Quick Drive: Tesla Model S 75D

An opportunity to ‘have a go’ in a friendly colleague’s new Tesla provided me with a first experience of driving an EV.

Tesla Model S
This is not the actual car I drove, in case you were wondering (Source: Getaround)

I fully realise that it’s not that remarkable to have driven one of Elon Musk’s finest, but it’s a landmark in my longish and ever-lengthening motoring life and so I feel driven to write one of my usual streams of consciousness about the experience and the car itself.

One of the guys in my team has a flat black 75D on order and Tesla has lent him a white car to bridge the gap whilst his is being built / delivered, which is a nice touch. Knowing how much of a car nerd I am, he popped in yesterday to offer me a quick go. It turned out I was not the first that day; given he leads an IT department, a load of tech nerds had got there before me. Interesting that, the Tesla appeals to both car and tech enthusiasts …

The S is long and low, not unlike an AM Rapide. You kind of fall into it (OK, so I did anyway). I’ll recount the obvious about the interior in that it’s dominated by the huge portrait tablet screen. Everything else is minimalist, no gear stick, no handbrake control. There are some nice virtual instruments, at the centre of which are fast moving infographics of what the sensors are picking up (cars in front and behind, how close each wheel is to the curb/ lines at the side/ centre of the road).

Doubtless this centre display configures to show you whatever you want, but that is what was on display for my 15 minutes of fun. The sensors are there because the car is fitted with Autopilot, to which I will come back in a minute. It’s all quite pleasant and functional in a tech-overload kind of way, but not truly de-luxe, or modernist, or radical; that’s almost certainly deliberate (Tesla must want to minimise the culture shock), but someone like me can’t help but inwardly think ‘wasted opportunity’.

The car is spacious, although the rear seat is mounted too close to the floor for comfort; the rear boot is massive and the ‘frunk’ quite sizeable.

Tesla S Interior
The interior, probably most notable for what is not there rather than what you are currently looking at. (Source: Autocar)

Pull the right stalk on the steering wheel column towards you to engage Drive, reset the driver’s seat (because the seat automatically sets for the keyholder when you engage Drive), press the loud pedal (the electronic handbrake is ‘virtual’ and ‘intelligent’) and go.

The first impression is the simplicity of the drive – press and steer. The second is the surreal elasticity of the torque delivery (it’s hard to think of it in terms of power) with the instant initial surge and then the rapidly building sense of pull. Remember this is the least powerful version and yet the surge feels quicker than I ever thought I’d need or want from a car. The third is that the steering is springy and a bit mushy as you start to turn the wheel.

This reminded me of the Astra SW (current-version-1) that we hired last year in France; for a car this quick, the imprecision is a problem and a bit unnerving and would stop me from making full use of the torque on offer. Ease back a bit though, allow the car to flow (more like the style with which one guides the C6 – albeit the rack has a heavier weighting than the Citroen) and the Model S is a very pleasing companion.

Road and wind noise is less notable than I had feared – albeit louder than the C6 – and I could not help but sense a rare excitement about driving something that had a very different feel to other cars I have driven. That said, the handling and ride are modern-Germanic; it’s the drivetrain (of course) that makes the difference.

A thought crossed my mind about how wonderful the combination of electric-drive and oleopneumatic-suspension could be before I thought about the battery drain which pressurising the latter system would present. Returning from the world of dreams, on the move single pedal driving also becomes fun, using the regenerative braking to slow the car the significant majority of the time: James told me that the strength of this ‘engine braking’ is, like most things on the car, configurable if one wants a more natural feel.

I’m always nervous of driving other people’s cars (probably because I’m so nervous of others driving mine), so I was very restrained in the extent to which I pushed and probed the car in the 15 mins I had at a the wheel. Another colleague who replaced me for the return to the office was far less cautious and demonstrated more of what the Tesla was capable.

As well as hair-raising pace (not that I have much to raise) on country lanes, he also played with the Autopilot function, briefly. This experiment demonstrated that the system does not seem to have been developed or honed for English country roads.

With hands and feet off the controls (OMG – how unnatural is that!) the car held its distance to the car in front very well and held its line on the road for about 8 milliseconds as those wheel-sensors (I don’t know if they are, but the display shows techni-colour visual warnings over each wheel) hunted for a clear, solid line, or a hard edge to the road for the required guidance.

The subsequent veering around was disturbing until the key analogue component, the driver, retook the helm. As James then slightly breathlessly explained, Autopilot works best on the motorway: you don’t say, James, you don’t say.

Last night I drove home in my C6 and thought how agricultural the Ford/PSA developed 2.7L diesel felt compared to the Tesla, and how I was now noticing the changes prompted by the Aisin Warner six-speed gearbox. Furthermore, the digital dash, ‘Navidrive’ infotainment screen and button interfaces looked and felt like museum pieces.

