I Drove My Kids Around in a $160,000 Tesla for the Weekend, and I Loved Every Moment
In my normal life, I drive a 2011 Hyundai Sonata. It has a seemingly ancient CD player and a boxy, built-in GPS system that would have been very high-tech right around the time you were first discovering Adele. The interior is coated in a light dusting of Cheerios crumbs, and there’s a patina of sunscreen every July to September.
But when the people at Tesla suggest you borrow a Model X (which starts at $70,000) and cart around your family for the weekend, you don’t look a gift horse in its self-driving mouth. And so it was that my husband and two kids found ourselves with a Tesla P100D for one glorious road trip to my sister-in-law’s home in Maryland.
First things first: What’s a P100D? Glad you asked. Like all of Tesla’s Model Xs, it’s a fully electric SUV, and this one has a 100 kWh battery providing about 300 miles in range. In other words, at some point before you drive 300 miles, you have to plug it in to recharge (more on that later). It also features remarkable safety technologies, including collision avoidance, automatic emergency braking and a medical grade HEPA filter to strip the air of pollen, bacteria and pollution—should you worry about such things while blasting the Moana soundtrack as you cruise down the New Jersey Turnpike. The P100D is the fanciest Tesla to date, most notably because it can go from 0 to 60 miles per hour in 2.9 seconds (it’s called “Ludicrous Speed,” which feels unnecessarily directed at 19-year-old boys) and has full self-driving capabilities, thanks to eight exterior cameras, 12 ultrasonic sensors and an uncanny ability to map out routes and even get itself into parking spots. TLDR: It’s pretty effing cool.
So what’s it like to drive one? I’ll be honest with you. I am a god-awful driver who once destroyed a fender by backing into a dumpster. So I wasn’t exactly chomping at the bit to get behind the wheel of a vehicle that costs more than my entire four-year college tuition. All of which is to say, I mostly let my husband drive it, with the caveat that I tried it in non-scary situations, and we discussed every juicy detail. The crux? It’s great! The ride is smooth and the power train responsive, although the lack of engine noises and “creep” (the way a non-electric car will creep forward when you let your foot off the brake) takes some getting used to.
No, but emotionally, what does it feel like? You feel rich. You feel important. When you notice other Tesla drivers in the Whole Foods parking lot, you nod your head in a way that implies you’ll probably run into each other in St. Barts this winter. If you are three, like my son, you think the Back to the Future falcon doors are everything. If you are me, you think they are a tad conspicuous on the streets of Silver Spring.
Does it really self-drive? Yep, although technically it's called autopilot and technically it's semi-autonomous (due to software capabilities and government restrictions that require a human to do a tiny bit of work). Anyway, once we were on the highway, we turned on the auto-drive feature and found that the Tesla essentially tethered itself to the car in front of us, slowing when that car slowed and accelerating accordingly. You can also get it to safely make a lane change, simply by turning on your signal. My renegade husband did get his self-driving privileges revoked (by the car, not me) at one point as punishment for taking his hands off the wheel too many times. (He had to pull over, turn off the car and turn it back on in order to have them reinstated.)
And what about “Ludicrous Speed”? We tried it. It was terrifying. There’s a reason I go on “It’s a Small World” while everyone else is on “Space Mountain.”
What are some other cool features? Where do I start?! Well, since there’s no engine, all Teslas have something called a “frunk” for extra storage. We used ours to house our umbrella stroller. There’s also an incredibly intuitive touch screen on the dashboard, which can help you navigate to destinations and charging stations and syncs up with the corresponding Tesla app…which I mostly used to sneakily turn up the air conditioning without anybody knowing. My favorite thing, however, might be the enormous panoramic windshield, which extends all the way to the roof, making for a front-seat viewing experience that’s almost like not being in a car at all.
How is charging? OK, here’s the tricky part. Charging a car is cool, but it’s not like gassing up. See, most Tesla owners install a 240-volt charging station in their own garage, which can charge their car slowly, overnight. (You get about 31 miles of range for every hour of charging.) But if you, like me, are taking your Tesla from Brooklyn to Maryland, you will not have the luxury of charging overnight and will have to stop along the highway at Tesla’s proprietary 480-volt Superchargers, which work much faster—and can bring a nearly dead battery to a full charge in about 45 minutes. From a technological standpoint, this is astounding, and if you’ve got 45 minutes to kick it at the Molly Pitcher rest stop, it’s no big whoop. (You can even track the charging progress through the app.) But if you want to be on your way sooner, it’s slightly annoying. We also fell victim to what’s known in the electric car world as “range anxiety”—when you wait too long to charge and then find yourself frantically trying to navigate to the next Supercharging station before the car dies. It’s sort of like being the person at the party who’s looking for an outlet to plug in their phone…except you literally can’t leave the party if you don’t find one.
And is a Tesla kid-friendly? This was ostensibly the reason Tesla wanted me to give the Model X a whirl in the first place: To see if it fit that #momlife. And I’m going to surprise myself here by saying yes. The unparalleled safety, the cushy interior (I comfortably fit between two car seats in the back, for reference), the fact that the doors open for you when they sense you coming—all these things make transportation easier when you’re juggling two toddlers, a stroller and a $250 Costco purchase. And while I’m pretty sure the “Ludicrous Speed” wouldn’t exactly fly with my carpool co-parents, I do think a Tesla is compatible with everyday life. More to the point, I think that expert craftsmanship, environmental sustainability and innovative technology will define the future of the family car. Or at least they should. Because women make 65 percent of new car purchase decisions. Because eccentric Silicon Valley dudes shouldn’t get to have all the fun. Because we should teach our children to reduce their carbon footprint and reliance on fossil fuels. Now somebody give me $160,000 so I can go buy one and spill Cheerios all over it.