model S charger bringing it to a total of 2 chargers.  The real news is that the dealer vehicles seem to be making an effort to not charge all day.  They are charging mainly at night.  This means that you I have been able to plug-in from time-to-time.  🙂

– The last few days have been raining and the car has performed well in the wet weather minus one issue.  Both headlights and the rear passenger reverse light (see picture below) have water in them.  There is clearly an issue with the seals on the lights.  I have e-mailed this to Tesla on 12/27/12 and haven't heard back as of yet.  Will update when I know more.

12/29/12 update – I received an email from Tesla and  have an appointment to take the car in for service in Menlo Park on Monday 12/31/12.
– also noticed the silver dealer vehicle at the Santana Row location also has water in the reverse light.

12/31/12 update -  Took the car in for service at the Menlo Park location (I understand they will be moving this location in the near future).  The people were friendly and professional.  The service center was nice and included a waiting area with a window that allowed you to watch your car.  They also provided coffee, tea, and some snacks in the waiting area.  The car was washed at the end of the service visit.  Nice touches.
– The reverse light was sealed.  Will have to wait for rain to see if the fix worked.
– The leaking headlights were not addressed.  I did meet two other owners with the same foggy headlight problem.  Will wait and see what they come up with as far as a remedy.
1/25/13 update -  The headlights were replaced at the Menlo Park service center. 

Leaky Tesla Model S Light

– Fit and finish.  Overall, the fit and finish looks great.  With that said there are a few areas I am concerned with.  On my car, the body trim around the headlights is not consistent from left to right.  One of the headlights is touching the body panel and the other has a gap.  Same thing with the large black plastic “grill” plate at the front of the car.  One side of it is recessed in and the other side is sticking out much further.  Not the end of the world, but it does bring to mind echoes of GM’s fit and finish.  Goes without saying, I was hoping for something closer to Lexus quality, especially given the price tag.  Lastly, an issue which I have noticed on a showroom car is interior wear.  The leather interior panel near the seatbelt wears out rather quickly, in my opinion.  The area in question, pictured below, slopes out of the side wall of the car and is wrapped with leather that has stitching running across it.  I’ve been conscious not to brush against this area getting in/out of the car.  Fingers crossed here.  I was told at the Tesla store that they have already replaced this section in customer cars.

I have contacted Tesla, and Elon, about this issue and their response has been to chalk it up to the volume of people getting in/out of the showroom cars.  If this was the case, customers wouldn't be having the issue as well.  Hope this gets addressed, will update.

12/30/12 update "“ Today, while showing a friend the crooked front”grill” plate I pushed on the side that was sticking out further, and it snapped in to place.  Not sure how to feel about this one.  At least it looks better now.

12/31/12 update – Still waiting to hear back on Model S interior wear and headlight fit and finish.


– Software update.  My car has been unsuccessfully trying to download a software update (4.1?) since the first day.  The car is currently set to do this at 2AM and has a failure message every morning ("Unable to start update. Try again later.").  I get the same result when trying to do the update manually. (On a side note, how cool is that there are software updates?!)  I called Tesla customer support on 12/26/12 and they said they would call back.  Will update when that happens.

12/31/12 update – The dealership could not fix this issue on my service visit.  They put me in queue for a software technician to take a look at the fact that software continues to fail update.  A new error message greeted me this morning “Unknown alert msg id 0x5b8 bit 16”, and seems to pop up every time I get in the car now.  The dealership didn’t know what to make of it.  Will wait for more information.  Software update 4.1 seems to have fixed this.
12/31/12 update #2 – The software decided it was ready to update after 8 days of failed attempts.  Took about 30-40 minutes.  Not sure why it took 8 days of failures to finally succeed.

Unable to start update. Try again later.


Things That I Love (aka the positives)

– Starting from the beginning.  I received a tour of the factory which was not operating due to the holidays but it was amazing nonetheless.  The factory is over 5 million square feet in total.  Tesla is using less than 25% of this massive facility and has plenty of room to grow.  Pictures were not allowed or I would have shared images of the amazing aluminum stamping machines.  Tesla makes all of their aluminum body panels at the Fremont plant.  The car is as close to a true "American" car as you can get.  I know there are parts from other countries in the mix, but it is a significantly smaller percentage than other American cars on the road today.

