Driven. Tesla Model S P100D.

Tesla Model S-22

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The Roadster had been a brave first ‘stab in the dark’ for Tesla but it wasn’t ever going to work in the UAE. It looked like a Lotus (each one started out as a partly built Elise) and went like stink but there were, as you might expect, build quality issues and it was obvious that the technology beneath its curvaceous composite panels needed to greatly advance before full electrification could be a viable method of propulsion, especially for drivers in regions such as ours.

Tesla had managed to grab the headlines with the Roadster, though, and attracted huge investment – enough to launch its next car, the Model S, in 2012. A full-size luxury car, it couldn’t have been more different to the Roadster if it had tried but it will go down in history as the one thing that finally got drivers excited about electric mobility.

Many variations have been produced since its introduction but the current range topper is the one I’m in now, the P100D, which costs nearly double the price of the entry-level model, known as the 75D. It’s a gorgeous thing to behold, even in white, with all the grace and panache of a modern Jaguar and none of the irksome quirkiness of the Japanese crop of electric and hybrid cars. It rides on 21-inch alloy wheels and its body is beyond slippery, boasting a drag coefficient of just 0.24. 

Has it evolved sufficiently, though, to be a contender in the real world? Can it lay to rest the ghost of the Roadster and the maddening two days I spent with it nearly six years ago? There was only one way to tell: I needed to drive it from Dubai to Abu Dhabi and back in a day, hopefully without having to hitchhike home during rush hour. Life’s complicated enough already – I don’t need to add ‘range anxiety’ to my seemingly never-ending list of stress triggers.

Before I set off, I take stock of my surroundings and see if Tesla’s army of detractors (which seems to grow by the minute) is right about its reputation for poor build quality. Outside there are a few less than perfect panel gaps but you have to really look for them. Once inside the cabin, the first impression is one of understated and uncluttered luxury but there’s no getting around the fact that the quality of fit and finish is not where it should be on a car that costs as much as a top flight S-Class or 7 Series.

The door rubbers look like I installed them, the luggage cover feels flimsy and the dashboard appears to be made from suede-covered MDF. As my arm nestles against the sculpted door innards, there’s a creaking sound and I’m half expecting to find some masking tape if I lift the carpet, along with some handwritten notes in pencil left by whoever built it by hand. There’s a feeling that this is a pre-production prototype in testing before final engineering sign-off. It’s nearly there but not quite. And it couldn’t dream of holding a candle to anything made in Germany. Overall, it’s a case of ‘must do better’ but it’s still light years ahead of the Roadster, which cost almost the same as this P100D.

The other thing that becomes obvious once you begin to cast a critical eye over its cabin is that it’s not all that practical for families. There are no door bins, no glove box, and no screens to keep the kids entertained in the back. The AC vents in the rear are pitiful and the inclusion of two USB ports on the centre console look like an afterthought. The rear seats are a bit snug, too, and fitting a baby seat so my two-year-old son can accompany me causes the air to turn several shades of blue.

The front seats are exemplary, however. Beautiful to look at and extremely comfortable and supportive, there’s little to fault for driver and passenger. Despite being possibly the most computerised automobile in history, The Model S is remarkably simple to operate. The controls are intuitive and clear; the switchgear will be familiar to anyone who’s driven a Mercedes-Benz in recent years, which does it no disservice whatsoever.

The architecture faced by the front occupants is remarkable in its elegance and simplicity, with only a TFT screen housed within the instrument binnacle and that gigantic 18-inch rectangle that resembles an upturned iMac, through which the entire car’s functions are controlled and adjusted. And there’s plenty of adjustment at your fingertips, with the steering weight, the suspension stiffness, the acceleration capabilities (Sport or Ludicrous), the climate control, navigation, entertainment and internet access all configurable without resorting to a single switch or knob. It takes a bit of familiarisation for a dinosaur like me but a teen would no doubt have it worked out within seconds.

Powering everything is the lithium-ion battery pack located underneath the floor, the weight of which provides an exceptional centre of gravity that enables limpet-like roadholding. More importantly, the thousands of individual cylindrical cells housed within the battery combine to produce up to 778hp and a range of up to 547km (572 if you spec 19-inch wheels), or more than twice that of the 240bhp Roadster’s real world figure. This, then, is easily one of the most powerful automobiles I have ever driven.

My commute will entail a good 250 kilometres and, as I’m setting off, the available range is showing a figure of 420km – easily enough, even if I’m heavy with my right foot. To start, there’s no key, no button, just a touch of the brake pedal to get the power steering active and you’re good to go.

Moving off in silence is a bit unnerving but it’s soon taken over by tyre roar and wind noise, although neither become excessive. A press of the throttle causes a distant, high pitched electrical whizz and more wind noise, together with audible gasps and swearing from adult passengers who have not prepared themselves for such an onslaught of acceleration. It’s breathtaking stuff.

Categories: Car Review


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