People are getting busier. Life is moving faster. So it makes sense that cars should too. As we move into the future, our cars need to be quicker, safer, smarter and more useful than our phones. But every time a new model is released, it seems like we are hovering in the present and not really looking to the future.
This isn’t completely global. Companies such as Volvo, Mercedes-Benz and Toyota are all working on future technologies. But none of them are fronting up and trying to solve the big problem – speed.
Let’s face it. Electric cars are the future. There’s no question about it. Fossil fuels won’t cease to exist but they will eventually become so expensive no one will be able to afford them. At this point, we will be forced turn to a more sustainable technology – electricity.
A large number of manufacturers have had a crack at making electric cars, with little sales success. Most are dull and slow and neglect the concept that it actually does matter what other people think of you, as well as getting where you need to go within the same century is important. Their range is woeful, appeal lacking and price unjustifiable.
That’s where we come to the crux of this article. One company, an American company no less, nestled somewhere in between the street address’ of Facebook, Apple and Google.
Tesla. (Apologies, because we have to be a bit boring for a minute.) It’s part car manufacturer, part tech company and part designer of our future.
Founded in 2003 by Martin Eberhard and Marc Tarpenning, it was in 2004 when Pay Pal co-founder Elon Musk became the chairman of the board that it really found traction. They struck up a deal with Lotus in 2005 to produce “Gliders” – basically Lotus Elise cars minus the internal combustion.
The Tesla Roadster Sport was born. It was a fully electric sports car that pumped out 185Kw and 400Nm of torque. It was reported by a number of publications that it could sprint to 100km/h in around 3.7 seconds but it’s range is what let it down. With maximum driving efficiency, it could stretch it’s battery to last 365km – but this is insanely hard to do when you feel how it accelerates.
Fast forward to 2012 and the introduction of the Model S to retail customers. This car changed the world. And now, in 2016, the P90D – the flagship of the Model S range – has set that world on fire, as you’re about to find out.
Engine and Drive Train
It’s electric. Completely electric. In fact, the engine has just 1 moving part in it. Should you wish to read how an electric motor works, you can here.
If you take the body off the Tesla, you are left with what they call the skeleton. We know it more commonly as a chassis. Buried within the chassis are dozens of batteries that power the dual electric motor system.
That’s right, Dual. The ‘D’ in P90D stands for dual. The main electric motor is mounted between the rear wheels and outputs the majority of the cars power. But between the front wheels is a secondary motor to power them. This makes the P90D an All-Wheel-Drive and gives it it’s astonishing grip.
The car has a combined power output of somewhere around the 550kw mark. But it produces 967Nm or torque, instantly. This, combined the with the All-Wheel-Drive grip, rockets the car from 0-100km/h on 3.0 seconds.
Accelerating in a car that fast is an amazing feeling. Drive a Ferrari or Lamborghini and you can feel that, but you have to get the wheel spin just right and the gear changes perfect. The Tesla introduced me to a very different kind of acceleration.
There’s no wheel spin. No gears to change. Just jam your foot on the throttle and hold the wheel straight. But that’s just the start of it. The car launches and you aren’t prepared. You haven’t had a engine or exhaust screaming at you to get you ready for the assault on your body, or your senses.
The car sets off, all 967Nm of torque is being used at once. The speedo is a blur and you get crushed back into your seat as you pull well over a G. The only noise; a small whir as the electricity moves the wheels (and everything you have in the car flies backwards). By the time you recollect yourself, you’re doing well over 100km/h and your face hurts from the moronic grin that is touching both your ear lobes.
If there ever was a car to host whisper competition in, this is the car.
Once you gather yourself and finishing having a crisis, you see your electricity gauge – it’s now dropped a few Km’s of range but that’s okay, because as you brake to bring the car back to a sensible speed limit, the kinetic energy produced from the braking is gathered up and stored back in the batteries to help keep you going for a bit longer. It won’t replace what you just used, but it will make you feel less guilty about it.
I’ve become sidetracked, where were we? Oh yes, that’s right. Drive train.
