MANY PEOPLE ARE ANGRY WITH THE 2016 TESLA MODEL S P90D.
Such folk are almost entirely working for premium car manufacturers, mind you, because while traditional companies have been working slowly and steadily towards an electric vehicle (EV) future, a canny Californian startup has beat them to it.
Tesla has in a few short years taken long strides to make EV mainstream. Although the Model S starts with six-figure pricing, it can be driven hundreds of kilometres without recharging, and when you need to the brand has even positioned ‘supercharger’ networks around the country free for customers to use and recharge.
Free upates mean Tesla further changes the game when it comes to customer service. Rather than a car company using new features to tempt buyers into its latest model, Model S (and soon Model X and Model 3) owners can snare free software updates by simply connecting their vehicle to Wi-Fi overnight.
It makes for enhanced loyalty through the ownership process with a view that, when it comes time for a new car, Model S owners will have loved the experience so much that there is only one brand they would turn back to: Tesla.
Vehicle Style: Prestige large sedan
Price: $242,561 (plus on-road costs)
Engine/trans: 568kW/967Nm electric motor | single-speed automatic
Fuel Economy Claimed: 198Wh/km | Tested: 265Wh/km
So, what is the Model S P90D? It is a five-metre-long sedan that weighs 2187kg, or about as much as a large SUV. It packs many batteries - 90 kiloWatt hours’ worth, as the name references - underfloor, which then feeds two electric motors each positioned to drive the front and rear wheels.
There is no petrol engine or fuel tank, so you get a liftback-practical rear boot as well as a front boot.
The Model S 60 starts from $128,009 plus on-road costs with a 400km range between charges and a 5.8-second 0-100km/h. It only gets one electric motor driving the rear wheels, but upgrading to the all-paw 60D requires $140,496 (plus orc) and buys the same range but a four-tenths-faster sprint time.
There’s the 75/75 D at $149,321/$161,808 (plus orc) with 480-490km range and the same equivalent performance as above. The $186,117 (plus orc) 90D is range king at 557km teamed with a 4.4sec sprint, but the $242,561 (plus orc) P90D tested here swaps the focus – it gets a 509km range and 3.2sec sprint.
Only the forthcoming P100D tops all comers at $292,511 (plus orc), with 613km range and a hypercar-challenging 2.7sec standing start.
- Standard Equipment: power windows and mirrors, multi-function trip computer, dual-zone climate control air-conditioning, leather trim with power adjustable and heated front seats, active cruise control, auto on/off headlights/wipers, auto-dimming rear-view mirror, auto-folding door mirrors, keyless auto-entry with auto start and automatic tailgate
- Infotainment: 17.0-inch colour touchscreen with Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, dual USB ports, wi-fi and internet connectivity, global digital radio and satellite navigation with live traffic updates
- Options Fitted: 21-inch alloy wheels ($6800), Premium Upgrades Package ($5300), Autopilot Convenience Features ($4500), Smart Air Suspension ($3800), High Fidelity Sound System ($3800), Black Tesla Premium Seats ($3800), Panoramic Sunroof ($2300), Carbonfibre Interior Trim ($1500), Carbonfibre Rear Spoiler ($1500)
- Cargo Volume: 894 litres (front and rear boot)
Let’s get the Tesla Model S P90D cabin compromises out of the way first.
Frankly for a five-metre-long large sedan it’s quite poorly packaged, not by great fault of engineers but simply because all those underfloor batteries push up the floor to create a ‘knees up’ seating position for back-seat riders. That sloping roofline leaves headroom in the realms of the four-door coupe-like Audi A7 Sportback.
The front and rear boots are huge, yet the rear pews are cramped, which may indeed be a fault of US engineers. What definitely is, is the complete lack of storage spots in the back. There are air vents, expectedly, but nowhere to put anything.
For many buyers who rarely bring rear passengers along, this will be of little consequence. But then the question must be asked: why buy a large sedan that weighs 2200kg in the first place?
Recent time in the SUV sibling to the Model S, the Model X, reveals that it’s far more intelligently packaged and more convincingly makes good on its size inside.
The other downside is simply that this Tesla’s dashboard and general fit and finish doesn’t feel like a $200K-plus vehicle. Cheap switchgear and a scratchy lower centre console area pales against beautifully crafted, and better-packaged cabins of petrol engined rivals such as the circa-$250K Audi RS6 Avant and BMW M5.
There is a major upside compared with those competitors, though. Quite simply the 12.3-inch colour ‘tablet’ is a beautiful thing to behold both from a graphics and usability perspective. Special mention goes to the satellite navigation system, in which you can start typing an address in (as you would using Google Maps) and it quickly displays options in a drop-down menu. Nothing else does this so ideally.
Navigation between maps, and web radio stations, and settings for the driveline or even to open the (optional) panoramic sunroof is a breeze. Another little touch reveals itself when you move your electric driver seat and the touchscreen subtly asks if you’d like to reprogram the memory-seat position. It’s simply brilliant.
