Forget everything you know about driving, forget everything you know about cars – throw it all out the window because the Tesla Model S is now available in Australia and it’s so different it will mess with your mind… EFTM got behind the wheel of the P85 spec Model S to get our first glimpse at a revolution in motoring.
With a newer model already rolling off the production line, the car we drove is something between the base model and the dual motor version which will be sold here in Australia later in 2015. It’s the P85 which has been superseded by the P85D (D for Dual motor), the 85 though is the important part of that equation.
The 85kWh battery on-board meant a potential driving range of 502km, while the electric motor sitting between the rear wheels produces an impressive 310kW which equates to a lightning bolt off the line – more on that later.
Reset your thinking.
You’ve got the key in your pocket – wait, is that the key? Looks like a toy car. Yep, that’s the key. There’s not even a clear button on the key – no unlock symbol, no lock symbol, no boot symbol. Instead, neatly recessed under the skin of the key are three buttons. Double click the “front” of the car (key) and the bonnet will pop open. Double click the back and the rear hatch of the Model S will slowly open up fully. There’s no real need to touch the roof of the car (key) which unlocks the car, because as you walk up to the car it will unlock itself.
Now these three features alone are not completely new. Not at all. However, the funky key is a start right?
But seriously, with the chrome door handles recessed into the doors the real magic begins when you approach the car and the handles “present” for you, gliding out from the doors ready for you to grab them and pull the door open.
Before we sit inside
Let’s wander around the Model S. Having popped the bonnet, you’ll walk to the front and lift it open. Inside – space. No engine, no wiring, no radiator, nothing. Except a small Tesla emergency supplies bag, and a whole lot of space for your groceries.
Space up the front isn’t unique.
Space up front and around the back is. When you head around the back you realise the amazing capacity of this vehicle. The huge boot just gets bigger when you lift the flap which might normally expose a spare tyre. Not here, instead another cavity for storage. There is no spare tyre. Now the lack of a spare is hardly a new thing in motoring. Modern tyre technology means that the only time you’re likely to have a huge issue is with a puncture. For the big Aussie drives that’s a reassurance I’d personally prefer to have, but the space it takes up and the weight it adds, you’re better off accepting defeat on that argument.
Looking around the car the most remarkable thing is the design. This is really a thing of beauty. Born out of a need for supreme aerodynamic efficiency, the Tesla Model S is a sleek but not ridiculous design, and without question one of the most head-turning cars we’ve driven at EFTM. We’ve even had people stand on the curb taking photos and looking inside, as well as people asking at the lights about it. It’s new, yes, but it’s also god-damn attractive too.
Sit down and take it in
I’ve sat in the Model S many times, the showrooms in US shopping malls are a sight to behold and I’ve enjoyed the splendour of the interior there, so I didn’t have the huge shock that many people do, however, when you know you’re about to drive it, there’s a whole new feeling that comes over you.
The supremely attractive and feature-rich elephant in the room is the 17 inch colour touch-screen in the centre console.
Gone are the buttons, knobs, dials and switches. Everything is gone. There are just two buttons. One to open the glove-box, the other to turn on the hazard lights.
Between them is the behemoth of a screen. More on that soon.
In front of you is a pretty standard steering wheel with volume and track controls as well as voice control and info buttons.
Behind the wheel are three stalks, on the right is your gear selection – with options for Reverse, Neutral, Drive and Park. On the left is your indicator and washer stalk, though slightly lower than I’d like it to be and hidden behind the wheel itself, above it is a smaller and narrow stalk which controls the cruise control functions.
This is the most analogue and “old-school” part of the vehicle. That, and the accelerator and brake pedals – but only in their physical appearance.
Further behind the wheel is your dash. No dials, just a full LCD screen which features a speedo and energy meter in the centre, with infotainment or mapping around it.
When you’re playing music the information appears on this dash, when you are navigating clear colour maps appear here also. At other times there is an energy meter to keep tabs on your aggressive electric driving.
Your seats are electric, with personal profile settings allowing you to store seat memories to a particular name in the center control screen, while the seats themselves are full height bucket seats without adjustable head-rests.
Strangely perhaps, one of my favourite features of the Tesla is the arm rest on the door. Unlike the majority of the cars on the road, the arm-rest seems to be designed to be just that, an arm rest. Rather than doubling as a door handle, latch or window control panel, this arm rest does nothing else. The window controls are separate and lower, and the handle and latch are higher near window level.
In the back there are three distinct seats. While the Model S is a large car, it’s cosy for three adults, but very much possible. Two would be far more comfortable on longer drivers.
That screen & technology
What on earth were they thinking? A 17 inch colour screen in the centre of the dash? A distraction surely! Nope. Actually, after just a couple of hours you get very familiar with the setup and your eyes are almost always drawn to the LCD dash behind your steering wheel.