Surprisingly, underneath it’s clothes, the P90D is relatively normal looking – apart from the lack of exhaust, fuel tank, drive shaft or internal combustion. It has 4 wheels, steering arms, brake discs and even a reservoir for windscreen washer fluid.
With some economical driving, the P90D will cover the best part of 500km on a single charge.
When you have to recharge the batteries you will inevitably drain from tearing your face off, pop into your local Tesla dealership and enjoy a nice cup of coffee while the car recharges in around about 45 minutes. Or you can plug it in at home with the included wall charger and leave it overnight.
Ride and Handling
The ride is sublime. Thanks to each wheel having it’s own independent suspension and the advanced computer system constantly working to control the ride, when you hit a bump with one wheel, the rest of the car isn’t effected.
Paired with the All-Wheel-Drive system, the car can be thrown into hard corners and come out unscathed. It’s doesn’t slide or spin it’s wheels. The computers work constantly to allow you to drive as fast as you dare through the corner – the only thing that will let you down is your bravery.
Our car had the optional ride-height adjustment fitted to it. This allows you to select your ride height from four options – Low, Standard, High and Very High. These are brilliant features for multiple reasons.
At higher speeds, you can lower the car right down to reduce drag and increase efficiency. Also helps with handling on a racetrack. But when you go into a multi-storey carpark or your steep driveway, you can raise the car right up to ‘Very High’ and avoid nasty scratches on the $2300 optional paint job.
You can even ‘Pin’ the location (in the GPS) where you raised or lowered the car to tell it to do it (by itself) every time you go past that spot. Or you can select a set speed for the car to lower itself.
The steering is light but surprisingly responsive. It doesn’t feel like normal electric-assisted power steering. You can feel the wheel fighting you a bit from time to time when you push it through a tight bend but it never feels like you will lose control.
Thanks to the massive weight of the batteries underneath you, the centre of gravity is very low. Tesla have tested the benefits of this and found the biggest benefit is that the car cannot be rolled. An Impressive claim, and one I’m not eager to test – so I’ll take their word for it.
Minimalist. That’s the simplest way to describe it. Everything is black, save for the optional wood or carbon fibre highlights. There are two buttons on the dash – 1 to open the glove box and another to turn on the hazard lights. At first glance, the dash is completely void of any details. But when you touch the brake, everything changes.
The 17 inch touch screen in the centre comes to life and the dash is suddenly lit up. But there are no dials to be found here. Just an LCD screen that shows your previous economy figures, your speed and a little picture of your car.
The 17 inch touch screen controls almost everything in the car. You can adjust the before mentioned ride height, the sunroof, the navigation, phone, music (when you buy the car you get access to Spotify as part of the deal), as well as just about every other aspect you could think of.
The digital dash does the rest. There you can view your power output, power input, kw per hour usage, battery life, speed and of course, the autonomous driving.
The seats are comfortable and have heating and cooling functions. The passengers in the back have enough room to never feel cramped and there are enough charging points and USB inputs to keep even the most dedicated smartphone user happy.
The climate control system pressurises the cabin and even has a ‘bio-weapon defence mode’ that will keep a certain Dictator’s chemical weapon’s out of the vehicle. But it has a more practical use too. For those of us who suffer from the dreaded hay fever – it reduces all the pollen and other allergens to basically nothing allowing us nasally folk to breathe clearer.
There is 824 litres of cargo space. The rear boot is huge thanks to no petrol tank or spare wheel. And the Model S’ clever hatch design means you can fit most things into it. Plus, because there’s no space-wasting petrol engine at the front, you have room for a carry-on bag under the bonnet.
The steering wheel is relatively normal. Behind it, on the right hand side, is what you will defiantly mistake for the indicator stalk on multiple occasions. But it’s actually the gear selector. Tesla struck up a deal with Daimler to supply Mercedes-Benz steering columns, steering wheels and stalks for the Model S. Hence why the gear selector will appear familiar to some.
The Indicator stalk is on the left and below the indicator is the cruise-control stalk. This is also the autonomous driving selector.
