Autocar UK - 04 September 2013 PDF Magazines - Download Free Digital Magazines in PDF Format for iPad, Android Tablets and PC Tesla has come of age — already JIM HOLDER EDITOR [email protected] @Jim_Holder FIVE YEARS AGO, there was a common theory among a burst of eco-conscious start-up car companies that two exceptional circumstances had combined to deliver a unique opening in the market: the credit crunch meant that established car makers were struggling, and regulation makers, wanting to fast-track cleaner technology, were offering favourable loans and grants to make it happen. Fast-forward to today and only one of the bright-eyed newcomers can stand proud. Tesla has not only created a credible alternative to the mainstream in the Model S but it has also outdone the establishment by creating by far the most credible electric car on the market, bar none. Be clear: Tesla hasn’t shaken up the industry. Nor is it likely to, given the quality of the opposition and the availability of appealing alternative powertrains, from combustion engine to electric, via plug-in hybrid. But the fact that it can stand comparison with the likes of an Aston Martin and Porsche (p46) shows just how seriously we should take Tesla, its maverick owner Elon Musk and the firm’s long-term ambitions to expand. Assault & B ATTERY What is the Tesla Model S really like? Steve Sutcliffe lines up an Aston Martin Rapide S and Porsche Panamera to see — and discovers big surprises en route The opening moments of engagement with the Tesla Model S are fascinating and go something like this. You see it for the first time in the metal and you think: “Wow, great-looking car. Big but beautifully proportioned; appears weirdly like a Maserati from the front.” Then you’ll approach it physically and think: “Okay, so how do I open the door?” Someone who knows will then inform you that to use one of the Tesla’s exquisitely crafted chrome door handles, you must first press upon it gently, whereby it will glide serenely out of the bodywork, enabling you to pull upon it conventionally and, presto, the frameless-windowed door will open and you’ll climb inside. When you do, the first thing you will see – pretty much the only thing you will see – is the enormous iPadlike touchscreen that dominates the entire centre console. You will probably then give this a prod, just to see what happens, and the car will come to life, just like that. Except that there will be no noise – nothing. The touchscreen will light up and the instruments in the dashboard behind the steering wheel will appear mysteriously out of the darkness, but there won’t be so much as a murmur from the car as they do. At this point, you might notice that the driver’s seat, although electrically operated and swathed in leather, doesn’t seem especially supportive. You may also think that there is no gearlever as such. Until you realise that there is one and it isn’t down there where it usually sits but up here instead, Frank Cannon style, just to the right of the steering wheel. Eventually, once you’ve sat there in bewilderment for several minutes, pressing buttons, scrolling around the touchscreen, maybe logging on to the worldwide web and googling Elon Musk to see how his space programme is shaping up, you will make the decision to start driving the Tesla Model S. And that’s when it gets very spooky indeed. Because when you do – when you first decide to squeeze on the accelerator to make the Model S move – you will never, ever forget what happens next. The car will begin to move, either gradually if you press the pedal smoothly or very fast indeed if you are clumsy with it (which it is easy to be, so light is the resistance underfoot). And at that point, your whole perspective on the business of driving will shift, instantly, a good 25deg towards the left-field – to a place in which everything seems different from the way it once was. You will find yourself homing in on the horizon while making no noise whatsoever, which is a deeply odd thing to experience but also, you will discover, a curiously beguiling sensation at the same time. The notion of acceleration will feel completely different in this car – that’s what 443lb ft of torque delivered from zero revs feels like, basically – and simultaneously you will realise how soothing the ride seems, how precise the steering feels, how strong the sense of thrust appears, even at 80-90mph and beyond, and how disarmingly competent the car is at pretty much everything it does. And after an hour or two with the Model S, you might arrive at a fairly shocking conclusion: that it is, in fact, really very good indeed at being a motor car – at doing the things we expect a conventionally sporting luxury saloon to do, but without burning any fuel in the process. Which, of course, brings us to the whole point of the Model S and leads us to ask: what exactly is this car? Who will it appeal to? How much does it really cost, not just to buy but to run? And what sort of conventional cars should we be comparing it with? As you can plainly see, the cars with which we’ve chosen to compare this particular Model S – the most powerful 85kWh Signature Performance versionm which will cost about £88k when it goes on sale in right-hand drive in the UK early next year – are radically different from one another in concept. The Aston Martin Rapide S is a conventional V12 bruiser that costs £150k, is laced with luxury and delivers a typically rousing 550bhp and 475lb ft of torque from its 5.9-litre petrol engine. The Porsche, on the other hand, is powered by a 247bhp, 406lb ft V6 turbodiesel and returns a claimed 45mpg on the combined cycle while emitting just 166g of CO2 for every kilometre that it is driven (against 332g/km for the Aston and precisely zero from the Tesla’s tailpipe). It costs £62,922 – less than half the price of the Aston – and is, in theory, much more of a real-world opponent for the Model S. You might think of the Americanbuilt Tesla as a rival for more predictable saloons such as the Mercedes-Benz S-class, Audi A8, Jaguar XJ and BMW 7-series (and indeed, the Model S very nearly outsold all of those cars combined in the US during the first three months of 2013, which is a faintly extraordinary achievement in itself). But in this case we wanted to see (a) just how quick it really is, hence the Aston, and (b) how much cheaper and more economical it might be than a conventional but still sporting diesel