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Car reviews - Tesla - Model S - P85

Our Opinion

We like
Road-trip range, supercar acceleration, extraordinarily advanced but basic operation, comfort for five, cutting-edge design, cavernous 'boots'
Room for improvement
Tantalising waiting list, lack of charging infrastructure – for now – and lack of local clean energy

Gallery

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Tesla logo11 Dec 2014

By DANIEL GARDNER

FORGET what you know about Tesla for a moment and take a minute to browse of our image gallery of the Model S below.

Does it look like one of the most revolutionary, daring and potentially world-changing cars of this decade?While previous electric vehicle manufacturers have chosen to make their offerings look like the future, Tesla has gone for a more subtle approach.

The Model S looks certainly aren't forgettable though and the car stands out from the combustion crowd with a purposeful imposing stance measuring nearly 5.0 metres long, and its pointy aerodynamics whisper differences rather than shout.

To the untrained eye it could just be another low-volume luxury sedan but that perception starts to change on approach as all four concealed bright silver door handles eerily rise out of the bodywork, but we will jump into the interior shortly.

At the time of testing the top-performance Model S was the rear-drive P85, but after a recent range simplification, the fastest rear drive variant is the Model S 85 with 285kW and 0-100km/h acceleration of 5.6 seconds for a before on road cost of $114,148.

Tesla won't talk about sales figures but interest has been healthy enough to push deliveries out to the latter half of next year for those customers who have already placed orders.

Those wanting the full-bore performance flagship will have to fork out $150,938 but for that you get an extra drive motor on the front axle resulting in four-wheel drive and an almost unbelievable 100km/h sprint of 3.4 seconds. We can’t wait to bring you a review of the Model S P85D.

For now though lets focus on the two-wheel drive P85.

It's only after jumping aboard that one starts to realise just how different the Model S really is and the sense of space is quite striking. With no transmission tunnel, expansive glass roof, wide comfortable seats and no engine up front, the passenger space has been maximised with an airy feel in all seats.

The feeling of space is enhanced with easily the most minimal dashboard we have experienced. How many vehicles have you seen that have just two switches on the entire dash?One of those buttons opens the glove box and the other is for the hazard lights so you might be wondering how all of the Tesla's abundant features are accessed, and the answer is simple. A touchscreen.

The annoying problem of mistakenly hitting the wrong part of the touchscreen in some cars has been solved in the Model S by making the screen enormous.

Measuring a staggering 17-inches, the central control centre is about the same size as two tablet devices laid side-by-side and is one of the Tesla's most defining features.

Staring in to the huge screen and exploring its features highlights how the Tesla is a car built by a technology company not a car-maker, with instant intuitive operation, clear beautiful graphics and ultra-easy use.

Every manufacturer should sit up and pay attention to the Tesla operating system because it is quite revolutionary and, thanks to the company's web expertise, it always will be.

As requirements change, the screen can be periodically altered to add extra switches or functions, change the layout or upload a new application or services for example.

Google-based navigation is a treat to use with a full-screen option that could almost show the landscape in actual size and by sourcing information from the internet giant, no updates are necessary as is the case with normal navigation systems.

With such a large display, buttons are easy to target and the various tabs make sense but viewing the lower part of the screen does require averting your eyes quite a distance form the road.

The various features can be grabbed, rearranged and minimised in exactly the same way a smartphone screen can be manipulated and the few steering wheel controls can be customised from audio system controls to the sunroof operation.

A smartphone application extends the Tesla tech outside its aluminum skin allowing owners to monitor charge status and even fire up systems remotely to heat or cool the car prior to driving. Some other manufacturers offer similar tricks but the Model S goes one better.

The company is about to introduce technology that will enable a Model S to open an automated garage door at a predetermined time and drive itself outside to a more convenient location using its various sensors and satellite positioning.

Does this sound like a conventional car or company to you?We liked how the same sensors give a reading in millimetres when manoeuvring, eliminating the, at times, confusing displays of some other manufacturers.

Initially Tesla will provide internet coverage free with the car and it has not yet confirmed a time the offer will cease – to us that sounds like a good deal.

With no conventional engine at either end, the Model S has two large luggage areas, while folding rear seats add another element of practicality to the comfortable and top-quality interior.

It took us a while to find the right driving position especially as the seat can't adjust particularly low due to all the under-floor battery storage, but we eventually got settled and familiarised with the unconventional controls.

Only the Mercedes-sourced electric window switches reminded us that this was a man-made car rather than something that was found in a field following some suspicious lights in the sky.

But enough of what the P85 can do while at a standstill, its party piece is how it goes.

The way the Tesla accelerates is a perfect illustration of how, as drivers we have become accustomed to the principle that combustion engines, no matter how cleverly engineered, have both peak torque and power points in their rev-range.

Some manufacturers claim to have produced the contradiction-in-terms that is a 'flat torque curve' but in reality, none have achieved this because all petrol and diesel engines have a tiny proportion of peak output at near idle revs.

Not an electric motor though. The way a motor develops motion means it is capable of producing maximum torque before it has even turned one full revolution, and when you feel the Tesla's watermelon sized motor open its taps to full, all concept of acceleration figures go out the window.

