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Car reviews - Tesla - Model S - P90D

Our Opinion

We like
Astonishing acceleration, clever autonomous tech, value for money
Room for improvement
Temperamental access, tall driver seat position


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21 Dec 2015

TESLA is a true start-up company in every sense of the word and the American car-maker’s unconventional approach to car design has resulted in a large luxury sedan like no other.

You won't find anything that looks, drives, sounds or functions like a Model S and even the way you buy a Tesla is completely different to almost every other brand out there, but it is still a car that can be lived with day to day.

Its latest offering is a new flagship P85D which shares much of the construction and technology of its siblings in the three-variant line-up, but Tesla will upgrade any 85 to 90kWh on request, which brings a different boot badge and higher performance. We sampled the top-of-the-range P90D.

With many similarities to the P85 we road tested last year and the 85 earlier this year, piloting the newest revision of the Model S is just as enjoyable in many ways, including its eerily quiet and comfortable ride, outstanding touchscreen interface and ample space for both people and things, so our focus was on the parts that set the P90D apart from the rest of the range.

Perhaps the most notable of those is a new setting in the vehicle menu which allows the driver to flick from Sports acceleration to Ludicrous. At first we thought the decision to name the mode Ludicrous was perhaps a little pretentious, that was until we sampled the full-fat zero to 100km/h performance, and after one launch, no other word that can be published here would do.

As one passenger put it, a full chat pull away in the P90D is like free falling – only horizontally. Tesla says the P90D will get to 100km/h in about three seconds but it feels even quicker thanks to the massive amount of torque available from, effectively, zero rpm.

With no gearbox the Tesla doesn't have to interrupt the whole performance with gear changes so the acceleration is as relentless as it is savage. Add to that the mighty traction from all-wheel drive and you have the recipe to go very fast very easily.

Despite its extensive carbon-fibre construction, the Model S is still heavy which makes the car feel extremely stable on the road. It would take a very heavy hand to find the P90D’s limit of adhesion and the four-wheel two-motor transmission offers almost boundless grip in high-speed corners.

There is some body-roll but let’s not forget that despite its supercar straight-line speed, the Model S is still a large luxury sedan. Occupants are very well looked after in tasteful cream leather upholstery with matching synthetic suede roof lining, which contrasts beautifully with the rich metallic paint.

Given that the vast battery is cleverly hidden below the floor, we found the driver’s seat was a little too elevated and even the electric adjustment couldn't lower the position to quite the right spot, but generally the unchanged cabin is an impressive place to both feel and behold.

The only other snag in proceedings was an occasional glitch in the lock and unlock process, which occasionally seemed to forget where the key was. We love the pop-out door handles that stand to attention when the car senses the approaching key, but on more than one occasion we were ignored.

The centrepiece of the interior would have to be the Model S’ expansive touchscreen control centre which is approximately the same size as two tablets laid next to each other and mounted in portrait orientation.

One of the clever features of the Tesla’s DNA is the ability to update software systems as new systems become available, including the way the various information and entertainment features appear and function.

And that flexibility extends to some exciting new driver assistance systems.

Tesla’s freshly introduced Autopilot is a glimpse at the future of self-driving cars and is a significant step forward in autonomy.

While many manufacturers have introduced systems that will keep a vehicle in a lane on the freeway and at a set distance from a vehicle ahead, Tesla has evolved the system.

Pulling back on the cruise control stalk twice activates the system and after an initial warning to keep hands on the steering wheel, the Model S assumes complete control of the car including negotiating bends in the road and other road users, such as cyclists.

Handing over everything to the car takes a lot of faith but it is remarkable just how well the system works.

While other manufacturers limit the amount of information that the driver is fed, Tesla almost celebrates all the data its vehicles are sensing and processing with a series of likeable features.

Shady car outlines appear in the driver’s instrument cluster relative to your position when another vehicle is detected in the vicinity, a battery power consumption graph is plotted as you drive and even clever touches like a reversing radar that actually presents a measurement of proximity from objects are all fine examples.

That celebration of technology, data and information is a true hallmark of a tech company not a car company, and other brands will find it hard to mimic such a passion for doing things differently in quite the same way.

If you go bonkers with the various upgrades including the Ludicrous mode ($15,000), Autopilot ($3800) and the range upgrade to P90 and about 500km range ($4500), then the price of your Model S is already beyond a quarter of a million driveway, but we think that is still a bargain.

To even come close to its acceleration with another marque you would have to spend a lot more cash and your choices for zero emission vehicles with room for five and luggage are severely limited.

Until Porsche’s Mission E production car comes along in a few years, the Tesla Model S looks to be without a rival.

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