Automotive

Supercar in sheep's clothing? Driving the Tesla Model S P85D

The Model S doesn't draw too much attention from non-car lovers, although fans of the brand pick you out from a mile away
The Model S doesn't draw too much attention from non-car lovers, although fans of the brand pick you out from a mile away
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The Model S P85D combines supercar acceleration with a practical, spacious body
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The Model S P85D combines supercar acceleration with a practical, spacious body
In the twisties, the Model S sits nice and flat
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In the twisties, the Model S sits nice and flat
The P85D is the dual-motor, range topping version of the Model S
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The P85D is the dual-motor, range topping version of the Model S
The Model S rides well, despite sitting on big 21-inch wheels
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The Model S rides well, despite sitting on big 21-inch wheels
Tesla's focus on finishing every detail to a high standard makes
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Tesla's focus on finishing every detail to a high standard makes
There's a huge luggage space under that hatchback
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There's a huge luggage space under that hatchback
As exciting as the car's driving experience is, the 17-inch touchscreen in the center of the cabin is almost the most impressive feature on the car
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As exciting as the car's driving experience is, the 17-inch touchscreen in the center of the cabin is almost the most impressive feature on the car
The Google maps provide live traffic updates
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The Google maps provide live traffic updates
The Model S' broad hips give it a strong, powerful look on the road
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The Model S' broad hips give it a strong, powerful look on the road
Almost every aspect of the Model S' driving experience is customisable
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Almost every aspect of the Model S' driving experience is customisable
The car's driver display changes depending on what the 17-inch screen is doing
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The car's driver display changes depending on what the 17-inch screen is doing
Rear headroom is limited for taller passengers because of the sloping roofline
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Rear headroom is limited for taller passengers because of the sloping roofline
The Model S doesn't draw too much attention from non-car lovers, although fans of the brand pick you out from a mile away
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The Model S doesn't draw too much attention from non-car lovers, although fans of the brand pick you out from a mile away
Off the line, the P85D's acceleration is breathtaking
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Off the line, the P85D's acceleration is breathtaking
Tesla claims a range of 483 km from the car's 85 kWh battery
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Tesla claims a range of 483 km from the car's 85 kWh battery
The charger automatically secures into place, making it almost impossible to miss the target
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The charger automatically secures into place, making it almost impossible to miss the target
Tesla is planning to aggressively expand the number of Supercharger stations around the world
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Tesla is planning to aggressively expand the number of Supercharger stations around the world
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Depending on the function you're using, the car's screen can be split into two different parts
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Depending on the function you're using, the car's screen can be split into two different parts
The Model S' chassis has batteries built into the chassis for a low center of gravity
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The Model S' chassis has batteries built into the chassis for a low center of gravity
There is no engine under that bonnet, instead Tesla has given the car a "Frunk"
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There is no engine under that bonnet, instead Tesla has given the car a "Frunk"
The Frunk is small, but still would be useful for carting small items or bags
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The Frunk is small, but still would be useful for carting small items or bags
Off the line, most cars will only see this angle of the Model S
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Off the line, most cars will only see this angle of the Model S
The Model S' air suspension can be put into four settings
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The Model S' air suspension can be put into four settings
Around town, the car's size can make it a bit difficult to manoeuvre
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Around town, the car's size can make it a bit difficult to manoeuvre
As you'd expect, there's no exhaust pipe here
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As you'd expect, there's no exhaust pipe here
The Model S' styling isn't particularly "futuristic," but the car is still a handsome machine
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The Model S' styling isn't particularly "futuristic," but the car is still a handsome machine
On the move, the Model S has so much torque available at almost any speed
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On the move, the Model S has so much torque available at almost any speed
Red brake calipers are one hint to the Model S' potential
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Red brake calipers are one hint to the Model S' potential
The Model S is one of the first electric cars that you can take out of town without worrying about running out of charge
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The Model S is one of the first electric cars that you can take out of town without worrying about running out of charge
For now, the Model S is still too expensive to be a viable option for most people
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For now, the Model S is still too expensive to be a viable option for most people
The air suspension on the Model S handles mid-corner bumps well, and doesn't get deflected easily off line
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The air suspension on the Model S handles mid-corner bumps well, and doesn't get deflected easily off line
Winding roads might not be the Model S' natural habitat, but it handles them well
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Winding roads might not be the Model S' natural habitat, but it handles them well
The Model S P85D's acceleration lets you surge into the tiniest gaps in traffic
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The Model S P85D's acceleration lets you surge into the tiniest gaps in traffic
The P85D has a claimed range of 483 km, but if you drive it hard you won't get close to reaching that distance
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The P85D has a claimed range of 483 km, but if you drive it hard you won't get close to reaching that distance
Much of the Model S' roof is taken up by a huge sunroof
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Much of the Model S' roof is taken up by a huge sunroof
On the move, the Model S' electric motors emit a low hum that warns pedestrians it's coming
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On the move, the Model S' electric motors emit a low hum that warns pedestrians it's coming
The Model S' daytime running lights give it a unique look on the road
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The Model S' daytime running lights give it a unique look on the road
The amount of time it takes to charge your Model S depends on how you're charging it
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The amount of time it takes to charge your Model S depends on how you're charging it
The Model S' doorhandles automatically extend out of the side of the car
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The Model S' doorhandles automatically extend out of the side of the car
The Model S' long body looks good, but it can struggle around town
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The Model S' long body looks good, but it can struggle around town
In the US, the Model S can be had with 7 seats
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In the US, the Model S can be had with 7 seats
Tesla's Supercharger Network in the USA
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Tesla's Supercharger Network in the USA

