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Tesla Model S 90D winter driving review

R8M3MS

Member
Jan 12, 2019
19
37
Montana
I apologize for the long writeup but I though it may be informative to some people contemplating purchasing a Tesla for winter use. Apart from the many Bjorn videos on YouTube I have not found an in-depth review on Tesla Model S for winter use. I live in Montana and we typically drive a lot as distances between towns are far so putting 30+ thousand miles on a car per year is not unusual at all. I typically drive about 3000 miles per month and I do not drive for work.

I purchased a used 2016 Tesla Model S (build date Oct 2016) through Carvana about 1 month ago. I will write up the purchase experience in another post for others considering the same.
20190124_210702.jpg

I purchased the vehicle with 30k miles on it. First step was putting new snow tires which I did as soon as it was off the delivery truck (on a cold and windy -10 degree night). I had already ordered Michelin X-Ice Xi3 245/45R19 mounted on 19x8.5 Graphite Silver Rial Lugano wheels. The car was literally driven off the delivery truck into my shop and on the lift to get the tires changed out…I have not driven it with the stock wheels/tires yet.

For charging I am using a mix of the 14-50 outlet in my shop, one of three superchargers in the area (Billings, Big Timber, and Bozeman) and the 120V outlet at my second home in Big Sky.

In the one month I have owned it I have put on 2,830 miles. Average energy usage over that time is 386 Wh/mile. It has been a cold February. Temperatures have ranged from -25F to 40F with an average daily temperature in Billings of 8 degrees F.

Most of my driving has been a standard route between my homes in Billings and Big Sky. This is a 198-mile trip. Much of that is on I-90 at about 75 to 85 mph depending on road conditions (speed limit is 80mph on Montana highways) and the winding Canyon Road between Bozeman and Big Sky at typical speeds between 50 and 65 mph. There is no traffic in Montana and cities are small so very little “city driving”. There is significant elevation change throughout my most common route. I have attached elevation chart, started at ~3500 feet ASL and ending at about 7200 feet ASL. Total climb through the trip up to Big Sky Is 8500 feet.

RANGE DISCUSSION

The range of the car has been as expected. The car is officially rated for 294 miles of range. I knew I would not ever make that range as I would be driving in winter with cold outside temperature, the snow tires with poor rolling resistance, high speeds on Montana highways, and elevation changes for my route. I have been pleased but I want more. The range anxiety is too much for me on my 198-mile journey and not wanting to get stuck on cold winter roads. I have made the one-way journey non-stop only once when it was warmer out (about 40 degrees) and I set the cruise control to just under the speed limit at 78mph while on the highway. Other times the trip computer has told me I would have enough range but with less than 10 percent left at my destination and therefore decided to make a stop to recharge.
20190127_130037.jpg


CHARGING

Living in Montana the supercharger’s are rarely used. Few Teslas. I have only seen another car at a supercharger twice (and I have used the superchargers at least a dozen time since I purchased the vehicle and both those vehicles were from out-of-state. Supercharge in Billings is near I-90 but a little out of the way from the exit with a couple of sit-down restaurants nearby (no fast food). The supercharger in Big Timber is at the infamous “Fort” which is a combination convenience store, liquor store, gun store and gift shop. I would be the only supercharger where you can buy guns and liquor. The Bozeman supercharger is conveniently off the highway at a Hilton Garden Inn near an Old Chicago Pizza, Lowe’s, and Wendy’s. A little bit further walk Starbuck, Ihop, KFC, Olive Garden, Jimmy John’s Home Depot, Sportman’s Warehouse, REI, local coffee shop so lots of places to kill time. Given that no one uses the chargers I have no problem charging at > 100kw when in the medium range of battery capacity 20-60%. Slows down as it gets closer to 90% and over as expected.

