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Car reviews - Tesla - Model S - 85

Our Opinion

We like
We like: Prodigious performance, a genuine answer to the EV question
Room for improvement
Room for improvement: Rear passenger room a bit limited, lack of infrastructure


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27 Jul 2015

DON’T call it a ‘dealership’… in the Tesla world, it’s called a ‘store’, and it focuses on form as well as function. The brand’s sole Sydney store is in the northern suburb of St Leonards, and is a little way away from the action. It’s a large, bespoke space, though, with an immaculate large nine-hoist work area underneath a modern, sleek and low-key showroom.

The grey floor tiles are the same as you’d find in any of Tesla’s stores in Los Angeles, London or New York, as is the grey epoxy paint on the workshop floor.

It smacks a little of OCD on behalf of the company’s owner, Elon Musk, but it’s more than that. Mr Musk runs the whole show there is no Tesla Australia CEO.

All of the staff here work for him, and, as Heath tells me, it’s great for getting the message right across the world.

Out the front are five superchargers for Tesla customers, opposite a dedicated lounge where they can watch Foxtel, make a coffee or get some work done while waiting for their car to charge. Heath Walker, the company’s marketing and communication manger, tells me that it’ll be open 24 hours via a security code with a swipe card coming soon.

There’s also a supercharging station in the harbourside suburb of Pyrmont, there will be another in the large New South Wales regional centre of Goulburn, as well as at Tesla’s Richmond store in Victoria. Approximately 17 ‘destination’ chargers – lower-amperage charging points in car parks and the like – are scattered throughout NSW, Victoria and the Australian Capital Territory.

It’s more infrastructure than any other EV reseller has invested in, and it won’t stop there – especially if Tesla is to overcome the biggest chink in the EV’s armour – range anxiety.

Unlike a fuel-powered car, an electric-powered car’s energy use is not linear.

It may indicate 300km of charge remaining, for example, but if your drive takes you over a hilly route on a cold day with a lot of highway running thrown in, you may not achieve that 300km.

Conversely, if the day is warmer, your average speeds are lower and your route is flatter, you may exceed that number.

While our test drive of the mid-spec Model S 85 wasn’t long enough to expose that particular issue, it’s a surprise to hop into an EV with such a large range. In fact, today’s route (cool day, a route under 80km/h average speed) would give us a theoretical range of more than 550km from our 85 kilowatt-hour battery array.

It’s worth noting that Tesla offers two charge levels for its battery array Standard, which charges it to 85 per cent, and Max Range, which charges it to 100 per cent. Tesla says that the Max Range function shouldn’t be used all the time, as it can shorten the life of the battery.

The battery array itself is comprised of more than 7,000 Panasonic-made lithium-ion NCA cells, each a little bigger than an AA battery. Assembled at Tesla’s facility in California, the pack outputs 375kW.

The car is a work of integrated art if the Model S notices you have raised the nose of the low-slung car via the optional air suspension system for a driveway or speed hump, for example, it logs that event and its location in its GPS system and, when the obstacle looms again, automatically raises the nose again.

The Model S’s interior feels incredibly composed and resolved at first glance.

The huge 17-inch tablet-like screen in the centre offers access to the car’s systems, including a music streaming service that’s powered by the car’s own 3G network – free and unlimited to Tesla owners for four years – climate control, satellite navigation and more.

At first blush, the tablet is just that – a tablet. As such, it’s not especially intuitive to use in the environment of a car, where clarity and distinction for important controls takes precedence over a nice-looking interface. Of course, the screen can be personalised for each owner in fact, for each driver.

Key info is displayed on a large TFT dash that, charmingly, still uses a digital version of an analogue speedometer surrounding a large digital speed display. There is no head-up system in place, which is also a little surprising.

The optional Autopilot system brings traffic-aware cruise control, lane keeping control, autonomous emergency braking, blind spot warning and self-parking. It’ll even change lanes for you if you just tap the indicator stalk. The Model S is as close to an autonomous car as it’s possible to get right now.

To start the Model S, simply push on the brake pedal: there’s no noise aside from the whine of the park brake disengaging. With a push on the Mercedes-Benz sourced gearshift lever, we’re away.

On a short run around north Sydney, the Model S is a solid performer, with all of its 440Nm of torque available all the time, even from standstill. The single rear-mounted electric motor makes 270kW of power, and even though it has to push about 2100kg of four-door sedan around, it does an admirable job.

Handling is firm and composed with all of the battery’s 544kg weight laid along the floor of the alloy-framed Model S, though the optional 21-inch rims on our tester did make for a brittle-edged ride on Sydney’s less-than-perfect roads.

There’s a high regenerative braking effect off-throttle, which is so pronounced the car will activate its brake lights. This effort can be turned down in the settings menu.

Drop the hammer up a hill, and the Model S fires forward like an arrow from a bow. One can only imagine what the top-spec, twin-motor P85D feels like, because the 85 is plenty quick enough for around-town work.

Space-wise, there’s a large 745-litre boot that grows to 1645 litres with the rear seats down, along with a 150-litre storage tub under the bonnet. Speaking of rear seats, taller passengers had better hope their driver has specced the sunroof option, which gives a critical few more centimetres of rear head space it’s pretty tight back there.

While our drive in the 85 was short, it’s enough to underline that Tesla is here to stay. If it’s this good now, one can only imagine how great it will be by 2020 – the year that ultra-restrictive emissions regulations pass into law, and that all of the other car-makers are looking at with a sense of dread.

Has Tesla backed the right horse? Only time will tell, but in the meantime, that horse can really bolt.

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