The all-electric Tesla Model S was outstanding when it first appeared, but there’s now an all-wheel drive 691hp P85D version which is best summed up by the ability to select its acceleration level as ‘insane’.
We tested the Tesla Model S when it first came to the UK and we were blown away by its performance, driving range, and general all-round capability. Now the P85D is here – a high performance model with all-wheel drive. There were few faults with the original Model S, but having the ability to put down all of the instant torque through four wheels is certainly an advantage.
There’s a great trick that you can play on people with a Tesla Model S. After taking them for a ride and shocking them with the car’s incredible (yet virtually silent) acceleration, open the tailgate and show them how much room there is in the boot. This works even better if it’s a seven-seat version (yes you can have two rear-facing child seats in the boot). Then go round to the front of the car to show them the engine. Open the bonnet and show them what’s underneath: more luggage space where the engine should be. Yes, there’s no engine – or any other form of powertrain evident.
As well as still having an open mouth from the acceleration, they’ll now be scratching their heads, wondering how a car without any obvious means of propulsion can accelerate in such a crazy way. At this point you can welcome them to the future of motoring – the Tesla Model S.
Although they may be thinking that this is some form of technology from another planet, the explanation for the lack of any form of bulky and space-sapping powertrain is because the primary powertrain component – the car’s 85 kWh battery – is not that dissimilar to the top of a slightly thick table, and it sits under the car’s floor. The dual electric motors (259hp at the front and 503hp at the rear) and the electronics that control the powertrain are either located by the rear axle or in front of the dashboard.
The design of the Tesla is also significant. The exterior is very effective at conveying that this is a modern super-sports saloon. And the interior leaves you in no doubt that this is a showcase for the latest technology, with the huge 17-inch iPad-style touchscreen dominating the dashboard.
There are virtually no other buttons or controls on the dashboard, so the vast majority of the car’s functions are controlled via the touchscreen. This means that you can swipe the screen to open and close the sunroof, have a huge Google map on display, or surf the internet (obviously not recommended while driving).
The car and the contents of its touchscreen can be updated remotely by Tesla, providing new features without any need to replace the car with a newer one.
The whole experience of the Model S is refreshing. You can’t open (or lock) the car, just as you can’t switch the car on or off. You simply approach the car with the key and the handles magically appear out of the doors. By the time you’ve sat in the driver’s seat the car will have switched itself on. All you need to do is use the stalk mounted on the side of the steering column to select the Drive setting for the single-speed automatic transmission, and depress the accelerator pedal.
Ideally you need a long, empty road if you use any degree of force on the accelerator pedal, as the car feels like a rocket during take off and covers ground very quickly. Because this car is powered by electric motors and not petrol, there’s no torque curve, just a straight line of instant and massive acceleration, and it keeps going and going and going. It also happens without any noise or drama.
This sensation is somewhat addictive, and it’s during this experience on wet roads when you appreciate that you’re in the ‘Performance All-Wheel Drive’ P85D, as it puts its power down very effectively – helped by impressive – and electronic – traction control systems.
As part of our test we headed from a top-up at the Supercharger just off the M56 near Warrington to Ffestiniog in North Wales. The initial motorway section showed how comfortable, quiet and refined the Model S is. It also showed how the car’s range read-out isn’t phased by driving on motorways at 70mph – unlike virtually all other electric cars that we’ve driven.
When the time came to turn off the motorway and onto Welsh A and B–roads, the all-wheel drive system provided lots of reassurance when the 691hp performance was used on wet and twisty routes. Lovers of rear-wheel drive-biased handling need not worry however, as the power bias is still rearwards – with a 32:68 front to rear split.
It should be noted at this point that we use this route through North Wales for testing cars that promise a greater degree of fun for the driver than the average car, so the roads are not ideal for a car that weighs over two tonnes and has a width that is more suited to American highways than Welsh roads which often seem to be designed for vehicles that are no wider than quad bikes.
This is also the point when you might be reminded that the Model S has suspension settings to adjust ride height, but there’s no ability to change between settings such as adjustment for comfort and sport, unlike most European sports saloons.
