What: Four-wheel drive, 691hp/515kw of power, 931 Nm of torque, 3.1 secs 0-100 km/h, CO2 0 g/100km
Heard enough of the Tesla hype yet? How about giving Tesla a good whip in the boot with the charger plug? This isn’t your normal test drive. I was lucky enough, and kaara.tv car show in Finland was foolish enough, to suggest we take a 700hp Tesla Model S85D to a racetrack. This was too good to be missed, I reckoned. Then they suggested that we have a former rally driver in a 360hp Mercedes A45 AMG as ra… pace car for the Tesla.
I had driven the legendary BMW M3 just days before, yet one afternoon later, I was sure that M3 had just been killed! It was time to plug in for a sanity check during the summer, as my friends saw me slip into the insane mode. Next, a test drive in a Ferrari 360 Spider landed at me, and that reassured me that electricity could never replace a screaming V8 – for ten minutes. I found myself levitating on the Tesla hype like a magnetic high speed train. Looking around, everyone else was doing the same: Tesla this, Tesla that, Tesla backwards, Tesla sideways. So, I took an even longer (in)sanity check to write this story. Is the Model S the best car on the planet?
How Insane is Insane? First things first – the insane acceleration. Did I scream like a little girl? No, I’m with the “mutes”. Mutes are those who want to say something, frankly anything, or just even sigh, but can’t make a freaking sound. The two electric motors in the P85D give all the power directly at once, yet there is no wheel spin or torque steer, the car just catapults straight out with no drama.
Imagine for a second sitting in an office chair with wheels. The same you probably spend most of your life in. Petrol car is your colleague Pete grapping the back of the chair and starting to run, gathering speed, slipping and sliding. Tesla Model S P85D is Pete, Harry, Andy, Tom, Jack, Andy, Lisa, Helen, and that guy from finance whose name nobody remembers, all giving one giant kick in the back of your chair, sending you right off to the coffee machine across the office. That’s what it feels like.
The g-forces that Tesla pulls decrease as it gains speed, whereas in petrol car the effect is the opposite. Feeling the need, the need for speed is even more sensational, since you can’t brace yourself for the electric motors switching “ON”, whereas in petrol car you can prepare ahead and hear the motor and transmission working really hard for acceleration. In the end it all comes down to what we measure. 0 to 100 km/h acceleration is what we like to go about, but Tesla is even more mindboggling at 0 to 50 km/h, which it does in about one second. A Bugatti Veyron needs 1.4 seconds. And Tesla is a much cheaper four-door family car with a large boot.
What about reversing? Could the P85D reverse from 0 to 100 km/h in the same insane 3 seconds it takes to go forward? There is no evidence of it not being able to do that, but the reverse speed is limited by software to a moderate 15 mph. Since there is no gearbox, but only a forward/reverse selector, technically Tesla could also be the fastest forwards and backwards driving car.
Run for the Money I promised you serious whipping, let’s get to it. If you think Tesla has a good and wide rear for whipping, it’s because it weighs 2,240 kilos! Twice as much as sports cars, and 685 kilograms heavier than the A45 AMG that I got to chase around, on a very twisty race track. Tesla was quick off the line, but not so much at speed. Good laps are steady, clean and smooth, and this is usually impossible for anything with weight. Heading into first corner, I can’t shake off the weight – I feel it already on approach. In the middle of the corner I’m surprised each lap, expecting huge body roll, but the low and flat batteries give a very good center of gravity and the Tesla turns in nice and tidy. Boom, off it goes again from one bend to another, and every time I see the back of the A45 approach faster than what’s really comfortable.
Midway through the bends, the Merc gets ahead. I needed to attack the apex more aggressively to match up. Weight comes into play again, and I feel the front tires giving up under the weight and excess speed. I appreciate that tires alert by losing traction gradually and moderately, so that even a small lift off the “gas” regains control. Was I able to keep up with the nimble A45? Yes, although we weren’t timing nor switching cars for comparison. I rode the Mercedes shotgun for few laps watching the tv host and professional driver at work, and he was driving it really properly, giving the Tesla behind a real lecture in rac…, I mean being a pace car. Voluntary passengers and camera man eventually started to look green, so we paused for lunch – that most refused to eat. The g forces in Tesla will put anyone’s internal organs at test, and repeating the insane accelerations and decelerations will sooner or later make you call for that barf bag. It was positive to note that the Model S held on so well during repeated insane accelerations and hot track laps, it was only the passengers and front tires that started to show signs of folding.
