You might think that the car with the longest cruising range on sale in the United States is something like a Toyota Prius or a Camry Hybrid. But you would be completely wrong. That’s because the car with the true longest range is an Autopilot-equipped Tesla Model S. And before you get out your pitchforks, allow me to explain.
We just finished driving over 700 miles from New York City to Detroit via Niagara Falls, and by the time we got here, we had acclimated to many things that seemed odd at first, but then felt totally natural. Long distances with the Autopilot system, charging up, and putting each other’s seat heaters on when the unsuspecting victim isn’t looking all took some getting used to. But then we had an idea that seemed odd at first, but now feels totally natural—the Tesla Model S, an electric car, might actually have the longest range of any new-ish passenger car.
I know, I know, it’s a completely bizarre notion. An electric car, with maybe around 270 miles of range on paper before it needs to stop and charge, really doesn’t sound like it can go further than pretty much any car in one trip. A true range king, you would think, is the car that takes the longest to run out of fuel.
So the Camry, with its 650-mile legs, should be the road trip champion. But that’s dumb.
No sane person is actually driving 650 miles on a road trip without stopping, at the very least, to pee, unless they’ve got a patented Torchinsky urination system. But, like I said, no sane person.
You’re going to want to stop every couple of miles anyway to stretch your legs, go to the bathroom, and grab enough beef jerky to make the convenience store clerk think you’re making a meat-suit out of it.
Tesla’s Superchargers give the Model S an 80 percent charge in about half an hour (which is actually more than enough, to the point where we actually found ourselves skipping planned charging stops), and that’s not too much longer than the time you’d normally spend at rest stops. So the charging isn’t an issue at all.
The actual limiting factor that we found was driver fatigue. Eventually, you just become too tired, too consumed by the crazed fires of Road Madness, to keep going any further.
Not in the Tesla, however.
Once unplugged and on the highway, we pretty much invariably flipped the Autopilot toggle. With the car driving itself, the “driver” is left to do other things, mostly because they’re more monitoring systems than driving. You can futz with the navigation, you can check your energy consumption, you can gaze out longingly at the industrial wasteland that is much of southern Ontario.
Sure, you have to pay attention somewhat to make sure you’re not missing a turn or something, but you’re not gazing at dotted lines just going straight for hours upon hours, which is the sort of mind-numbing activity which leads people to drive straight into a tree.
So you end up finding yourself answering the question of “should we keep going?” more often in the affirmative than you normally would. And it just makes everything better.
But since I can hear pitchforks being sharpened, along with accusations of us being “not real car enthusiasts,” I should explain that driving on an Interstate for miles and miles and miles in a straight line isn’t driving; not really. It’s actually the antithesis of driving, the kind of driving that most non-enthusiasts associate with the act of driving which makes them hate cars. It’s cruising, more than anything else, and we came up with an answer to that decades ago. This just goes a step further.
And that’s what makes the Model S neat. It takes away all the fatigue and tedium of highway driving, so you end up more traveling farther in one go than you would in a regular (and gas-powered) car.
Almost as a bonus, the Tesla is actually a solid driver’s car. It’s mostly made of aluminum, with a super-low center of gravity thanks to the floorpan-mounted battery pack, and it’s got a big chunky steering wheel that’s got a bit of heft to it. When you find that perfect road, when you want to actually drive yourself to bits, it’s still a nice joy.
There’s a lot of fear and trepidation from enthusiasts when it comes to autonomous cars, which will rob us of our driving serenity. I for one lament the thought that we’ll lose the ability to drive entirely, as do you; that sounds heartbreaking.
But it’s the intermediate semi-autonomous cars which might be the best of all. Maybe we can have our cake and eat it too now.
Photos credit: Raphael Orlove/Jalopnik