First Drive: Tesla Model S P85+
WHAT’S NEW?: This is a car built by a technology company, so it conforms to expectations in very few ways other than having four wheels. Try its two large boots on for size, or its 300-mile range from its electric-only drivetrain, and then prepare yourself for an almighty hit of electric torque that, up to 80mph or so, beggars belief.
LOOKS AND IMAGE: The Model S’s looks are subjective, but in the flesh its proportions are nicely balanced. The front lines could be sharper to this pair of eyes, but overall it strikes an impressive balance between aerodynamics and form with its optional 21-inch wheels. It’s certainly light years ahead of the gawky, ugly styling efforts you’ll find on other electric cars.
Tesla has managed to acquire for itself an air of mystique, aided by its ‘genius’ founder Elon Musk. There’s always a huge amount of curiosity and admiration surrounding this car, despite it being ‘just’ a five-door, comfortable family hatchback.
SPACE AND PRACTICALITY : There are two boots - yes, two - with a huge combined luggage capacity. The batteries and motors are out of the way beneath the floor of the passenger cell, so four people can go nuts when it comes to holiday packing. There’s a huge amount of room inside for people too.
A seven-seater option is also available, using two rear-facing child-sized seats in the boot. What’s so great about this car’s ability to carry so much is that with so much electric torque on hand, it simply brushes the weight off and saunters away down the road.
BEHIND THE WHEEL: The cabin is dominated by a huge central touch-screen, and since it’s such a vast part of the experience - literally and figuratively - it’s fortunate that it’s both fast to respond and easy to use. It might take a tutorial from a Tesla dealer to explain its full functionality, but it works a lot like a good tablet, with split-screen options where you can see energy usage, for example, next to media data or navigation.
There are two navigation systems: Google Maps and a backup Garmin system for when the car has no reliable 3G signal. The on-board data services are free of charge for owners too.
As for the driving experience there’s little to prepare you for the silent assault of the Model S’s acceleration up to 80mph or so. A low centre of gravity gives a good balance and the car corners well, too. The only caveat is steering that feels too much like an old arcade game, frequently imprecise and removed from the experience.
VALUE FOR MONEY: Of course it’s not cheap, but when you look at the tax advantages for business users and add them to the free charging deal, free Heathrow Airport parking and shuttle services, free in-car data services and more, value for money goes through the roof. The fuel savings alone are potentially huge, so the Tesla makes a convincing case for itself.
WHO WOULD BUY ONE?: Early adopters are still prime targets, but businessy types are waking up to the exciting reality the Model S offers. There’s nothing else out there with a hatchback body, seven seats, two large boots, this sort of performance and negligible running costs, so anyone who wants to break the established rules should look this way.