Electric cars have come a long way and if you want proof, look no further than the Tesla Model S. With its practical range, exceptional performance and intuitive application of in-car technology, the Model S has shoehorned the humble family sedan into the 21st century. The high performance Model S P85D takes the already-impressive P85 and adds another motor, turning it into an all-wheel drive, all-electric, supercar baiting rocketship. We spent a week behind the wheel to see how the premier e-motoring experience translates into the daily drive.

Hiding under the P85D's body are two electric motors, producing a combined 568 kW. If you're keen to see where all this power comes from, you're out of luck. Lifting the bonnet reveals a small storage "frunk" (yep, that's a front-trunk) where the engine is in most cars, and taking a wander to the back of the car reveals a capacious boot.

Looking around the outside of the Model S P85D, there aren't many hints to give awaythe fact that it will hit 100 km/h faster than a McLaren F1. Our P85D lookedfantastic in its deep red with charcoal 21-inch wheels, but if you didn't know what you were looking for, the Model S just blends into the crowd of big sports sedans. We're sure that some owners will like the fact that their cars don't stand out, but some might be a little disappointed that this slice of the future doesn't look all that, well, futuristic.

As you'd expect, there's no exhaust pipe here
As you'd expect, there's no exhaust pipe here

On the other hand, startingthe Model S comes with a definite dose of the futuristic. Walk up to the car with thekey in your pocket and the chrome handles whirr out from the doors to greetyou. Once you get in, there is no need to turn a key or even press astart button – you simply put your foot on the brake, put the car into drive andpull away.

It sounds like a smallthing, but the small things are what sets this car apart from the crowd. Being able to get into the Tesla and simply pull seamlessly awayfrom the curb fits perfectly with its slick, luxury character.

The Tesla's interioris beautifully designed and crafted, from the sculptural door grabs to thehigh-quality, chubby leather steering wheel that feels superb in your hands.We only noticed two things that don't quite fit meet our high-end luxury expectations. The first is the plastic buttons on the steering wheel, which would seem out of place on a Golf, let alone a car worth more than $100K. The other issue is that the soft, stitched leather seat won't go low enough. Granted I'm taller than your average road-tester, but I felt a little like I was sitting on, rather than in, the car.

Seat adjustment and steeringwheel buttons aside, the Model S' interior is beautifully put together. The 17-inchtouchscreen in the center console is a masterpiece, replacing the traditionalarray of buttons and dials with a simple interface for infotainment, navigation and car settings that will be instantlyfamiliar to anyone who has used a tablet.

Depending on the function you're using, the car's screen can be split into two different parts
Depending on the function you're using, the car's screen can be split into two different parts

The interface is slick and responsive. You're able to split the screen between two different functions, like navigation and media, or just take advantage of that massive screen real estate for full-screen google maps. The maps include live traffic updates, as well as little icons for chargingstations and Superchargers.

