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