The steering has three settings: Comfort, Standard and Sport. Don’t select Comfort – it makes the steering so light you can move the wheel with your little finger. Sport is the best setting – there’s not much feeling, but unlike the Comfort setting, at least it has some weight to it.
We made it to Ffestiniog and back to Cheshire. We prioritised spirited driving over eco-driving, so we didn’t enjoy 300 miles of electric range, but there’s no other electric car that could have transported us into the depths of Wales and back so quickly and without running out of electricity.
The whole point of the Tesla is that there are no (tailpipe) emissions, and it needs no petrol or diesel. It has a potential range of 305 miles according to the NEDC test, but like the NEDC test for petrol cars, this is a rubbish statistic. In real life, with sensible driving, you should be able to expect around 240 miles from the Tesla between recharges.
Apart from having short driving ranges, the other problem with most electric cars is that takes hours and hours to recharge them. So if you’re caught out on the road and you need to do a full recharge, you could theoretically be sitting around for up to eight hours.
Not so with Tesla. The company is installing a network of Superchargers at intelligently considered locations through the UK (and Europe), which are completely free for Tesla drivers to use, allowing a recharge of over ‘200 miles per hour’. The idea is that Tesla owners can drive long distances thanks to the Supercharger network, and although electric cars are cheap to run compared to petrol or diesel cars, the Tesla could be even cheaper thanks to the network of free Superchargers.
You can also recharge at home using a wallbox, or, as a last resort, a three pin plug, although this will take many hours to provide a full charge.
The Tesla Model S P85D costs £79,080 (after the UK government £5,000 Plug-in Car Grant has been applied). This can’t quite be described as affordable, but it’s a pretty amazing car for the money. The dilemma that you’ll have is working out if you want to pay the extra thousands for the additional power and four-wheel drive over the other models in the range, all of which are impressive anyway. Apart from this top of the range P85D, other models are the rear-wheel drive 70 and 85, and the all-wheel drive 70D and 85D.
It’s just been announced that the P85d can have a 90 kWh upgrade, which increases the range by 6% and reduces the 0-60 mph time to 2.8 seconds – thanks to the ‘Ludicrous’ Speed Upgrade…
Apart from the very low costs of fuel, there are many financial benefits of Model S ownership. For business users, it has a Benefit in Kind rate of just 5%, and if you regularly drive into London, it’s exempt from the Congestion Charge.
All people who haven’t driven electric cars who still quote the tediously over-used phrase that ‘electric cars drive like milk floats’ should be made to experience the hyperspace button that is the accelerator pedal of the Model S. They wouldn’t go around claiming that electric cars are slow for much longer.
Then there’s the driving range. Range anxiety is dismissed as a myth by some electric car manufacturers, but it’s a very real feeling. Spend a day driving enthusiastically around North Wales and the driving range of the Tesla is put to the test, but spend a day driving normally rather than like a mad person and the Model S is like no other electric car – you always seem to have plenty of miles in reserve.
As the Tesla Supercharger network continues to be rolled out, a 200 mile top-up in less time than it takes to have a coffee and a sandwich is becoming more and more of an option for Model S drivers.
‘Electric cars are too small’ is another common accusation, but not one that you could aim at the Model S. There’s plenty of space for five people, or even for seven if the two extra seats in the boot are specified. Even with seven people on board, there’s still spare luggage space.
But can the driving experience of an electric car compete with a luxury sports car? Absolutely it can. The Model S has performance (lots of it), a comfortable ride, and of course levels of refinement and near-silence that very few cars can match.
With the P85D, one of the few issues with the rear-wheel drive Model S – the ability to quickly transfer the huge amounts of torque to the road under rapid acceleration in all weather conditions – has been addressed.
But perhaps the greatest achievement of this car is still the fact that it’s a highly desirable electric car that has been brought to market by a company that barely existed ten years ago, while many car companies that have been around for 100 years still haven’t got their act together in the area of ultra-low emission cars.
In the face of all the above, it’s virtually impossible to award the Tesla P85D anything but a Green-Car-Guide rating of 10 out of 10.