The controls for the air-conditioning are permanently locked at the bottom of the screen for easy access and there's also a massive range of options for changing the way your car drives. There are three different modes for the steering, ranging from feather-light Comfort mode to the heavier Sport setup. Unless you're trying to carve corners there's no reason to take the car out of normal mode, which is more than adequate for most situations.

You can also access many of the functions using a scroll wheel on the steering wheel.

The car's driver display changes depending on what the 17-inch screen is doing
The car's driver display changes depending on what the 17-inch screen is doing

Depending on the way you've specced your car, the Model S is also available with fully adjustable air suspension, that ranges from stance-nation low to an extra high setting designed for steep driveways. As well as being able to manually put the car into its highest setting for particularly tough driveways or speedbumps, the car's GPS system will remember where you've used this mode and automatically kick-in on your return to ensure you always go scrape-free.

So far, you're probably getting the idea that you can customize almost everything about your Tesla. And you'd be right, because that little touchscreen holds the key to a world of personalization. Want your sunroof 72 percent open? Done. Not happy with the mood lighting on your doors? Turn it off. Too much power too fast? Dial it back and cruise.

The charger automatically secures into place, making it almost impossible to miss the target
The charger automatically secures into place, making it almost impossible to miss the target

Given this is an all electric car, the little charging icons on the car's maps are likely to be in the front ofyour mind whenever you're cruising around. Tesla claims the P85D has a range of491 km (305 mi), but based on our experience that's not an easily achievable figure – although the amount of Insane Mode launches we subjected the car to wasn't necessarily normal, it took gentle highway driving to get our energy consumption figure sitting above the car's "rated consumption" figure.

Nonetheless the range is very practical, but there's still the issue of recharging to contend with. When your petrol or diesel car runs out of fuel,it takes five minutes to fill up and you're on your way. It's very easy to take this for granted.

In our time with the ModelS we charged it twice at the Supercharger station outside the dealership, andboth times it took about 50 minutes to charge to 85 percent full, which is acap that the owner can set to prolong the lifespan of the battery pack.It's free to charge up at Tesla's Supercharger stations, but most owners will end up using a Tesla fast charger to top up the battery overnight, which means forking out for the extra electricity. Based on the average electricity rates in Australia where this test took place, that would mean between $20 and $30 for a full charge, significantly less than you'd pay for the petrol to take you the same distance the Tesla would.

Tesla's Supercharger Network in the USA
Tesla's Supercharger Network in the USA

Whereas Australia's Supercharger network is currently limited, though there are plans to have charge stations running from Melbourne to Brisbane by the end of 2016. In the US there are now 197 Supercharger Stations, meaning it's far easier to plan long-distance travel without worrying about running flat along the way. The number of stations is also growing rapidly across the globe – Tesla says there are already 500 active Supercharger Stations worldwide with 2,818 total charge points between them.

Maybe the best way to deal with the Model S' claimed range is the same wayyou'd deal with the claimed fuel consumption sticker on a conventional, petrolcar. It's nice in theory, but in reality it won't be achieved unless you drivelike the accelerator is made of glass.

... and you might find that difficult to do, because the Model S P85D's acceleration is absolutely breathtaking.

The Model S P85D's acceleration lets you surge into the tiniest gaps in traffic
The Model S P85D's acceleration lets you surge into the tiniest gaps in traffic

There's an instantwave of torque beneath your right foot, ready to throw you silently down theroad at just a moment's notice. It's not like driving a petrol car, where youput your foot down and wait for the gearbox to find the right gear, or for therevs to rise. The accelerator is not a normal throttle pedal, it's aswitch that just dropkicks you down the road.

At any speed there's so much torque available that every gap in the traffic isopen to you, all you need to do is dip the throttle beyond halfway and you'rethere.

Even more impressive thanthe car's rolling acceleration is the way it launches from a standstill. Whenthe driver has put the car in "Insane Mode" and floors the throttle, the ModelS just flings itself down the road with intensity unmatched by anything elseI've ever driven. The acceleration offthe line left everyone in the Gizmag office breathless and giggling, shocked bythe way the car leaps off the line. Making the whole experience more surreal isthe fact that there is no swelling of revs, no big engine to accompany thewhole experience.

