It's shocking; what Tesla is selling here isn’t a car – it’s a lifestyle.
In the 1980s, the Chrysler Group took the automotive industry by surprise when they introduced their new minivans, which went on to inspire nearly every other mainstream manufacturer to venture into the same “people mover” space. Elon Musk, a genius in every sense of the word, is trying to do not just that, but far more with his seemingly impossible vehicle, known as the “Tesla”. Hundreds of electric vehicle “manufacturers” have come and gone, disappeared into the forgotten past, but somehow Musk has managed to make an impact like nobody else ever has. Their latest creation, the 2015 Tesla Model S P85D, was first described to me as “the most technologically-advanced car in the world”. Others have referred to it as a technological marvel, or just simply magic.
Whatever it may be, we were pleased to welcome the P85D into our garage for extended evaluation. Our last long experience with a Tesla Model S consisted of being stranded in an ice storm in the heart of winter, so it was important that we took advantage of a few warm-weather days to play with one of these beauties. The first thing that our friends have Tesla have done make me wonder as to why nobody else has done this – they’ve made an electric vehicle look gorgeous without being overstated as being “green”. The Toyota Prius has an unmistakable profile and look that essentially says “Hey you there! Look at me! I’m saving fuel and the environment!”. The Model S is stunning yet understated; those who don’t know what it is will ask who makes it; is it Audi or BMW?
The Model S’ striking lines are sexy and becoming unmistakable as signature styling of the Tesla brand. The uninformed may still ask whether it’s a new Mercedes or Lexus, but most people are immediately able to identify it as one of the most modern cars on the road today. The beautifully sculpted lines flow right through the body and are highlighted by LED lighting at every corner. Sleek touches like retracting door handles and a carbon-fiber rear decklid lip spoiler only reinforce the aggressive yet simplistic beauty of the Model S.
Yes, the Tesla is a thing of beauty, but this doesn’t stop at the exterior. On the inside, the car is modern and simplistic without giving up the prettiness displayed outside. Perhaps the most remarkable thing though is the fact that other than the power window/mirror controls, wiper stalk, emergency flashers and glovebox release, there are no extra buttons or switches anywhere in the cabin. There isn’t even a button to turn the car on or off. Everything from charging setup to opening the sunroof is controlled via the enormous 17” infotainment display. This screen is responsive and extremely vibrant, appearing almost like a huge iPad in the middle of the dashboard – more about this system a bit later.
Sitting atop the Model S lineup, the P85D is famous for its dual-motor setup and available “insane mode”. The rear wheels are powered by a 470-horsepower electric motor, and the front wheels are hooked up to a second electric motor, good for 221 horsepower. This combination gives the P85D all-wheel-drive and a total of 691 horsepower and 686 lb-ft of torque – chopping 1.4 seconds off the 0-100 time of the regular Model S P85 we tested almost two years ago. This torque number becomes even more substantial when you’re reminded that as with all electric motors, this thrust is available instantly at 0 RPM.
Just tapping the accelerator on this Model S results in an overwhelming amount of power – enough to actually make the driver as well as any passengers sick if the go-pedal is abused. Regular operation is done in “Sport” mode, but tapping a button puts the car in “Insane”. Yes, this is the mode that YouTubers used to record and display passengers’ reactions. There are some very quick supercars out there, but none are able to deliver torque as quickly as the Tesla, not to mention there is still a stigma out there about electric vehicles being slow. We were able to weaken the opinions of a few people with old-school mentalities when offering up rides in this shocking (pun intended) sedan to our families, friends and loyal readers.
As with certain other electric vehicles such as the BMW i3, the Tesla has regenerative braking. This feature helps conserve energy and actually reduces a considerable amount of effort for the driver. How it works is quite simple – you use the accelerator pedal as you normally would, but upon releasing it, the car automatically applies the brakes and regenerates/stores energy. The regenerative system can actually bring the Model S right down to crawling speeds, and the brake pedal is only required to bring the car to a full stop. The AutoPilot feature on the Model S is among the most intelligent adaptive cruise control systems available today, but that’s no surprise coming from the most advanced car in the world.
Weighing in at 4936 pounds, the Model S P85D is actually just over 290 pounds heavier than the regular P85. The biggest surprise here is that it doesn’t feel the slightest bit heavier, and, thanks to all of its weight being down low, the car is very stable at all speeds. There’s almost no body roll here, and the electrically-assisted power steering means the Model S changes direction effortlessly. It’s almost like playing a video game; you point and the car responds accordingly, very quickly and in a way that almost defies the laws of physics.
