What’s Hot: Astonishing performance, green credentials, spacious cabin, the list goes on...
What’s Not: Sat nav optional on a six-figure car? Why?
X-FACTOR: The Tesla Model S P85+ proves that having your cake and eating it too need not be mutually exclusive
Vehicle Style: Large luxury electric vehicle.
Price: $156,908 (as tested, Victorian pricing)
Energy consumption tested: 25.25kWh/100km
Tesla’s meteoric rise from manufacturer of Lotus-based electric sports cars to bona-fide luxury automaker is something to marvel at, and it’s all thanks to the Tesla Model S.
Sure, the profile and charsima of Tesla’s Tony Stark-esque founder Elon Musk is at least partially responsible, and we must acknowledge that electric cars of all kinds are rather fashionable in California these days.
But we reckon the primary reason why Tesla has sold nearly 50,000 Model S’ since its launch two years ago has a lot to do with the Model S just being so damn excellent.
Excellent as a luxury car. Excellent as a sports sedan. Excellent as a daily driver. Excellent as a car for the environmentally-conscious.
It sets out to be all things to all people, and for the most part it succeeds.
And we can say this with conviction because now, after two years of waiting for a local launch, we’ve finally been able to drive a Model S on Australian soil.
Not just any Model S either, but the range-topping Model S P85+ with a few tasty options added - the $157,000-ish (depends on what state you live in) performance flagship of the range. It is, in a word, outstanding.
- Standard features: Keyless entry, 12-way power front seats, dual-zone climate control, cruise control, trip computer, reversing camera
- Infotainment: 17-inch touchscreen infotainment display, Bluetooth connectivity, 2 USB ports, 200W premium audio with digital radio tuner
- Options fitted: Front and rear parking sensors, cold climate package, Performance Plus package, air suspension package, Tech package (sat-nav, LED lamps, memory seats)
- Luggage capacity: 744 litres seats up, 1645 litres seats down, 150 litres in frunk
What’s immediately obvious about the Model S’ interior is just how roomy it feels.
There’s no centre tunnel, and the centre console is really just a shallow tray that separates the driver and passenger footwells.
And that’s because the battery packs are arranged in a shallow layer under the floor. There are no cumbersome tunnels for propshafts and exhausts, because the Model S requires neither.
Result: more space for people, not mechanical gubbins. It also means the centre rear seat is just as spacious as the outer two, with a clear floor giving excellent legroom.
The front seating position is a bit high at its lowest setting, but is otherwise comfortable enough for this scribe.
The sunroof does eat into headroom, though it’s only an issue if you're really tall.
The rear seats are well padded, but a low squab height means you sit in a knees-up position with little under-thigh support.
The front cupholders are also hidden under the sliding centre armrests, and located virtually under your elbow.
Not practical, and there are no door bins either. In-cabin storage could definitely use a rethink.
But while in-cabin storage is below par, luggage space is fantastic thanks to the Model S’ outstanding packaging.
Interior fit and finish is generally good, with only a few items of switchgear needing refinement - namely the steering wheel buttons and scroll wheels.
Yet when it comes to infotainment, the Model S is as polished as they come.
The 17-inch touchscreen is massive, but its reconfigurable interface means you can make the most of its sizable real estate.
You can have the sat-nav take up the entire screen, or stack the map window on top of the audio controls. Or the climate controls. Or the trip computer.
Almost everything is customisable via this screen, but it has a key weakness.
As the sole interface for most functions, it can be a pain to multitask at times.
In some ways it’s an elegant solution to decluttering a dashboard, but other times you’d just wish there was a physical button to press instead.
Some will love the interface, others may despise it. You won’t know until you try it out for yourself.
One cool and useful feature though is the reversing camera, which displays a crisp high-def image and marries with the (optional) parking sensors to tell you exactly how many centimetres you are from an obstacle. Nifty.
Even niftier is how the Model S can update its software without visiting a service centre, instead connecting to Tesla’s servers via your home wi-fi signal.
Features can be added, subtracted and refined without your intervention, and “release notes” inform you of what’s changed. In short, the Tesla should only get better with age.
While in-cabin storage is below-par, luggage space is fantastic thanks to the Model S’ outstanding packaging.
The boot can swallow up to 744 litres of gear with the rear seats up, and 1645 litres with them folded.
The “frunk” (shorthand for front trunk) can hold an additional 150 litres, perfect for shopping.
ON THE ROAD
- 310kW/600Nm electric motor
- Single-speed gearbox, rear-wheel drive
- Disc brakes, front 355mm x 32mm, rear 365mm x 28mm.
- Energy recuperation under coasting
- Electric power steering with variable weight
- Double-wishbone front and multi-link rear suspension, air springs
Jump in, put your foot on the brake and you’re ready to go. There’s no start button to press, no handbrake to release: just instant readiness as long as you’ve got the Tesla’s keyfob in your pocket.
Put the column-mounted gear selector (which you may recognise from certain Mercedes products) into D, and you’re away.
There are no shift paddles, by the way, for the Model S only has one gear ratio in its transmission.
In sedate urban driving, the Model S is astonishingly easy to drive.