20190127_142611.jpg


At home my 14-50 outlet charges at about 20-27 miles of range per hour. More than enough to charge up overnight or I set the timer if I am planning to leave on my long journey and want to top of to 100% so its sits at a minimum of time at 100%. Given my typical long journeys I am charging to 100% often (at least twice a week) and we will see what that does with the battery degradation. I realize it is not the best way to treat the battery but this is the real world. It is not my only car.

At my home in Big Sky I only currently have a 120V outlet and so it charges at 3 to 4 miles per hour even in the cold garage with typical temperature around freezing.

20190124_214555.jpg


DRIVING DYNAMICS

I am very pleased with the driving dynamics of the Tesla. I own other high performance ICE cars and have track experience. The Tesla does a great job for the size and weight of the car, even on snow tires. I am looking forward to putting summer performance tires and seeing how it does, and likely spend a little time at the track with it for fun (if I can confirm getting charge there beyond 120V plugin). Acceleration is as you read everywhere, quite shocking in the first 100 feet with the instant torque delivery. Steering is nice but could be a bit stiffer (and I’ve only used sport mode on the steering). Air suspension is very forgiving but not mushy. Given the snow, I love the adjustable height.

Traction control is exceptional. I don’t know how much to attribute to the tires but I give them a thumbs up as well. First time using this particular tire. I almost opted for the Pirelli Sottozero as I like that tire on my sports cars (fantastic on an Audi R8 I have) but I knew this car was more of a long haul traveler for me so wanted a more direct snow tire rather than a “winter performance” tire. This thing climbs steep snowy driveways like nothing.

WINTER COMFORT

Unfortunately, in purchasing this vehicle I did not get the subzero package as I was getting tired of looking for “exactly” the right car and this had almost everything I wanted except that. But I’m not sure I miss it. The quick electric heating warms the car so much quicker than an ICE car, I do not care about no heated steering wheel. I rarely have passengers so the rear heated seats not important to me either. The heated wipers might have been nice as I did have the wipers ice up on me once but quick stop and got that taken care off. My car was originally from California so the windshield washer is obviously not filled with cold weather fluid so that is constantly freezing and rethawing. I do not think heated nozzles would fix the problems, but maybe.

Things I don’t like include the non-adjustable the windshield defroster …all or nothing, when it gets icy on the windshield. However, the regular heater with fan directed at the windshield does a good job with the right settings of keeping windows clear of snow. The driver’s footwell does not heat as well as it could when the fan is at less than about a setting of 5 when the temperatures are cold (like below zero). Fan set above 5 is when you get some noticeable fan noise. Not terrible but distracting in an otherwise fairly quiet car (it’s not S-class Mercedes quiet but still quite quiet).

AUDIO

Audio system is great. Not the best I have owned (BMW M3 with the Logic 7 system is still hands down my favorite) but nothing beats the variety of built in options to listen to. It’s still not clear to me what is all officially included and for how long (i.e., slacker radio, tune-in, etc). I am glad that mine has an AM radio as I have heard of other people’s car not having that option. Streaming from the phone is not the greatest as I don’t seem to have any control over the phone from the car controls which is something I have in my $30k Toyota FJ Cruiser which only has a two-line text screen on the radio. But, maybe I’m doing something wrong. Running music off a USB is a bit better but still limited in that you can’t create playlists, etc.

Wind and road noise are low but not exceptionally so. The high-end German sedans do a better job of this (S-class, A7/S7, 5- 7-series, Panamera).

OVERALL INTERIOR

Pleased but it is not exceptionally luxurious or anything. Leather and alcantara are of decent quality but I see better in the German cars. Plastics are relatively soft but there are still some hard plastic components that should not fit in a car of this expense such as the way the glovebox latches like I’m in a LeBaron. I have the black wood gloss trim and I don’t like that. Too many fingerprints and you can barely tell it’s wood except in the brighter light. Would rather it be matte and/or lighter in shade. No wireless charging for the phone is a big miss. The cupholders up by your elbow are more a distraction and annoyance than any convenience. Glass roof with sunroof is nice but really for the passengers as I can’t even tell its up there.

