It was Sean who collected the Tesla Model S from its Westfield Store for MR. Sean thus had the full hour-long product briefing.
I intentionally didn’t. I had 30 seconds from Sean telling me about the keyless go system. Before grabbing said key and scarpering to the car park, full of excitement about driving the future.
I’ve been looking forward to this one for ages. Tesla is THE car company of the moment and that’s largely because of the Model S. The hype has been huge; overhype?
First impressions were that maybe this dull metallic grey doesn’t suit it here in the UK (droopy nose, anyone?), although the rest of it is suitably stylish and appealing, and the whirr-out of the polished metal doorhandles as I approached was neat.
Touchscreen presses buttons
The sight of the touchscreen within blew me away though. It’s stunning. The open-plan interior is modern and clean, with some futuristic touches, but it’s the iPad-Maxi central display that really wows, particularly as it’s as sleek and as satisfying to touch, swipe and scroll as the Apple mainstay. Took my attention right away from the Mercedes switchgear (if you’re going to use parts bin components from anyone, etc…).
To get underway, all you need to do is select Drive. No press-buttons, no parking brakes, nothing. I did this and, within 20 metres, was massaged by two aspects: silence, and fluidity.
All electric cars are quiet, of course, but this is a further step on as the electric motor whine is muted as well (only under hard acceleration does it start to roar). And despite all its torque, it’s a really measured thing to crawl along in, with beautifully gradual and linear power delivery. It feels very elegant indeed.
For a space age car, though, it wasn’t too far removed from convention. I could use it easily, drive it reasonably confidently (it feels wide, mind – and not just because it’s a LHD car in the UK) and soak up the good parts rather than anxiously fret over the differences.
But then came the bit that really does show it’s a spaceship…
Acceleration is truly, truly mind-warping. No exaggeration. Out of the 40 zone, I floored it. Immediately, my head whipped back and cracked into the head restraint, forcibly. It was not dissimilar to being hit from behind. Then I was doing rather more than 40mph, apparently in an eyeblink. The rate at which this 85kWh (it has the equivalent of 416hp) P85 Model S gathers speed once up to speed is absolutely jaw-dropping – and the lack of hesitation in doing so simply adds to the effect.
It becomes addictive; you can’t help but find quiet roads and continually slow down, speed up to feel it. I did this for a while expecting the batteries to be decimated. But no. An array of readings will show you some scary instantaneous usage graphs but start flowing with the traffic again and it soon recovers – there seems to be genuine capacity in the Tesla, rather than just theoretical range. And that’s the same even if you drive it like a warp-drive cartoon space rocket.
It makes IC engines seem Iron Age.
With more miles, another discovery: it’s a heavy car; it weighs 2,100kg. You don’t feel that in acceleration, of course, but you do in corners. Here, it’s not through rates of roll, but the feeling of weight shifting beneath you as you flow through bends. There’s a slight pause while two-plus tonnes readjusts its heading. It’s a bit like picking up its skirt and shuffling sideways. British B-roads expose this, particularly if your perceptions of speed are suitably skewed because of the sheer speed and response of the thing.
BMW, you feel, would give it another round or two of final chassis tuning before signing off.
The ride’s generally OK though, just the thing for taking the edge off back roads. And traction is good too. Scratch that – traction is astounding. The forces that go through the rear wheels when you floor it on a corner exit at 20mph are instant and colossal, yet other than the sensation of a temporary sideways shimmy, there’s no disturbance and no loss of traction. It digs in and goes. Traction control engineering team, I take my hat off to you.
The rough edges…
Of course, there are some rough edges. Frameless windows wobble as you get in and out. The door openings are narrow. It’s easy to get your left foot caught under the nearside dash trim. Steering wheel buttons are cheap and wobbly (and look like those from an MG6). Some of the window surround rubbers are squidgy and wobbly, looking a bit like a kit car (on the VW Up I drove home in, they were perfect and rich-looking). The seats are oddly shaped, feeling too narrow and oddly unsupportive. I’m sure more would emerge over time. This is the difference between a young startup and an established car maker with experience in, and knowledge about the importance of, sweating the tiny details.
But they aren’t enough to spoil the Tesla. I largely found it an exceptional car to drive, that’s futuristically fast yet has sufficient range to be able to use it. I got in with 180 miles’ range showing. I drove it as I did. I left it with 160 miles in: had I driven it meekly, I feel sure range depletion would have been even more minimal.
You can’t drive a Tesla Model S meekly though, certainly not at first. Not when something this futuristic proves so fun, engaging and convincing.
Best thing of all? Here in the UK, it’s almost viable – even as an everyday, reasonably high-mileage proposition. In theory, at least. Let’s see what the rest of the MR team make of it…