Few cars gain the reaction and interest that a Tesla Model S gathers. And with bags of comfort and performance it’s got our reviewer eyeing up the piggy bank
Review by Marc Stickley
“Make it go fast!!” came my daughter’s shout from the back seat. Never one to disappoint, I bury the throttle and eunggghhh we just leapt from 15 to 60 mph in a blink. No noise, no fuss, just there. And both my daughters are giggling in the back. The phenomena became christened “doing the spaceship” and it became a regular call during my long weekend with a Tesla. Another surprising by product of my temporary Tesla tenure was the reaction it attracted. I’ve been lucky enough to pilot some pretty special cars for Riddle, but the Tesla hands down garnered the most attention. Everyone seemed to know what it was and what it was capable of… that’s a pretty big deal for a manufacturer that’s only been producing cars for 10 years and the Model S for only six.
Looking a lot like a five door coupe, the Model S is Tesla’s staple car – their first mainstream model it’s a luxury “sedan” that can be specified as a seven seater, with two children’s jump seats in the rear luggage space. Otherwise the cabin can comfortably seat five adults, with a flat floor, comfortable leather upholstered seats, clever storage areas and tech abounds the interior. Thanks to the clever design and packaging, you don’t lose headroom in the back, despite that sloping roofline. And as there’s no engine to stash away, there is a luggage area under the bonnet big enough for some soft bags and a very large one in the boot. To drive, the Tesla feels like most luxury cars – well, the full-fat, supercar power wielding ones at least. Because of the lack of fuss in the noise department, accelerating to cruising speed takes you by surprise, feeling so effortless. The Model S is eerily quiet – but fantastically quick. The near-Instantaneous maximum torque from the 100kw battery pack in the 100D is delivered through all four wheels (the D denotes dual motors and all Model S are now) and means you can accelerate with anything up to neck snapping effect at any time. In fact, the 100D I drove will hit 60mph in 4.2 seconds – the full fat P100D will crack that in 2.5 seconds – which is bonkers fast, or as titled by Tesla “Ludicrous Mode”. Lift off the throttle and regenerative “energy recovery” gives a braking effect without hitting the middle pedal – this really helps in traffic and when coasting. It requires an adjustment to regular driving, but soon becomes comfortable.
The battery pack – yes, the Tesla is on 100 per cent plug in electric architecture…the 100D will allegedly do 393 miles on a full charge, which on a supercharger can take as little as a couple of hours to achieve. In a rush? Then fast charge up to 80 per cent in 40 minutes or so and swoosh off into the distance. If you’re commuting in a Tesla, I’d defy anyone to develop range anxiety – a home charger can be installed or the car’s navigation system will guide you to the nearest chargers, either on Tesla’s supercharger network or the multitude of other electric vehicle charger available now. On a longer journey, the system will give you route options with alternate charging locations, the length of charge required at each one to achieve you destination and your range after you get there. Simple and clever.
To prove the system, I collect “my” (I wish…) Model S 100D from the service centre on a Wednesday fresh from a previous borrower… it hadn’t been on charge long and I took it away at 60 per cent. I commuted to work, home, back to work and back home. I…experimented with what would soon be dubbed “spaceship mode”. I trialled the handling (excellent) and back road manoeuvrability (great – all-wheel traction and all that torque) with enthusiasm. My range dropped as fast as I would expect a petrol car to. Ahead of a big trip to a family wedding, I grabbed a coffee at my local motorway services (as it happens on my standard commuting route), plugged in to a Tesla Network Supercharger for 25 minutes – back to 75 per cent charge. I pootled around locally, loaded the front and rear luggage space and launched for Cornwall…and then the standard M5-Southbound crawling happened. However, traffic queues are a little more manageable in the Tesla than in most cars, thanks to a plethora of assistance devices – cameras, proximity alert, that regenerative “braking” effect, a single gear and instant thrust. Meanwhile, my passengers experimented with Spotify and radio options, a sketch pad and other display options through the massive central display screen (essentially a 17″ tablet in portrait orientation). On the journey I was keeping an eye on the juice, I switched between energy usage and range, navigation and changing the ride height – to cross aggressive urban sleeping policemen, or perhaps to bump your way along farm tracks to a rural wedding venue. The corollary is to lower the ride height from regular to low when cruising on the motorway – lower drag and save power. Just for fun, I also switched on the BioHazard attack mode!! Yes, you can activate this to thoroughly scrub and Hepa filter the air in the cabin – ideal in the event of a Salisbury style chemical attack, but also good if you suffer from hayfever or allergies. Having endured the effects of tear gas in an armoured vehicle with less than effective NBC filtering system, I assure you I felt wayyyy more secure in the Tesla! All updates for the car’s tech are received automatically over Wi-Fi and informed to you on screen when available – just like your smart phone or tablet. It could be something for the operating system, or minor adjustments to the power train. In use, the infotainment is as you would expect from a tech company – swept up and top notch – haptic screen response, minimal physical buttons. The sound system is fantastic, delivering clear sound and the stereo goes to a Spinal Tap pleasing 11… not the indecipherable 43 or so of most systems. The sound quality is probably helped by the absence of audible drive chain noise – in fact aside from the more prominent wind noise, there is only a barely perceptible whine when you accelerate in the Tesla.
