Driven: Tesla Model S P85+
We discover the Tesla Model S.
I fixed myself three objectives for this road test. First, get acquainted with a Model S which (at the time of publication) 120 swiss motorists had taken delivery of, and to home in on the driving experience. Then, performance: electric cars offer ample torque from standstill, but tend to run out of steam as speed increases. How far would the Tesla still pull ? Finally, confront the realities of the current charging infrastructure and the contingencies that go with it.
Appointment is made with the Winterthur Service Center, north of Zürich, the only one in Switzerland ahead of the opening of the Geneva and Basel locations. It is still pitch dark on this late November morning, but the place is already buzzing with new customer cars delivery prep and the fitment of winter tires to existing customer cars. All cars present are 85 models, most of them nicely loaded with options. My Model S is “red”. Surprisingly Tesla did not succumb to the car industry’s habit of giving poetic names to body colors, they are all strictly descriptive. No ruby red or lava red, but simply red.
This car is equipped with all options available except one, the rear facing 6th and 7th seats in the luggage compartment. It is fitted with 19” “Cyclone“ wheels, shod with Pirelli Sottozero tires, instead of the 21” “Turbine” that come standard on this Performance Plus version. Rims get a metaphoric treatment, the color palette does not. The design of the Model S is elegant and fluid, almost conventional, with heavy chrome accents around the windows, door handles and mirrors. I regret that there is no alternative to this somewhat flashy trim, and that the large mirrors do not fold. Tesla must be trying to limit industrial complexity and cater with north American tastes where chrome is still cool.
The car was charged overnight and indicates a typical range of 395km (245mi). A light push on the gear selector to put the car in Drive, and the Model S exits quietly the Service Center. From the first miles, familiar sensations come to mind. First and foremost, silence. We have been writing it for years, electric power reigns supreme in refinement and serenity. The absence of noise or vibration provides stark contrast with the relative rusticity of internal combustion engines. This novel experience has long been limited to a few miles of range, sometimes a few dozen miles. Tesla bears the promise of a few hundred miles, a small revolution in the automotive world.
The large steering wheel reminds me of the Fisker Karma, this baroque competitor from southern California whose bankruptcy contrasts with the public relations and financial success of Tesla. This chunky, leather clad steering wheel probably comes from the same intent to provide a tactile reminder of the importance – and significance – of the object. Steering assistance is measured too, giving a nice sense of heft. I head north, driving some northern swiss countryside bathed in shallow sunlight.
The A4 turns into a single lane freeway, winding gently toward the Rhine Falls. At the 100 km/h speed limit for this stretch, silence is impressive, barely disturbed by slight hints of wind noise. The large diameter wheels should contribute to filter asphalt irregularities, but the stiffness of the pneumatic damping system surprises me. Bridge joints and other road bumps are harshly transmitted through the body structure. Surprised, I dive into the multimedia interface in search of a chassis setting feature. Other than window controls, a drive selector, the usual windshield wipers and blinkers and a few shortcuts on the multifunction steering wheel, the entire interface is channeled through a formidable 17” portrait format touchscreen.