Tesla Model S – a religious driving experience

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ecarTestDrives asked me to drive 2 hours from Dorchester to Bristol to test drive a Tesla Model S 90D. This, they said, would be my benchmark for EVs. I had high expectations but couldn’t find a rich enough set of expletives at the end of the test drive to adequately sum up how I felt. Either I need to go back to sea to learn how to swear properly again, or I have finally been silenced. Never mind the benchmark for all EVs – the Tesla Model S is the benchmark for all cars.

First impressions

My first thought on looking at this car is that it has a similar appearance to a BMW or Audi of a similar price range without of course having the badge that tells grannies and mothers with prams who are crossing the road to run like hell when they see you coming at them.

I had to fit my two year old daughter’s car seat in the back – Mummy and Tali were coming with me. The leather seats in the back were firm but evidently new and comfortable. Mummy was expecting ‘just another flash car’ but very quickly saw what the gadgets and gizmos had to offer. We’ll come to Mummy’s opinions later.

We took a tour of the car from the outside. The boot is expansive – certainly enough to take the family with Tali’s vast amount of luggage for a week or two in France. In the bonnet is another space of around a cubic metre, perhaps for the gear you need to drive in Europe such as triangle, breath test kit and so forth. The space behind where the engine should be is for the electronics, air con etc.

I sat in the passenger seat and was confronted with a centre console screen of around 17 inches on the diagonal. This has a screen for the rear facing camera as well as different screens for satnav, a 4G music system (I called up Faithless on Spotify using voice command) and so forth. Never mind looking in the engineless bonnet – this told you you’re in something a little unusual. It also controls the child locks on the rear doors, something that needs to be done with a toddler who likes opening the car door at 70mph on the motorway.

The salesman from Tesla drove the first few miles, standard practice with this scheme. He showed how the car has one forward gear with the motors almost directly attached to the wheels and driving each wheel directly. The top end Model S has two motors that drives at the same speed, but at different gear ratios between the front and rear motor for efficiency – a Beemer driver may understand that but I’m just about to scrap my 14 year old LPG Ford Focus so please bear with me for my ignorance.

Driving

After some suburban / country driving to get away from the craziness around Cribbs Causeway and the southwestern edge of Bristol the salesman pulled over. My turn. I’m six foot and quite well built and have to say I struggled to get in the driving seat. Someone who is three inches taller than me would have to find a novel way of getting in. Need I say that the seats are electronically adjusted? Just have – I sorted my driving position and with no one coming up behind me, pulled away.

The regenerative braking system was on the standard setting, and this meant for most braking you just lift your foot off the accelerator. That will slow you down at a conservative pace. If you’re someone who’s heavy on the pedals then maybe this will be difficult. I haven’t had an accident in 12 years (despite only generally observing the speed limit on roads I know) and fully plan that to be the case for the next 12 at least.

The 30mph roads became 50mph and I tested out the renowned mid-range acceleration. From 30-50 you’re pressed hard into your seat as if from a standing start. Tali asleep, Mummy exclaimed at the acceleration.

Autopilot

We were on a stretch of dual carriageway when it was time to engage the cruise control. You can set an amount of car lengths the car should sit behind the next and a speed, and take your foot off the accelerator. Beemer drivers will yawn at this I know – though why you have to set your cruise control at six inches from someone’s rear end I don’t know?

Two taps of the cruise control lever and you have autopilot. We were on the M48 heading toward the M5 turnoff when we set this up, and ended up with my hands over the wheel and feet off the pedals as the car found the centre of the lane, accelerated around a bend until it came close to an HGV and slowed down. It was an unearthly experience! This for me is when the Model S turned from a bloody good car to the nearest thing to a religious experience I have had in driving a car. As Mummy exclaimed again, I pointed out excitedly that only one person has been killed on a Tesla autopilot, and accidently grabbed the wheel – that immediately passes control to you (as would touching the brake or accelerator) and we weaved a half second or two as my brain caught up.

Onto the M5 and in traffic on autopilot? Nice to have someone else driving from time to time.

Other bits

Coming back toward Cribbs, we had a stretch of road and the salesman told me to put my foot down. I’d love to say we hit 60 in sub 4 seconds but it completely outperformed any car I have driven.

In the parking bay, we looked at the computer system some more. The satnav has all the Tesla Superchargers in Europe on it as well as the night chargers at the hotels. The Superchargers can give you 40% charge in 20 minutes so the satnav may tell you on a longer run to have coffee at such and such a place and lunch at the next on your journey from the Westcountry to Scotland. Hotels normally expect you to stay the night if you’re using their kit.

You get 1000 miles of charge a year free of charge after buying this car and after that it costs £20 per full charge – about half the cost of filling up a Beemer for a similar distance. A home charger costs a few hundred quid and that will put in 20 miles of charge an hour so a 12 hour charge will get you 240 miles and 15 a full battery from flat.

Verdict?

Mummy thought that this was ‘just another flash car’ but as the electronics and computing power quietly took centre stage for her as a passenger, she was as enthusiastic about this amazing piece of engineering as I was. She spent 20 years in Luton where the locals don’t drink so can afford really nice cars, and a friend of ours AMG SLK just doesn’t bother her. The Tesla Model S seriously impressed her.

I can’t afford even the baseline Tesla Model S, and would have to remortgage 18% of the value of my (posh four bed-roomed) home to get the top end one. If you have £60,000 – £80,000 sloshing about you would be silly not to buy one.

If you have £35,000 floating about to buy a Tesla Model 3? If that car has a tenth of the quality of the Model S, you’d be nuts to want anything else. Knowing what Tesla is about, I don’t doubt it will be at all…

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3 Comments

  • EJ Reply

    Fantastic read. Electric cars are the future and will be ubiquitous sooner than we think.

  • Aaron Reply

    *Two motors, not four, and they all drive at the same speed, but at different gear ratios between the front an rear motor for efficiency.

    • Afeez Reply

      Thanks for pointing that out Aaron. We have amended the blog. Thanks

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