AUTOPILOT

I have the 1.0 hardware. I use it from time-to-time if the weather is good, but not for long periods typically. It does make driving a bit more comfortable and less taxing. I also like to use it if I need to do something short and distracting like putting on sunglasses or taking of my jacket. Certainly has a long way to go to full self-driving; for example how easy it gets confused by passing a highway exit ramp.

I do love the traffic-aware cruise control however. So much better than an ICE car on my hilly journey where the car is often hunting for the right gear, over-revving, or bogging down. With the electric motors and no transmission, it’s always smooth as silk. It’s just great.

WRAP-UP

Very pleased with this vehicle as a winter hauler on long journeys. It is quite comfortable and does a good job in winter road conditions (with the right tires, I suspect). I do realize I need a bit more range and now I am on the hunt for the perfect 100D. (I do not need the performance and range loss of a P100D). I have driven a Model 3 and prefer the S in interior, hatchback, performance, exterior styling, driving comfort. Overall though is just what an impression this care has made as my first BEV. I am so impressed by what it can do and ease of charging, etc. I am not certain I would go back to an ICE car again. My only regret is what took me so long to actually buy one. The negative press just really put a damper on my thinking.

Although I really support what Tesla is doing, I can’t wait to see what the Germans do to compete because I do love their cars (as you can tell from my frequent comparisons). Also, can’t wait for a pickup truck as I need a utility vehicle as well; so go Rivian! As a car lover and frequent buyer of vehicles this is just such an exciting time and I can’t wait to see what the future holds.
 

appleguru

Member
Mar 15, 2017
956
1,705
MA, US
Good write up. I have been very pleased with how my MS handles in the snow.

A few notes: 1) you should definitely be able to control your phone from the car’s controls when it is connected via BT (at least for play/pause/next/back/volume...). 2) drain your washer fluid (just hold the button until it is all out) and put good low temp stuff in... you don’t want it freezing in there!
 

Sandman1962

Member
Mar 17, 2016
112
78
Poway, CA
Great write up!

I agree with the OP that my P90D does excellent in the snow/ice/cold. And yes to the snow tires. Very surefooted. I drove in a bit of a snow storm recently and absolutely not trying to race anybody, I could tell (rightly or wrongly) I had more confidence in my S than most did in their SUV's. Of course there is always the big lifted diesel truck that just needs to zoom by even in near white out conditions.

Not that anyone asked, but I just have to say that even with technology progressing over the past three years, there is absolutely nothing I find my car lacking. Do I wish it had Ludicrous? really no. Do I wish it had AP 2.5? no. Blindspot detection? Maybe...

We have a MX 100D with AP2.5 as well. When driving up and down to LA (9 hour trip), both AP 1 and AP 2.5 pretty much do the same good job. Would I close my eyes and take a nap? Don't be silly. Would I trust blindside detection in the X so i did not have to look or turn my head? No, I don't trust any technology that much. I do think that the BSD would be a good backup for my own checking...

I mention all this because i have mixed feelings about the double whammy of the relentless march of technology and the ever decreasing prices. Overall I am happy I did not wait three years.

Sorry for being off topic, but YES, the Teslas do great in the snow (if ground clearance is no issue!)
 

appleguru

Member
Mar 15, 2017
956
1,705
MA, US
Things I don’t like include the non-adjustable the windshield defroster …all or nothing, when it gets icy on the windshield. However, the regular heater with fan directed at the windshield does a good job with the right settings of keeping windows clear of snow. The driver’s footwell does not heat as well as it could when the fan is at less than about a setting of 5 when the temperatures are cold (like below zero). Fan set above 5 is when you get some noticeable fan noise. Not terrible but distracting in an otherwise fairly quiet car (it’s not S-class Mercedes quiet but still quite quiet).

