Cruising the West Side Highway in a Tesla Test Drive

Under the High Line, the Tesla showroom features the highly anticipated Model 3, here in “midnight silver.” | Photo by Rania Richardson

BY RANIA RICHARDSON | Like many other New York City apartment-dwelling environmentalists, my husband, John, and I do not own a car. Our carbon (ecological) footprint is the size of a postage stamp, and we’d like to keep it that way. But when we came upon the new Tesla flagship in the Meatpacking District, we wondered what it might be like to have an electric car from a maker whose mission is “to accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy.”

Elon Musk, Tesla’s product architect and chief executive, is a considered a visionary entrepreneur with a cult-like adoration by fans. As the engineer who co-founded PayPal and founded SpaceX, he set his sights on revolutionizing the car industry with an electric vehicle that could reduce global energy consumption. Named for Nikola Tesla (1856-1943), the company pays tribute to the futurist and inventor whose discoveries in the field of electricity provide a framework for modern technology.

The glass-enclosed showroom and the products within are an equally fitting tribute. Tucked under the southern end of the High Line next to Diane von Furstenberg Studio in an area dense with foot traffic — in what is now quite established as a tony part of town and a must-see destination for tourists — this store replaces Tesla’s prior location on W. 25th St. in Chelsea. It joins six other showrooms in New York State and more than 300 worldwide.

The gallery-like white space houses three car models, most notably (since delivery in late January) the Model 3 sedan, the company’s highly anticipated mass-market vehicle. Developed to be an affordable option, the Model 3 is the draw, with about 500,000 interested parties submitting $1,000 to be on a reservation list, though it will take at least 12 to 18 months to fulfill orders due to the company’s manufacturing delays.

The store also features the high-end Model S sedan and Model X sport utility vehicle that are available for a test drive. We give our contact information to a friendly Tesla rep who schedules a Model S for us in a two-hour block on an upcoming weekday, since the weekend spots are full.

Tesla’s flagship showroom in the Meatpacking District. | Photo by Rania Richardson

On the day of the drive, we put our bags in the frunk (front trunk) and with John at the wheel and a rep in the passenger seat, we drive onto the West Side Highway.

A mammoth 17-inch touchscreen incorporates the dashboard and car operation. From my view in the (slightly cramped) back seat, it appears that the extra large rear camera display could distract the driver, but apparently it does not. Various functions are exhibited on the screen, including maps that are clear even from my vantage point.

John cruises behind the Whitney Museum, checking out the acceleration that can go from 0 to 60 miles per hour in 2.5 seconds. He says, “Driving is almost immediately intuitive, and there is instant action — no lag time between my foot on the pedal and the car moving,” as he speeds up smoothly without gears.

Tesla does not use model years. New features are rolled out through automatic software updates. We are in the safest car ever tested, and the heavy battery, positioned like a skateboard under the car, makes rollover almost impossible.

The premium Model S is larger than the Model 3 and meant for long city-to-city drives or road trips — necessitating charging while on the road, via the company’s supercharging stations. They are free for owners and will soon rely exclusively on solar power.

A destination can be set on the touchscreen map to navigate to the next supercharger station when needed, generally every 200 miles. There, an empty battery can be replenished in 30 minutes or so. The Model 3, though, is designed for commuting and weekend trips, and will generally be charged overnight in one’s own garage or in a parking lot equipped with an outlet.

We turn onto the Clarkson St. exit and then travel around the West Village looking for a spot to try parking. The Model S defaults to a 12” clearance from the car behind it, but John overrides that to get in closer, in an easy maneuver. He calls the entire driving experience “seamless and satisfying,” and we return to the showroom.

Tesla’s Model S premium sedan available for test drive. | Photo by Rania Richardson

Will we purchase a Tesla? The automaker is at the top of our list should we decide that car ownership is for us. For now, we will not add to traffic congestion and stick with self-powered and public transportation options.

Tesla’s Manhattan showroom is at 860 Washington St., at the corner of W. 13th St. Hours: Mon.-Sat., 11 a.m.-8 p.m. and Sun., 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Visit

Tesla’s Model X luxury SUV has “Falcon Wing” doors and is available for test drive. | Photo by Rania Richardson

Awaiting a test drive, cars in the back of the showroom. | Photo by Rania Richardson

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