What to Read Next

Six months with a Tesla Model S: the good, bad and glitchy

May 7, 2013

When California investor Franklin Parlamis decided to plunk down a $40,000 deposit last year for one of Tesla’s first $100,000 Model S Signature Series sedans, he had every intention of driving the thing. Hard. One look at his red four-door six months after the car arrived on a flatbed truck and you can tell this is no electric-car show pony. The exterior is covered in a layer of dirt, while the interior shares its high-tech space with discarded Gatorade bottles, energy bar wrappers and countless pens.

“I use my cars,” says Parlamis with a shrug and a smile.

So who better to check in with to gauge how well Tesla’s revolutionary and controversial entry is holding up after half a year of daily use. On a recent sunny day near his Marin County home, Parlamis laid out the pros and cons of his Model S, just before attending to a massive crack in his windshield. Overall: he’s encountered glitches, praises Tesla customer service, likes the car’s high-tech nature, and feels maybe some of the Model S’s automotive experiences should be evolutionary and not revolutionary.

As for its range? Not bad — but not what he expected.

The details:

First blush

When the Model S arrived, Parlamis was concerned his new ride would be too flashy. “My cars have been things like Subarus and Jeeps, because I generally don’t like drawing attention to myself,” he says.

That proved impossible. Between the car’s unique status on the road and its blistering acceleration of 4.2 seconds to 60 mph in the Performance model with the uprated 416 hp motors (“I’ve never driven a Ferrari or a Lamborghini, but if they’re faster than this they must be amazing”), he was constantly engaged in conversations at the curb and stoplights.

“My wife liked it, but has been restrained, while my (three) kids love it,” he says, noting that he opted for the seven-passenger variant of the Model S for carpool duty. “As for me, it’s been what I hoped. I didn’t want a midlife crisis car, but rather something forward-thinking and fast that didn’t force you to abandon the idea that you’re a family guy. For electric cars to really succeed they have to be more than dorky and boxy and efficient, and this is that.”

Initial problems included door handles that didn’t automatically extend when he approached with a key fob, and a lack of third-row seating and upgraded home charger. The latter two items were delivered weeks later, while the former was handled by flat-bedding the car down to Tesla’s Palo Alto headquarters, he says. Since then, the automaker has opened a repair facility a few miles from his home. “Servicing a car is never fun, so the new facility was key,” he says.

Life with Model S

Sleek and minimalist, Parlamis’ new automotive baby screamed cool. But practicality sometimes took a hit. “My kids hopped in the back loaded up with burgers and sodas and they suddenly tell me there’s no place to put their drinks,” Parlamis recalls with a laugh. “That’s crazy.”

Ditto the front door panels, sculpted beauties that don’t offer much storage space (that’s found in a seat compartment under your thighs). The owner has opted to keep loose change in a little well near the door handles. This same complaint goes for the center console, which is famously dominated by a massive 17-inch multi-purpose touchscreen but doesn’t leave room for nick-nacks. But Parlamis is philosophical about the car’s deficiencies on the storage front.

“I almost see this as a Steve Jobs thing, where often Steve knew best regarding his creations,” he says. “I know you can customize your Model S, and maybe that’s the best way to deal with those wanting more room for stuff. I happen to want crap in my car.”

And while Parlamis is generally pleased with the fit and finish of his car, he reaches over and grabs the part of the dash that arcs over the digital gauges and lifts. The dash flexes far too readily for his tastes: “I don’t know, is that supposed to move that easily?”

When he spotted a small divot in his windshield the other week, he’d assumed he taken a rock head on. But the next morning the scratch was a rainbow-like crack that traveled across half the windshield. A quick search revealed similar spontaneous cracks reported by other owners, and with one phone call he was able to get Tesla to plan a swap.

One item in the huge-plus column: the Google-based display, which not only allows for a revolutionary navigation experience but also offers endless customization options for everything from the car’s climate system to its audio preferences.

“This just blows away anything anywhere,” says Parlamis. “I get in my old Subaru and I might as well be stepping back in time.”

Range and other observations

Much has been said and written about the stated range of the top-of-the-line Model S and Parlamis has something to add.

“It’s not 300 (miles), and it’s not 250, it’s just not going to happen,” he says. “It’s fair to say 200 to 230 max, and I feel pretty good about that. I suppose some could be upset, but the only beef I really have is that it’s really a branding and marketing error to go with the number 300.”

Parlamis adds that there’s some dissonance to the 300-mile claim given that Tesla urges its Model S owners “not to charge the car to full, or 100 percent, but instead to aim for Regular which is 95 percent. I understand that going to 100 percent often will impact your battery’s life, but that doesn’t really square with the habits we’ve developed with our cell phones and other electronic gadgets.”

Range is also affected by the use of the climate control system. Once, while traveling on a hot fall day in Northern California, Parlamis was sweating through his clothes before he realized that the car’s air conditioning mode was operating conservatively to improve mileage. But conversely, he says he’s more than thrilled to change his views of staying warm in the car during colder months.

“Tesla encourages owners to use the seat warmers. I never used them in other cars I had, I just didn’t like them,” he says. “But now I’ll be honest, I’ve switched attitudes. I feel like instead of using resources to heat some little corner of the back windshield I’m just using what I need.”

He also is impressed with the fact that his car actually is improving weekly by virtue of wireless system upgrades downloaded to the car from Tesla. Each time that happens, he gets a prompt noting what the newest addition to his car’s menu is — as with a new function that allows him to tell the car when to start its charging cycle, the later the better for lowest rates.

“That’s part of the revolution,” he says. “Anyone can do that I guess, they have the technology. And I guess anyone could try and make a forward-looking car like this, too. But right now, it’s Tesla.”

Top photo: Nvidia via Flickr