Full disclosure: I don’t own this car. I wish I did, but short of selling my kidney on Gumtree it’s just not going to happen. I did get to drive one, though, and it inspired me to pen my thoughts. Here they are.
I’m hurtling down the highway of the future. A car with an internal combustion engine, a relic of the past, suddenly cuts in front of me. I see him coming but so does my vehicle, as it gently applies the brakes and falls in behind the smoking tailpipes. No cause for concern, no action required on my part, I’m free to coast along in my whisper-quiet cocoon of comfort, smug in the knowledge that with one press of the right foot I could effortlessly glide past this petrol drinking, CO2-spewing cretin.
This is the new Tesla Model S P90D, and apparently they will let any mug have a test drive whether or not the $200,000+ asking price makes you weak at the knees. It’s the car for here and now. A car for the highly regulated, tightly enforced roads we all drive on. Top speed and lap times have become irrelevant, gadgets and gizmos sell, not handling and horsepower.
So here we are: in a world where a car has become an appliance and the last legal, socially acceptable joy to be found in the fading art of driving is accelerating quickly. Tell people you cracked 140km/h on a backroad and you’d get a nicer reception saying you just murdered baby kittens. Go around a few corners quickly and you’re branded an irresponsible hoon. But, for now at least, a quick squirt on the throttle is not punishable by death in the court of sanctimony.
This is where Tesla really shines. There is possibly no better car to show off to your mates, your colleagues, your in-laws, greenies, car nuts and the genius at the Apple store. It’s got so many party tricks. Look up ludicrous in the dictionary and you get ‘so unreasonable or out of place as to be amusing’. Engage Ludicrous mode in the two-tonne Tesla and you get 0–100 in 2.8 seconds. No revs, no gear changes, no tyre squeal, no fuss and, yes, it is definitely amusing.
It’s also quiet, seriously quiet. You may think without the racket of pistons firing that the road noise would become an issue, but no, at 100km/h this thing is barely a whisper. Mash your foot to the floor and you hear a small whine from the motor. Take your foot off and the kinetic energy is fed back into the battery, leaving your brake pads for use only on special occasions.
It’s seriously comfortable. Big soft lounge chairs with everyway adjustment. Air suspension that not only irons out the imperfections, but can also raise and lower at command. Even geocaching locations where you’ve previously jacked the ride height to the max, so that it is automatic the next time you meet that dodgy driveway or particularly brutal speed bump. Scraping the front end? That’s so last century.
The tech is next level. Sensors in every direction giving you eagle eyes on every corner, a reversing camera that tells you in centimetres just how close that pole is, and door handles that retract into the body when not needed, like a turtle turning in for the night.
The jumbo-sized iPad dominates the centre console giving you the best connectivity imaginable: Apple maps, calendar, music, podcasts, all connected to the car’s own 3G network and synced to your device. You could spend hours swiping through the options like a lonely millennial on Tinder. This becomes a possibility thanks to Autopilot, which once you come to terms with your newfound obsolescence, can easily handle your commute for you. Feeling the wheel turn in your hands is a very strange feeling but you quickly adapt. Soon this will be as natural as not needing to pull the choke on a cold morning.
At this point you may be frothing and spewing about how important you are, the driver. The person who has spent years learning to read the road, to anticipate, to control a car, to downshift with a nice heel-toe throttle blip. I’m with you. I like driving, shifting gears and making a car dance, but our capital cities are fast becoming places where driving has become such a mundane task, people are more likely to have a hand on a phone than a gear stick.
The Tesla is the car for this reality. If you have to drive from Melbourne to Sydney straight up the Hume, this is the best car in the world for the job. The safest, cleanest, quietest and most enjoyable bar none. Engage the Autopilot, enjoy the premium audio without the rumble of an exhaust polluting the serenity, and head for the Dog on the Tuckerbox, where Tesla will recharge your car for free while you enjoy a burger before setting off, accelerating down the on-ramp at a rate that would make any V8 weep.
I, for one, welcome our new robot overlords.
A Note from the Editor: A stock image has been supplied for this review.