The Model S 90D is a glimpse into the future of autonomous driving.
The last few months have been staggering for the Tesla brand, which has been represented both in good and bad ways. After offering pre-orders of their forthcoming “affordable” Model 3, Elon Musk’s enterprise was flooded with over 300,000 deposits within the first week. Buyers were asked for a $1,000 deposit in exchange for a promise of vehicle deliveries starting late 2017. The reality is, in order to deliver these vehicles anywhere close to the estimated times, Musk will have to ensure the new factories are completely up to snuff in every regard.
As with all other fads of this generation (the most similar in my eyes is the release of every new iPhone), the Tesla craze isn’t without its critics and haters. The upcoming Chevrolet Bolt EV does literally everything the Model 3 is promised to, but hasn’t received nearly the same amount of attention because, let’s face it, it’s not a Tesla. The Internet is full of people insisting that those having pre-ordered are sheep, as there is no promised delivery date or even finalized specifications on the actual car. We decided to closely examine some of the latest technologies that the Tesla brand has to offer by driving something currently in production. I was sent a 2016 Tesla Model S 90D, fitted with Autopilot, to evaluate.
First things first – the Autopilot is only a semi-autonomous driving aid. It’s a step in the direction of the future that is autonomous driving, but it’s unable to make full navigational turns or detect traffic lights. That aside, this is the most advanced cruise control system in the world. Tesla employs GPS, 12 ultrasonic sensors, cameras, and radar to make sure the car doesn’t deviate from the chosen path. It’s capable of monitoring your blind spot as well as overcorrect steering to ensure you’re in the center of your lane at all times.
How does it work? Well, when on the highway, you engage cruise control as you would in any other vehicle. If Autopilot is available (and it mostly will be, barring emergency construction zones and unplanned build areas), a small steering wheel icon will display in the instrument cluster. Tug the cruise control stalk towards you twice rapidly and the Model S will beep to indicate that Autopilot has been engaged. Though it’s not recommended to ever take your hands off the wheel, the car will now steer itself and lane-keep for extended periods.
Some may ask how this is any different from the lane keeping systems in vehicles such as the Acura MDX (reviewed here) or even the Audi S8 (reviewed here). All of those only use sensors to monitor if you’re about to deviate from the lane, and quickly bounce the vehicle back into the lane. They then alert the driver to get his/her hands back on the wheel. Tesla will actually stay in the center of the lane and drive itself, slowing down, stopping, and even re-accelerating with the flow of traffic. If you want to change lanes, simply tap and hold the turn signal stalk and the vehicle will check your blind spot, then switch lanes when it’s safe to do so. It’s pretty remarkable stuff, and an absurdly eerie feeling at first.
The automotive media industry was caught off-guard when Tesla implemented the “Insane Mode” (our review here) and Autopilot features, and other toys such as the “Summon” mode were all but forgotten about. This toy allows an app on your phone to communicate with your Model S, and actually summon it from a garage or parking space. It can also self-park the car including automatically opening/closing a garage door if programmed to. We tested out Summon mode, and it was able to open the garage, pull itself in, fold the mirrors as it was a tight spot, and shut itself down. Pretty remarkable stuff, considering the auto-park on the BMW 750Li (reviewed here) has yet to be legalized for the Canadian market.
The Model S 90D and P90D represent 90-kWh, which replace the outgoing 85 and P85 models. The 90D models also represent dual-motor and all-wheel-drive. The 90D, despite not being the performance model, can hustle to 100km/h in just over four seconds. The plethora of instantaneous torque, available immediately off the line, will impress anyone that gets behind the wheel. At least in the initial surge, the Tesla will out-accelerate almost everything else out there. Driving around town and boogying the 90D had me ask myself repeatedly why anyone would *need* the performance model other than for bragging rights. This one will satisfy almost every driver’s needs.
Even though mainstream and luxury electric vehicles have been a thing for a few years now, range anxiety is still a very real thing for those coming out of conventional gasoline-powered cars. EPA standards also promise that the 2016 Model S 90D can actually travel up to 473 kilometers (294 miles) on a single charge! This is plenty for the average Canadian, and will tackle the weekly commute with ease. It does charge very slowly on a regular household outlet, but Tesla will sell you an 80-amp wall quick-charger for about $800. Installation is the buyer’s responsibility.
Pricing for the Model S starts at $89,800 for the base 70D, and $107,600 for the 90D. As of April 2016, the Ontario incentive is $3,000 for buyers of this model. Autopilot is a $3,300 option, and also includes the self-parking features in this package. Our test vehicle also had the $4,000 Premium Upgrades Package, which adds dynamic LED lighting, lighted door handles, and Nappa leather/Alcantara interior upgrades. An extra $1,300 adds the Subzero Weather Package, bringing full heated seating, heated steering wheel, and washer nozzles. The total sticker for our test vehicle was $130,200 before HST or delivery.
At the time of this writing, the infrastructure for supercharging in the Greater Toronto Area isn’t great. There’s one supercharger station in east Toronto, at one of Tesla’s service centers, and a second in Barrie. More have been promised in the coming twelve months, and the overall system is expected to improve significantly before Model 3 hits the Canadian market in the next few years. The reality is, those who buy these vehicles will likely opt for the home and/or workplace installation of some sort of charger.
There were a few imperfections with the vehicle’s overall build quality that we found alarming. For instance, one of the door panels on the brand new vehicle wasn’t fitted correctly. This meant that the driver’s door was hesitant to close properly unless it was given more force than should be required. The minimalist interior of the Tesla is an asset, but I can’t fathom why the USB port is for charging only and won’t play an externally connected device unless it’s over Bluetooth. I understand simplicity, but for some, this will complicate things significantly.
The 2016 Tesla Model S 90D is a glimpse into the future of autonomous driving, and I’m not sure that Canadians are fully ready for it. The car packs an unmatched amount of technology, but at the expense of some flaws that should be caught at the quality control level. The refreshed Model S has been announced, and will be hitting the roads later this year. It’ll be interesting to see how Tesla’s Model 3 pans out, but regardless of the amount of hate seen online, it’s certain to be a huge seller and a game changer for the brand, as well as the automotive industry as a whole.