car, hence the Panamera. The Model S’s three-phase AC electric motor is rated at 410bhp and 443lb ft by Tesla, although, intriguingly, we discovered that it had a little more than that when we put the car on a rolling road (see sidebar, overleaf). To gauge how much pure performance is on offer, we lined the Model S up, side by side, with the Aston and basically drag raced them from a 30mph rolling start, with the Rapide in second gear. And the Tesla tore the Aston to shreds. As in, it left it for dead up to about 120mph, at which point we ran out of room. The difference between them wasn’t small, either. The Tesla’s instant and massive acceleration was simply too much for the Rapide to deal with. Within a couple of seconds it was several car lengths ahead, and it continued to haul cleanly away until we ran out of straight at the test track. That was surprise number one. Number two of many came later in the day when we realised that, having driven all three cars at the same sorts of speeds for pretty much identical mileage, the Aston’s fuel tank was emptying at virtually the same rate as the Tesla’s 85kWh battery pack. At the end of the day, to fill the Aston back up from almost empty cost £102. To recharge the Model S overnight cost around £4 at the standard offpeak rate of electricity. True, it took six hours to recharge the Tesla, as opposed to two minutes to fill the Aston – the charge time will drop to about half an hour with one of Tesla’s ‘supercharge’ points – but the point was clear. Even the Porsche needed £35 of diesel to refill, although this did then give it a theoretical range of over 700 miles, more than twice what the Aston or Tesla can manage on one tank or charge in the real world. Then again, the Model S completely annihilates the Panamera in a straight line. The Porsche feels like a slightly baggy, woefully underpowered favourite armchair beside the Tesla. Even in the corners, it can’t do much about the American car’s extra zip and composure. The Panamera rides well for a Porsche, and it has decent steering and a nice amount of feel from the rear axle. It also weighs the least of these three, at 1880kg versus 1990kg for the Aston and 2106kg for the Tesla. But in reality, it doesn’t feel that way at all. On the move, be that at speed with commitment through The Tesla tore the Aston to shreds. As in, it left it for dead up to about 120mph The Tesla has the largest wheels, at 21in The Porsche’s seem modest, at ‘just’ 18in Aston: 20in wheels and biggest brakes The Tesla has even more low-down pull than the Porsche a corner or just ambling along, the Panamera feels the heaviest car here. It needs to be persuaded to change direction, whereas the Model S – and to a lesser extent the Aston – seems lighter and nimbler on its feet, somehow. The Aston has the sweetest steering, with lots of feel and precision to the front end. But the Tesla steers rather well, too, even if it doesn’t have the last degree of feel that the Aston has. And what of the way that they stop, often the bane of electric vehicles because of the effects of their regenerative braking systems? The Porsche and Aston both stop as well as you’d expect – better, indeed, than most folks would believe, considering that they both weigh the thick end of two tonnes. But the Tesla stops every bit as well, despite weighing a little bit more. And the best part is that you can tailor the amount of regenerative braking there is by scrolling around on the touchscreen. Select Low mode and the brakes feel pretty much like those on a normal car. Switch to Normal and only then do you get the weird dragging sensation when you lift off the accelerator, as the batteries harness energy from the brakes. You get used to it, though. After a while, in fact, it becomes part of the appeal of driving the Model S, working out just how seldom you need to use the brakes to slow down or come to a halt. Out on the road, the Model S rides well, handles at least as tidily as the Porsche and Aston at high but not insane speeds (another major surprise) and feels – apart from its lack of engine noise and extraordinary low and mid-range thrust – much like a normal kind of car. Unless you’re a passenger, that is, in which case it feels enormous, never more so than in the rear seats. There is massively more room in every direction in the back of the Model S than there is in the other two. It feels like a proper limo in the back, whereas in the others, Aston especially, legroom and headroom aren’t exactly generous, despite both being slightly longer than the Tesla. And that’s before you even mention the two rear-facing child seats that are engineered cleverly into the Tesla’s boot floor. And if you think that means there’s no boot space left, think again – because there’s another decent-sized boot in the car’s nose (no engine, remember). And when I say decent, it’s bigger than the Aston’s one and only boot by a country mile. The one area in which the Model S can’t and doesn’t even try to compete with the likes of the Aston is on luxury feel. The quality of leather, for instance, is entirely different. In the Aston, you can almost hear the interior mooing on occasions, so pungent is the smell and the feel of soft hide. In the Model S, there is leather and lots of it, but beside the Rapide’s it feels a bit like highquality plastic. That’s not to say that the Tesla lacks build quality in any way, because it doesn’t. Apart from a couple of inconsistent shutlines around the tailgate, it feels like, and is, an extremely well made product. But what it doesn’t do, anywhere, is go over the top. No attempt has been made to make it feel overtly luxurious. That’s the Aston’s party trick, and it’s probably the key reason why the Rapide costs what it costs and appeals to whom it appeals. The Porsche is somewhere in between. It’s neither outrageously luxuriant like the Aston nor deliberately functional like the Tesla inside, and it has a kind of quiet appeal to it as a result. But the star of this show, the car that will leave you feeling flummoxed and delighted and strangely optimistic about life, all at the same time, is the Tesla. The Model S is, quite simply, a landmark moment in our motoring lives. Some of the things that it can do are extraordinary. And none of the things that it does are ordinary. If this is at least part of what our motoring landscape will look like in future, then the future looks good. No, it looks fantastic.