Tesla Model S P90D (2015) review

Published:06 October 2015

The P90D is the fastest Tesla Model S yet
  • At a glance
  • 4 out of 5
  • 5 out of 5
  • 4 out of 5
  • 5 out of 5
  • 5 out of 5

By Phil McNamara

Editor-in-chief of CAR magazine

By Phil McNamara

Editor-in-chief of CAR magazine

► CAR drives the fastest Model S yet
► 90kWh battery pack, two motors, 4wd
► Includes the infamous Ludicrous mode

Warping from 0-60mph in 2.8sec has never felt so civilised, so incongruous, so 'ludicrous', as Tesla describes its hottest Model S yet, the all-electric P90D. Especially as this speed run isn't taking place on the Bonneville salt flats, but the sleepy industrial estate around Tesla's European assembly plant in Tilburg, the Netherlands. Position the car in the middle of the wide, empty road, grip the thick-rimmed wheel tight, note the silence: there's no rumbling supercar V12, despite the supercar performance. 'You might want to brace your head against the restraint,' our Tesla minder Anton warns my passenger. Surely an exaggeration...

Foot off the brake, I mash the 'gas' pedal. The P90D is all-wheel drive, but it's the back end that noticeably loads up, with much of the maximum 713lb ft dumped on the rear axle – the nothing or all unload of electric torque delivery. With a clonking noise, we're instantly away, no tyre squeal or fish-tailing, just speed building in the most linear rush. The double digits in the central odometer are spinning upwards like Britain's national debt calculator. It's so effortless, and urbane, with the only sound a constant, understated electric whine. In danger of reaching three figures in under 5.0sec, I ease off. No wonder the developers have included a little in-joke: hold down the Ludicrous icon, and the sizeable touchscreen's menu disappears into streaking white light on a black background - just like the Millennium Falcon blasting into hyperspace in Star Wars.

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

What's upgraded to make a P90D?

The £82,400 flagship Model S gets a 90kWh battery pack, stored along the spine of the chassis. Pay an extra £8300 and you get an uprated smart fuse, complete with its own lithium-ion power source and electronics, to monitor and control output at the millisecond level. This battery super-fuse, combined with a contactor made of space-grade inconel (not steel) to cope with the extreme temperatures (the standard fuse would melt), allows the maximum pack current to climb from 1300 to 1500amps.

The results are that rocketship demolition of 0-62mph, a quarter-mile in 10.9sec and a v-max of 155mph, up 20%. That's in Ludicrous mode, and if you drive continuously in such a demented manner, you'll drain the batteries in 120 miles. Travel in a more measured way in Sport mode (0-62mph pegged to 4.0secs) and this Tesla can conceivably manage 330 miles.

The P90D weighs around 2200kg, with approximately 700 kilos in batteries alone. Then there's a 100kg rear motor delivering 496hp, and a smaller 255hp motor acting on the front axle. The P90D weighs more than a base Range Rover, but it handles a lot more tidily. The thick-rimmed steering is meaty and progressive. Turn the nose into a corner and you feel a little hesitancy and roll, but once in, the Model S resists understeer strongly, gripping hard and happy for you to lay on the power. For the record, weight distribution is 51:49 front:rear.

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

Like many electrified cars, braking is in two stages. Lift off the accelerator and the car slows sharply, as kinetic energy is captured and used to charge the batteries: this process is highlighted by the instrument panel graphic switching from orange to green. The skill is to look ahead and anticipate when you need to decelerate, so you can ease off the power and avoid making passengers’ heads nod. When you’re driving sensibly, you don’t need the Brembo friction brakes, whose feeling could be a little crisper on initial press.

For me, it’s the refinement that stands out. NVH can be a real problem with silent-running electric cars, but tyre noise and wind whistle is exceptionally well suppressed. And 40mph potholes are despatched with aplomb: quietly and with a gentle undulation in the cabin.

Verdict

The Model S continues to evolve, adding range and taking performance to ridiculous levels. You can stop now, Tesla, point proven: benchmark an S-class instead and focus on improving cabin materials. If a pure EV fits your lifestyle, you need a Model S in your life. It offers amazing civility, an overwhelming zero emissions feelgood factor, and Silicon Valley gadgetry. Oh, and the ability to dust a 911 Turbo from the lights: delicious.

Specs

Price when new: £90,700
On sale in the UK: Now
Engine: Twin electric motors, 255bhp front, 496bhp, 713lb ft total
Transmission: Single-speed transmission, four-wheel drive
Performance: 2.8sec 0-60mph, 155mph, n/a mpg, 0g/km
Weight / material: 2200kg / aluminium
Dimensions (length/width/height in mm): 4970/2187/1435

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Photo Gallery

  • The '90' denotes the battery pack's kWh rating; the 'D' stands for dual motor
  • Engage 'Ludicrous mode' for acceleration that's, well, ludicrous
  • Rear motor delivers 496hp, and smaller front axle motor 255hp
  • For now, this badge is the ultimate in Model S one-upmanship
  • Gargantuan touchscreen still the cabin's centrepiece. Also handy for product placement
  • Cabin has drama; materials could feel more plush, though

By Phil McNamara

Editor-in-chief of CAR magazine

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