When the first Apple iPod came out, it instantly took over the MP3 player industry thanks to its simplicity, and other brands began adapting the iPod’s successful characteristics. I feel like the Tesla Model S is eventually going to do the same thing. Austereness is brought to a new level with the lack of a start/stop button or ignition key. You simply keep the Tesla-shaped key fob in your pocket and approach the car. The Model S senses you arriving, and the stunning metallic door handles extend from their caves. You jump inside, and the car is already on. All it requires is a foot on the brake and a tug on the gear selector, and you’re ready to go. This process is the same in reverse; push on the stalk for “Park”, get out, and walk away – the Model S locks itself too.
No part of the Model S is, at the bare minimum, anything short of interesting. One of our friends that made a day trip out specifically to get a ride in the car pointed out a neat Easter egg that was discovered by Tesla fans. Entering what can best be described as a cheat code into the infotainment system transforms the virtual photo of the Model S within the air suspension adjustment screen into the Lotus Esprit submarine from “The Spy Who Loved Me”. This is, of course, because Elon Musk is a huge James Bond fan who recently purchased said movie car for his own collection. All Model S’ are able to unlock this hidden feature that was pushed into the cars through a recent software update. The inner Bond nut in me is endlessly curious as to what more could be hidden inside this brilliant machine.
Older generations might take a little bit longer with this, but the learning curve to the electronics in the P85D isn’t as intense as one would imagine. As with the iPod or iPhone, this whole system was designed with ease of use in mind. Navigation is done through a Google Maps-based setup, so most people will have no problems at all here. The heated seat and steering controls are in this system as well, and the Model S is one of the only cars on the market where the rear center seat isn’t an after thought in this regard. Fun fact: the window switches, wiper stalk, and gear selector are right out of the Mercedes-Benz parts bin.
The “Next Generation” seats fix a complaint I had with previous Teslas I have driven; they’re very supportive and look great. There are ample connectivity options within the Model S. There’s a Lightning port within the center console to charge your iDevice, and there are two USB ports capable of charging your devices. Music can be played over the radio as well as built-in Internet radio using apps within the system. Apple iPod users that insist on playing their own music must stream it over Bluetooth – the USB ports cannot read these devices to my dismay. My dated 160GB iPod Classic was as useless as a brick in this car. I found the Internet radio a bit glitch, as it would stop at the end of each song and require me to manually push “Skip” to play the next track. I was later told this was an issue limited to my specific test car.
As the Model S is fully electric, owners will never find themselves visiting a gas station again. Recharging the car is an extremely simple process; Tesla actually has a fantastic supercharger network in place so that the Model S can be taken on road trips anywhere in North America. These superchargers are capable of charging the car to 80% of its capacity in 45 minutes. All you do is pop open the charge port and plug it in. If you choose to charge at home, Tesla will install a home charger for you for just under $800 that can charge the car in a few hours. It’s not recommended to charge the car on a standard wall outlet, as it would take over 24 hours for a full charge.
The full range of the P85D is about 450km, and I was able to extract 478km out of a single charge when exercising some hypermiling tactics. The typical commuter will need to charge the car once or twice a week, depending on many factors including driving style and weather conditions. Range will worsen considerably in the cold, so those suffering from range anxiety will want to charge more often. Unfortunately, I’m one of those that still suffers from range anxiety, and there’s no real way to overcome this fear other than to spend more time with EVs and adapt to the lifestyle.
Tesla will sell you a Model S 70D with the 70kWh battery (the “D” means dual-motor, which in this case also means all-wheel-drive) for as little as $77,200. The federal and provincial governments here in Canada are also giving out incentives to buyers of electric vehicles, which chops up to $10,000 off the purchase price. The P85D tested here starts at $121,300 and goes just north of $130,000 for this loaded tester. The cost of entry into the Tesla brand isn’t cheap right now, but a well-equipped 70D is comparable in price to a loaded BMW 5-series, Mercedes-Benz E-Class or Audi A6.
I’m a bit old school in the sense that I have different requirements for a car. While I appreciate the speed, quality, and frugality of cars like the Model S, I crave engine noise, the smell and feel of a proper gasoline engine, and real hydraulic steering feel. As I previously said, the Tesla feels like I’m playing a video game. It’s all there from a technical standpoint, but I just don’t get the satisfaction that I would in another big luxury sedan. Thankfully, most people aren’t like me and will appreciate every bit of the smoothness, quiet demeanour, and overall lavish behaviour of the Model S. After all, what’s not to like about a car where the only noise you hear is of the tires against the pavement?
What Tesla is selling here isn’t a car – it’s a lifestyle, and we learned this while using the supercharger station at Tesla headquarters one night. Arriving to get a quick charge around 1:00am on a weeknight, I didn’t think anyone else would have the same idea. However, two other Model S owners rolled in to get some juice while I was charging, and we struck up conversation. One of them said he stops by to charge once a week, and loves meeting people because everybody has a different story as to how they ended up here. Everybody who has a Tesla thus far has bought into this new type of regime; one that clearly identifies the future of the automobile.