Release the brake and it creeps forward like a conventional automatic-equipped car (or not, if you disable that function in the settings menu), and a brush of the accelerator is all that’s needed to get it moving.
The regenerative braking can be made either strong or soft, and activates whenever the throttle is lifted.
Set it to strong, and gentle urban driving can be done without touching the brake pedal.
Tread harder on the throttle though, and the Model S leaps forward.
There’s 310kW and 600Nm coming from its electric motor and the P85+ will hit 100km/h in just 4.2 seconds, rear tyres squirming sideways as all of that torque is unleashed.
The fact that it does this in near-silence - and despite weighing over two tonnes empty - is remarkable.
Throttle response is ultra-sharp, and rolling acceleration feels even brisker than when taking off from a standing start.
Overtaking at highway speeds is unbelievably rapid, and the single-speed gearbox confers a wonderfully seamless power delivery.
To test its dynamic prowess we headed for the peak of Lake Mountain in Victoria.
On the way there’s a mixture of low and high-speed corners, as well as steep ascents and descents, and it’s one of our favourite testing grounds for performance cars.
What did we learn?
Well, despite having steering that’s a little numb in terms of feedback (and absurdly heavy in Sport mode), the Model S P85+ turns in cleanly with a preference toward understeer, which is easily neutralised by feeding in some throttle.
It grips well for the most part, however the Michelin Pilot Sport tyres don't quite have enough grip to do the P85+ justice.
Stickier Pilot Super Sports would be a better choice for the enthusiast.
One potential issue concerns how the Tesla manages heat. On our ascent up Lake Mountain the Model S detected too much heat being generated by its battery pack and reduced power to roughly 280kW.
Performance was still brisk mind you, and to its credit the road is very steep and we were driving rather… spiritedly. Still, Tesla may need to consider a more robust cooling system.
The P85+’s Brembo brakes are exceptional though, and pull up the two-tonne Model S sharply.
Pressing the brake pedal doesn’t actually increase the level of regenerative braking, so there’s no weird inconsistency to brake feel either
The ride isn't half bad considering the P85+ rolls on 21-inch wheels.
The optional air suspension is one of the best we’ve experienced, and manages to give great comfort while maintaining good body control.
This is a suspension that can do it all. It corners flatly along winding roads, yet soaks up bumps like a sponge on urban streets.
There’s seemingly nothing that it can’t handle.
The ride height is also adjustable, helping the Model S to clear steep driveways and tall speedbumps.
Keep in mind though that this suspension is unique to the P85+ model, and features upgraded dampers, bushings and swaybars.
The air springs are also another option, and lower-specced models in the range will deliver a different experience.
So what about range anxiety? Nuh-uh, not in this rig.
Starting the day with 504km of range showing on the instrument panel, we took the P85+ out into the foothills, ascended a mountain that’s tall enough to be above the snow line, drove into the heart of Melbourne and then returned to our start position.
Lots of driving, with a good 40 percent of it at flat-chat.
We returned with around 27km on the distance-to-empty readout but had only travelled 262km, so clearly we were consuming more than the average driver. 66.1kWh, to be exact.
Drive it in a more civilised manner and we’ve no doubt you’d be able to go at least 150km further than we did.
Depending on the length of your journey, some commuters could conceivably drive for a full working week on a single charge in the P85.
ANCAP rating: The Tesla Model S has yet to be tested by ANCAP.
Safety features: The Model S comes equipped with six airbags (dual front, front side and full-length curtain), stability control, traction control, ABS and EBD as standard.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
There’s really nothing else quite like the Model S on the market right now, but in terms of the P85+ there are certain parallels that can be drawn with the performance of the following:
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
Up until now, almost every car has been a compromise. Some are efficient, but not fun. Others are fast, but not practical. Rarely do these things converge.
The Tesla Model S is the exception.
It’s spacious enough for five adults and their luggage, it can tackle a winding mountain road with ease, it will win drag races, it’s easy to drive around town and it’s capable of doing all of the above without burning a single drop of petrol.
It’s not just a great electric car, it’s a great car, full-stop.
Okay, so refuelling it is generally something that takes a few hours (unless you use a Tesla Supercharger station) and it’s not exactly cheap, but considering the P85+ retails for under $150k it’s an absolute bargain compared to rivals like the $230k BMW M5.
It does a great many things, and it does them so well that it will redefine your expectations of what a car should be. As for me, I reckon it’s the best car I’ve driven. Ever.
PRICING (includes on-road costs)
Model S 60
- ACT - $97,245
- NSW - $101,408
- NT - $99,637
- QLD - $98,771
- SA - $100,656
- TAS - $101,100
- VIC - $101,806
- WA - $103,133
Model S 85
- ACT - $112,845
- NSW - $117,788
- NT - $115,705
- QLD - $114,683
- SA - $116,880
- TAS - $117,324
- VIC - $118,186
- WA - $119,747
Model S P85 Performance
- ACT - $134,295
- NSW - $140,310
- NT - $137,798
- QLD - $136,536
- SA - $139,188
- TAS - $139,632
- VIC - $140,708
- WA - $142,591