CarAdvice ventured to Hangar 1 at Avalon Airport near Melbourne, Victoria to put the Model S P85D through its paces, along with verifying that it can actually achieve its claimed 0-100km/h time of just 3.3 seconds. More on that later.
Priced from $157,000 before on-road costs, the Model S P85D uses two electric motors (one for the front and one for the rear) to produce an astonishing 375kW of power at the rear and 193kW of power at the front.
To put that into perspective, it would be like cramming the engine from a Mercedes-AMG C63 S under the rear and an engine from the Volkswagen Golf R under the front. In combination, these two electric motors produce just under 1000Nm of torque and propel the P85D from 0-100km/h in a claimed 3.3 seconds.
Designed to showcase Tesla's ability to bring a luxury sedan to market, the Model S can be had in both rear- and all-wheel-drive combinations and starts from $113,300 locally in Model S 70 trim.
While compliance for the Australian market has been a challenge, the Model S is available in the USA as a seven-seat sedan , with two rearward facing seats in the back. Locally, a cavernous five-seat cabin is on offer with all the expected mod cons.
The newly designed seats offer plenty of bolster and support during cornering - previously we'd complained about them being a bit flat, so that's good news. The cornerstone of the interior is the gigantic, 17-inch LCD touchscreen that adorns the centre of the cabin.
The screen houses the infotainment, satellite navigation and critical vehicle information. A second screen sits in front of the driver and displays speed, satellite navigation data and infotainment information. The system - and the car in general - can also update its software over the internet, too.
While some features are shared with Mercedes-Benz vehicles of yesteryear — such as the window buttons and gear selector switchgear — the rest of the cabin is unique to Tesla.
Standard features across the range include satellite navigation, front and rear parking sensors, keyless entry and start, daytime running lights, autonomous emergency braking, blind-spot monitoring, lane departure warning, an eight-year/unlimited kilometre battery warranty and free supercharger network access.
The cabin's myriad storage cavities come courtesy of the vehicle's flat floor. Unlike a conventional rear- or all-wheel-drive car that needs space for a driveline through the centre of the cabin, the Model S uses electric motors mounted adjacent to the rear, and in all-wheel-drive trim, the front wheels. This opens up the cabin to extra storage space as a result - though still there are no door pockets.
The lack of a conventional engine also means open space in the front and rear of the vehicle. The dual-motor car loses around a third of its available storage space in the 'frunk' from the original 150 litres, but rear cargo space remains unchanged with 745 litres of storage volume on offer.
Sitting inside the car, it's remarkable to note how well everything is put together. The fit and finish is excellent and all this from a company that until recently didn't even exist.
That excellent fit and finish culminates in record safety figures. When tested in the USA, the Model S achieved the highest possible rating. In Australia, it also achieves a five-star ANCAP rating, making it one of the safest cars on the road.
Our first drive of the Model S P85D didn't encompass a road loop. The launch program had us test the car across three test facilities. The first was a demonstration of the vehicle's adaptive cruise control and built-in autonomous emergency braking system.
In this test, we sat in the car with a Tesla representative who accelerated the Tesla up to 40km/h, set its cruise control and then took their foot off the brake pedal as our car approached a parked Model S.
The test vehicle used inbuilt sensors to come to a complete stop, then giving the driver an option to hold that position, or resume following the vehicle at a set distance once it moved on.
Next up was a handling demonstration, lobbing the Model S P85D through a set of cones designed to push the car to its limits on a slippery painted surface.
Despite weighing well over 2000 kilograms, the Model S P85D was easy to handle and manoeuvre through the cones. With the steering in its 'comfort' mode, the rack was quick and offered enough speed to wrangle the car through the tight course.
Unfortunately, this portion of the test also highlighted the lack of steering feel through the rack. While it does communicate aspects of the road, it can be devoid of feel at times and even more so when the electrically assisted rack is in its 'comfort' setting.
The final test was to see whether the Model S P85D could live up to its claimed 0-100km/h time of 3.3 seconds. We hooked up our GPS-aided performance measurement device and went out to a specially designed runway to test the claimed acceleration figure.
Before that, it's worth noting what happens when you slam down the throttle from stationary. Under the Model S's body, there are more than 7000 small batteries that provide a combined 85kWh of power.
When the driver presses the throttle, it uses the stored energy in the batteries to supply power and then torque to the wheels. The harder you push the right pedal, the higher the current drawn by the system.
With the vehicle's 'Insane Mode' activated, the Model S P85D enters its most aggressive current draw mode. In this mode, it can draw up to a staggering 1300A of current. To put that into perspective, it would be like turning on around 31,200 iPhone chargers at the same time.
In practise the acceleration of the Tesla Model is, frankly, shocking.
Stand on the throttle pedal and you are smashed back into your seat - there's enough force that it makes it difficult to pull your head away from the restraint - and the unbridled pulling power continued all the way through to about 160km/h.
The car achieved a 0-100km/h time of 3.5sec, which seemed about right given the headwind and slight uphill slope of the runway.
I have personally driven a number of fast cars over the years and the only thing that comes close to the P85D in terms of manic torque delivery from standstill is the Bugatti Veyron, or the slingshot-style launch control system in the Lamborghini Aventador. It's a sudden and unrelenting shove that continues until the driver lets off the throttle.
What's even crazier is that buyers can make their Model S P85Ds even quicker courtesy of 'Ludicrous Mode'. Available as a $14,300 upgrade (in addition to a $4300 range upgrade), this mode reduces the claimed 0-100km/h time to a ridiculous 3.0-seconds flat.
Upgrading to 'Ludicrous Mode' allows the car to achieve a quicker acceleration time thanks to a ‘space age’ fuse technology. Tesla Motors developed an intelligent fuse that uses onboard electronics and a small lithium-ion battery to detect with greater accuracy when the car is about to reach its current limit, which is 1300A in the Model S P85D. As a result, Tesla has been able to push that limit higher, giving the car an ability to draw up to 1500A, which results in faster acceleration.
We look forward to testing the Tesla Model S P85D on local roads shortly. In the interim, it has proven to be an exceptional performed in closed environments from a performance point of view.
To give you an idea of just how fast it is, stay tuned to the site for a drag race between the rear-wheel-drive Model S P85+ and all-wheel-drive Model S P85D.
Watch Tesla representative Alexis Georgeson demonstrate Insane Mode in the Model S P85D above.