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Car reviews - Tesla - Model S - 75D

Our Opinion

We like
Its fast and sleek, and breaks every stereotype there is for electric cars
Room for improvement
Autopilot is as the cutting edge of technology but still needs work

Gallery

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Tesla logo1 Dec 2016

Price and equipment

PRICED at $155,909 driveaway, the Tesla Model S 75D features what you would expect from a vehicle of this price and refinement.

This car is in many ways a smartphone on wheels, and most of its controls are run via a 420mm touchscreen display in the centre of the dash.

The system can be used in full or half screen for navigation and a combination of other functions controlling the sunroof, suspension, steering, charging, air-conditioning, entertainment, trip meter and regenerative braking. It will also run your phone and calendar.

It has extensive steering wheel mounted controls, a blind spot warning system and the best cruise control we have used. Helping with visibility are rain-sensing wipers and a rear window demister, while getting in and out is made easier by a keyless entry system controlling the retractable chrome door handles.

Options on GoAuto’s test car included an exceptionally fancy sunroof, the controversial Autopilot system and Smart Air Suspension.

Interior

Freed from design constraints dictated by a conventional powertrain, the car’s designers produced a stylish and roomy interior.

The seats are comfortable and wrapped in leather while the floor both inside and in the boot is flat.

Luggage capacity is enormous with extra space in a front boot where the engine would be in a regular car.

Engine and transmission

Instantaneous torque from front and rear electric motors drives all four wheels directly to generate extraordinarily useful real-world performance. Just think about that gap ahead and you are in it, immediately, quietly and without fuss.

Direct drive from the electric motors means no transmission and gear changes, just smooth, effortless and silent acceleration.

The 75D will go from 0-100 km/h is 5.4 seconds, and it does it with just a gentle hum and the rush of wind. Not bad for a car that weighs in at a porky 2140kg.

The company claims a range of 466km for the 75D, and GoAuto’s experience from a four day test of just on 300km suggests that will be achievable under most circumstances.

Tesla says that using one of their Superchargers the battery can be charged with 270km worth of power in 30 minutes. Charging from 10 per cent to 80 per cent is quick but from 80 per cent to 100 per cent doubles the charge time because the car must reduce current to top-off battery cells.

Using a Tesla wall connector at home can charge a Model S at a rate of 40km every hour on 32amps or up to 80km per hour with three-phase power.

Charging can also be done with the 10-amp mobile connector supplied with the car which plugs into any powerpoint. In testing GoAuto found that this method would add around an extra 10km of driving range for every hour of charging.

Power harvesting is an optional setting that stood out as a feature of the Tesla. When engaged power is generated from the vehicle’s own momentum the moment you lift off the accelerator. This process immediately slows the vehicle with the sensation being similar but more pronounced than lifting off in a manual transmission vehicle with high compression internal combustion engine.

It really slows the car down and once the deceleration reaches the level of a moderate brake application the brake light comes on to warn those driving behind. Driving briskly around back streets can be done without ever needing to touch the brakes.

Tesla says that power harvesting via the regenerative braking system can extend the range by up to 25 per cent.

Ride and handling

The Tesla handles and stops as a performance car should, and accelerates hard when and wherever you want.

Autopilot is by far the Tesla’s most controversial feature, especially since a driver was killed in a crash with the system that was engaged while travelling on a dual carriageway in Florida earlier this year.

Autopilot is at the cutting edge of autonomous driving technology, and Tesla is copping some criticism from various foreign government regulators and other manufacturers for being so forward leaning on its public introduction and use.

The sensor package fitted to GoAuto’s test car consisted of a forward radar (yes Batman this car has radar), a forward-looking camera, 12 long-range ultrasonic sensors positioned to sense five metres around the car in every direction and a high-precision digitally controlled electric assist braking system.

In real-world driving around Melbourne the Tesla’s Autopilot performed well in both freeway and heavy traffic conditions. It does straight lines and freeway speeds easily, and was equally comfortable grinding up Chapel St stuck behind a tram on a busy Friday afternoon.

Tighter, twisty roads are, however, another matter. At 60 km/h on a coastal road with a series of lazy left and right curves it was like being driven by a learner. A timid one who is late to steer and jerky on the wheel, over reacting to missing the correct turn-in point.

Human control had to be re-established on several occasions as the system let the car stray too close to traffic islands or oncoming cars whose drivers were holding a tight line. At night on this road the Autopilot was baffled by the dotted white lines at a turning lane.

The company does specify that the driver’s hands are meant to remain on the steering wheel even with Autopilot engaged. With the latest version 8.0 software there is a series of visual and audible warnings prior to the Autopilot system disengaging if the driver’s hands are off the wheel for too long.

Overall, the Tesla’s Autopilot is good, better than GoAuto expected, and it will surely continue to improve.

As you might expect for a vehicle that has on-board radar, sonic sensors cameras and abundant power, it’s cruise control is just sublime – effortlessly keeping the car to the set speed and specified number of car lengths back from any vehicle that may be in front.

Safety and servicing

The Tesla Model S has a five-star safety rating and scored very highly in the detailed assessments that underpin the ANCAP rating system.

The Tesla also has features that you don’t necessarily expect.

Take Bio-Weapon Defense Mode for example. I kid you not. That’s what they call the optional medical-grade air filtration system which is claimed to remove 99.97 per cent of exhaust pollution, allergens and other nasties from air in the passenger cabin.

Perfect for a hayfever sufferer looking to get somewhere in a hurry.

Updates to the Tesla’s software are made over-the-air so, just like your smartphone, an upgrade can alter the appearance and functionality of the system without anyone plugging in to anything – or going anywhere near a service centre.

The car has a four year or 80,000km (whichever comes first) new-vehicle warranty and an eight year and unlimited kilometre guarantee on the battery and drive unit. Tesla claims that even a poorly treated battery would degrade only about 30 per cent in that time.

The company declined to put a current price on a new battery for the Model S saying that “due to the changes in battery technology and future price changes, whatever we would quote now would be different to what you would pay in years to come”.

There are several options for pre-paid servicing that range from three years for $1525, which entails one inspection per year or 20,000km, to eight years for $4500 which again entails one inspection per year out to 160,000km.

Verdict

The Tesla S is a seriously impressive piece of technology. It is an expensive car but represents good value given its performance, quality, technology and level of equipment.

If we had that level of budget for a very sporty four-door the Tesla would certainly be on our shortlist.

Rivals

There is no other electric car like a Tesla right now. However, buyers seeking a similar level of performance and luxury regardless of powertrain might consider a Mercedes-Benz E-Class, BMW 5 Series or an Audi A6. For those still leaning green a plug-in hybrid version of each car is or soon will be available.

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