– The ride and performance.  The air suspension is firm while still being smooth.  This has to be one of the best handling larger cars on the road.  It’s pretty impressive on corners!  The suspension also has the ability to adjust the ride height, see picture below.  Very handy for steep driveways and car washes.

In terms of performance, it is easier to show someone than tell them.  The acceleration is amazing and instant.  There is no delay waiting for a gas motor to spool up and then pass that power to the transmission.  You step on the pedal and you are pushed back into your seat for a 4.4 second 0-60mph ride.  The instant torque and power from the electric motor makes other cars seem a tad antiquated.

Tesla Model S Suspension Controls

– The huge LCD and controls.  The controls are very intuitive and easy to use.  The closest experience I can think to compare against isn’t to a car, it’s to an Apple iPad.  A new user will have the cars info-tainment system figured out in a matter of minutes without grabbing the manual.  The heads up display is easy to understand and relays a bunch of important information with just a quick glance.  Steering wheel controls are also customizable, like the main screen, to show items like navigation, radio, phone, etc.  Very handy.  Details like the day/time/date, outside temperature, power usage, and range are quite nice.


A word about the overall UI. The learning curve is non-existent. By that I mean, the car pretty much does what you want, and expect, it to. Want to peer in the window to see how far the charge is?  Go ahead and lean in (with key in pocket) and the driver-side display lights up to show you its progress.  Directionally challenged and need to go full-screen on the map?  Done.  Or maybe you’re a human compass and would rather display your music and surf the web instead… done and done.  Ambient lighting is done well, as is the feedback that the charging port gives you in the way of various pulsing lights to let you know it’s doing its thing.  You know that little battery icon on your phone that shows you how charged it is?  Model S has one, too, and if you tap it, wonder of wonders, it brings up the main battery screen.  We may take these small conveniences for granted, having been jaded by our iPhones and iPads, but making UI intuitive is not easy, and the engineers at Tesla are really paying attention.  As I mentioned above, one of the coolest features of Tesla, in my book, is the fact that they can continue to tune and push updates out to you.  The way I see it, my Model S can only get better.

– The looks.  Come on, what’s not to love.  The car looks great from all angles.  Unlike the Fisker Karma which has a good angle or two, the Tesla Model S is a subtle beauty from all sides.

– The charging options.  It is nice that the car comes with a few charging adapters which will make plugging in to a standard wall outlet, 220V appliance adapter, or a generic J1772 adapter easy for the user.  No need to install a custom charger if you don't want to as the car has a built in charge controller.Tesla Model S Charge Cable

– The range.  There currently isn't a better all-electric option on the market in my opinion.  I simply couldn't purchase a car that got 70, 80, or even 100 miles of range on a full charge.  I realize most daily commutes are covered with the lower range cars, but some days require more range.  I wasn't willing to settle on this one.


Tesla Model S Review (a work in progress)

Despite a few open issues, I love the car.  Come back for updates on future discoveries and software updates, etc.  Go Tesla!

20 Comments so far. Feel free to join this conversation.

  1. Erik December 28, 2012 at 9:05 pm -

    The look of the car is quite sleek and impressive. As for the problems, I hope they work out. But, as you stated regarding the price tag, I would be frustrated with the problems. All that should not have passed Q/A.

  2. Stuart December 28, 2012 at 10:25 pm -

    Great review. Following this write up for updates.

  3. Pat December 28, 2012 at 10:48 pm -

    Nice write up. You’re obviously quite smitten with the car, but you’re honest enough to put in the negatives. That shows a true unbiased write up…I like it. You didn’t say “this thing is flawless!! Its absolutely perfect!” Nothing “first run” is EVER perfect, but they seem to have done pretty well. If Tesla is truly the type of company they seem to be, they’ll come out with fixes and get your issues resolved ASAP. Some may say you’re being picky. “My Corolla headlights leak! My Datsun never upgraded it’s software by itself!!” but come on, for what you must have spent on that ride, it should/will be near perfect.
    I’m sure The Tesla Model S “version 2.0” will be straight from heaven.

    I’ll have to take one for a spin to REALLY appreciate this car though…(wink wink, nudge nudge)

  4. Darren December 29, 2012 at 6:36 am -

    Interesting stuff. The lights are leaking water? I really hope this is just with your car and not an issue with all of the model s’s.

