Wireless updates have seen desired safety goodies added; future-proof approach to technology and resale; remains the only EV to buy if you're serious about EVs; lower power model still ferociously fast
Seats a bit flat; no seatbelt height adjustment; no proper night mode for the 17-inch media screen
Not everyone who buys the Tesla Model S buys the top of the pops performance model – so we recently decided to take a look at what the mid-range Tesla Model S 85 is like.
The mid-spec Model S we tested was rear-wheel drive, and is priced from $114,200 before on-road costs and luxury car tax (if you buy it in NSW, you’re looking at $132,397 before any options). For those playing along at home, the car we drove also had a further $25,000 worth of options added – and for those who want the surefootedness of all-wheel drive can order the 85D version for an extra $6800.
As such, its power outputs and performance claims fall well short of the P85 (310kW/600Nm; 0-100km/h in 4.4 seconds), but the 85’s 270kW/440Nm electric powertrain can still propel the car from 0-100km/h in just 5.6 seconds, which is still faster than many garden variety V8 sedans. That said, this is now the slowest Model S you can buy because the base model 60 has also been ditched in favour of the all-wheel drive 70D.
This is no wet week, though – not by any stretch of the imagination. What perhaps makes the blistering acceleration more awesome is that it is done in near silence, with only the tyre roar from the 21-inch rubber fitted to our car chewing up the serenity… but in a welcome way.
Range is a claimed 502km on the European test cycle, but if you drive it like we did you’re likely to see closer to 400km.
During our 610 kilometres in the 85 we used 133kWh of energy – if we were paying for charging, that’d equate to about $40 on-peak and $20 off-peak. But we used the Supercharger station in St Leonards, in Sydney’s north, and that meant charging cost us nothing (Tesla has extended that advantage to all buyers, with free Supercharger access – it used to be optional on entry models).
So there’s not much new about the drive experience. It remains phenomenal, composed and comfortable – and, depending on your point of view, it’s also a little bit more practical, too.
How? Our test car was apparently the first Tesla in Australia to be fitted with a new centre console that will appeal more to blokes than females.
We say that based on the feedback we had from people who spent time in the car in the Sydney CarAdvice office, as the female drivers and passengers tended to prefer the big empty space on the floor for their handbags, while the male drivers and occupants found the stowage section handy for chucking their smartphones and wallets in (hey, it’s there or nowhere, because there are no door pockets at all in the Model S). Initially we were told the centre console bin is removable, but Telsa has since informed us that it isn’t.
All who sat in the car agreed the mechanism to open the front covered bin section of the storage compartment was fiddly and felt a little bit cheap. And the thing itself costs $730, and phone connection points are a no-cost option.
Otherwise the interior remains an exceptional and roomy place to be, albeit with front seats that are a little flat and lack seatbelt height adjustment. And that 17-inch touchscreen – with the clever satellite navigation system that can remember where the car needs to raise the suspension to avoid nasty scrapes to the underbody – remains a talking point like no other. It’s even more of a talking point now that the car can update itself using a WiFi connection – yep, unlike all the other brands on the market, the operating software used in the Model S can receive new patches over the internet just like your mobile phone. And the changes can be quite major.
For example, when Mike drove the Model S in January he made mention of the fact that it had no active safety features, including the glaring omission of adaptive cruise control, which is a fair criticism for a circa-$100K car.
Yet the recent over-the-air update (software version 6.1, which rolled out locally in late January) that took about 2 hours using a stable WiFi connection changed most of that in a flash. No visits to a dealer to trade in the car and buy a newer model with the new equipment – it just happened by means of a server prompting the car to update its software, much like your smartphone does when it wants you to move to the latest operating system.
The active cruise control system that Tesla calls “Traffic-Aware Cruise Control” works quite well and can be adjusted for its acceleration intensity and the distance between the car in front (there are several pre-set distances).
Software update 6.1 also included new automatic high-beam headlights, which worked very intuitively on the highway after dark, and a forward collision warning system that monitors the road ahead and warns the driver of a potential imminent collision.
Software update 6.2 (rolled out in late March) added Automatic Emergency Braking, which makes use of the forward collision avoidance system and can brake the car to “reduce the impact of an unavoidable frontal collision” – a welcome addition to such a tech-heavy car.
Another welcome new technology added in 6.2 is a blind-spot warning system that works between 30km/h and 140km/h. It can detect if something is in the driver’s blind spot and warn them using visual, audible and haptic feedback.
Unlike most cars that have hardware fitted for this system, including lights in the side mirrors, the Model S uses small white arcs on the instrument panel to advise the driver. They’re quite faint and hard to notice, but if the car thinks a collision is possible, it will change the arcs to a red colour, vibrate the steering wheel and chime a warning note. We have to admit, it worked better in the latter situation.
The other big update for the v6.2 software pulse was the addition of Trip Planner and Range Assurance functions, which the brand boldly stated would “end range anxiety”. And well they might, if there was infrastructure – but for the most part there isn’t in Australia, so don’t go logging on to the Tesla website to place your order if you live in Bourke or Coonabarabran just yet.
Trip Planner works through the navigation system. When the driver keys a final destination, it will plot out a route that incorporates all the necessary Supercharger pit stops as well as other public charge stations along the way. Had this function been available last year, it would have made planning for our 1800km trip from Seattle to Los Angeles easier.
The Range Assurance module runs constantly in the background, even if the navigation system is off, monitoring the car’s battery charge. If it believes that you may soon venture out of charging range, it will prompt you with nearby Supercharger locations, previously used charging spots, and recharging outlets installed by Tesla at hotels and resorts.
All these updates make the Model S even more impressive than it already was, and one that – for potential buyers – offers a level of future-proofing that is furthered even more by Tesla’s guaranteed resale program.
However, it’s worth noting that if the Model S is your only car, you need to plan around the update timing – you can schedule it to suit, but the default time is 2:00am mid-week, and the car is rendered un-drivable during the period of the updates.
It’s worth noting that buyers who want the array of new driving assistance technologies must pay a $3400 option fee for the Autopilot system at the time of purchase, or else they can add the tech post-purchase for $4100.
In the future, the Autopilot system is set to include hands-free parking and possibly even hands-free driving using cruise control – but that’s still a few updates away…
We can’t wait for that, but until then we’re quite happy taking control of the Model S, which remains a technological masterpiece and a superb car to drive.
Click the photos tab above for more images by Mitchell Oke.