India’s one and only electric car, the cute little Mahindra Reva had seriously biased me against the concept of electric mobility. Other than the promise of zero emissions and insignificant running costs, it had little else to offer. Everything else was a terrible compromise. I’ve driven an assortment of Electric Vehicles (EVs) on various test drives but the Reva’s the only one I’ve lived with. And now, I have a Tesla Model S for an entire week in the UK and even though Elon Musk has made all other EVs look stupid with this car, I am still a bit sceptical.
Fast forward a week and I’ve become a convert, a believer in the cause, completely transformed with a zillion-volt electric shock that is the Model S. If this is the car of the future I want it today.
The smooth and muscular styling isn’t particularly eye catching and doesn’t hint at what’s beneath those taut lines. It’s only when you start approaching the car with the proximity key in your pocket that you know it’s not a regular car. The flush mounted door handles glide out and upon opening the door, the car is switched on. There’s no ignition switch, start button or even a handbrake. All you do is flick the Mercedes-sourced column shifter to D and silently drive away. There are lots of Merc-sourced bits in the Tesla (not surprising since Daimler is a large shareholder in the company) and the overall cabin is of good, if not great, quality. The space in the cabin is huge and without the big lump of an engine you even get two boots — now which car manages that?
The massive 17-inch touchscreen that dominates the cabin is the nerve centre, controlling everything from air-conditioning, the air-suspension, sunroof and charge socket flap. The navigation system runs off a 3G network which can be patchy in some parts of Britain and that did cause a few anxious moments.
With 310kW or 416bhp powering the rear wheels, the Tesla is seriously quick for a sedan with a claimed 0-100kph acceleration time of 4.2 seconds. But it’s the way the power is delivered that is sheer genius. The tidal wave of electric performance is instant, easy-to-modulate and perfectly linear. The low-end response, mid-range and top-end feel almost similar. There’s no peakiness, turbo-lag or any of the ails of an internal combustion, which allows you to precisely meter out the Tesla’s shattering pace. That it goes about delivering super-car busting performance so noiselessly is eerily thrilling. The Tesla doesn’t feel like anything I’ve driven before.
If there is something ordinary about the Tesla it’s the driving dynamics. It neither rides nor handles brilliantly and the air suspension seems to have limited travel, which gets used on the less-than-perfect roads in rural Britain.
The true test of any EV is the range and the Tesla boasts 402km on a single charge which I bravely tested on a 394km round trip from London to the southern end of the Isle of Wight. There are several ways to charge a Tesla. The fastest is by using dedicated Tesla superchargers which will pump half a charge in 20 minutes, but the network is small and there’s only one such outlet in London. The high-output chargers in the Haymarket office can ‘tank’ your Tesla up in about 8 hours, whilst the good old 15amp home socket will recharge your battery at a more relaxed rate.
Driving down the M3 motorway to Southampton, range anxiety set in early. I’m revelling in the Tesla’s instantaneous and shattering performance, which is juicing the battery at a rapid rate. But there’s no need to panic yet. Across the ferry and with a detour to Ryde on the Isle of Wight, we are now just 20km from our hotel and the range left is almost double that. But what kept me calm was the reassurance that the charming Chale Farm Inn, our stop for the day, had an accessible charging point. Once we got there, we are told this is the first time an EV has been charged in this remote part of Britain. According to the on-board computer, it will take a good 15 hours to give me 150 miles of range. To leave the Tesla charging uninterrupted means walking instead of driving to a nearby pub for dinner — a small price to pay for absolutely pollution-free motoring. And it didn’t cost me anything too. Approximately 100 pounds in fuel were saved thanks to free electricity wherever I went. (I did offer a token payment to the hotel for charging my car but the manager refused to take it.)
Now I can’t wait to try out the just-launched all-wheel-drive P85D which gets a more powerful 515kW motor and a stated 0-100kph time of 3.4 seconds. Maybe I’ll take it to Scotland with a few overnight stops — to recharge — on the way. To hell with range anxiety.