The Model S' chassis has batteries built into the chassis for a low center of gravity
The Model S' chassis has batteries built into the chassis for a low center of gravity

Initially, we expectedthat lack of noise to be problematic. There seems to be an unspoken consensusamong motoring enthusiasts that noise is essential to any exciting drivingexperience, but after driving the Tesla I'm willing to challenge that. Yes,there's something great about the sound of a big, burbling V8, but silentacceleration has a certain charm of its own.

It's worth pointing out that "silence" doesn't mean that the Model S puts dozy pedestrians at risk – from the outside, the car emits an audible hum. In our time with the car not one pedestrian stepped out onto the road as if they hadn't heard it. When filming we could hear the P85D coming from a fair distance away. As well as giving thecar a character of its own, the Model S' silent motors make for a very relaxingdriving experience on the highway. Aside from a bit of wind noise, there'salmost nothing to disturb the serenity in the cabin.

Move off the highway and into town and regenerative braking starts to play a big role in the way you drive this car. Set in its most aggressive regen mode there's almost no need to touch the brake pedal, you can feel the car pulling energy into back into the battery to the point where you barely need to touch the brakes.

This can make for some jerky driving before you're accustomed to the way the regen kicks in, but it doesn't take long to get comfortable. After half a day in the Tesla, I almost rear-ended a few cars in my own, non-electric car because I was expecting the regen to kick in.

The Model S rides well, despite sitting on big 21-inch wheels
The Model S rides well, despite sitting on big 21-inch wheels

You might not expectthe Tesla to be too effective when the road gets twisty, but for a big car itcan still get up and dance. Even though it weighs well over two tonnes (4,600 lbs), most ofthe mass is set low in the chassis, and the air suspension does a good job ofkeeping the car flat in the bends.

Although it doesn'tgive you much feel through the wheel, the steering is nice and weighty in Sport mode. In contrast Comfort mode is so light youcan steer the car with just a pinky.

So, how do we sum up the Tesla Model S P85D? It's an incredible car. The 17-inch infotainment system is better than any other system we've used. You'd never tire of its breathtaking acceleration, and it would make a beautifully quiet and refined daily driver for people who have the garage facilities to charge it. It's also one of the first electric cars to provide an alternative to the BMW M5, Mercedes E63 or Audi RS6 for thrill seekers chasing a different experience.

It's also a huge step on from the Lotus-based Roadster, combining that car's electrifying performance with seating for five and a huge boot. You could drive the kids to school, or your partner to dinner and they'd never know about its incredible acceleration, or the sheer power those electric motors can produce when unleashed.

The claimed range of 491 km (305 mi) brings it closer to the practicality of a gas-powered vehicle, but charging the car takes time, and this makes planning important. In urban environments it's unlikely to be a serious issue, but you can't just set out for a cross-country jaunt on a whim.

The Model S P85D combines supercar acceleration with a practical, spacious body
The Model S P85D combines supercar acceleration with a practical, spacious body

The Model S is also expensive. US pricing for the P85D is $105,000 ($87,500 after tax incentives) and in Australia, our optioned to the hilt P85D (carbon fiber rear lip spoiler, Premium interior and Lighting package, Smart Air Suspension system and the Subzero Weather Package) is worth AUD$206,018. Whichever way you look at it, that's a seriously big sum of money, even for an all-electric masterpiece.

Check out our video review below for a taste of the thrilling Tesla Model S P85D in action.

