TESLA S 85D
We test-drive the car of the future.
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