This screen and the software behind it brings new meaning to the term “infotainment system”. There are touch screen controls for the suspension height, brake regeneration levels, steering mode, traction control, door locks, bonnet, boot, charge port, interior lights, headlights, fog-lights – and that’s just the first screen.
Your sunroof is controlled by a sliding bar on the touchscreen, there are heated seats and wipers, trip computer, display settings and a whole bunch more.
Stuff that would normally be hidden in menus on the instrument cluster and controlled with some crappy menu and arrow buttons – instead, in a glorious touch-screen interface.
Constantly down the bottom are the climate settings, again, touchscreen for all your standard features, as well as the volume control.
Across the top you have “apps” for Media, Navigation, Calendar, Energy, Camera and Phone.
By default the map is your constant on the screen. Google Maps can be shown in map view, map with traffic and also satellite view. At full screen they are very impressive. You can view your position either in a north facing aspect, or with the map pointing in the direction of travel.
The screen is multi-touch so your familiar pinch and zoom as well as twist movements are all working on this map interface.
Media is a combination of Bluetooth streaming, USB connected devices, AM or FM radio as well as Digital Radio (for our Capital Cities where there is coverage), while there are also streaming media services like TuneIn and Pandora thanks to the built-in 3G connectivity.
Sadly, the DAB integration is clunky. Once you find your stations it’s best to set them as presets, because Tesla’s implementation of DAB+ shows stations listed by “multiplex”. Appearing as 9A, 9B, 9C on the screen, these are essentially transmitters. In Australia each capital city as three multiplexes, two for commercial stations and one for the ABC and SBS Radio.
The issue is that when listening to a station you can only scroll through the other stations on that same multiplex. The system needs to do a scan, find all the stations, and show them clearly in one list. It’s not rocket science.
Energy consumption is shown on a rolling graph which can help you see your good and bad driving, as well as the good and bad roads. A long winding up-hill drive will chew through energy no matter how you drive, while some good downhill stints will regenerate large amounts of energy and keep the range from ticking away.
For some reason the reverse camera is usable at all times. While it turns on automatically in reverse, it can also be activated while driving. Strange but true.
While the Tesla may be one of, if not the most technically advanced cars of our time, it does lack a lot of “tech features” Blind-spot monitoring, suggestive reversing camera (with the guide lines moving to your steering location), around view or birds eye cameras, as well as driving features like lane-assist or adaptive cruise control.
Many of these may be ticked when the new D version hits our shores – we shall wait and see.
Before you go
There’s an app for that. Yep, the Tesla app – before you leave the office or home, open the app, set the climate inside, open the roof to vent the hot air out, check the charging status, hey, even get charging alerts. All available in the Telsa App.
I don’t even know where to start.
You’ve seen our video of launch control in the Nissan GT-R. That’s power. The Tesla Model S is something else. While at the clock it might not be as fast, in the seat it sure as well feels like it.
With the press of your right foot you’re delivering all the available power to the ground and going forward.
Think of your old Scalextric set. Squeeze the trigger the car goes like a rocket. Let go and it stops.
What you’ve got here is basically a life-size Scalextric. I wonder if Elon Musk played with slot-cars as a kid?
I can’t even describe it other than to say it messes with your head. How can something so quiet be so powerful. The thrust pushes your passengers back in their seats and if you don’t warn them will shock the socks off them.
On the road
Once you’ve had your play, the drive around town is luxurious. A smooth ride, with a comfortable feel on the road. A low centre of gravity thanks to the batteries under your feed and flowing all through the floor means you’re getting a great feel through corners.
The sound makes it hard to tell, but I have no doubt I was approaching and taking corners on the Old Pacific Highway faster than I normally might. There’s a confidence that comes from that low center of gravity and the grip of the big tyres.
It’s hard to fault the Model S on the road. In traffic you’ll probably want to enable the “Creep” mode – no, it doesn’t change the driver, it changes the fact that when you take your foot off the brake in an electric car, it just sits still. What Tesla have done to bring back some of the expectations of a normal drive is add this creep mode which slowly pushes the car forward with your foot off the brake, just as it would in an automatic car.
This is a large car, it feels large when you’re driving, and certainly some parts of the touch-screen seem out of reach. When you consider the volume and track controls are wheel mounted, there is little need for as you drive access to the touch screen so that concern over the size goes away quite fast.
You are at an after work event, you don’t have your phone charger, you have to call your wife to pick you up from the train station, yet your phone battery sits at 5%. This is what’s known as battery anxiety. Wondering how you will get through, what you can do to make it better.
