AT A GLANCE
The high-end battery power appeals but the Tesla is not for long commutes
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.
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.