  5. T Spencer December 29, 2012 at 8:58 am -

    Beautiful car! Love the interior!

  6. Darren December 29, 2012 at 10:35 am -

    After your leak update it looks like it might be an actual issue not isolated to just your car.

  7. Httms December 29, 2012 at 8:40 pm -

    How is the actual battery range?

  8. 2012CTS December 30, 2012 at 8:36 am -

    beautiful ride bummer on the issues but they will make it right

  9. Ryder December 31, 2012 at 9:51 am -

    You are not alone with the leaking lights. Here’s to hoping for a permanent fix. Happy new year.

  10. Don December 31, 2012 at 7:58 pm -

    Great review. I have been to the Santana Row showroom and found little not to love about the car. I have mixed feelings about the quality issues you point out. By Japanese standards of a manufacturer who has been building cars for decades, moisture and condensation in the light lense cavity is unacceptable. For a new and revolutionary car, QA is a process of evolution. Should this have happened, no. Will they fix it, yes. Are you an early adopter yep. Hopefully you will help Tesla iron out all the issues before I finally get mine.

    Let’s not lose site of the fact that you have vehicle that requires no more oil changes, no engine tune ups, no emissions (I know there might be emissions associated with the production of electricity you buy) much lower fuel cost and, in general, a badass vehicle. Pneumatic suspension, 0-60 in 4.4 secs, low COG, trunks on both ends of the car, dang!

    If you find yourself frustrated, I will trade your Tesla for my Prius for a few days. Congrats and keep us posted.


  11. Beertown January 1, 2013 at 10:25 pm -

    dude did you get a tesla model s lemon??? leaking lights, stuck sunroof, panels not aligning, missing items, mirrors not working in reverse, and more

    you are way more patient than me that is for sure

  12. Beertown January 1, 2013 at 10:26 pm -

    thought this was a luxury car

  13. Phil January 2, 2013 at 3:56 pm -

    This is a great write-up. It’s well thought out, nicely articulated, and quite balanced. But as a previous commenter had said … you are much more patient than I am with the negatives. If I had picked up a car that was missing four things, and later had issues with leaking lights, stuck sunroof and malfunctioning mirrors, I’d be much more scathing in the review.

    When you say “The way I see it, my Model S can only get better,” I would agree with that for the software. But from your initial issues, I would be much more worried about mechanical and manufacturing problems than the software. And those types of issues only become more apparent with age. So from a mechanical/manufacturing perspective, I would say that your Model S can only get worse. While they may solve the issue with the leaking light and interior wear, I’d be scared about what new issues will come up as the car gets broken in.

    Again, this is a great write-up, and I will follow this closely for updates. Please also share your experiences with 0-60 time, MPGe, range, etc.

    Thank you again for the high quality review!

  14. Todd January 2, 2013 at 4:52 pm -

    Sorry to hear your issues. As another datapoint, I haven’t had any issues with my car. (Pano roof won’t open, but that’s a software bug that will be fixed in the next update).

    Otherwise, it’s an awesome car!

  15. Gadget King January 4, 2013 at 12:05 am -

    It is an awesome car. Bummer your roof won’t open!

  16. Rob January 4, 2013 at 9:47 am -

    Very informative – good to know both sides especially when putting down that kind of investment.
    Will be curious to see the resolve, and speed of resolve with the issues, especially the water in lights issue.
    Best of luck with that!

  17. Alfredo January 8, 2013 at 12:20 am -

    Great review. You’re honest and straightforward with all of the car’s shortcomings, as well as the strong points.

    Great looking car.

  18. Rajiv January 25, 2013 at 10:15 pm -

    Love your detailed and unbiased review – well done. I would love to buy a Tesla, though I tend to wait till they iron out the kinks. It looks like Tesla is doing its best given the number of embedded processes that the best automakers have. Living in Palo Alto, it’s cool to see the a number of S’ on the road.

  19. Heisenberg February 14, 2013 at 1:30 pm -

    Elok Musk owes you a free gift-wrapped Roadster adapter cable and some kind of Tesla leather jacket for being such a good-natured and thorough Beta Tester 🙂 Love the car though and much respect to the Tesla company.

  20. Bill I February 28, 2013 at 11:10 am -

    Great 2013 Tesla Model S review. Nice to see the Model S problems with the Model S good parts all in one writeup.

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