We have driven plenty of cars that better the Tesla's 4.4 second zero to 100km/h time but trust us when we say nothing feels quite like the shove of a 350kW motor at full noise. Or should that be full silence?With no automatic to fumble around with gears, turbos to lazily spool up or timing gear to get on-cam, acceleration is simply immediate. Prod the right-hand pedal in the P85 and the might of its electric powertrain is dropped in your lap instantly.

If that wasn't curious enough, the whole performance happens without any kind of corresponding noise and only the sound of rapidly passing asphalt on tyre permeates the cabin as if the car is being yanked by a remote source of energy.

Imagine taking off in a cable-car or ski-lift with demonic acceleration and you'll have some idea of the sensation.

But more astonishingly still is the way the Tesla can perform the same trick at virtually any speed.

Overtaking on freeways requires careful application of power. Where mere internal combustion engines and multi-speed transmissions need a few seconds to sort themselves out, the Model S simply opens the tidal wave of current like it is at a standstill and lunges forward with the same ferociousness.

Victorian road rules didn't allow us to find a point at which the motor starts to run out of puff but its performance felt as though it could double the national speed limit almost as quickly as it gets to 100 from zero.

Despite the swathes of abundant torque the Tesla has no trouble getting drive down to the road thanks to its 2.2 tonne kerb weight producing excellent axle weight transfer.

Weight is normally the enemy of any kind of high-performance vehicle but the Model S road manner is impressive. A nicely tuned suspension set-up works with the P85's weight to absorb imperfections in the road without smashing through potholes or making passengers uncomfortable.

That bulky mass can't be disguised when chucking the Model S through some tight turns though with a constant sense the Tesla is trying to defy enormous forces, but its behaviour is commendable given its weight.

The Tesla's vast battery comprises the lion's share of the weight but through innovative design, that weight is confined to a void under the vehicle's floor resulting in an ultra-low centre of gravity and confidence inspiring stability.

Body-roll therefore, is minimal, changing direction is rapid and only when the big sedan is pushed to the limit does it start to show its weight. There is no hiding the fact it is a heavy car but its engineers have done a sterling job of mitigating the undesirable traits of mass.

Those problems would be exacerbated if it were not for up to the minute construction techniques throughout the Tesla. Carbon-fibre features heavily throughout the car's construction creating a super stiff and safe shell with occasional flashes of the composite material coming through to the cabin.

Slowing down is almost as notable as accelerating in the Tesla, with regenerative braking so aggressive that simply taking your foot from the accelerator actually illuminates the brake lights.

Many hybrid and EVs suffer from a characteristic spongy feeling brake pedal as the first part of the pedal travel slows the car on regen-braking only, but because the Tesla starts performing this function without touching the brake, its feel is much firmer and positive.

Flicking through the various drive modes we found the variable steering to be weighty and satisfying and gave the car an added level of versatility.

Given the prominent performance and additive acceleration it would have been easy to spend our day shredding the Tesla's tyres and then criticising the range, but instead we were careful to try and emulate an average day's motoring.

As a result we covered over 300km with a wide range of driving styles and at the end of our trip the energy management system told us we still had another 150km in the 'tank'. To us that confirms the makers claims of 500km at more constant freeway speeds.

At this stage charging the Tesla at home is the only option for topping up range. The company's new dealership in Sydney has the so-called Superchargers that can top up the battery faster than mains pressure but the network is set to grow in coming months with Tesla confirming a Supercharger network down the eastern seaboard from Brisbane to Melbourne.

The Australian government is yet to make any decisive move to make electric car ownership simpler and we can't help but feel that while 88 per cent of Australia’s electricity still comes from burning fossil fuels the 'green' credentials of pure electric cars aren't quite as credible here as in other regions of the world.

Verdict

Years ago a mobile phone was just a phone, but only a few years down the line you can use it to take pictures, email, check social media, make calls, send text messages, do your shopping and find a date.

And now, thanks to Telsa you can drive around in it too.

When creating the Model S, Tesla questioned every element of a car's traditional design and if it didn't make sense, the company did it its own way.

The result is less car, more wheeled smartphone and, frankly, a masterpiece.

By taking ordinary and adding a lot of extras, Tesla has created a car that manages to be simple and approachable, but mind-blowing and outlandish at the same time.

The Tesla is without doubt one of the most surprising and exciting vehicles we have driven to date, but more important than its immediate accomplishments is what the car heralds for the future.

With real-world usable range, supercar acceleration, room for five with luggage, and ultra-simple point-and-fire operation, the Tesla Model S irrefutably proves that electric cars work – and that milestone is, in itself, electrifying.

Rivals

Quite simply the Tesla has no direct rivals that compare to the price, performance, range, size and practicality, but we suspect and hope that will change in the future. There are a few that share some elements though.

Maserati Quattroporte GTS ($319,800 before on-road costs)
With similar proportions and performance the big Maserati has bountiful acceleration only just behind the Tesla and has a very similar road manner, handling and an equally luxurious interior. It is a few more dollars though and does burn more than 10 litres of fuel per 100km compared to the Tesla's none.

Nissan Leaf ($39,990 driveaway)
The Nissan is similar to the mighty Tesla only in that it is one of Australia's few pure electric vehicles currently on sale. Performance, range, price and dimensions are incomparable.

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