AT A GLANCE

The high-end bat­tery power ap­peals but the Tesla is not for long com­mutes

The Courier-Mail - Motoring - - Prestige - PETER BARNWELL

OUR test of the new-look Tesla Model S didn’t get off to a great start. We were to pick up the new top-of-the-range P90D, with “lu­di­crous” mode that de­liv­ers a 0-100km/h sprint in less than 3 sec­onds.

But a deal­er­ship mix-up meant we got a P70D, which comes with the new look but not the most re­cent up­grade to a 75kWh bat­tery, with claimed range up from 442km to 490km.

It wasn’t all bad news. The 70D — and the slightly cheaper again 60D — are the more “ac­ces­si­ble” Tes­las.

Our ve­hi­cle cost just $171,154

TESLA MODEL S 70D

PRICE From $139,509 (as tested $171,154) WARRANTY 4 years/80,000km CAPPED SERVICING $1525 over 3 years SER­VICE INTERVAL 12 months/20,000km MO­TOR Dual; 70kWh bat­tery TRANS­MIS­SION 1-speed di­rect-drive; AWD CON­SUMP­TION 10kWh/60km on test DI­MEN­SIONS 4979mm (L), 2187mm (W), 1445mm (H), 2960mm (WB) WEIGHT 2141kg SPARE No; in­fla­tion kit 0-100KM/H 5.4 secs as tested, com­pared with the $280,000-plus P90D. Tesla says the sales split is 50-50 be­tween the lesser mod­els and the flag­ship 90D.

Visu­ally, they are iden­ti­cal ex­cept for the wheels and the badge on the rear. Tesla has done away with the fake grille on the pre­vi­ous model, fig­ur­ing there’s no need to pre­tend there is an en­gine un­der the bon­net.

For mine, the pre­vi­ous styling had a gor­geous Maserati look about it and the new one looks a lit­tle kooky, like a Nis­san Leaf EV with a ninja tur­tle face.

The rest of the Model S re­mains strik­ingly hand­some, with its swoop­ing rear screen and pow­er­ful rear haunches giv­ing it an ath­letic ap­pear­ance.

The wheel de­sign has also changed, again not nec­es­sar­ily for the bet­ter. The new look is a generic frosted sil­ver fin­ish rather than the “ma­chined” look of the pre­vi­ous model.

The re­vised Model S scores adap­tive LED head­lights that au­to­mat­i­cally dip and change fo­cus to al­low for on­com­ing traf­fic or when ap­proach­ing cars from be­hind. It also has a high-ef­fi­ciency “bio” cabin air fil­ter that knocks out most or­ganic and in­or­ganic nas­ties in­clud­ing fine par­tic­u­lates.

The in­te­rior is al­most art on wheels, es­pe­cially the scal­loped leather door lin­ings and latches in buffed alu­minium. It is dom­i­nated by a large 17-inch screen that con­trols most of the car’s func­tions, in­clud­ing the dy­nam­ics, in­fo­tain­ment, cli­mate and con­nec­tiv­ity.

If you look past this uniquely Tesla cen­tre­piece, you could be sit­ting in a mid to high-end Mercedes-Benz sedan. The switchgear and other con­trols look sim­i­lar and so is the tex­ture of the leather and other in­te­rior sur­faces.

There’s room in­side for five but I wouldn’t like be­ing in the mid­dle rear “seat”. There’s plenty of legroom, though, and a de­cent boot.

Among the test car’s am­ple op­tions was the au­topi­lot func­tion (which I de­cline to test, given re­cent cat­a­strophic events in the US). It also had air sus­pen­sion and ad­di­tional driver as­sist kit such as lane keep­ing, blind spot mon­i­tor­ing, a ver­sion of au­tonomous emer­gency brak­ing and other safety gear you’d ex­pect in a car this far up the food chain.

The Model S is a com­pos­ite of mostly alu­minium, plas­tic and steel but be­cause of the lithium- ion bat­tery un­der the floor, it tips the scales at about 2200kg, the bat­tery ac­count­ing for sev­eral hun­dred ki­los.

That weight makes me a bit ner­vous when I take on a wind­ing back road. My fears are jus­ti­fied with plenty of an­noy­ing un­der­steer early in the ex­er­cise and a steer­ing feel rem­i­nis­cent of Ja­panese lux­ury cars from a few years ago — too light in feel.

These short­com­ings are put into sharp re­lief when I ex­ploit the car’s prodi­gious, to­tally lin­ear and bru­tal ac­cel­er­a­tion.

Elec­tric mo­tors de­liver their max­i­mum torque (pulling power) right from the get-go while petrol or diesel en­gines wind up to peak out­puts.

Punch the throt­tle hard and the Tesla rock­ets away from a stand­still and main­tains the same rate of ac­cel­er­a­tion to max­i­mum ve­loc­ity. No petrol or diesel pow­ered car does that.

But all is not sweet­ness and light as the Tesla con­sumes elec­tric­ity at a heavy rate es­pe­cially when you drive it fast on the free­way.

When I pick up the test car, the range gauge reads about 450km. But by the time I get home, 160km away, range is down to 130km.

Cue “range anx­i­ety”, which stops me from driv­ing the 70D to the air­port the next day be­cause if I take it, I won’t make it home again.

There are no “su­per­charge’’ fa­cil­i­ties at the air­port. After plug­ging it into charge at home for 13 hours, I coax an ex­tra 130km range (os­ten­si­bly) from the bat­tery.

A quick check on the web­site shows that in­creas­ing speed from 100km/h to 110km/h (the posted limit on the free­way home) di­min­ishes the Tesla’s pub­lished range by 52km. Turn on the air­con­di­tion­ing and the range comes down by an­other 34km. Ditto the heater.

Other is­sues I have with the test car are a leak­ing sun­roof (yes, it was closed) that dumped cold wa­ter in my lap as I drove off down the road in the morn­ing and wipers al­most as noisy as my dad’s Mor­ris Ox­ford. Those `”hi-tech’’ adap­tive LED head­lights aren’t the bright­est in the shed ei­ther.

It also un­locked ev­ery time I walked past with the key in my pocket and I couldn’t fig­ure out how to turn it off when I just wanted to park and sit in peace for a while.

VER­DICT

Call me a di­nosaur but I couldn’t own this car due to range anx­i­ety (still). You have to treat it like an i-Phone and plug it in at ev­ery op­por­tu­nity and that’s a real pain — not ev­ery­where has a su­per­charge unit read­ily avail­able.

The price of op­tions is over the top, too. On the plus side I like the way it goes, the lux­ury feel and hi-tech fea­tures, in par­tic­u­lar the awe­some au­dio.

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