If only so many features weren’t reserved for the options list. See the full array of added kit above, but at least the premium cabin package - with soft mood lighting, upper-grade leather furnishings and ventilated front seats - should be standard.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine: 568kW/967Nm electric motor
- Transmission: single-speed automatic, AWD
- Suspension: Multi-link independent front and rear
- Brakes: Ventilated front and rear disc brakes
- Steering: electrically assisted mechanical steering
It made sense for us to use Tesla’s free supercharging network on our drive, so we travelled from Sydney to Goulburn and back, via twisting and hilly Southern Highlands backroads.
Rulebook-rewriting features come thick and fast. There is no door-unlock remote keyfob button or cabin engine-starter button and why should there be? The remote wirelessly communicates when nearby and unlocks the car accordingly. Place a foot on the brake pedal and the Model S fires to life (so to speak...)
Initially at least, the P90D feels as large as it is. But thanks to light and incisive steering, and beautifully damped air suspension, it shrinks around its driver while delivering on the promise of luxury.
It’s also extremely fast. Calling its performance setting Ludicrous Mode is no great hyperbole; it saps the batteries but the instant kick off the line feels like one of those rollercoaster rides that amps-up from standstill then fires riders into the sunset. The Model S is beautifully smooth to drive, yet superbly punchy everywhere.
On the freeway the (sadly optional) Autopilot Convenience Features make yet another best-in-class bid.
The adaptive cruise control system not only lowers and raises speed intelligently, but it follows road markings perfectly while on the screen in front of the driver showing the number of lanes and surrounding vehicles – its icons even distinguish between car and truck. The auto steering keeps ideally in the centre of the lane, and can automatically change lanes if need be.
Most surprisingly, particularly for a vehicle emerging from the laws-laden States, is that the system doesn’t beep and warn needlessly if you manually add a bit of throttle to anticipate plugging a gap in traffic; most systems would think you’re about to run into the car in front and warn you, even though you know you’re about to swap lanes.
Having used a similar Audi and Mercedes-Benz system on the same Hume Highway, they are nowhere near as accurate with lane-keep assistance, yet are more overzealous with warnings. Neither can go for many kilometres at a time without requiring the driver to grab the wheel again, either.
There are only two areas in which the otherwise terrific Model S P90D falls away slightly.
The first is ultimate driving dynamics. It may be equipped with (optional) Michelin Pilot Super Sport tyres, and the heavy batteries placed low makes for a ground-hugging centre of gravity. However, the steering lacks feedback through bends and the handling is of the flat-and-grippy variety that even Audi has moved away from.
For an immersive, involving driving experience, petrol rivals still have Tesla beat.
Driving range and recharging time is another area of contention. Through urban, freeway then country touring conditions, the Model S P90D achieved a range of just 290km – when the claim is 509km.
According to Tesla’s own website it is highly sensitive to changing conditions.
At 100km/h without air-con on 19-inch wheels the P90D claims a 499km range. Add air-con and it drops to 463km. Add 21-inch wheels and it drops to 443km. Raise the average speed to 110km/h or 120km/h and it crumbles to 399km then 359km, according to its maker.
After a smooth and quiet trip to Goulburn, an hour-and-a-half wait to recharge is offset by the free fuel going into the filler. Tesla has made the process incredibly simple: the Model S ‘talks’ to the charger, so a double tap of the index finger on the chargepoint automatically opens the filler flap.
As an aside, EV makers will be able to get more out of cheaper batteries in the future, but recharging time will remain a challenge when it takes only 90 seconds to refuel a petrol or diesel car. Still, Tesla says most recharging will be done overnight at home, which is even more convenient than going to a service station.
ANCAP rating: Five-star safety rating
Safety Features: Dual front, side, curtain and driver’s knee airbags, ABS and ESC, front and rear parking sensors with surround-view camera, collision warning alert with autonomous emergency braking (AEB), blind-spot monitor and active lane-keep assistance with lane-departure assistance.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: Four years/80,000km.
Servicing: Annual or 20,000km intervals with fixed-price prepaid three-year ($1525), four-year ($2375) or eight-year ($4500) packages.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
Only cars that use petrol, including the not-as-fast Audi RS6 Avant/RS7 Sportback and BMW M5. However, both are more involving, if costlier to run and less agreeable with Mother Earth.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
Tesla’s Model S P90D is more than just a technological curio, and even more than an EV technology benchmark. In terms of the features that matter to drivers – the intuitive touchscreen, the driver assistance systems – it is utterly superb, even though it can’t match traditional rivals for space and cabin class.
Similarly, its performance is astonishing and smoothness impeccable, even if ultimate driving dynamics are adrift of petrol-engined competitors. Independent of its technological marvels, delicate range readings and sizeable recharge time are still issues that other vehicles avoid to an extent, even if ‘range anxiety’ is mostly gone.
Forceful critique is especially required when a vehicle costs this amount – particularly one with an extensive options list – but be in no doubt that the Model S P90D is a landmark vehicle and valid luxury car option, with impeccable ownership support.
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