I’m not into cars. Well, not much really. I’m more of your average Aussie car driver, who takes the odd interest in a cool sounding vehicle. So, while I can’t offer an in depth analysis of all the technical aspects of the Tesla Model S electric vehicle that made its first deliveries in Australia this week, I can offer an angle of what the average punter might make of such a vehicle.
So what brings me to Tesla Motors on their Australian launch to drive one of their new cars? An invitation is a start. But additionally, there’s an aura about Tesla Motors similar to one you might find with Apple. After all, some people quip that a Tesla – because servicing mostly amounts to a software update downloaded from the web – is just an iPhone on wheels.
Tesla isn’t the first electric vehicle to launch in Australia, but it is, by far, the most alluring. And it is the complete package: Walking into the Tesla showroom in St Leonards, Sydney, the first things you will notice are the supercharging stations lined up at the front of the store, charging their demonstration vehicles.
These are the petrol stations of the future, but instead of spending 3 minutes holding the bowser whilst you inhale some toxic fumes, you’ll attach a cord to your car and then have a cup of coffee and a read of the paper. I quite like the idea of having to take 20 minutes to refuel the car, and here’s why.
- It will force people to take a decent break on long trips
- Even if you’re not on a long distance trip, we all need to take a few more minutes of our day to relax, and for those who just can’t take a few minutes out of their day, they’ll just have to charge their car at home overnight!
Imagine a re-fuelling station that’s actually a pleasant experience! Anyway I’m getting a little off track.
Back to the test drive. The car I’m driving is a black Model S P85+. The 85kWh batteries means the driving range is up to 500km (if they allowed it in Australia, it could power an average house for several days). Tesla’s come in a + version or a D version, with the P85D offering a more robust sporting experience, with the P85+ offering a smoother alternative.
The front of the car where you’d normally find the engine, is a roomy storage area. The boot at the back offers excellent space. Additionally, you can lift up the floor to find even more storage space from where the fuel tank would normally sit. Fold the seats down, and you can make yourself a comfy double bed which is over 2 metres long! But I wasn’t here for a rest.
In the driver’s seat, the left-panel where you’d find all your buttons for radio, GPS, controls and charging status is just a huge screen. The OS inbuilt on the Tesla is impressive, and with such a large screen the car can show you all the information you’d want to have without you have to flick through different screens. The in-built sim card means GPS and music streaming comes standard, not to mention being able to tune into practically any radio station in the world.
Pulling out on the road, I was a little nervous at first. This was a big step up from my normal ride (Mazda Metro 121). One of the first things I noticed was the re-generative braking. That’s the conversion of the vehicle’s kinetic energy into chemical energy stored in the battery, where it can be used later to drive the vehicle. As soon as you take your foot off the pedal, the re-gen braking kicks in, slowing you down automatically. And yes, the brake lights still come on.
Going up a windy road, I noticed the grip of the car was incredible. Now to be fair, I’m comparing to my Mazda Metro, but nevertheless I was impressed. The car has such a low centre of gravity, that it is apparently near impossible for the car to be flipped over.
Five minutes later and I’m finally stopped at a traffic light at the front of the queue. This is the moment I’ve really been waiting for, as much of a car-noob as I am, I couldn’t help but feel excited at the prospect of flooring it and seeing what kind of power I could get out of it. I was excited and nervous. “I think I’m gonna floor it”, I said out loud to the Tesla staff member in the car with me. “Oh I wouldn’t do that”, he said nervously. Too late, I had already sent the message to my foot to floor it, and I couldn’t get the word abort down there quick enough stop it from flooring the pedal.
Now at the risk of making this whole article sound like a puff piece for Tesla, superlatives are inadequate for the effortless speed and quietness in which the car went from 0-60km’h. Once the Tesla staff member realised I hadn’t in fact totalled his vehicle, he told me about the smile I had on my face when I floored the car. “I call that the Tesla grin”, he said.
Arriving back at the Tesla dealership, I was unsure how to turn the vehicle off. “Just step out of the car, it will turn itself off once it knows you’re no longer in the car”. Unnecessary perhaps, but cool nonetheless.
The Tesla Model S is without a doubt a class vehicle, you don’t need to be an expert in cars to know that, but combined with its new technologies and what it represents for the future of car driving and energy storage for the matter, its a car worth having if you can afford it, and as some of the owners testify, it doesn’t matter whether you are there because you are a tech buff, a greenie, or just love the feel of the car.
But the affordability is a big if for most of us, with base models starting at around $100,000 in Australia, and the top of the range at just over $205,000 (which rivals the F1 McClaren in acceleration). Oh, did I mention the P85D comes with 3 driving modes; Normal, Sport, and “Insane”? Not even joking, the button says “insane”.
Would I buy one? Yes. Can I afford one? No. But if you can, and in the market for a new vehicle, I would strongly encourage you to at least test drive a Tesla, and see how it compares to it’s industry rivals such as Mercedes, Audi, and BMW. You may be pleasantly surprised. With this test drive out the window went all my previous concerns that electric vehicles meant a compromise in performance and class, and I’m excited about the EV future. And so are its new owners.