We test-drive the car of the fu­ture.

GQ (Australia) - - INSIDE -

For all the won­der­ing whether peo­ple will give up dreams of be­ing like Dan Ric­cia­rdo and opt in­stead to be driven by their own car, it feels re­mark­ably pleas­ant to fick the switch and let the ma­chine take over – even when clock­ing 110km per hour while over­tak­ing a truck on a curve. Stealth­ily, the car in­dus­try has long been prim­ing us to let go of the wheel. Most high-end mar­ques have adap­tive cruise con­trol that au­to­mat­i­cally slows down and ac­cel­er­ates – a sort of driver­less-lite. And on the cul­tural ac­climi­ti­sa­tion front, Bat­man be­gan sum­mon­ing his Bat­mo­bile in the ’60s while any­one who lived though the ’80s had a Knight Rider phase. So we’re pretty much ready for the fnal step – com­ing to terms with the re­al­i­sa­tion that cars are bet­ter at driv­ing cars than hu­mans. That’s what GQ learnt when re­cently belt­ing the Tesla Model S 85D be­tween Sydney and Mel­bourne – at­tack­ing the yawn­ing Hume High­way run with an overnight in the city of round­abouts, Can­berra. Tesla hasn’t made much of a song and dance about its new ‘Au­topi­lot’ func­tion – prob­a­bly be­cause hands­free driv­ing isn’t yet le­gal. But it’s cut­ting edge, and prob­a­bly cuts through the law. A front-fac­ing radar, a cam­era with im­age recog­ni­tion ca­pa­bil­ity and 360-de­gree ul­tra­sonic sonar al­lows the car to de­tect other ve­hi­cles and keep as steady as a train on rail­way tracks. The ve­hi­cle keeps a safe speed re­gard­less of whether you’re rolling at full tilt down the high­way or crawl­ing through traffc. It even changes lanes when­ever you in­di­cate a de­sire to do so. You can hap­pily take hands from the wheel – though the car po­litely asks you not to. “The law in Aus­tralia is that the driver must have con­trol of the ve­hi­cle at all times, but ‘con­trol’ isn’t defned in the law,” states a Tesla spokesman. “It’s up for de­bate what that means. Our in­ter­pre­ta­tion is we rec­om­mend the driver has their hands on the wheel at all times.” On a clear stretch of high­way into Can­berra, GQ ex­per­i­mented with how long we could go be­fore be­ing re­minded to put hands back where they be­longed. It took fve min­utes. Tesla, the builder of all-elec­tric su­per­cars ca­pa­ble of ac­cel­er­at­ing to 100km/h in as lit­tle as three sec­onds is qui­etly making its as­sault on Aus­tralia. The com­pany won’t say how

many units it’s sold lo­cally – “lots” is the short an­swer on be­ing asked. (We only spied one other Tesla on our two-day elec­trifed road trip.) Re­gard­less, the build­ing of ‘Su­per­charge’ sta­tions late last year at key spots along the Hume High­way – Goul­burn, Wodonga, Euroa and Gunda­gai – is a game-changer for elec­tric ve­hi­cles in Aus­tralia. Tesla claims its 85D, and higher-pow­ered P85D, have driv­ing ranges of roughly 500km, though ex­act dis­tance is de­pen­dent on fac­tors that only cy­clists are used to think­ing about, like wind and hills. The Su­per­charg­ers can pump 120 kilo­watts of power into the car’s bat­ter­ies, pro­vid­ing 270 kilo­me­tres of range in about 30 min­utes. Time your recharge stops to co­in­cide with when you want to recharge your­self with lunch or cof­fee, and you’ll get be­tween Mel­bourne and Sydney in the same time as it would take to chug along with fos­sil fuel. Best yet, charg­ing is free – with more sta­tions planned for the Pacifc High­way, be­tween Sydney and Brisbane, by the end of this year. Our road trip be­gan in heavy Sydney traffc. While Au­topi­lot is rec­om­mended for free­way driv­ing, it’s ac­tu­ally even bet­ter in such stop­start snarls. (And think about it: how much of your brain is ac­tu­ally work­ing when crawl­ing through a traffc jam?) Tes­las don’t yet read traffc lights, ad­just for speed signs or fol­low the GPS to make turns. We say ‘yet’, given Tesla chief Elon Musk predicts this is only two years away (plus how­ever long it takes law-makers to get their heads around the whole hands-free sit­u­a­tion). Tesla isn’t the frst man­u­fac­turer to build a car ca­pa­ble of fol­low­ing lanes and steer­ing – Mercedes S-class has been do­ing so for years. But what makes Tesla’s Au­topi­lot unique and ex­tra­or­di­nary is how it was rolled out. The hard­ware has been in mod­els pro­duced since 2014. One day last Oc­to­ber, the nec­es­sary soft­ware was pumped out au­to­mat­i­cally overnight. Ex­ist­ing Tesla own­ers lit­er­ally woke up and found that the car sit­ting in their garage could sud­denly steer it­self – a bit like fnd­ing a new app on your smart­phone fol­low­ing an IOS up­grade, just infnitely more ex­cit­ing. The driver­less car revo­lu­tion won’t be tele­vised. It’s al­ready hap­pen­ing, live. Driv­ing be­tween Sydney and Mel­bourne will trig­ger the odd bout of ‘range anx­i­ety’ – plan­ning ahead is im­per­a­tive. We aimed for lunch in Goul­burn, three hours and 200km out of Sydney, by which time the car’s bat­ter­ies were at 40 per cent ca­pac­ity. Hav­ing parked in one of the soupedup charg­ing bays and plugged in the car, you do feel a bit like Marty Mcfly ar­riv­ing in Hill Val­ley, 2015. In Can­berra you can plug in at Ho­tel Realm, though we chose to stay at the Ho­tel Ho­tel, where the concierge was faintly be­mused by the re­quest to plug a car into an or­di­nary socket in the un­der­ground car park. A spokes­woman tells GQ the ho­tel is happy to let guests pil­fer the AC overnight. Stan­dard AC power only charges about 46km of dis­tance for ev­ery hour – which does the job when left overnight. Driv­ing out of the cap­i­tal the next morn­ing, with 95 per cent charge and 300-odd kilo­me­tres be­fore the next Su­per­charge stop in Wodonga, our Tesla turned pes­simistic and said we wouldn’t make it. How­ever, once we hit the open road the up­pers kicked in and the forecast range im­proved. In the end we got to the Vic­to­rian border with 12 per cent bat­tery-life left. The car cal­cu­lated we needed 25 min­utes charg­ing in Wodonga and a fur­ther 15 min­utes in Euroa to get to Mel­bourne. At Euroa, the Su­per­charger is tucked away in a petrol sta­tion. Buy­ing only min­eral wa­ter, an ut­terly con­fused at­ten­dant dou­ble checked we didn’t need any fuel. And that’s all part of the fun. Maybe you care about low­er­ing car­bon foot­prints, maybe you don’t (and as veg­e­tar­i­ans point out, you’ll cut more car­bon emis­sions by ditch­ing meat than a petrol car). Ul­ti­mately, driv­ing a Tesla feels like driv­ing a piece of the fu­ture. Or, watch­ing the fu­ture drive it­self. n

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