There’s nothing new about hiring a car for a day trip, but what is new is that you can hire the magnificent electric Tesla Model 3 or Model S car via the new UFOdrive app. It’s contactless and available 24/7 with no queuing or long-winded paperwork. 

Sounds good. Yet, is hiring an electric car, never mind a Tesla, for a day trip a sensible option? What happens when the battery runs down? 

With some range anxiety, I smile as I agree to do just that heading out from London to Southwold.

I make the booking via the UFODrive app (after registering my details of course) and pick it up from Q-Park in Park Lane. The Tesla S is, without doubt, a beauty with cool sleek lines that reach out to your inner racing driver at full throttle.

It’s totally top tech too from the UFO Drive app to the car itself. UFO’s head honcho in the UK Jonathan Shine told me: “Tesla is a computer on wheels and we are essentially a tech company. You control everything from your phone and the huge in-car tablet”.

I realise that to make this work I have to shift my thinking up a gear to be a Tesla driver.

Unlocking her is via the app (owners have a fob). The wing mirrors quietly whirr into position while the handles come out to meet you. There’s no “on” button – just accelerate. So, surreptitiously, she slides out of the Park Lane car park and when we pass the Tower of London and morning light subtly seeps in via the dimmed glass roof, it begins to feel that the road trip is on.

With 118 miles ahead we pick up the A13 towards Dartford and slip off onto the A12 all the way to the quaint seaside town of Aldeburgh.

Our first stop is a small detour to the Britten Pears arts museum known as the Red House. We park up and that’s when we find that there is no “off” button. You just park up, exit the car and it locks itself.

Inside the house, there are Rodins, Blakes and Constables and a Steinway piano but we can’t enter as the museum is closed on Wednesdays. Apparently, we had missed Rick Wakeman who had popped in for a tinker the day before. So we make do and explore the gorgeous 5-acre garden trail to admire the alfresco artworks.

The Red House garden trail

We head towards the sea as the waning sun gives way to grey clouds. It’s very windy and with clothes and hair flapping the planned beach walk becomes a notion. We put a fish and chip lunch in our sights.

No chance, that idea was scuppered because of the long socially distanced queues outside the restaurant thanks to the new normal of COVID 19.

Back at Tesla, as I hurl my bag on the back seat I can’t help but notice the space in the nether regions. Three tall people would have plenty of manoeuvre room and since there is no combustion engine, there’s luggage space in the front and back ideal for a weekend away for or three. A family of four may find it a be a bit tight.

More interesting though is that there is so much to tinker with. Now in the passenger seat, I take the opportunity to explore what the huge tablet – it replaces much of the traditional dashboard – has to offer. There’s plenty of news channels and music channels including Spotify as well as a karaoke channel. We sing our hearts out all the way to Thorpeness a few miles further along the coast.

Thorpeness is renowned for its mock Tudor architecture with an attractive Alms House. However, today the streets are deserted. It’s lunchtime, and the Dolphin pub next to the Almshouse is full to the brim. And so we continue.

As we pass Sizewell (of nuclear power plant fame) I am a tad hunger-grumpy and I hear myself snapping at the driver: “We are driving a car able to accelerate from 0-60 in 3 seconds, yet you are pootling along like a Sunday driver.”

Suddenly it’s all go go go. A rapid right turn takes us towards the winding and today very windy roads of the Sizewell Woodlands Walk. The performance is impressive. Those corners are flat and as the passenger, I hardly notice any body roll.

And then it happens – the sudden absence of my stomach. The Tesla jumps to warp speed. The acceleration speed is insane and I am dumbfounded. Needless to say, there is no more talk of Sunday driving.

By now it’s well past lunchtime, and we are ravished, so we take a punt and turn into Darsham. That’s where we find an out-of-the-way pub called the Fox Inn and that’s where we replenish.

We then head to our final destination – Southwold, a seaside town replete with quaint teashops. We know that there is a charging point in The Swan hotel car park and we plan to plug in the Tesla and let it charge while we enjoy a cuppa. Unfortunately, someone is already parked in that space and annoyingly not even using the charger.

So we turn our minds to the joys of afternoon tea. Astonishingly the tea shops are closing at 4 pm. We get there at 3.50 pm and we are too late.

Still the beach – overlooked by a series of historical cannons – makes for a lovely, bracing walk along wide-open sands hemmed with colourful beach huts.

App message

Heading back to the car the UFODrive app alerts us that the “car battery levels are running low” and guides us to the nearest charge point a 15-minute drive away. 

Range-anxiety leaps up. What about traffic? Would we make it?

Turns out that the app had made the calculations and we make it to the Tesla charge points located at Marks Tey hotel in Colchester with juice to spare. A 20-minute charge is ample and so we use this time to get our brew – finally – in the hotel cafe.

The way back is joyful and with time for more tinkering. I almost blush to tell you this but there is a fart mode with several renditions – I know! – to signify indicating and changing lanes.  Of course, there’s plenty more to discover including a romantic mode to be used when the car is parked – but revealing all would be a spoiler.

About UFO Drive

UFODrive is a contactless 24/7 car hire service. It was launched in May 2018, the brainchild of Irish businessman, Aidan McLean who was disgruntled with many years of painful car rental experiences – long queues, long waits. 

How much:

Tesla car hire starts from £94 per day on Multi-Day booking or £109 on Single-Day booking (Model 3). Model S from £150 on Multi-Day rental or £164 on Single Day.

Club Members (joining fee -£39 per month) get 25% off. Incidentally, electric cars are exempt from London’s £15 congestion charge. 

Pick Up points:

In London, points are located in Park Lane and Oxford Street, with Westfield Shopping Centre (Shepherd’s Bush) and Canary Wharf due shortly. Elsewhere there are points in Dublin Downtown, Luxembourg – Lux Airport, Belgium – Brussels Airport & Brussels Downtown, France – Paris Downtown Austria – Vienne Airport & 2 x locations in Vienna Downtown, Germany – Hamburg Airport, Cologne Airport & Berlin Downtown, Netherlands – Downtown locations in Rotterdam, the Hague and Amsterdam

MORE INFO: UFODrive.com