Driven. Tesla Model S P100D.

Tesla Model S-35

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The route is uninspiring and unavoidable – unless you want to drive from Dubai to Abu Dhabi via Al Ain (which would double the distance), there’s only the E11 and it’s never a joy. Mostly straight, sharing five lanes with the region’s least attentive and most aggressive drivers, it’s a regular commuter’s nightmare made real.

Soon enough, as I’m doing 140kph in the outside lane, overtaking slower traffic, a new Nissan Patrol appears in my rearview mirror, so close I can practically read the branding on its driver’s sunglasses. His lights are set to strobe mode and I have two choices: stay as I am until it’s safe to pull over and let him past or leave him in the Tesla’s wake.

I choose the latter and stamp on the not-so-loud pedal. In the blink of an eye the behemoth behind is but a dot in my mirror and I’m wondering what he exclaimed as this incredible machine flung forward like it was strapped to a cruise missile. Childish, I know, but sometimes it’s got to be done.

At the moment, in a move to encourage more of us to embrace ‘clean’ transport, if you drive one of these in the UAE you don’t have to pay anything for parking, using Salik toll roads or even charging its battery at one of a handful of suitable facilities in Dubai. Unfortunately you do still have to stump up for speeding fines and, in this car, it’s an occupational hazard.

Not that you have to drive it like you stole it at all times, mind. On the contrary, you don’t even need to drive it at all to get where you’re going. You can, if you so wish, let the car take over with a couple of tugs on a control arm to the left of the steering column. It’s the simplest thing in the world to set up: choose the distance you want the car to maintain from the one in front, set the speed you want and a final tug activates the autopilot function. At this point, the car keeps perfectly in the centre of its lane, applies the brakes when it thinks someone is a bit close and keeps to the speed you asked it to. It’s remarkably accurate and intuitive, even if it does make you a tad nervous to hand over the controls to a computer.

With a human in charge, it does drive like a normal car unless provoked. The steering is nicely weighted and the brakes are a bit lifeless, although if you leave the regenerative braking system active, you hardly need to use them, the car gently applying them when you lift your foot from the accelerator and harnessing the energy released by them to help extend the range from the battery. As for handling, it doesn’t feel as heavy as it is, although it’s no razor sharp sports machine. It corners flatly, even at speed, and there’s a hint of understeer but it feels safe and secure at all times.

As I enter the UAE capital, I’ve reduced the range available to 200km, meaning I’ll have to charge it on my return journey if I’m to get it back to the dealership without driving like Miss Daisy. There are two Tesla Superchargers – fast charging facilities that are free to use in the UAE – one at Masdar City in Abu Dhabi and one at the Last Exit food outlet on the way back to Dubai (frustratingly there isn’t one (yet) at the Last Exit you pass on your way out of Dubai, which happens to be on the other side of the E11. So it pays to do at least a little bit of mental arithmetic before commencing any lengthy journey.

From flat to full takes about an hour – another vast improvement in the past five years and, while you might balk at having to sit in your car for such a length of time while you’re ‘filling up’, just consider how long you sometimes spend queuing for the pumps in this part of the world.

The drive back to Dubai is less frenetic. It’s not that I’ve gotten tired of the neck-snapping acceleration, it’s just that I want to experience the Model S as a normal mode of transport, not a reprobate supercar that takes on all-comers. So I meander back at speeds just low enough to not trigger the plethora of speed cameras until I reach Last Exit, where the four Superchargers await in a row.

I lift the plug from its socket and, as I near the back of the car with it, a little hatch, cunningly disguised as a side light, pops open. The two are mated together and a circle around the Tesla’s charge socket glows green. A gentle hum runs through the car’s structure and the central display starts adding numbers to its range while, outside, other cars queue up at the Starbucks drive-thru and the various food outlets housed in what look like painted-up vintage Airstream caravans.

There’s a distinct feeling that I’m on the set of some bizarre David Lynch or Tarantino film – weird 50s American music is broadcast over the speakers and echoes around the place, conjuring up mental images of blonde pony tailed girls in polka dot dresses and Brylcreemed boys wearing horn rimmed spectacles, heading in their pick-up trucks to the drive-in cinema for clandestine clinches. It’s a weird throwback to the middle of another century, providing a cultural counterpoint to the experience of recharging a car that could very well represent the future of personal transport, even here.

Yes, the Tesla Model S is a viable option here – my little experiment has proved it. You still have to plan your journeys and, depending on what type of dwelling you live in, charge it up overnight. You might not be able to make it to Muscat in a day but you could certainly drive anywhere in the UAE on a single charge, if you knew you’d be able to top it up before making your return journey. You’d need to do your homework.

Quality control needs to be addressed at the factory and that’s a fact. But for a product from a company that could still be considered a new starter, it’s not as bad as some would have you believe. Tesla might benefit by Elon Musk not over promising and under delivering but the Model S remains a fine car and one that will entertain its owner for as long as its battery holds out. The ethics of electric cars are debatable and there’s so much more to a car’s impact on the planet than exhaust emissions. But taken as a standalone project, this is a genuine game changer and a bona fide c&p machine.

TESLA Model S P100D
Engine: 100kWh lithium-ion battery, twin electric motors
Power: 778hp
Torque: 687lb ft
Transmission: single-speed, fixed gear
Front suspension: Double wishbone
Rear suspension: Multi-link
Brakes: Brembo 355mm (front), 365mm (rear)
Wheels: 21-inch, forged alloy
Tyres: 245/35ZR21 (front and rear)
Weight (kerb) 2250kg
0-100kph: 2.4 secs
Top speed: 250kph (limited)
Basic Price: $150,000

Rating star-5


Categories: Car Review


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