In a previous post we covered the Model S map and navigation displays. In this post we’ll focus more on the navigation controls Tesla provides for the Model S. Only those that elected to get the technology package (about 85% of owners) get turn-by-turn navigation and navigation controls.

Searching for Destinations

Best Nav SearchSetting a destination comes down to one of three approaches:

  1. Voice Search
  2. Typed search
  3. Pick from your Places

Before you ignore the voice search option like I did when I got my Model S, let me tell you that the voice search on the Model S is the best i’ve had on any device. It’s got the power of Google’s voice recognition behind it and the full Google maps database so it’s incredibly good at understanding and finding what you’re looking for. It’s so good that even with complex names or places I always enter directions by voice even though I generally shun voice commands on all my other devices. It saves time and is much faster and safer than trying to type in the search items.

The voice search is the best i’ve had on any device

To activate voice navigation, press and hold the voice command button on the top right of your steering wheel and ask “Navigate to” or “Where is” or “Drive to” and then the rest of your command and then release the button. A very common early owner mistake is pressing and releasing the button before speaking.

A very common early owner mistake is pressing and releasing the button before speaking.

Note that “home” and “work” are special words that use your designated home and work addresses as the target destination. The “to” part is optional as well so you can just press and say “Navigate home” to always get home from wherever you are. Even simpler than trying to click your heels three times. As a special bonus, if you haven’t set your home or work address, the Model S will detect frequent stops and suggest that you set your home or work address for future use.

The other search approach is to type your query into the search box. Like any tablet the big keyboard pops up and you can enter any terms you want. If, somehow, the voice recognition got things wrong or you want to modify a pre-existing search you can do so here.

When searching for destinations you can be specific and ask for names, you can ask for street addresses, or generic categories. I’ve tried all sorts of different options and always had great success with it. In the search below I asked the system to find a Japanese restaurant:

IMG_4326If only one result is found it will immediately start navigation to your location (most notably with the “Navigate home” type command). If multiple results are found they provided in a scrollable list sorted by distance to travel. Pressing on any of them will immediately start navigation to that destination. If your map zoom level allows it, the possible destinations are also shown on the map and you can press on any of those to have extra controls like marking them as a favorite, or calling the destination if it has a phone number. It would be nice if you could inspect possible destinations from the search list rather than having to find the icon on the map.

Saved Destinations


NAV DestinationsThe Model S has a fairly rich set of saved destinations accessible from the “Places” button. This area not only lets you save favorite locations and set your home and work addresses but also saves recent locations and searches which is really convenient. Thoughtfully they let you remove individual destinations from your history or searches with the edit button in case you had a top secret meeting somewhere. Note that in all these pages edits are individual operations. You can’t clear ALL your searches or favorites or destinations nor can you delete multiple at a time.

The favorites section of Places is the most broken and dysfunctional. At the top home and work destinations always appear. After that its a list of all saved favorites. The order they’re presented in is undecipherable. It is neither alphabetically, distance or recently used sorted. As such it makes finding a favorite a real pain. Also, unlike my old MDX, you can’t create categories for your favorites (folders if you like). I used to have categories like “Doctors” or “Kids”. Because of how broken this part is I rarely use and resort to the recent destinations as a more useful option.

The favorites section of Places is the most broken and dysfunctional.

Helpfully, Tesla has included all Supercharger locations in its own section and this is logically sorted by distance from your current location. This is a great and useful addition that i’ve only unfortunately enjoyed once since there are no Superchargers in my state. For traveling this section would be invaluable and I hope that Tesla keeps it current as Superchargers continue to pop up around the country.

The final section of places is Visited Charges. This is where you’ve gotten a charge from in the past. When you’re low on power and need a familiar place this would be helpful. One thing I thought was cool is that there’s a place my car reported itself being charged in California — its first charge. How special! Another charge location it recorded is the delivery center in Watertown, MA along with the usuals of my home, the Tesla Store at the mallthe public J1772 charger I tested etc.


With most navigation systems this would be the section where we’d discuss routes and alternate routes, traffic based routing, finding alternate routes, waypoints, preferred road types and all sorts of things most people take for granted in modern Navigation systems. My 2007 Acura had all of that. The Tesla has no routing options at all.

Once you start navigating it does it’s magic to get you there. The routes it picks are decent in terms of map routing. It will also do the basics of re-routing if don’t follow the directions, but that is all it can do. Even GPS systems that sell for less than $100 can do better than this and routing is the most disappointing area of the Model S navigation system.

Routing is the most disappointing area of the Model S navigation system.

Owners have been clamoring for the basics to be added since the Model S started deliveries, but for some the expectations are even higher than that. Model S owners want routing that takes into account the state of charge (SOC) of their battery, terrain, weather, possible charge locations along the way, etc. That may all sound complex, but it’s something an enterprising 16 year old has put together on his own. Why can’t Tesla do this?

Once guidance starts the directions are shown on the 17″ screen and the dashboard display and as we’ve covered previously the display part of routing and navigation is well done.


NAV SuperchargersThe Model S has great options and ability to find target locations to navigate to. It has some weaknesses around managing favorites and a few other small things that would be nice to have.

The glaring omission in the Model S navigation system is around routing options and abilities. In my old 2007 Acura I used waypoints all the time, mostly to get me around known bad areas or traffic and then to get back on track. With the Model S doing the same thing is much more cumbersome and, frankly, unsafe. If you’ve spent any time watching Tesla videos from the popular people like Bjorn Nyland in Norway you’ll find that most have a second GPS system stuck on their dash to fill in for the huge limitations of the Model S’s navigation system.

It is a shame that a navigation system with so much promise and raw capability is so limited in what it has delivered to the owners and this is the main promise of the 6.0 software update that has been promised for many months. Will the 6.0 update address all the navigation shortcomings? Will it also go beyond and bring capabilities that no other car navigation system on the road today provides? Elon has hinted it will do the latter. Meanwhile most of us are just hoping to get on par with other systems as soon as possible.

Super-advanced navigation would be nice, but most of us are just hoping to get on par with other systems as soon as possible.

Elon, are you listening to your customers?