Now imagine that when you’re driving – with the ability for you to keep driving determined on that power point. Sadly, as we were not owners, we didn’t have the charging point at home – so the pressure on the battery was intense! We had to make every kilometre count!
When you purchase a Model S, it comes standard with a 40 amp single phase wall connector – you’re going to need to get that one installed.
However, in talking with my Sparky brother-in-law Brad about how hard that installation would be, he tells me “Well not that hard if you have 40amps to spare! Most houses only have 63amps total”.
If you needed to up the ampy (get it?) and have a 100amp supply you would need to “get all new metering and new supply from the street”. The cost? “thousands and thousands”.
He seemed about as excited for me to get something like this for him to install as he was when he found out we had gotten an induction cooktop – that is to say – not very excited at all!
Speaking to someone who has ordered a Model S and had the charger installed already, it seems possible to limit the throughput of the unit, making it a 20amp or 7.5kW unit which should suffice for overnight charging.
Tesla Australia told EFTM :
“Our wall connectors are ‘programmable’ for 40A, 32A, 16A or 10A so can be installed to suit customers’ homes.
So far most customers have been able to install at either 32 or 40A which will be a full charge overnight. Remembering very little power is being used at night.”
While the Model S is compatible with public charging stations (IEC 62196 Standard connector) there aren’t many of them around now are there?
The short-term is home charging where you can get it, the long-term is the supercharger – Telsa will be rolling out a vast number of “Supercharge” locations. Two Sydney supercharger locations are now open (Artarmon and The Star), with locations also planned for Goulburn and Canberra.
The real solution is, according to the Tesla website, “an optional 10 amp mobile connector which will be compatible with Australian and New Zealand type 3112 electrical outlets is under development and will be available in early 2015” But that will be a slow charge so again another set of challenges.
So while this electric caper is very new, very different and in concept extremely “green” – it does present a whole new world of challenges.
When I got in my car today it was flashing empty, I had 5 petrol stations to choose from on the way to work. Unless I have home charging, I’m not going to have that option in the Tesla, and to find even one charger I’m going to be going out of my way.
Owners will quickly learn to manage this process, but it certainly is part of the whole philosophy of “rethinking motoring” which comes from the very start of the experience.
A little picky
I’ve already mentioned the lack of “high-tech” driving features like blind-spot alerts, adaptive cruise control and lane guidance, some of which will be available in the tech-pack. However, there are a couple of other “silly” things which kept bugging me.
The panel gaps in some areas – in particular the gaps between the rear doors and the back quarter panels seemed large, as did the gaps at the front of the bonnet. But that’s as picky as I could get on the outside.
On the inside there are no handles above the windows, again, strange to notice, but I only noticed because I’d normally hang my suit jacket there when driving – and for a luxury executive car, seems an oversight.
When you’re driving, the car is so quiet you only really hear two things. Road Noise, and rattles. Road noise from the tyres, or from the wind over the car is nice, gentle and won’t cause you concern. However when something rattles it’s like the sound is amplified because there is nothing to drown it out except your music. Keep your ears out, and stop the rattle when it starts is the best advice I can offer.
Lets say you were looking at an Audi S5 sportback. Drive away in NSW you’re looking at $130,000 or more. That’s not a direct comparison, but its a similar style car, and just shows there are cars in the $100k plus range that are being considered daily.
A base model Telsa Model S with the 60kWh battery will set you back $106,000 on road in NSW.
Take it to the extreme and you could pay $188,000 for the top end with everything (Except Sub-Zero pack because who needs that in Australia!)
It’s a big window, but the prices and options are very clear on the Tesla website.
While all car makers have pricing available online, there’s not many who make it as simple and “a la carte” as Tesla.
You can see quite clearly all the costs, you can see the state by state differences, and option the car as you want. Plus, the luxury car tax is lower for an electric vehicle, so that’s good right?
You’ve read this far, you must be keen.
There’s no dealer, no negotiating, no trade-ins. This is an online shopping experience with a boutique showroom accompaniment.
The showrooms have one or two Model S vehicles in them to see, plus a rolling chassis so you can see the bare bones underneath. They have all the trim and colour options on show and the customer service staff can discuss what’s required, but they aren’t really sales people.
Your order is tracked from the point of payment through the production line so you know ever step of the way.
There are a lot of luxury cars in the $100,000+ price range, the Tesla Model S redefines motoring with a modern look, innovative technology, top-notch green credentials, high-tech and high-quality interior fit-out all combined with a ride and handling that would be the envy of many.
After the initial gawking and showing off, you’re going to be left driving a whisper quiet luxury car with sensational feeling on the road, whether you are in traffic or on a freeway drive or even on some winding roads.
This genuinely felt to me like the future of motoring.