Tesla Motors recently opened a showroom in St Leonards and also introduced their luxury sedan, the Model S to the Australian market. We took it for a spin after chatting with their specialists.
And boy, does it run! It’s hard to describe the power you feel when you accelerate from a standing start, but that is nothing compared to its mid-range acceleration.
Let’s begin with the basics. Introduced to Australia late last year, the Model S is the second generation Tesla vehicle in a three generation strategy, developed by Elon Musk and his team. Musk is a 43 year old whizz-kid who came to fame when he sold his company PayPal for $1.5bn netting him personally $165m, much of which he has invested in to Tesla.
Generation 1 of Tesla’s strategy was to produce a Lotus-sized roadster, designed in 2006 and produced from 2008-2012 for early adopters and thought leaders that would pay a high price and wanted performance. It was the first electronic car that could go over 200 miles on a single charge and it went like a stabbed rat.
Generation 2 was announced in 2008 and went on sale in 2012 in America and released in Australia late last year. Gen 2 (the Model S) is a high quality, luxury vehicle and given its success it will be followed in 2017 with mass-market offerings.
The technology Tesla developed was wrapped-up in a series of patents, just like every other design and engineering company, but Elon Musk announced in June last year that it was removing the patents and anyone could use its technology in good faith. That will hopefully assure early adoption by some of the big players like Mercedes and Toyota.
The motor technology of a Tesla is discussed here . In simple terms, the motor has one moving part, the rotor, and produces maximum torque instantly and remains at peak torque up to 6,000rpm. That eliminates the need for gears and that means the vehicle needs a lot less moving parts. So we’re talking a heady combination of power, speed and simplicity.
The Model S
The Model S introduced in to Australia at the end of 2014 comes in three variants; The 60, with a 60kWH battery, the 85 with an 85kWH battery and later this year Tesla will introduce the P85D where the “P” stands for performance and the “D” stands for dual motors (yep, a 4WD sedan). The P85D will be the fastest four door sedan on the planet getting for 0-100kph in 3.4 seconds.
The Tesla Model S sits in the market up against the likes of the Jaguar XE and Mercedes E-class. It has the look of the Jaguar about it with its curves and angles. It is a serious looking vehicle, understated, yet powerful.
Let’s get back to the power. It’s hard to describe the power. It is nothing like anything you have driven before. Petrol motors deliver power in waves; there is a lag in its delivery. You put your foot down and the engine spins-up, gears change down and whoosh; you are on your way. Electric motors can go from no power to full power instantly. No lag.
The laws of Physics dictate that it takes a certain amount of time to get a body in motion, because you have to overcome inertia. We tested the mid-range Model S 85 and that takes a mere 5.6 seconds to overcome any inertia and get the vehicle up to 100kph. That is quick for a large, luxury sedan, but it’s the rate at which it changes from 60-90 or 80-110kph that is breathtaking. The change is almost instantaneous. And that, ladies and gentlemen is where you really need performance. Yes, 0-100 times are great to brag about, but snapping from one speed to another when you need to overtake someone is where performance really matters.
Walking up to the car with the fob in your pocket, the flush door handles slide out from the side of the car. As you sit in the vehicle you are met with a lot of space. Because the motors that drive the wheels are at the back and they are tiny, there is a lot of room at the front of the car. The appointments of the car are luxurious, with great attention to detail. The leather is well stitched and the interior feel is one of quality. The six airbags are hidden away along with the high quality stereo system.
The car is powered by over seven thousand Panasonic laptop batteries, held together in a special pack which forms part of the floor of the car. That means there’s no prop-shaft running down the middle of the car, so the back seats have loads of leg room. The batteries have a range of over 450km on a full charge. Recharging can be done at home, with a simple plug-in unit or Tesla has fast-charging units at their St Leonard’s display centre. A fast-charge unit can give a 50% charge in 20 minutes. It’s unlikely a driver would completely flatten their batteries, but a full charge can be accomplished at home overnight for between $3 and $5 depending on time of day and electricity prices. Batteries are warranted for 200,000km or eight years, so pretty much the useful life of the car.