Also, RE defroster, I could be wrong, but I believe tapping the front defrost button once (so it goes blue) will use your current temperature settings while directing air at the windshield... and tapping it twice (so it goes red) will set the heat to HI and do the same.
 

R8M3MS

Member
Jan 12, 2019
19
37
Montana
From the best I can tell, having the defrost blue turns off "recycle" and directs air at the windshield to "defog" it and this actually works quite well. But for ice on the window, the defrost "red" is necessary.

Couple of other things I wanted to add about my experience. I am not real happy about the headlights. The brights are great (and the autodim feature works great) but the regular headlights are a bit too dim for my liking or are perhaps just angled too low. Maybe it's my car. I haven't yet investigated but is there a way to adjust the headlight position to just raise them up a tiny bit?
 

BlueRocket

S90D HW3.0 upgrade MCU1 "FSD" 2020.48.37.1
Feb 5, 2017
282
494
New Jersey
From the best I can tell, having the defrost blue turns off "recycle" and directs air at the windshield to "defog" it and this actually works quite well. But for ice on the window, the defrost "red" is necessary.

Couple of other things I wanted to add about my experience. I am not real happy about the headlights. The brights are great (and the autodim feature works great) but the regular headlights are a bit too dim for my liking or are perhaps just angled too low. Maybe it's my car. I haven't yet investigated but is there a way to adjust the headlight position to just raise them up a tiny bit?
I have an Oct 2016 build as well (with AP2... Not sure if our headlights are the same? ) and the SC was able to adjust the headlights up from where I thought they were too long of a position. It improved the lighting but still a little too dim for my aging eyes.
 

Pwdr Extreme

Member
Nov 30, 2016
317
562
Bozeman, MT
Great write up! Sounds like we have a lot in common, I’ve owned numerous Mercedes, Audi’s, etc. and agree the interior and overall refinement is definitely lacking behind the Germans. But the cool factor of the car definitely makes up for some. I live in Bozeman, so we drive the same roads. This is my third winter in a Tesla, previous 2 years was in a MX90D. The cold weather really hurt the MX, doesn’t affect my MS100D as bad, but makes a difference. I’ve noticed a substantial difference in battery usage between 75mph and 80mph, so much so that I rarely drive over 75 unless I’m in a hurry and know I have plenty of battery. Get into the triple digits and you lose at least 1/3 of your range. Next time you buy snow tires, I highly recommend Nokians, I’ve used pretty much every brand of snow tire out there and nothing compares to the Nokian in my opinion.

Since you mentioned looking for a 100D, I’ll share the warm weather experience I’ve had in mine. It’s FANTASTIC! The 100 battery is FAR SUPERIOR compared to the 90 battery. Much more than you would think. I’m probably not remembering exactly what the actual KW’s of the batteries are, but I believe the 90 is only about 83kw and the 100 is actually 102. (I’m sure somebody will correct me with the exact numbers). My 100D at full charge is right at 330 miles. I drove it to Prineville, OR last fall and deliberately skipped some chargers, I actually had one leg stretch to 315 miles while driving at 75mph. I arrived at the charger with 22 miles of range left. I NEVER came close to hitting the rated range of 255 miles on my old MX90D. I could barely get over 200 miles and that was driving 65 part of the way. I would ALWAYS arrive at the charger with less charge than was originally estimated. In the summer, my 100D would usually arrive at 2-4% more charge than originally estimated.

The 100D charges considerably faster as well. I’ve seen 380mph charge in Billings, 398mph in Bozeman. I’m guessing you haven’t seen much more than the low 300’s in the 90D.

My winter KW average has been 356. My usual every day drive is from Belgrade to my office in Livingston, so I’m driving the Bozeman hill every day which is definitely affecting the range.

I expect there to be some more Tesla destination chargers in Big Sky before long, it’s pretty impressive all the work they are doing to the downtown area. FYI, I’ve learned the hard way that in the extreme cold, for whatever reason, only charger 1 in Yellowstone works. And ya gotta love the way the snow plows in Billings and Bozeman block one of the chargers with the snow piles.
 

