The insanely cool Tesla P85D.
Nikola Tesla was an innovative, creative inventor and engineer who reportedly slept only a few hours a night and weighed about the same as I do. Except that he was seven inches taller than I am. He immigrated to the US in 1884 to work for Thomas Edison in New York City, and later, with financial backers, set up laboratories and companies to develop a range of electrical devices.
After test driving Tesla Motors‘ P85D, I think Nikola would be proud of his namesake.
I was invited to a test drive by Tesla, and could not respond quickly enough with a YES, PLEASE. Kevin, my contact on site, offered me my choice of cars upon arrival.
Do you want to drive the standard sedan or the performance model? he asked.
It was no contest. Kevin grabbed the key fob, which looks delightfully like a Matchbox version of the Tesla sedan, and we approached the Model P85D. I changed my shoes from photo-ready wedges to driving-comfort Sanuk sandals, which would allow me to fully feel the acceleration of the vehicle. I did the same when I drove a Ferrari a few years ago, and I knew I would want to test the range of speed on the Tesla (although perhaps not the 120 mph surge I experienced in the Ferrari).
Tesla vs Ferrari
Later, I learned that this particular Tesla model raced a Ferrari F12, and the Ferrari won by barely more than a half a second. Sit on that for a moment. An electric sedan can nearly keep pace with a fancy turbo-charged sports car. As I understand it, the quicker you open up the throttle and get the electrons out of the battery and into the motor, the quicker the car accelerates.
Driving the Tesla was incredibly smooth, and any doubts I had about the pickup capabilities of an electric, automatic car were quickly quelled. Kevin encouraged me to depress the accelerator on the entrance ramp to the highway to test the performance of the engine, and it lived up to the claims that it could reach 60mph in a little more than three seconds.
As we drove the loop around downtown and up Mopac highway in Austin, I tried out the Standard vs Sport steering and Sport vs Insane acceleration options. That’s right: insane.
All the expected features, and more
The Tesla I drove had the usual features most people expect these days, like Bluetooth hands-free phone access, one-touch automatic window control, and a backup camera. However, it also has a huge console area and gargantuan digital control panel/map. It’s like two iPads squeezed together on your dash, and it’s glorious. I don’t want to diminish the features of the SUV I currently drive, but the Tesla map leaves it in the dust.
Without a space-hogging engine, the Tesla has room for storage in both the front trunk and the rear trunk. The front trunk is small but will hold a few bags of groceries, and the rear hatchback has plenty of room, including a pocket underneath.
Safety first in a Tesla
In terms of safety, Tesla can boast a 5-star rating in all categories of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) crash test. Instead of fuel and large, heavy motors, the cars sits on an electric drivetrain beneath the car’s aluminum frame. The low-to-the-ground positioning improves handling and minimizes rollover risk, and impact-absorbing boron steel rails create a large crush zone to protect its passengers. Eight airbags keep all of the vehicles’ occupants cushioned in case of an accident.
I asked Kevin about the issues Tesla had with two vehicle fires a couple of years ago when the cars’ liquid-cooled battery pack struck metal. His answer was satisfyingly thorough: Tesla has since adjusted the air suspension so that the cars do not automatically lower themselves as much at highway speeds, and added a triple underbody protection system made of an aluminum rod, a titanium shield, and an aluminum shield. Luckily, neither passenger was injured; the company took an immediate hit to their stock and orders, but Tesla seems to have addressed the issue quickly and effectively.
My pressing concern – can a Tesla get me there?
I asked a lot of questions about the range, because I own a gas-guzzling SUV that is high on comfort and style and low on saving money on fuel. Can the Tesla be trusted on a road trip? Without a gasoline backup, what do I do if the battery is dead? First of all, Tesla offers roadside assistance program for the first four years or 50,000 miles of ownership (but does not cover tire damage or collision transportation and repair).
Currently, Tesla operates thousands of Supercharger stations around the world, which power up the battery in a quick 20 minutes. The model P85D has a range of about 250 miles, which is plenty to get me around town in Austin for a few days at a time. If I wanted to drive out to San Angelo, where my in-laws live, we could possibly get there without charging on the way, but it would be a tight squeeze. There are no Supercharger stations between Austin and San Angelo, so we would need to get there and then charge overnight at the house.
Speaking of charging, if you buy a Tesla, you’re going to need a 240V outlet at your house, which is similar in size to a washer/dryer hookup. Kevin told me that it would cost about $500 to install in a garage, and it would charge up your car overnight while you sleep. Compare that to the cost of gas, and it can be a significant savings.
Purely electric, by design
On one of the online forums I reviewed for this post, one question that came up was “Why don’t you add a small gas-powered engine as a backup?” and the answer is clearly because that changes the whole game. The appeal and strength of the Tesla is the way in which it is engineered. In effect, the Tesla is a futuristic computer on wheels. In terms of ride, the car was on par with any luxury car you can think of, but with a light, fast acceleration that is a bit addictive.
Oh, and by the way: Tesla’s P85D “broke” Consumer Reports’ rating system, scoring a 103 out of 100, just last week.
If you can live with the range anxiety, which Tesla representatives assured me is no problem with a little planning, the Tesla is a dream. And as Tesla adds models to their portfolio and more Superchargers across the country, there won’t be any excuse not to buy one.
WHAT WE LOVED
- The giant 17-inch touchscreen
- Plenty of room between the seats – no gearshift to take up space
- Ample room in the hatchback and hood for storage
- Three simple options set on the steering column: drive, reverse, park
- Smooth and quick acceleration
- Quiet and comfortable interior
- The key fob, which looks like a miniature version of the car
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
- Base price on the 70D: $75K; up to $105K for the P85D
- Federal tax credit: $7500; some states offer incentives as well
- Powered-up range from 230 (the 70 RWD model) to 270 (P85D)
- 4 year / 50,000 mile new vehicle limited warranty
- 8 year unlimited mile battery and drive unit warranty
- Battery warranty covers damage from improper charging procedures and battery fire