Test driving a regular gas car may be significant to the life of the average driver, in case the tester wants to purchase it. However, testing an electric car may be the event of the year.
But test driving a Tesla Model S P85D may change the way that driver sees cars and driving. For good. And for good reason.
It was a nice, warm afternoon in Vienna, Austria last Tuesday. Birds singing, trees blooming, rush hour traffic, everything as it should be in the beautiful Vienna at this time of year. Like I promised last week, I went there to do what I’ve been fantasizing about since 2012 – a real life Model S, feel it, see with my own eyes, criticize and praise – drive it.
“I suppose you speak English” were the first words I told to Patryk, the Product Specialist who greeted me when I entered the shop. “Sure,” he replied in ze most friendly German English out there. He showed me a chassis of a rear-drive Model S that was exhibited in the showoom. I was utterly impressed by how well welded and how solid the whole thing looked.
After filling in some personal data and checking my driver’s licence, Patryk took me to a nearby Supercharger where a pearl-white P85D was waiting. He had just finished another test drive and put it there to get a bit of juice. In the approximately 20 minutes of charging, the car got an extra 75 miles (120 km) of range – so nice.
He told me the network of Superchargers will expand to Central and Eastern Europe in the next couple of years and, just like Elon Musk told me in this interview, one will be able to go from Norway to Turkey just by using Tesla power – for free.
I also found out from him that the P85D was the result of popular demand – more and more Tesla customers wanting an AWD. However, not even they (the Vienna store) know how the Model 3 will look like, and everything that’s been published on the internet so far is pure speculation.
Feeling the Model S
Now let me clear things up a bit – you don’t just open the door of a Model S because you pull on the handle, like you do on any other car – the Model S opens the door because it wants so. When you pull the handle, the car senses your hand, releases the locking mechanism and you can open it – there’s a slight delay in all of this, but not bigger than it would be in a normal door opening scenario. I guess that’s a security measure you meet in no other car.
When you close the door, the handles retract. However, when I put my hand in one to simulate fingers getting trapped, nothing bad actually happened – the pulling force is regulated by something that sounded to me like a clutch mechanism preventing the servos from wrecking your hand.
The “frunk” in the new Model S is a bit smaller – Patryk explained to me that’s because of the space occupied by the front electric motor. However, there’s still enough room to fit a consistent amount of luggage inside.
The interior is the same of as the one in the rear-drive Model S – strikingly simple, with a minimum of hardware buttons and two screens – the famous 17″ one in the middle and one in the dashboard. Patryk said they also upgraded the seats in this version.
The INSANE driving experience
The Model S P85D seats entangle you from the moment you step into the car. The big screen surprises your feelings so used to seeing buttons. You hear nothing but the hum of the air coming from the cooling system. After selecting the “INSANE” mode on the slider (that’s a necessity), everything else fades out from your attention, and as a test driver you expect the best.
The rest is just a story between you, the two pedals and steering wheel. And the almost 700 bhp. Put the car in D, push the accelerator a bit (improperly called “gas pedal” by some) and the Model S slides gently and totally noiselessly. Push it a bit more – it speeds up, but not brutally – just like a regular car.
I first wanted to drive her normally, not to scare my family and Patryk from the start, and to get a grip of what the car was all about. We entered normal traffic, drove a few hundred meters, and then I couldn’t help myself. I pulsed the accelerator once, about 20-30% of the way, but more suddenly than the first time.
The P85D literally jumped about 20mph in a split second, after which I quit. My mouth uncontrollably said some F-words, followed by a rapid heart beat. I had felt life flowing inside my every vein. The car is a f**king roller coaster.
Then, after a few more jumps like these got me accustomed to the accelerator, we got to the freeway entrance. I was a bit scared. Normally, I would not drive someone else’s $100k car and not have 700 hp under the hood. My good’old Prius only has 110 of them, and can only do so much.
So it went like this. Imagine. I was riding at about 10mph from the ramp, the trailer was rolling at about 45mph and was at a distance of about 200 feet from us. I stomped on the accelerator. You know that feeling you have when you dream you can fly? You know Star Trek? Well, again, imagine: in less than three seconds I was at 60mph, well ahead of the trailer, in the next ~3-4 seconds at a speed I don’t want to disclose publicly, changing to the third lane, and then it hit me: this thing is too damn fast for Austria. You can serve jail time in some countries for speeds you can get to in 6 seconds in a P85D, so beware.
You know how it feels like when driving a hypercar? To give you an example, when you ride a bike fast in crowded areas, and you try not to hit people, when you’re near someone walking normally, they look pretty much stationary to you – just like a speeding bullet is to a target that’s moving slowly – time is relative.
Well, you have more or less the same feeling in the P85D when you accelerate – because you do it so quickly, things that three seconds ago were moving towards you are becoming more and more stationary as you gain speed. I think this is true when riding other fast cars, too, and that may be a leading cause of accidents – people in fast cars underestimating the others’ ability to change the lane unpredictably. But it’s nevertheless cool and empowering in the P85D.
Instant torque feels like your foot on the accelerator is in direct contact with your chest – as you push it, you and everyone in the car instantly and simultaneously feel the effect – no revving engine, no lag, nothing – Tesla made a car running on pure power. Anything else is just obsolete tech, now that I’ve tested this one.
The Model S P85D never felt like it was out of control with all of its 700 hp and about 864 ft-lbs of torque. Not for one split second. I recalled Elon Musk saying he managed to spin and crash his first supercar, the McLaren F1, while doing a hard acceleration like I did. However, his Tesla doesn’t have this pitfall.
P85D’s handling is extraordinary. The stability control program is so fast you can only feel the wheels spinning just a slight bit when changing lanes while accelerating like mad, but you don’t get the impression that it doesn’t work. The impression of total control is what you’re left with after the experience with Tesla.
I felt like I was in a video game. No noise, except for the spaceship/UFO/jet afterburner-like hum of the now two electric motors, no other feeling of guilt for revving the engine too much or changing gears too high. No fear that what I was doing could crash a $100k car into something and send me to bankruptcy. It was just me and the car. It was mine for a few seconds, courtesy of Tesla.
Later on I boldly compared it to a sexy whore, who gave me a short kiss of death and then left me standing there begging for more. It made me realize life is short and worth living to the fullest. And while I don’t really have $100k to spend right now on a car, this test drive made me want to have it.
After Patryk told me half-jokingly that they have my address and any speed tickets would go my way, I settled down at 50mph, the legal speed limit on that portion of freeway.
When we got back to the Tesla store location, I wanted to try a 0 to 60. Launching from a standstill is totally different than anything else you can do with the P85D.
After flooring it, in 3.1 seconds (I presume), I was to 100 km/h. Just like that. I literally felt the blood going out of my cheeks as it was accelerating, accompanied by a weird tingling. My wife in the back seat almost dropped the phone she was filming with. You can actually hear her in the movie – that sound makes up the whole picture of what it feels like. It was the final kiss.
I want to buy this b**ch.
Conclusion: your average family car, whichever that is, is a good car. It’s reliable, beautiful and willing to have a long-lasting relationship. But the Model S has the character of a nymph, a siren, a mistress that you can marry for a lot of money – a dangerous but also potentially long-lasting love story. I can’t see why anyone would ever want to go back to a normal car – be it gas or EV, after owning a Tesla.
But you see, I just don’t want to upset my Prius right now.
Here’s a short video of the most intense moments during the almost 1-hour test drive. Tesla doesn’t have to make any publicity, at all, to sell their car, they just have to give people test drives and specialists with Patryk’s patience and knowledge, and the Model S will sell itself.