I know it’s an unfair comparison on the C6 (not least because, after a £6k initial payment, the cost is £800 a month), but it reminded me that ‘futuristic’ motoring is no longer shaped by Citroen, but by a new and audacious trailblazer that goes by the name of Tesla. It’s a really impressive achievement from such a new company.

That said, I feel I’ve (briefly) driven the future in the form of the Model S and it’s exciting, fun and very promising, but not completely ready yet.

Author: S.V. Robinson

Life long interest in cars and the industry

28 thoughts on “Quick Drive: Tesla Model S 75D”

  1. ” the display shows techni-colour visual warnings over each wheel”. But what, at such a late stage, is the driver able to do about it? Or does the car just slow right down and ease you round the hazard?

  2. The cost: do you mean you pay up 6K and then another 800 GBP a month? That´s a pretty large cost indeed. I assume anyone with 800 to spend on a car gets five times that after tax. In Denmark these are very common because it doesn´t cost 800 GBP a month. The car has (or had until recently) a very favourable tax rate.

    1. Yes, that’s right … Not cheap. My firm has a company car scheme. Interestingly Teslas don’t feature, but the cash allowance alternative is quite healthy and provides about 60% of the monthly payment after tax is taken off. IT guys don’t come cheap either …

  3. Replying to Hertsman:
    Yes, as you say, Autopilot’s got a way to go for English and, I’d say, French country roads too.
    Here I can look out for warning signs (eg, no camions over 3 tonnes) which tell me there’ll be bends with v tight radii, so I won’t meet any container lorries. This is useful, but I doubt Tesla will have that facility.

    Also, does it know to reverse down a hill to get off the road into a space so an oncoming car can get past, as you need to around the Chilterns. Maybe you know Bucks Hill?

    But if the Tesla can only ever give you such a dull feel, I’d probably switch it off completely except for autoroutes.

  4. In the history of the motor car, I think the Tesla Model S will deserve a chapter of its own.

    It really is an astonishingly good product, much like the original iPad. Noboday knew they needed a touch screen tablet in their life before they had the opportunity to buy one, and similarly nobody else realised that an electric car would work best as a 5 metre long luxury hatchback until the Model S made it obvious.

    Yes, it could look more daring, but I understand why they went for a more understated look given how much about the car was genuinely new. Personally I think it’s quite handsome.

    1. There exists a middle ground between this sort of anodyne shape and something avant garde.
      However, it is very likely that customer clinics preferred this sort of thing. Tesla most likely sampled users who might have chosen a Mercedes, Cadillac, Audi, Jaguar or BMW. That said, I could imagine very calm and comprehensible themes which would be more interesting than the car we are discussing today.

  5. My only experience of a Tesla was a static examination at the London Canary Wharf motor show a couple of years ago. My abiding memory was of poor material quality in everything one touched and felt. The entire interior looked like something mocked up on the cheap (not just the materials, but the manner in which the various pieces of interior trim were both finished and ‘interfaced’ with one another) and in no way (to my mind at least) honoured the impressive technology within or indeed justified the luxury car pricetag. I walked away decidedly unimpressed.

    That was some time ago, so it’s possible they have raised their game in the interim. I would be interested to know if that is the case, SV?

    1. The car I experienced had an insubstantial feel and a simplistic to the point of crude design. The leather on the seats and the stitching thereof was OK and dash materials acceptable to a Ford/ Opel level, but not ‘premium’. I felt I this would be as something I’d have to be prepared to

    2. It seems a bit harsh on Ford and Opel to use them as a reference for “just about okay”. Also, in my experience of a Tesla interior there were aspects which did not really get near to where the middle market brands are in their higher level cars. I have seen some very ritzy versions of the Ford S-Max and Renault Espace and they exude a better sense of comfort and quality than Tesla manage.

    3. Not disagreeing with you, but it’s interesting that customers are willing to look past shoddy interior quality and make Tesla the best-selling luxury ‘sedan’ in many markets.

      (At least, they are prepared to give Tesla a go for a 3 year lease… if they are annoyed about quality and warranty claims, they may not sign up for another.)

      For decades, the industry and media have been telling us that a ‘hewn from solid’ feel and soft touch surfaces are vital for a ‘premium’ car to have any credibility. Well, Tesla just ignore all this received wisdom and prosper anyway.

      Well paid executives in Silicon valley and Chinese entrepreneurs clearly measure ‘premium’ in a different way.

  6. … accept to access all the other interesting tech and unique driving experience. In this respects, Tesla starts to sound like … a Citroën.

    1. Richard, I thought someone might say that about my use of Ford/ Opel as a benchmark. In so doing, I actually meant to state that the dash material quality is good, but not exceptional. It’s not Audi, Lexus, or VW, as good as a Ford/ Vauxhall … but better than Mazda or Toyota.

