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Exclusive: Hands-On With the Tesla Model S 4.0

Tesla is pushing out its first major software update to Model S owners, finally giving Elon’s all-electric golden-child the infotainment features you’d expect of a $100,000 sports sedan.

This 4.0 release addresses what we found to be rather egregious oversights in an otherwise phenomenal vehicle. If your run-of-the-mill domestic econobox offers voice controls for music and navigation, how could a vehicle at the pinnacle of modern engineering come without it?

This update answers that question and a few more. And we got a chance to check it out.

Topping the list of updates is voice control, which is handled through an embedded 3G modem that connects to Google’s voice-recognition system. It’s limited to navigation, telephone and using Slacker Radio, but Tesla’s knocked its first attempt at voice commands out of the park. The process is far easier and more intuitive than most.

Depress the voice control button on the steering wheel, say “Navigate to 520 3rd Street, San Francisco” and release the button. Moments later the destination appears on the gorgeous 17-inch display. Tap the “navigate” button and you’ve got turn-by-turn directions. You’ve got one-shot commands for address (no more providing a city, then a street, then a number) and Google’s search functionality provides ultra-quick point-of-interest searches.
Approach the Model S with the key fob in your pocket and the handles automatically pop out

You also can dial up any station on Slacker Radio by simply saying “Play [artist] radio.” The response was near-instantaneous. This also works for calling contacts in your address book through a Bluetooth connected phone, but it doesn’t allow you to control any locally-stored music on your USB drive or smartphone. Tesla assures us that’s coming soon, and it wants to make navigating your contacts and music easier with a new alphabetical index. It’s something that should have been available from the start, but considering Tesla built this car from the ground up, you can understand why some things were pushed to the back burner.


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