A semi-autonomous road trip in the Tesla Model S

How I learned to love Autopilot

Tesla Model S (Image: A. Souppouris/Engadget)

Tesla Model S (Image: A. Souppouris/Engadget)

Perhaps the worst driving experience of my life happened in 2009 while helping a friend move. She could only afford to rent a rusty van for a single day, so I agreed to make the 14-hour round trip from London to Scotland and back again in one shot. After setting off at 9 AM, we arrived at 7 PM, some four hours behind schedule, thanks to bad traffic. I started the 450-mile home leg at around 9 PM, and the entire journey was a battle to stay awake, alert and within the confines of my lane. Plenty of coffee and roadside breaks later, I arrived home at 6 AM, 21 hours after setting off. It was the most unsafe I’ve ever felt in a car.

When Tesla offered us the opportunity to test out its semi-autonomous Autopilot feature in the Model S, my thoughts immediately went to Scotland and that traumatic journey. While I’m never going to trade my VW Golf for a car that expensive, the new Model 3 will arrive at $35,000 with many of the same capabilities. So I saw the opportunity to take an extremely early Model 3 test drive, of sorts. I wanted to know if it could make a cross-country journey on electric power, and see if the Autopilot would have made that long trip to Scotland a little less arduous.

The conceit

To test this theory, we would drive up to the north of England — Scotland just wasn’t practical given the time constraints we were under. We’d then stretch out the process with some video and photo shoots, before heading home hopefully somewhat exhausted. On the trip back to London, we’d then make use of the autonomous features — about 90 percent of the journey back could be driven by the Tesla, with limited human oversight.

My colleague Matt Brian picked up the Model S — a $120,000 (£110,250) P90D, to be precise — from Hounslow, on the outskirts of London. From there we’d take the M25 freeway, which encircles London, before setting off on the M1, the main road heading north. We chose Leeds, a city around four hours away in the north of England, as our destination. Because the Tesla is electric, though, we’d need a charger to get us there. Or at least back.

Read more: Engadget

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