On the trip to Cornwall, I started the journey with 75 per cent charge. I drove there, around on various errands ahead of a family wedding (more Spaceship duty…who was I to argue), from there to visit relatives and then home. We fast charged for 35 minutes on the way down and the same on the way back (lots of family commuting to the wedding, from the church to the reception, from the reception to the beach…and so on). I arrived home and the next morning delivered the car back to Tesla with charge in hand. Total trip at least 350 miles. Stop start, some tomfooolery, rural roads, motorway cruises. We stopped just off the M5 both times (to use the Supercharger network) and with a family of four on a road trip, 35 minutes was not an unnecessarily extended stay. In fact, the Darts Farm rest stop we used was five minutes from the junction and styled on a farm park – much more fun than our regular south bound stop. So we found new places, actually enjoyed the journey and loved the Tesla.
So the Tesla can be luxury saloon, family hatch back, part time office (working from the charging station in the comfort of your car), silent commuter and even sports saloon. It will travel as far on a full charge as most petrol cars can on a tank of fuel, yet has more performance than 90 per cent of them. The bonus with the Tesla is, if it were yours, you’d install a home charger for daily 80 per cent fast charge. The charging can be set to top off at 80 per cent to preserve battery life. If you have to, you can charge off of the domestic three pin, but it is slowwww, so you only would to top off in an emergency – that said, many won’t be able to install a home charger – because they rent, or it’s an apartment, or they don’t want boxes on walls – so will need to utilise the network. So what’s the hitch? Why aren’t we all in Teslas? Well, to make the concept of pure electric driving without range hang ups viable, Tesla had to go premium. First though, Tesla started in cars by installing an electric drivetrain into a custom built (by Lotus) Elise chassis, to prove the electric car could have performance and range. Next, they went up a few sizes to the large saloon. A luxury car can weigh a little more, the performance will need to match or exceed all but the highest end petrol equivalents and the technology is expected. But importantly a luxury car can also carry the price tag that allows for new high-end materials and structures. Entry to the Model S range starts at £64,700 for a 75D model (75kW battery, dual motors). The 100D (100kW, dual motor) I drove starts at £86,200. With some choice goodies in there (but pretty standard stuff – paint, leather colour, premium tech upgrade), you’re nudging £100,000 and that before you tempt yourself into that proper spaceship the P100D (Performance 100… you get it). But for that upgrade you’ll need £122,000… those figures look a lot, but compare it to an Audi RS6 or BMW M5. More realistically, you might make a monthly payment. Factor in the fact you’ll be paying peanuts for “fuel” (the supercharge network is free to owners, but running a home supercharger effectively costs a couple of quid per charge in electricity after it’s installed) and the circa 300 mile range on a full charge will save you £75 a time over a tank of petrol – if you can get 300 miles out of one of those super-performance petrol competitors. That could be nearly £5,000 a year alone. I ran the numbers and from a mid-level performance saloon to a Tesla, factor in fuel and you’re nearly there. Very tempting. Or go approved used for a lower sticker price – the model range there opens up, with older 60, 80 and 90 models available, as well as rear wheel drive single motor variants that look identical to brand new and have similar range and performance thanks to the constant updates online. I looked up a three year old 85D and it was £54,000.
Need more space? The Model X is the Tesla SUV. And it has falcon wing doors. Cool. The next game changer for Tesla (and the world) will be the Model 3 – the 200 mile range family hatch back that will have BMW i3 and Toyota Prius owners a little worried – not to mention the regular premium hatch market. Two hundred miles, no emissions, super cheap to refill and all the best upgrades proven worldwide, some suggested by owners and drivers, sent to you as they’re approved.