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Tesla Model S P85D (2015) review

Published:23 January 2015

We tried getting it up to exactly 88mph but sadly it didn't manage to take us back to 1985
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By Ben Oliver

Contributing editor, watch connoisseur, purveyor of fine features

By Ben Oliver

Contributing editor, watch connoisseur, purveyor of fine features

► Driving the more powerful Tesla
► Model S tested in P85D mode
► The fastest saloon on the planet

Us motoring writers sometimes overdo our descriptions of the physiological effects of acceleration in an attempt to make a fast car sound more dramatic. ‘Raises your pulse-rate to machine-gun speeds’ – that kind of thing. But the twin-engined, 691bhp Tesla Model S P85D, which now claims to be the world’s fastest-accelerating four-door, is one of the very few cars to have a distinct and not entirely pleasant effect on your anatomy.

CAR magazine lives with a Tesla Model S long-term test electric car

Tesla Model S P85D: the electric car that feels faster than a Veyron

I’ve driven it, but I felt the effect most strongly as a passenger. The same thing happened when I first drove the Bugatti Veyron. They gave me a passenger ride first, so the shock wouldn’t cause an expensive panic attack when I tried to launch it myself. The combination of experiencing it for the first time and not being in control makes the sensation of really freakish acceleration even weirder.
 
And I promise you, from any of its seven possible seats (you can spec two rear-facing child seats), the Tesla feels even faster than the Veyron because of the way it gets from standstill to 30mph or so: pretty much instantly, as far as I could tell, accompanied only by the usual Tesla whoosh. It’s that snap transition between stasis and rapid motion that does the odd things to you. These included, in my case, the distinct feeling that all my blood had been squeezed out of my legs and was now in my torso, a strange fluttering in my throat as my lungs were compressed, and some visual disturbance as my eyeballs presumably went a bit pancakey.

The P85D feels way faster than the McLaren F1, whose 0-60mph time it matches, because you don’t have to do anything. The Macca is all screaming V12 and banged-home changes. The Model S doesn’t even change gear for you, because it only has one. The only thing you need to do is actually kick the throttle open – ie, have your foot already moving as it contacts the pedal – so you open its potentiometer all the faster. There is so little latency in the twin electric motors, and so much traction, that this makes a difference. Are you on any kind of medication? Maybe just rest your foot on the throttle like normal.

The ‘D’ stands for dual motor: this Tesla is four-wheel drive

Tesla’s Elon Musk is on a mission to prove that electric vehicles can do pretty much everything better. An all-wheel-drive Model S was in the product plan from the start. There has always been an obvious gap between the front wheels in the huge ‘frunk’, or front trunk; Tesla is only just filling it for the same project-management reasons that conventional car makers don’t offer a new model with every engine option from the start.

But the Model X SUV, now delayed until the second half of next year, needs four-wheel drive, so the shared drivetrain has now been engineered and appears here first. Rear drive will continue to be available in the S, but Musk expects it to account for less than 30% of demand.

Apart from the pace, Musk claims that this is the best four-wheel-drive system in the world, able to alter the front-rear torque split ‘at the millisecond level’, and thus respond faster and more accurately to a loss of traction. The P85D’s traction off the line is certainly eerie.

Read our guide to the best electric cars and EVs on sale in the UK

The standard 85D version gets a pair of 188bhp motors, and despite the extra 90kg claims an extra 10 miles of range because the two motors’ power-efficiency curves can be better balanced. The terrific ride and handling balance is unchanged. The P85D gets the 470bhp motor from the now-defunct P85+ range-topper, and a 221bhp front motor for a system total of 691bhp.

Musk once owned a McLaren F1, and thought it would be fun to make an electric saloon that matched its famous 0-60 time. He has probably over-achieved. Independently tested in America by the only other magazine to drive it, a P85D actually clocked a 3.1sec run on standard rubber.

What else is new for the Tesla Model S?

The P85D comes at the same time as a very mild refresh for the Model S. The top model gets sportier, better-bolstered seating, but the big news is that all cars now leaving the San Francisco factory come with the hardware required for Tesla’s Autopilot system, which goes further than other autonomous-driving systems by offering lane-changing with just the flick of an indicator, and the ability to read and obey speed-limit signs.

I didn’t try it: it will be switched on with an ‘over-the-air’ software update, possibly by the time you read this. Any concerns about a car this fast with the brains to drive itself won’t be eased by Musk’s insistence that the P85D’s vast central touchscreen offers three driving modes: Normal, Sport, and Insane.

Click here to read CAR’s review of the plain old single-motor Tesla Model S.

Specs

Price when new: £76,400
On sale in the UK: July 2015
Engine: Twin electric motors, 221bhp/243lb ft front, 470bhp/442lb ft rear
Transmission: Single-speed transmission, four-wheel drive
Performance: 3.2sec 0-60mph, 124mph, n/a mpg, 0g/km
Weight / material: 2195kg / aluminium
Dimensions (length/width/height in mm): 4970/2187/1435

Rivals

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Photo Gallery

  • The Tesla Model S P85D is the first four-wheel drive Tesla, ahead of the Model X SUV
  • Tesla Model S P85D: as fast from 0-60mph as a McLaren F1
  • Tesla's titanic 17in touchscreen controls everything, from climate control to suspension settings
  • Tesla claims the P85D has the best four-wheel drive system in the world
  • Jet turbine alloys have a couple of tonnes to support, but ride is still very compliant

By Ben Oliver

Contributing editor, watch connoisseur, purveyor of fine features

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