Video Review Tesla Model S P85D

21 comments
Freyr Gunnar
> Hiding under the P85D's body are two electric motors, producing a combined 568 kW At 100W per plain cyclist, those motors are equivalent to 5.680 cyclists. That's a lot of waste just to carry one person (on average). Besides, what's the point of having so much power just to drive from one red light to the other, or drive at 130km/h on the highway? Pretty much any car those days can do that in comfort and for much less money. Besides, in the city, cars drive at an average speed of 20km/h, about as fast as the plain ol' bicycle. > The 17-inch touchscreen in the center console is a masterpiece, replacing the traditional array of buttons and dials However, a major difference, is that you can use a button/dial without taking your eyes from the road, which isn't true for digital solutions. Is this progress?
Michael Wilson
I for one would love to have a Tesla S and would trade either kidney for one. Elon Musk truly gets it, as he's the first out the gate to design an electric car that people *want*. Its expensive, but then again, typically most luxury items are. He'll use the more well heeled individuals to finance his project before bringing it to the masses. As an auto-enthusiast, I applaud Elon and this car. I'm not a Tesla apologist by any means, but I gota chance to drive one last summer and became smitten the power. The range is decent too, and for actual people with families and houses and not just city dwellers, it makes a compelling choice as it can actually go some distance and keep up with vehicles on the highway. My job requires me to drive sometimes 150 miles in a day, so a Tesla S and supercharger would certainly fit my needs. Can't wait for the model 3.
Mike Nicewarner
This article seems a bit dated. Tesla has made updates since the P85D first came out, including the upgrade to 90KwH and Ludicrous Mode. The range has been expanded as well, sacrificing nothing on the other features. Also, the adaptive cruise control and lane keeping features was completely omitted. The car has some serious smarts. You cannot even intentionally rear-end someone. The car will slow down and stop before allowing you to hit another car. Also, the article omits the major safety benefits of the Model S. It is by far the safest production car on the roads. First, no gasoline to catch fire, which is huge (only liquid in the car is the window washing fluid). Next, there is no massive engine up front to crash into you in a head-on collision, just a large crumple zone. The frame is incredible rigid and resilient, meaning it will take a beating in a wreck. Finally, with so much of the mass of the car on the bottom, it is practically impossible to roll. To Michael Wilson, this is a family sedan, intended to carry 5 or even 7 people comfortably on the road, not just one. Your point about how much of a waste it is to have so much power is not valid at all. And it only has so much power when you turn it to that mode, otherwise, it is a gentle beast to drive around town. Regarding the touch-screen, it isn't the only interface. You have the steering wheel controls as well, so you do not have to look down or fumble with the screen. With all the automated features, incredible power and solid build of the Model S, you really get a feeling the car is looking out for you and protecting you as you drive. When I was behind the wheel, I felt very safe, and in complete control of the car the entire time.
Mike Nicewarner
*correction* I mis-read how the authors of the comments were arranged. The second part of my comment should have been directed to Freyr Gunnar. My bad.
Robert Fallin
I have been a tireless booster of Tesla since Elon Musk started taking orders for the Tesla Roadster. My only real criticism of Musk's handling of the Tesla models is his nearsighted attitude of charging using a proprietary connector. Musk needs to seriously pursue WIRELESS charging for Tesla Motors to exist, much less prevail,10 to 15 years down the road.
MikeW
After taking a test drive, no other car will ever fully satisfy me. What a breathtaking vehicle. Mild and docile and efficient when needed and a tiger when mashing the go pedal. Only the $7,800 in NYS sales tax prevented me from buying a Model S. I have no problem with a per mile driven tax to fund the roads I drive on but $7,800 so NYS can throw away my money is a deal breaker.
CharlieSeattle
The extra power is there to handle a fully loaded 'Family Sedan' with 5 to 7 people.
Noah Mayer
Freyr- Your comparison to bicycles, while quite illuminating on the efficiency of a bike, is kind of apples to oranges. While many people have the ability to bike to work and local events/shops, many many people still need a car. On the plus side, the 5,680 cyclists to move one person isn't needed! Its available for some short fun, but most of the time, it only takes...20-100kw for 95% of driving. The 568kw motor only sips as much as needed. You also hit upon a great issue of buttons/dials vs. touchscreen. I personally prefer physical dials, but the steering wheel actually contains most of the functions you need, and I'm sure the infotainment center is compatible with voice commands. Combined with other safety functions, if the system is used correctly, you should be able to adjust temp, volume, take a call, perhaps even get direction without taking your eyes off the road. Its all about implementation and proper use.
mookins
@Mike Nicewarner: great info thank you! Man, this car is impressive.
Les.B.
Would be interesting to know how many G's are produced in an Insane Mode acceleration. In their next model with even higher accel, what will they call it? What is more than "insane"?