    2. Richard, I’ve just had quite a long drive in an Espace. Its interior was quite plush, and comfortable. The ride, however, was poor: I felt every little bump and vibrations were there all the time.

  7. I generally like the exterior styling of the Model S, apart from the rear aspect with the serif badging. It looks very American to me (hardly surprising) and to my eyes jars against the rest of the design which is broadly European.

    1. The style says Far East to me. The shapes are very soft and there are pointy elements in the graphics. They don´t sit so well. Your comment raises the question of what “European” might mean today with global markets and internationally-staffed design studios.

    2. “European” is indeed harder to identify now.
      For American, I saw a ’54 Cadi Coupé de Ville at the weekend. Pure Hollywood, all 17 feet of it. It would rarely have got its V8 5.4L (I think) into third gear. And we complain about too much chrome nowadays…

    3. Vic: I don’t complain about brightwork. Some people in the anti camp are offended. The pro camp seldom express their woe. Put another way, the anti chrome camp will always make more noise than the pro brightwork group.

  8. From a design point I find the ninety degree sharp corners of the “over large” touch screen completely at odds with the rest of the curvy interior. Viewed from the seated position this may not appear so but the right angle near the drivers leg looks awkward.
    Having used the touch screen on my Ampera can’t say I’m a fan, alright if parked but difficult to home in on icons at arms length on anything but a smooth straight traffic free road, and then there are the smudges!
    Recently moved to an i3 and the mouse dial is a much better solution as it allows one to steady an elbow on the centre arm rest while dialing and flicking left right to the required menu and end goal.

    1. Precisely: that oblong kills the rest of the dashboard. And to a lesser degree the screen technology spoils the Mercedes E-class IP too. The big flat screen really has challenged 30 years of car interior design. I don’t like the Tesla’s slab and I think it’s there because it’s cheap.

  9. I drive a Tesla model S for the last 6 months, live and work in Norway and drive around 80km a day.
    I had test-drived an early version in 2013 and the feeling I got about material quality was the same as some of you mentioned. Bellow par, specially considering how avant garde the drivetrain was.
    However the new car ( 2017 model) is a different picture. Although the same in design the quality of materials is definately better and if not equal then definately in the same league as the germans. I recently used an E-class (2017 modell) for a week on holiday which is supposed to be an opponent and the quality feel was not much different. Some bits are stil cumbersome and evident that Tesla has only been making cars for a few years, like the mobile phone creating a lot of weird sounds at the speakers (this was the case in many 90s cars) og plastic quality in some fascia on the trunk. But all in all I do not think built quality is as big an issue as it was.
    What is though impressive about the Tesla is that it grows on you. The first days I drove it I found myself complaining about this and that but after some weeks this all went away. There are no physical buttons because you actually do not need them. Take the climate controll. You adjust the temp and that’s it, I have not experienced a more potent climate system (the 2017 e-class by comparison needed som fidling and took some time to warm up). You really do not need to fiddle with all possible changes (although you can if you want to) and this is from someone addicted to buttons and fine adjustments.
    What’s more you can controll the things you use often by the weels om the right hand side, click and you enter the menu (you can controll the phone, temp, sunroof, the one thing I miss is the suspension controls, on snowy roads you often need to heighten the car).
    And the ride quality (I have only experience with a car equipped with the air suspension and four weel drive) is amazing, although my DS drives over road bumps sweeter. Speed and power are obviously never a problem with any tesla.
    Nore is range. Superchargers (quite a lot of them here in Norway) make longdistance traveling easy (and cheap) and homecharging is more than enough for a days needs (on a standard plug you are guaranteed ca 150-200km over 8 hrs, installing a charger with higher A and you can go from 20% to 90% over 10 hrs).
    You sort of learn to drive in a slightly different way. Not unlike the first time you drive a citroen DS having only driven modern cars (my other car is actually a DS).
    So I agree, I feel the Tesla is the DS of nowadays, it is a shame citroen/PSA is wasting time and money on things like “DS automobiles”. I can not help thinking that tesla should have been the next big citroe (and a game changer for the marque), but apparently those guys at citroen think otherwise.

  10. What do you guys think about the Model 3’s interior? I come from a design background, and I think the Model 3 has an interior that is borderline dangerous and a lawsuit waiting to happen.

    1. Are you writing with the slab of the screen in mind? The rest looks incredibly plain – verging on simple like Simon rather than minimalist.

    2. The slab screen, the lack of HVAC vents, the fact that key functions are integrated in the screen (Wipers, glovebox, etc). It’s a bad combination of dull and dangerous.

    3. HA.

      But seriously, to adjust wiper speed, open the glovebox, and a lot of other crucial functions are all integrated in that central screen. It’s bad design.

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