Like many pure electric vehicles, the Tesla Model S is missing a whole lot of extraneous stuff including gears, transmission and a clutch. This means there’s a whole lot of things that don’t have to be maintained, that can fail, etc. But it also means the Model S drives differently than a normal car.
There are two types of transmissions in ICE cars — automatic and manual. Manual transmission cars have a manual clutch and you have to shift gears as you drive. Many sports cars have manual transmissions but you can also get manual transmissions on non-sports cars either to save money or just because you like driving manual transmission cars. Some people prefer the direct control over the car’s shifting and gears or just enjoy the process of shifting gears, using the engine to slow down the car by downshifting etc.
the Tesla Model S is missing a whole lot of extraneous stuff including gears, transmission and a clutch
I’ve owned and driven a number of manual transmission cars over the years, anywhere from a cheap Ford Fiesta to a high end Porsche 928. On different cars clutches and gears are different in their feel, the number of gears, their layout and their quirks — I had to double clutch the 928 at times. I had to give up most of my driving of manual transmission cars when my commute grew many years ago — manual transmissions are a bear in heavy traffic. But what does all this have to do with the Model S that has neither gears nor a clutch?
Driving the Model S is eerily similar to driving a manual transmission car in some regards.
The feeling, if you’ve ever driven a manual transmission, is eerily similar. On a manual transmission car, when sitting at a light your foot is on the clutch and on the brake. You take your foot off the brake and it will roll forward or back on its own with no engine gear holding or driving the car. If you let your foot off the clutch without applying gas you’ll stall the engine.
With the Model S when you’re stopping at a light you use regenerative braking to slow down (like downshifting in a standard transmission car), then at the final point you apply the brake. When you let off the brake its like letting off the clutch — the car is free to roll forwards or backwards. Tesla added the “hill start assist” feature in the 5.9 software update, but that only holds you for 1 second and really only works with decent inclines. In the Model S you will find yourself rolling backwards or forwards a bit after stops on most hills.
In the Model S you will find yourself rolling backwards or forwards a bit after stops on most hills.
In the beginning you will move really quickly from the brake to the accelerator with the feeling of an impending stall. The quietness of the car seems to lend to this feeling too. Later on you’ll be a little more casual about it knowing the Tesla can’t stall. But you still need to be concerned about rolling back into the person behind you if you’re not careful and it can take some time to get used to.
You still need to be concerned about rolling back into the person behind you
Tesla heard the kinds of feedback above from early owners of the Model S and added a feature they called “creep” all the way back in 2012. The goal with this feature is to simulate the behavior of an automatic transmission. With automatic transmission cars, when you take your foot off the brake, the car will use some energy (gas) to either hold your car in place or creep forward slightly. This is all related to the automatic transmission and maintaining the engine’s idle speed and other things I know little about. The result is on flat ground on an automatic car, take your foot off the brake when you’re in “drive” and it will move forward.
I took my Model S to an empty parking lot and gave the creep feature a try. You can only change the setting when you’re in park. After turning on the setting, put it in “drive” and take your foot off the brake but don’t step on the accelerator and you will start to creep forward. It starts off pretty slow but picks up speed quickly. I measured a top speed of 5 MPH which is pretty quick for creep. You can literally drive around a parking lot in this mode without stepping on either the brake or accelerator and just creep along.
I found that the speed it gets up to is too fast for me. If you’re backing into a space or just don’t want to feel like you’re rolling backwards at a light you don’t need 5 MPH. 1-2 MPH would have been sufficient.
Creep picks up speed quickly and is too fast.
I also didn’t like the idea of the car using energy unless I was specifically “asking” for it to by using the accelerator pedal. I know automatics do this, but this is the new age and there’s no need to waste that energy. I had thought before I bought the car that i’d need it for parking in tight spaces like my garage but the Model S’s accelerator pedal is very well tuned for both fine and aggressive movements. So the only time i’ve used creep was just to check it out and have quickly written it off as a useful feature.
The Model S drives somewhat like a manual transmission car at times minus the gears, clutch and other things. You can tweak the settings to get it to behave more like an automatic but the experience leaves a little to be desired — why mimic the past? After experimenting both with lower regenerative braking and creep i’m really happy with the “standard” modes of creep off and standard regenerative braking. Tesla has done a fantastic job in fine tuning the driving experience to give you the best of both the transmission worlds to make for enjoyable driving under all conditions.
This post first appeared on Teslarati.