Drive into the future JUSTIN CONNOLLY
I’ VE driven cars that have an eco mode before, and quite a few with a sport mode to stiffen suspension and beef up acceleration. But I’ve never driven a car that can be put into ‘ludicrous mode’ before.
But then the Tesla S is frankly unlike any car I’ve ever driven in so many ways – the ludicrous mode, although very aptly named, is not even the most impressive thing about this all-wheel drive, allelectric, technical masterpiece.
It’s a cliché, I know, but truly – some day all cars will be made this way.
Tesla Motors boasts the billionaire co-founder of PayPal Elon Musk as its CEO.
Since PayPal was sold to Ebay in 2002, his biggest passion has been exploring technology that can help humanity solve its rather selfdestructive love affair with fossil fuels. Tesla builds all-electric cars and is also big in battery technology, not just to use in its vehicles, but also for the home in the hope that solar energy can be harnessed in an economically viable way.
If that all sounds a bit worthy and dull, let me tell you that Musk also clearly has a passion for fast cars. Very fast cars.
To the untrained eye, the Tesla S perhaps doesn’t look all that exceptional – it resembles nothing more than a Jaguar XF. And perhaps it would turn a few more heads if it sported a more futuristic look – like BMW’s ostentatious hybrid i8. But that wouldn’t be as cool or as classy.
Not many people noticed I was driving perhaps the most technologically advanced production car in the world as I zipped silently by. A few were curious enough to take a closer look, still fewer knew exactly what they were looking at and became instantly giddy with excitement.
I’ve never tested a car that elicited more requests from friends and family for as quick spin. And that’s when ludicrous mode came into its own. In that mode the car can go from 0-60 in 2.8 seconds. Yes. 2.8. That’s the same as the McLaren P1, and only hypercars like the Bugatti Veyron Super Sport (2.2 seconds) can top it.
The response from passengers when I floored it and glued them to their seats was, almost universally, helpless giggling (only one person started crying). I could never grow tired of it.
But there’s so much more to the Model S than just speed – its range is remarkable, for one thing. The batteries are housed in the floor between the two axles (which helps give the car its low centre of gravity to help prevent rollovers), and give the car an exceptional range of around 315 miles on a full charge. Compare that to the all-electric Nissan Leaf or BMW i3, which can manage around 100 miles.
Then there’s the simply incredible AutoPilot feature – when switched on the car sets its cruise control to the speed limit for the road you are on, and will try to stick to that speed unless something gets in its way. At that point it slows to keep a set distance between itself and the car in front, even coming to a stop if it has to, starting again when the car in front moves away (it will stop just a few feet behind a vehicle that comes to a stop in front of it).
That’s not all, though. The car will also steer itself and remain in lane – it’s the closest thing you’ll find on the road to that fabled self-driving car we keep hearing about. After a while it seems like a chore when you have to flick the indicator left or right to change lane...
It’s not quite at the stage where you can punch in a postcode and then drop off for a snooze, but it’s much further down that line than any other car I’ve driven. All the sensors are in the car already, and Tesla can update its software over then internet. The car didn’t ship with AutoPilot – it’s been added since, as has ludicrous mode, revealing yet another advantage to a car this technologically advanced.
The interior is as stylish and as uncluttered as its outside, dominated by a large touch screen in the centre console, from which you control many aspects of the vehicle, from the radio to the sunroof, and from the satnav to the suspension. Even the user’s manual is accessed through the touch screen (it has to be updated when the car is).
There are three gears, selected using an indicator-style stalk sticking out of the steering column – forwards, backwards, and stop. It’s as if they’ve designed a car for today’s technology, ignoring the conventions of traditional motors
PHOTOS: Vincent Cole that hold innovation back. There’s no hand brake button or lever – you engage the hand brake by pushing the brake pedal down firmly once you are at a standstill. It disengages when you touch the accelerator.
All this innovation must come at a price, though. And it certainly does.
The base price for the top-end Model S P90D is £87,300 (includes £4,500 government plug-in grant), but the extras on our test model stacked the price up to £115,980.
That included £1,300 for the pearl white multi-coat paint job, £1,300 for the glass panoramic roof, £3,900 for the 21in grey turbine wheels, and £8,700 for the ludicrous speed upgrade.
I’m safe to say this is not a cheap car, but given the technology involved it seems quite reasonable, and will be even more reasonable as that technology trickles down into cheaper models.
You can get a Model S for £54,100 right now – but that gets you a smaller battery (and hence a shorter range – 260 miles), and rear-wheel drive only. And of course, no ludicrous mode (although it will still go from 0 to 60 in 5.5 seconds...).
But these are the cars of the future, and the price will fall over the next few years as production volume increases. And it will – like I said, some day all cars will be made this way.
Visit Tesla’s Manchester store and service centre at 396 Wellington Road North, Stockport, SK4 5AE, or its Knutsford store at 21-29 Canute Place, Knutsford WA16 6BQ. And, of course, all the details are available online at teslamotors.com.