Kapi_Dhwaja

Member
Mar 21, 2019
10
6
Richardson
Good write up. I recently (<30 days) purchased a 90D 2016 with EAP. I live in Texas I can’t speak much about the snow experience but in reality in Texas my 90D full charge to 100% I get an expected range 278 miles. I was initially looking for 294 but never found it ... rather than getting stressed about the range I now have switched my battery indication to % and much like my iPhone when I am a bit low on charge I charge it at home or supercharger or a public EV charge station. I drive only about 30 miles a day and I have not been on a long trip yet to full understand the battery performance. My thought is my car is going to give 200 miles for a full charge and I plan my travel based on this :). Regardless absolutely thrilled to have made the switch to Tesla.
 

R8M3MS

Member
Jan 12, 2019
19
37
Montana
Great to hear from you Pwder Extreme. So few Tesla owners in Montana.
I probably would have gone with the Nokian tires but I bought this thing in mid-winter and wanted to get wheels and tires all mounted and balanced in short notice and Tirerack is the best in that regard. Tirerack doesn't sell Nokians. Next go-round I will try the Nokians. As for the 100D, I'm just waiting to see what happen next. Waiting for a 150D or something.

Today on my 200-mile journey from Big Sky to Billings, I left my place in Big Sky with 77% charge and made it back to my house in Billings with 5% left which surprisingly was the initial estimate as I left Big Sky. During the drive the arrival estimate went as high as 9% (that was as I passed the supercharger in Big Timber so I didn't bother stopping there thinking no problem I'm comfortable with that). Then I sweated it as I watched the arrival SOC estimate creep down. When it got to 6% at Reed Point, I slowed down from 80mph to 77mph. I got home to Billings with the initial prediction of 5% remaining SOC, knowing that I could have stopped at the supercharger which is 10 miles before I get to my house. With 77% down to 5% on a 200-mile journey, that would give me a full range of 259 miles. Doesn't seem too unreasonable given the cold weather, snow tires, and a hilly drive (albeit one for which the altitude is a negative 3500 feet). Temperatures outside today were in the mid to high 40s. Therefore, I did not use the heat much in the car and I think that made a big difference. Going the opposite direction I need a lot more charge.

In my write-up above, I did forget one other topic that I really love about this car; the fact that there is no need for a transmission. Setting the cruise control (or autopilot) is just so relaxing. With the continuously variable power, without the need for gear selection, there is no hunting for the right gear; the engine is never over-revving or bogging down. With my other cars the cruise control is not worth it because of all the hills I need to drive on the highway. With the Tesla is it is just steady speed without constant changes in engine noise or lurching and bucking you get from my other cars. Today with clear roads I used Autopilot for 90% of the highway driving and it worked flawlessly (AP1) and makes for a much more relaxing drive.
 

R8M3MS

Member
Jan 12, 2019
19
37
Montana
Good write up. I recently (<30 days) purchased a 90D 2016 with EAP. I live in Texas I can’t speak much about the snow experience but in reality in Texas my 90D full charge to 100% I get an expected range 278 miles. I was initially looking for 294 but never found it ... rather than getting stressed about the range I now have switched my battery indication to % and much like my iPhone when I am a bit low on charge I charge it at home or supercharger or a public EV charge station. I drive only about 30 miles a day and I have not been on a long trip yet to full understand the battery performance. My thought is my car is going to give 200 miles for a full charge and I plan my travel based on this :). Regardless absolutely thrilled to have made the switch to Tesla.

Welcome to Tesla ownership! You'll be glad you made the switch. With only 2 months ownership I have learned not to worry about the range. Watch the percentage and charge accordingly. Just like any other car you will learn the idiosyncrasies and adjust. It's really remarkable this vehicle was made from an American company that started only 15 years ago.
 

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