Expert Reviews

Quick Spin: Tesla Model S P85D

By now you’ve heard about “insane mode”, you know about “slip start” and you probably know all about the insane horsepower and torque figures. You know the ones, big eye-catching numbers like “691 hp” (wow), “686 lb-ft” (oh, my) and “0–100 in 3.2 seconds” (holy snapping duck poop!).

If you like cars, or even just Teslas, you’ll know about the 221 hp motor driving the front and the 470 hp unit in the rear, and you’ll know that this one has all-wheel drive.

In the D I did more than gasp, I gulped, I choked, I gasped, I struggled for air. This is why they call it “insane mode”.

Did you also know that all that torque is available instantly? Like, really, instantly. I thought I understood that concept, until I lined up on a short shoot ready to launch.

“Let’s see here, hmmm… lined up straight, yep. Okay, bit of brake, let’s pre-load some revs….”

“What are you trying to do?” The Tesla test driver in the passenger seat gave a quizzical look.

“Pre-loading the…. Oh. Silly me.”

In other cars, other instructors tell you to squeeze into the throttle, depress it quickly but smoothly all the way to the floor. For maximum excitement in the Tesla the technique is different – raise your foot about a foot back from the pedal, wait till you are ready, and then kick it down HARD. Try to smash that firewall. The Tesla squats and then BOOM. I’m in motion, pinned back in my seat, the wind sucked out of my lungs. I once said the P85 was literally breathtaking, and I meant it. I gasped, in the D I did more than gasp, I gulped, I choked, I gasped, I struggled for air. This is why they call it “insane mode”.

The Tesla isn’t just a one-trick pony either. For a start, it is gorgeous. The simple elegance of the Tesla is beautiful and well executed, the four-door fastback a timeless classic. The interior is sumptuous, especially in white. The massive centre-stack touchscreen is cool but ugly, breaking up the rhythm of the rest of the interior, while the Mercedes-Benz-sourced column shifter is as unwelcome here as it is in Mercs – it’s gross.

The all-digital instrument cluster on the other hand is brilliant, as good as similar offerings from Chrysler or Audi (yes, Chrysler – their in-dash systems are stunning). The seats are well-bolstered for my frame and comfortable for the short time I had in them, though taller drivers might take issue with the headrests as they’re not adjustable.

You might be surprised to learn that the Tesla can turn. Especially given that it weighs 2,240 kg. You might also go back to the top and re-read the 0–100 time. It’s hard to believe that 2,240 kg (4,936 lb) can get to 100 km/h in 3.2 seconds – but it can.

The steering is well-weighted but not overly precise, the car is as responsive as any large luxury sedan on the market, and surprisingly agile too. It is composed, settling over bumps and maintaining its track. To say the P85D is fun to drive is a dramatic understatement. If you listen carefully, you can hear my “SQUEEE” of excitement in the video below. When I’m the passenger, you can hear my quiet “aww” as the professional driver whips it around.

You might also hear a small “oh man…” of disappointment.

The Tesla’s numbers are mind boggling, and its acceleration is mind-shattering, but its handling is too timid. The furious calculations shuttling power between the wheels also dull the power and keep the back end in check – even in “slip start” mode. There is no oversteer, only a subtle understeer that is difficult to adjust with the throttle.

The pro driver in the passenger seat jumped in to show me how it’s done, and it was immediately apparent how capable and quick the car is – but the ability to mash the throttle and step the back out just isn’t there. The solution to that is fairly simple – have Elon add a more permissive setup in the next over-the-air software update.

Wait, what?!

Tesla is almost always connected to the big computers back at the mothership, and regular software updates help keep the P85D improving – one recently promised to “end range anxiety forever”.  It didn’t really, just made it so you can’t accidentally run out – the car will warn you when you’re at a point of no-return and direct you to the nearest supercharger station. Those superchargers, by the way, will be rolled out all over Canada in the coming months. By the end of 2015 Tesla expects you to be able to drive from Toronto to Montreal or from Vancouver to Edmonton using their network of free chargers. Sorry, Saskatoon.

The superchargers will give 270 km of range in half an hour, or about 80 percent charge in 40 minutes. 100 percent charge is reached in 75 minutes. Total range is “up to” 425 km but to get that you’d have to drive as though you weren’t in a 691 hp rocket ship sent from the future to get revenge on those who would mock electric cars – and you won’t. You’ll drive it like the weapon it is, and your range will be more like 340 km. That’s what was showing on the dial when I got out at the end of my time in it.

If you like neat tricks, you’ll especially appreciate the GPS-based automatic levelling system. You can program the Tesla to automatically raise itself at the entrance to your cottage driveway, we had it working within metres of where we needed it to in order to cross a minor snow bank. Raise itself? Yeah, this has air suspension for that.

Tesla is leading the field in terms of making electric transport viable but for the moment the price tag is a major barrier – at $86,120 for a base Model S and $121,000 for a P85D, these aren’t cheap.

What they are though, are incredibly fun cars to drive with a novel silence that only seems to accentuate the brutality of the P85D’s performance. A Tesla is more than a futuristic electric car for the nerd-elite; it’s a true driver’s car that will pin you to your seat.

Pricing: 2015 Tesla Model S
P85D:  $121,270
P85: $95,770
P60: $86,120

*Before incentives.

4 years/80,000 km; 8 years/unlimited distance powertrain; 4 years/80,000 km corrosion perforation; 4 years/80,000 km 24-hour roadside assistance

Ask me in 20 years.