I drove the car all day, on a hot day with the air conditioning going flat out, driving on hills, freeway and in busy traffic and I used less than half a charge. Unless you are a frequent interstate driver, range is not an issue and cost per kilometre is tiny compared to its Edwardian predecessors.
As you get in to the car with your key fob in your pocket, the car knows who you are so its sets your preferred seating position, climate, music, etc.
The inside of the car is dominated by a 17 inch touchscreen control centre. Tesla goes through each setting with you when they hand over the car, but most of its functions are common sense. The car is very intuitive to use. Think intuitive like an iPhone. And as the car is electronics all the way, upgrades and updates can simply be downloaded to the car. Yes, the day you receive the car is as bad as it will ever be. From then on, with software updates, it can get better and better.
You start the car by putting your foot on the brake. Almost everyone puts their foot on the brake as they get in to a car, so it again it’s intuitive.
Ride height can also be set and the car remembers where you were when you chose that setting and always keeps that height in that location. So, you can set the car to be extra high when driving in to your car favourite car park, or on to the local car ferry or in to your garage at home. Very clever.
As you move off, the silence is incredible. You can hear the air conditioning and the tyres, but the car itself is silent. Completely silent.
The driving position is good, the seats are firm and move in all directions along with the steering wheel. The dashboard, being fully electronic, can be set with the controls you prefer to see such as the sat nav on the left and the charge levels on the right. Or the music station on the right and the trip computer on the left.
I drove the car from St Leonard’s up the Pacific Highway to the motorway and out Brooklyn. Did I tell you how incredible the mid-range acceleration is? It really is mind-bending. It is an effortless highway cruiser using little power on the flat and regenerating power as you go downhill. I found myself looking for cars to overtake just to experience the acceleration.
Once at Brooklyn, I switched the car from comfort to Sport mode and drove up the Old Pacific Highway to Berowra. The old highway between Brooklyn and Berowra is such a lovely stretch of tarmac with big sweeping bends. Throwing the car in to the corners you are aware that there is a lot of mass being moved around, 2.1 tonnes in fact, but it is stable and flat even when cornering at speed.
Then, it’s down the narrow roads of Berowra to the ferry. I set the ride height to extra high as I got to the ferry. The car will remember my choice, so if I caught that ferry every day I would not end up planting the nose in to the ramp as it would automatically adjust as I drove up.
Off the ferry and out through Arcadia. The car just ate-up the miles with ease. Cornering was a pleasure, the straights were a pleasure and because of the regenerative braking, when you pull your foot off the accelerator pedal, the car slows down. That means you rarely use the brake pedal and therefore you don’t wear out the brakes.
Hurtling through Arcadia, I pointed the car at Galston Gorge. If anything was going to fox a large sedan, it would be the Gorge. The Model S 85 is rear wheel drive, so it turns on a 10 cent coin. The hairpin bends of the Gorge were simple and the grade of the road was easy.
The ride is positive and smooth, helped by the premium Continental P5 tyres. There are several tyre options from Pirelli, Continental and Michelin which is good, as you can expect to get through a set in less than 20,000km. That’s pretty common on luxury cars using sticky premium tyres, but it is worth remembering when purchasing the vehicle as premium tyres will be a significant running cost. We checked with a local dealer and you can expect to pay at least $450 per corner for premium tyres like these.
Service intervals are? Well, there isn’t anything really to service. The electric motor has no moving parts. The brakes are hardly being used, so there is little to be attended to. Tesla says they would like to have the car in for an inspection once a year, but it won’t void your warranty if you forget.
Prices range from $105,000 for the Model S 60 delivered in NSW through to $158,000 for the P85D. The model tested was approximately $120,000 including dealer delivery and taxes in NSW. That puts it in the same price bracket as the Jaguar XE-S and the Mercedes E400.
The Tesla Model S sits easily within its price bracket and should find a willing market of buyers.
As Tesla put fast-filling stations across the country, the barrier to entry will be eliminated and this will be a significant challenger in a premium space.