Sounds of Silence Constant whine on the electric cars is not the whizzing sound from the electric motor, but the skeptics questioning batteries, drivetrain and charging. With Tesla, the batteries are guaranteed for eight years with unlimited mileage. Not to worry, their expected lifetime is in fact long beyond that. Faulty batteries can be fixed simply by replacing a broken cell (the size of a finger), but if needed, the entire battery pack can be taken out in a matter of minutes. And with the Supercharger network, Model S owners benefit from complimentary 20-minute quick charges. Tesla owners could on the other hand point at rising gas prices, annual oil changes, cam belt changes, broken (expensive) gearboxes, restricted guarantees, being ripped off at service, etc. – but they are generally just happy enjoying their electric silence. The VW and Audi diesel engine hoax revealed in the US this September is not only very bad news for VW and Audi, but very good news for Tesla.
So Tesla sounds like… silence? Not entirely. Once you get moving, the first thing you notice is that it is indeed quiet. Although there is no engine sound, soon enough yours ears will automatically adjust to the next loudest sound and pin to that. It is annoying to have tire and wind noise, but they are inevitable issues of moving in any car. And we have bigger problems in the world to attend to first. Magic carpet ride it’s not, but Tesla is the place where to put serious money down on proper hi-fi music system.
And Why, of, Why? Sitting in a car is rarely a joy, at best not painful. Gracefully, Tesla has chosen to rework also the interior to a new benchmark. Whatever you drive now, will feel ancient after the Model S. No buttons or dials on the Tesla, just an enormous 17-inch display including car controls, phone, navigation and full internet browser. So how big was your computer screen at home? Everything operates with a simple swipe or touch. All the functions are grouped so that the driver can see and operate them easily while driving, there are no step-by-step sub-menus. This simply makes all other cars look just… well dumb. The handles, creases on the dashboard and doors are futuristic, elegant and simple, without being quirky.
Model S doesn’t have a huge petrol engine in the front (or in the back), so that space can be used for – you guessed it, space! But, also for safety. Already large trunk and the front trunk (= frunk) provide double the cargo space compared to normal. The battery pack is located low in the floor compartment, providing a low center of gravity and possibility to build extra crumble zones where the engine used to be, for added safety. You can think of normal car as a loose sledgehammer with the heavy engine pulling the car in momentum, but in Tesla there is no single weight block – it’s all distributed low and wide. Both NHTSA in the US and EuroNCAP in Europe have rewarded Tesla with extraordinary safety results.
Motoring today is evil on all accounts. But some governments are rewarding Tesla and other electric car owners with tax exemptions, bus lane passes, free charging, free parking – the list goes on. It also goes to highlight that never look at the price tag as face value, do the math for five years down the road – and be realistic. And as far as public opinion is concerned, the 700hp Tesla earns public sympathy points over loud old school sports cars any day.
We have seen electric cars before and we didn’t go berserk over them. What if Mercedes, BMW and Audi came up with their own P85Ds? Would you still buy the original Tesla? With Tesla, you don’t buy a powertrain, a vehicle, or a trophy car – you do buy convenience from ordinary motoring headaches like servicing, boot space, taxation, jealousy, flimsy buttons and noisy interiors.
Tesla Model S is refreshingly different on all accounts. Tesla does struggle financially, reporting net loss after each financial year. Company is burdened by heavy investments, debt load and delayes in bringing out the Model X SUV and the even more affordable Model 3 compact sedan. I know there are many who would like to buy the Model S, but can’t – yet. Tesla Model S is not just an electric car, it spells out convenience and confidence in the same way that iPhone took over the world from keypads - for good. Tesla is also playing it smart by providing the car with value adding services and features, so that when the competition does catch up, they still have an advantage over conventional looking electric cars. As it seems now, Tesla still has few years to dominate the market all alone.