The P90D we drove hadn’t been updated to Tesla’s new self-driving Operating System yet, but it’s autonomous driving system was nothing to be ashamed of. We set off from North Sydney and aimed the car at the Harbour Bridge. We were simply passengers. We told the car when we wanted to changed lanes and that was it. It took care of the rest and amazingly, contrary to what some media outlets will have you believe, we made it across completely unscathed.
The Autonomous Driving system is definitely something to behold. It is an absurd feeling, sitting at the wheel of a car but letting it do the thinking for you. Tesla claims that it can process and react faster than a human can, which I don’t doubt at all.
But my reservation is this. When we are driving, especially in rural areas, we are scanning well off the road to watch for suicidal wildlife. The current Operating System of the Model S can’t do this. But soon, it will be able to. Soon, it won’t need us to get into the drivers seat at all. And as scary as that is, it’s also incredibly exciting.
Oh and no need to worry about updating your software, because the Tesla will do that while you sleep thanks to it’s inbuilt 3G sim card that is constantly connected to Tesla HQ.
It’s a looker. There’s no doubt about it. From the front it looks sleek, from an angle, the rear haunches stick out and it looks like a supercar. From the side, it is as good to look at as the best from Germany and the back is lit up with an array of LED’s. But from all angles, it looks like the future. There’s no argument. It’s not that far removed from the present, but just enough that we know there is hope for the cars of tomorrow.
The door handles retract into the door when you set off, or when you lock it. And they pop out when you approach, so stealing the Model S would be very difficult unless you had the key.
The boot has a large tailgate that encompasses the rear windscreen and the big wheels just add to the supercar styling.
It’s a lot. Starting price for the P90D is $171,700 MRLP*. Then you have the options.
Certain paint jobs will cost you $2300. The all glass panoramic roof will add another $2300. The 21” Wheels cost, yep, you guessed it, $2300.
The seats we had are called “Next Generation” seats and run around $3800. The carbon fibre trim pieces add another $1500.
To go from 0-100km/h in 3.0 seconds means you need ‘Ludicrous’ mode. $15,000 thank you. A carbon fibre spoiler will only cost you $1500 but the red brake calipers are included.
The list goes on and on and with all the options we had on our test car, the price was sitting around the $225,500* mark, and that was before any government taxes, registration and dealer delivery prices were added.
But what do you get for that rather large number? Well, in essence, a lot. Gorgeous looks. 967Nm of torque. 0-100km/h in 3.0 seconds. Up to 8 years of warranty on the batteries and drivetrain. More comfort than a Mercedes-Benz and the most technologically advanced car on the planet. What you get for that price, is the future.
But remember, that price may be high now, but it will come down in time. The more people that buy these cars, the cheaper they will become. That’s how technology works. This car is the iPhone of the automotive world. But it’s worth every penny. And the battery lasts longer than an iPhone.
As our cameraman Kyle said, “this car is the golf buggy from hell”. I have to agree. It goes like nothing I have ever driven. Hell, it made our Producer sick (and she claims to be a roller coaster fanatic, tut tut).
It is a brilliant car, in every aspect. But it’s not perfect. I loved every second I spent in the P90D, but the whole time I felt something was missing.
You see, what makes cars like the Mustang, the XY GTHO, the Torana and even the Kia Pro Cee’d GT such great cars is their soul. Their voice. Their character. They are people, they have feelings and emotions and traits that define them. You build a relationship with them and grow with them.
The Tesla, as brilliant and amazing as it is, is lacking that soul. If an old Falcon is John Connor, the Tesla is the Terminator.
In a way, that’s a very accurate deception of Tesla. They are Skynet. Petrol are the humans they need to destroy to survive. Except Tesla doesn’t want to destroy them. They just want to give us hope for the future.
So maybe Tesla are actually the resistance. Maybe the Nissan Leaf and the Mitsubishi i-Miev are the Terminator’s, they’re just not very good at it.
Overall Rating: 8.5/10
*MRLP – Manufacturers Recommended List Price. Includes GST. Does not include any on-road costs, government taxes, dealer delivery charges or registration fees. Please see your local dealer for pricing to suit your situation.