The Sydney to Melbourne drive has long been the measure of ability for cars in this country, and now it is possible to drive that route for free using electricity. All thanks to the Tesla Model S.
You may recall that CarAdvice travelled from Seattle to Los Angeles purely on electricity with the Tesla Model S in 2014. That route gave us a terrific indication of what well-thought-out infrastructure can do for electric vehicles across a massive distance. Indeed, we travelled nearly 2000km on that trip using the Tesla Supercharger network.
That network is now being established in Australia, with the two biggest cities in this country as the starting points. Sydney and Melbourne are now linked by way of the Hume Highway and a couple of quieter, country cities.
Tesla recently cut the ribbon at its two new regional Supercharger stations, the first of them in Goulburn (Australia’s first inland city, home to about 22,000 people) and the second just over the Victorian border in Wodonga (just on the southern side of the Murray River with a population of 37,500).
These two cities are bypassed by the mega motorway link, but Tesla – with its focus on pushing business back in to town – has established its Supercharger stations near the main streets of each of these cities. You’ll have an hour to charge from empty to full, so you may as well spend it (and your money) at a local café or restaurant rather than one of those infamous family restaurants with golden arches out the front. The Big Merino located at the major service station near the highway marks the approach of the town of Goulburn. Anyone who has been to that giant sheep thing will know that avoiding that place is a blessing.
The trip itself, as anyone who has driven to and/or from Sydney to Melbourne will know, is boring as batshit, so breaking it up by stopping to meet the locals in Goulburn or Wodonga is a great idea.
The car we drove for this highway roll from Sydney to Melbourne was the Tesla Model S 85D. The 85 in the name represents the battery pack’s 85kWh of go-go juice, while the D tells you that our car was the dual-motor, all-wheel-drive jigger. Tesla claims up to 528 kilometres of range for this circa-$150K large sedan, which can sprint from 0km/h to highway speed in 4.4 seconds.
We didn’t test the performance metric, but we did check whether our Model S was claiming the 528km range. Sadly it wasn’t, but 513km of range is brilliant for an electric car, considering we were applauding the likes of the Nissan Leaf just a few years ago for claiming 140km of range.
All that range wasn’t necessary for our first leg from Sydney to Goulburn, which is just on 200 kilometres, though we did do some stopping and starting for the purposes of the video. As a result, reached Goulburn with 220km of range left.
At the Supercharger opening I spoke with Evan Beaver, Tesla Motors Australia Supercharger program manager, who told me that there are big plans for the network to expand further between Sydney and Melbourne. Superchargers in Gundagai and Euroa should be opening by the end of 2015, and there will be further expansion to Queensland from Sydney, with the aim of having a link between Brisbane and Melbourne by the end of 2016.
I also spoke with owners of the Model S, who we found had similar criticisms of the car as us: no door pockets and lack of a centre console for putting stuff away from prying eyes (though we’ve tested a Model S with the new, optional stowage box).
Those buyers indicated to us that they only came to the Supercharger opening to have a squiz and top up, as they charge their cars at home using the Wallbox system that allows charging from empty to full in about six hours. Model S owner Jim, who lives outside Goulburn on a property, said he uses the sun to power his Model S, and it makes him feel good about doing his bit for the planet.
After Goulburn (and a little sightseeing near the Big Merino) it was onward to Wodonga, which is about 370km down the highway. But before we got too far away, the Model S had a message for us.
The message: “Drive slowly to reach destination”.
This was when I was cruising at the legal speed of 110km/h, and the computer was estimating I would roll into town with merely 7 per cent power remaining.
After another 20km, which included some hills, the Model S media screen showed a new warning: “Charging needed to reach destination”. This was accompanied by a little empty battery symbol with an exclamation mark and “0%” remaining. It even dropped to -2% at one stage.
So, we buttoned off the throttle, dropping our speed to 95km/h for a short period of time to ensure that we had enough power to make it. This actually gave us a chance to take in the views of the Canola fields as we continued on our south-western trajectory.
Watching that remaining percentage climb back up was relieving, allow us to gradually ease our speed back up to 100km/h and 105km/h as the kilometres passed.
All was going great until we reached some roadworks near the turn-off to Tumbarumba. The Model S got very confused about what was happening, and suggested we turn around and go back to Goulburn. Then it informed us we wouldn’t make it to either Goulburn or Wodonga, which was very worrying…
… But we pressed on at speed, stopping several times for video and photo opportunities. Despite the protests and worrying from the Model S, we made it to Wodonga with a good 45km to spare.
The location of the Supercharger in Wodonga is at The Cube, which is the local community exhibition centre. However when we pulled in we found we had missed the ribbon cutting ceremony.
Still, we plugged in, wandered the main street and grabbed some dinner while the Model S sucked some emissions-free energy from Tesla’s teat. One thing the brand stands for with its free charge network is that all energy must be available with no harmful emissions. Coal = no.
Following that it was back onto the highway once more, with the Tesla again finding itself composed, comfortable and quiet at highway speed. Our car’s 19-inch wheel/tyre package made for an even more impressive ride than the vehicles we’ve tested in the past that were sitting on 21s, and it cruised over some of the harsher surfaces on the Victorian side of the border nicely.
After so long at the wheel I was starting to get bored (a by-product of the Sydney to Melbourne drive, as many of you may know), and found myself surfing the internet radio stations. I sampled some Bollywood hits, trap, dubstep, hardcore, heavy metal and more. The internet-driven system allows you to search by genre or artist, and with more than 100 different stations to try you’re bound to find something you like.
Soon enough we arrived at Euroa. Never heard of it? No wonder, it’s basically a servo on the side of the road… That’s maybe a bit harsh, as there is a small town off the freeway that has a population of about 2700. My support car and driver needed some juice, and the map system indicated there was a Supercharger at the Shell.
There was, but it was a two-bay temporary station that is set to become a permanent fixture before the end of this year. We took the opportunity to plug in for 15 minutes.
An avid CarAdvice reader, Rene, saw us with the Tesla and came to ask if he could have a look. Of course we obliged, and showed him all the tricks and cool bits, as there are plenty in the Tesla. About 25 minutes later we again hit the highway for the final time as we approached Melbourne.
Having seen the clock pass 10pm, it was nice to see the Tesla’s xenon headlights shone brightly enough, and the auto high beam system worked reasonably well when the car was shielded from the northbound carriageway. Like many Model S enthusiasts we’ve spoken with, we found that the tech could be better. Brighter, better LED headlights are available on a Toyota HiLux, for instance, while laser beams are also available on the Audi R8 and BMW i8.
While we weren’t attempting to set any speed records, we set the adaptive cruise control for the 110km/h limit, and dropping it accordingly when needed. Those speed cameras on the outskirts of the city keep an eye on your average maintained speed, so you have to be careful.
The road started to become a bit busier closer to the city, and after the Model S took us away from the motorway and through a few quieter back roads, it was kind of weird to try and adapt back to the bustle of urban driving. The car had been so comfortable at cruising speed in the wide lanes of the Hume Highway that the streets around North Melbourne made it feel big. It’s a big car, but a full day (and half a night) of driving can exacerbate that.
It wasn’t long until we reached our final destination at the Supercharger station in Richmond, with plenty of range to spare.
This was proof to us that, while it takes a little longer, you can make it from Sydney to Melbourne in an electric car. With the Tesla Supercharger network set to grow, it’s only going to get easier to travel Aussie-friendly distances in these amazing electric cars.
Videography by Christian Barbeitos