Give it a chance, and the Tesla’s Model S will forever change the way you view electric cars. In fact, it may well change the way you think about cars of any kind. But simply, it seems to offer us a glimpse of a better way, or does it?
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A means of luxurious automotive mobility that does away with, engine noise and vibration, one that instantly makes the whole idea of lugging around a barrel of fossil fuel to burn, seem, quaint and outdated.
Full electric cars have long promised these things, but then made themselves untenable with high pricing and restrictive driving ranges.
In contrast a Model S costs no more than its full luxury segment rivals, and crucially, thanks to its larger battery, can travel three or four times further than any ordinary electric vehicle between charges.
Better still, all of this comes packaged up with a range of smart technologies, that could only have come from a company with a clean sheet approach to personal transportation. This car is, in short, a breath of fresh air, in every sense.
Take a seat inside, and well, it’s not really like anything you’d have tried before. The cabin is dominated by an enormous color touchscreen that sits in the middle of the fascia.
It can be used to control everything from the selectable height of the air suspension, to the workings of the climate control system.
Much else is different too, with almost everything you expect a luxury vehicle to deliver, having either been changed, or become configurable. So, there’s no start button, and certainly no ignition slot.
There’s no handbrake either, these things aren’t necessary, for Tesla knows the key is onboard, poising itself for the gradient your on and ready to make progress.
The throttle pedal requires quite a flex from the right foot, but brush your shoes against it with any kind of purpose, and this thing hurls itself forward with acceleration that’s, well, electric. But then you’d expect it to be.
In a combustion engine, the pulling power would, after all, have to build, but with the Model S here everything’s there right from the get-go.
And in the case of the standard 85-kWh Model S variant I tested, everything means a prodigious 600 newton-meters of torque, from the 380 brake horsepower electric motor.
Enough to fire you up the road even more quickly than the 0-60 sprint time of 5.4 seconds Tesla would suggest.
Even that is more than enough to make this car significantly quicker than the fastest luxury segment diesel models, it theoretically competes with.
Dual motor Option
Which brings me neatly to the next model up in the range, the Model S 85D. Here the D in question doesn’t stand for a smoky oil burner, but instead, designates the addition of the duel motor option, Tesla’s way of describing four-wheel drive.
The all wheel drive dual motor setup, to give this system its full name, changes this car’s mechanical configuration.
So you move from the variant I drove that had a single 380 brake horsepower electric motor driving the back wheels, to one that as the terminology suggests, offers two electric motors.
One sitting on the front axle, the other driving from the rear. Both of these develop 188 brake horsepower, so in total, you’ve got approximately the same sort of power as you would in an ordinary Model S85 variant.
But with the power spread around the drive train, you’ve of course got the perfect recipe for all wheel drive traction.
I mentioned operating range earlier, you’ll be wanting to know about that. We were, after all, using too fully charged pure EV model struggling to deliver a real-world range of around 70 miles.
Restrictions of this kind are the main reason why people don’t like electric vehicles, here again though, normal rules simply don’t apply.
Primarily because in this case, we’re working with a much bigger battery. One nearly four times more powerful than, say, a Nissan Leaf.
And as a result, a Model S with an 85-kWh battery is rated as being able to complete 310 miles, on the official any DC test cycle.
Even in real world driving you could expect a 250 mile range which is astonishing for a pure electric car. if you’re of the opinion that futuristic technology should come in futuristic packaging, then you might find the styling of this Model S to be surprisingly conventional.
It’s certainly the kind of look that a buyer in the luxury segment would be used to, but only because Tesla has wisely chosen to follow customer expectations in making it so.
It’s handsome though, the exterior shaping, the work of X Mazda designer Franz von house housing, who previously worked on the New Beetle, and the Pontiac Solstice sports car.
Get inside and the surprises keep on coming throughout a beautifully trimmed interior, in which the designers have clearly felt free to be a little more futuristic.
Look around the dash and you spot only a couple of buttons, one for the glove box, and the other for the hazard warning flashers.
Otherwise, just about everything is controlled by the huge 17 inch color touchscreen that dominates the fascia. It’s just as well then, that the interface that offers is brilliant.
Dealing effectively with everything from the air conditioning controls, to stereo functions, and the various settings for things like the car suspension and the regenerative braking modes.
Primarily though, you’ll mostly be leaving this middle screen in its navigation display mode, in which form it really is clever. Thanks to a 3G Google Maps connection it can show you traffic builder points, and Google Earth images.
Plus of course, it’s the point from which you’ll be planning your journeys. With displays predicting the percentage of battery charge that’ll remain at your required destination, and the amount you’d be left with upon returning home.
As for rear seat accommodation, well, the standard of head and legroom on offer are unremarkable for a car in this class. But, what is impressive, is this car’s ability to comfortably look after three full-sized adults, in a way that no other rival in this class can.
Cost of Ownership
As you’d expect the Model S enjoys a devastating advantage over its rivals, time to look at the facts.
Let’s say you were considering what will probably be the most popular Model S variant of the 85 D version, with its dual motor all wheel drive system.
For the same sort of size specification, space traction and performance in a conventional luxury saloon, you’d have to look at something like a petrol powered Audi S8.
A car that upfront, would cost you almost exactly the same sort of money, from that point on though, the running costs will be widely divergent.
You’d get a range of not much more than around 300 miles from the Audi, if you were driving it reasonably hard, which is also what you’d get from a fully charged Model S85.
Whereas, that range will require a $130 fill up in the S8, whereas you’ll spend no more than around $8 or so to fully charge the Tesla from empty.
To save you’re doing the math I’ll tell you that over 20,000 miles, that will mean a total fueling car like the Audi would set you back around $8,000 more.
On top of that, you’ll need to remember that a Model S attracts very little benefit in-kind company car tax. In the UK a car like the S8 could set a typical forty percent tax payer back around eleven thousand pounds, in VIK tax bills alone.
Ultimately, this Tesla has changed so much that it’s hard not to feel a bit sorry for its competitors. A conventional internal combustion engine rival, suddenly has a real whiff of Beter Max about it, powered by technology that’s yesterday’s news.
Of course that’s not to suggest this car to be perfect, no one gets everything right the first time.
This American brand’s handling and chassis tuning development still has a way to go, and less significantly, there are improvements that could be made in the cabin quality too.
On top of that, the EV approach obviously isn’t going to work for everyone. Even with the kind of expanded driving range you get here, those covering large daily mileages aren’t going to be suited to a Model S.
Most buyers in the luxury segment will be tough, and those prepared to buy into the new technology, and make a few of the lifestyle changes it requires, will find relatively little else to fault.
These are people who realize that they won’t find inspiration in the places they’ve already been, they understand that to move forward you have to do something different, you have to go somewhere new.
That’s what Tesla has done while the rest of the motor industry watches and hedges its bets, in doing so they’ve created a car that does nothing less than rewrite the rule book.
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