The future will be the Festival of Speed this weekend, but we have driven it already. It might look relatively conventional, but underneath the Tesla Model S’s stylish lines is an electric drivetrain. That not only leads to some interesting packaging possibilities – two rearward facing seats are offered in the boot for example to create seven pews – but also some fairly remarkable performance.
The Model S, when specified with the higher power 85kWh battery pack in P85 form has AMG and M-car rivalling pace. It will reach 62mph in 4.2 seconds, the electric drivetrain’s response really having to be experienced to be believed. The 60kWh car, priced from £50,280, manages it in 5.9sec too, so regardless of which one you go for it’s not slow. Nor do the usual range issues occur, the 60kWh model offering a 240-mile range, and the 85kWh models around 310 miles.
With a bit of planning then – and the continued expansion of a charging network – that concern will increasingly diminish. Power will be free too, Tesla promising owners: ‘We’re also going to establish a Supercharger network so Model S customers will be able to drive long distances anywhere in the UK using our network for free, forever.’
If this is the future then bring it on, the Tesla shaking up the conventional idea that electric cars are slow, hugely compromised and relatively joyless. From the moment you approach it the Tesla S is remarkable, the door handles gliding out to meet you, the cabin looking like it’s come straight out of a concept car or a sci-fi film. Sure, you might spot the window switches and an automatic gear selector from Mercedes-Benz in there, but every other control is accessed via a huge portrait format 17in touch screen. It delivers everything from the Model S’s manual to telephony, Google Maps navigation, DAB radio and internet connection, the S able to receive updates via its 4G connection to change drivetrain characteristics and offer upgrades.
That screen singularly makes the interior of every conventional rival look and feel last century in operation. Its control is utterly intuitive, the navigation of its many functions quickly familiar and simple. Mate that to the silent delivery of the Model S’s remarkable power and the driving experience is both unique, and beguiling. Any thoughts of range quickly dispel after a few hours of driving it, the Model S able to cruise at motorway speeds without depleting the battery prematurely, while take it on more challenging roads and the motor’s immediate response genuinely has the ability to take your breath away.
It’s that mid-range muscle that truly defines the Model S, its ability to gain speed from speed among its most remarkable facets. Doing so will inevitably diminish the battery’s potential, but range is never the dominant factor in the driving experience – and that’s unique in the sphere of electric cars. It handles and steers tidily too, helped in no small part by the fact that all the weight is low, allied to the fact it features double wishbone suspension (with optional air springs for variable ride height). That it can be judged among its performance saloon peers as an equal is remarkable enough, the Model S not just a good electric car, but a good car in its own right. Tesla really has developed something special here, and currently no old-world manufacturer has a credible, viable response.
Power to weight: 198bhp/ton
0-62mph: 4.2 seconds
Top speed: 130mph
Engine: Three phase, four pole AC induction motor with copper rotor
Torque: 317lb ft
Transmission: Drive inverter with variable frequency drive and regenerative braking system. Single speed fixed gear with 9.73:1 reduction ratio, rear-wheel drive, automatic
Wheels: 21in with P85+ pack
Tyres: 245/35 R21 Michelin Pilot Sport
Economy: 300 miles on a charge
Price: From £50,280
On sale date: Now