Silent assassin: revisiting the ludicrous Tesla Model S P100D
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Absolute power can be different things to different people — whether it's limitless wealth, authority, or being engrossed behind the wheel of a Tesla Model S P100D.
Teslas don't necessarily come naturally to me. I generally like my sound-proofing sparse, my suspension firm and talkative, and my engines fueled by exploding dinosaur juice.
But as they say, “absolute power corrupts, absolutely”. And, if the knowledge that this plush, silent, faintly overweight sedan can thrash every single car it shares the road with doesn't constitute 'absolute power' … then I'm not sure what does.
It's been over 12 months since Tesla arrived in New Zealand, and in that time they've claimed a large percentage of the country's EV registration figures.
The Model S and X are regulars in the national top five, rubbing shoulders with cars a fraction of a price.
Our tester was a generously optioned dual-motor, all-wheel drive P100D capable of approximately 500km per charge. Added optional multi-coat paint, 21-inch 'Twin Turbine' wheels, sunroof, and enhanced Autopilot managed to raise the price from an already bold $214,400 to $236,320.
In luxo-sports sedan speak, that's comfortably enough coin to put the P100D in BMW M5 or the top-spec Mercedes-AMG E63 S territory.
Although, neither German will snap quite as many necks as the Tesla does on Queen St.
Yes, even though a year has passed and it's a little bit long in the tooth, the Model S is still a rolling novelty both to passersby and to those behind the wheel.
And the opportunity to get reacquainted with the Model S to see what's changed since Driven tested it last March was too good to ignore.
The P100D's performance isn't the most topical place to start, given that little has changed. But, it would feel weird to talk about anything else first.
It has two motors, one to power the front wheels and one to power the rear. The pairing are powered by a huge 100kWh battery that makes up part of the Model S's floor-pan, and combined they create a dash over 560kW of power, 660Nm of torque, and that oh-so-quotable 0–100km/h time of 2.7 seconds.
And none of that quite prepares you for the eye-popping sensation that results. I've driven McLarens, Porsches, and more, and the P100D is the only car that's prompted me to ask passengers to place their heads against their headrests before I plant my right foot, for fear of whiplash or concussion. Seriously.
Power is one thing, but the way that the Model S's always thinking all-wheel drive system and staggered Michelin Pilot Super Sport tyres (245/35/21 up front, 265/35/21 out back) put that power to the ground is probably the most underrated element of the P100D's giggly acceleration capabilities.
More fun than an internal combustion engine?
Well, if your measure of fun is constantly winning at the traffic lights, then of course. But for those wanting something meaningful, the P100D's acceleration will be a mere novelty.
This is automotive confectionery; a sugary jolt of instant gratification with little genuine driver reward. And hey, some people like it that way.
Cornering doesn't feel particularly engaging, either. But, the Model S still manages to be surprisingly capable thanks to its low centre of gravity, tyres that rarely run out of grip, and predictable steering that makes its 2,250kg easy enough to chuck around on a B-road.
While the Model S is quick, it makes more sense as a stand-in toy-filled luxury car.
It's here in its box of clever tech tricks where we find the greatest 'over the air' changes to the Model S. These are updates that Tesla beam out through the internet for owners to upload into their cars, and they range from the minor to the extreme.
Most recently, the ginormous 17-inch central screen has been refined to load faster through its vast list of different menus. These include the navigation, which itself has also been tweaked to offer more accurate instructions and more detailed maps than it did in the past.
The Model S's huge screen looks and sounds on the surface like something that would be difficult to operate on the run. I know in the past that I've previously been critical of brands that have abandoned physical buttons and scroll wheels in exchange for more screens.
However, because of its large size and the placement of its buttons, the Tesla's infotainment is surprisingly easy to use while on the fly. It's supported by a digital display behind the steering wheel, and combined they make it hard to believe that the Model S is a six-year-old platform.
The screens — how they look, their ease of use — are the highlight of the Model S cabin. Much of the rest of it looks futuristic and clean, from the door pulls integrated into the door card contour lines to the Alcantara headliner.
But build quality remains a sticking point. I won't talk about panel gaps, as they appeared pretty consistent on our test car. Bigger issues were the bevy of minor creaks in its cabin, as well as a driver's seat that would shift and lean disconcertingly — particularly under power.
Other over-the-air updates include a speed limiter mode and the ability to open the 'frunk' and boot via Tesla's mobile app. But the biggest improvements over time have been made to Tesla's 'Autopilot' semi-autonomous system.
Whether 'Autopilot' is the most morally correct name for Tesla to apply to their tech is a Pandora's Box for another day. But, what can be said is that it's always been one of the most advanced Level 2 autonomous systems on the market.
It's not without problems. Early models were known for being a bit choppy with directional changes while Autopilot was engaged, with additional hesitation around the odd motorway off-ramp and road-work area. And it's still far from perfect. It struggles on some tighter motorway curves, and smooth commuting on suburban streets is still a while away yet.
However, its latest wave of updates, coupled with the system's own learnings over time, has seen it become much, much smoother in execution of lane changes, general cornering, and speed modulation. This is the definitive system in the world of Level 2 autonomy.
I spent almost a week with the P100D, and my mind kept to-ing and fro-ing on what it thought of this svelte, silent assassin.
It might be six years old, but thanks to fresh design, numerous updates, and a determined (if maybe a little unorthodox) CEO — the Model S is still just as revolutionary and devastatingly fast today as it was six years ago.
Until the rest of the world gets the smaller more accessible Model 3, at least.
Social peacocks, speed fiends, EV buyers, and those wanting 'something different' could do much worse than investigate a Model S P100D.
2018 Tesla Model S P100D
Price: $236,320 (as tested)
Pros: Breathtaking acceleration, 'Autopilot' improvements, surprising usability
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