Powerhouse of the future now a practical reality
Despite the fact that battery-powered electric cars have existed for almost as long as the car itself, we are no closer to knowing what part of the motoring future they’ll play.
In the short term more and more are becoming available but, despite generous government grants, they still represent a microscopic proportion of total car sales. And in the very long term I have no doubt that the fuel cell is where we are heading – sustainably produced hydrogen reacting with oxygen to produce nothing more than energy and water. What I do know is that the case for the pure electric car, rather than a plug-in hybrid or range extender, has just received a massive boost courtesy of the car you see here.
Had Mercedes-Benz or Audi produced the Tesla Model S, it would be hailed as an astonishing achievement, in much the same way as the BMW i3 has been rightly received. It almost beggars belief that it was produced by a company that didn’t even exist a dozen years ago.
The Model S is the brainchild of Tesla boss Elon Musk, whose electric architecture will be carried forward into the Model X SUV. It’s available with three outputs equating to 302bhp, 362bhp and 416bhp, giving a claimed span of 0-60mph times from 5.9sec to 4.2sec, and top speeds from 120-130mph and charging times from 15 hours at a public station to about 7.5 hours if you install Tesla’s home charging kit.
The car is a revolution for far more than the fact it does 250 miles on a charge; and that’s not some fantastical claim unachievable in reality, it’s what normal people can expect in normal driving. Just as startling is the most visually fresh interior a saloon car has received in years, dominated by a TV-sized centre screen. Here you can find functions to control almost the entire car’s behaviour, or just leave it as the largest navigation display ever offered.
I drove both the mid- and high-output versions (£57,300 and £68,700 respectively, before any of a vast list of extras is added) and both offered performance that was as indecent as it was immediate. Off the line acceleration in either felt AMG Mercedes-quick but, of course, delivered with a muted hum providing refinement levels Rolls-Royce would genuinely struggle to match.
And yet this car doesn’t quite feel finished. Its weakest point is its chassis, which delivers neither the comfort nor handling prowess to excel either as an executive express or a practical GT. The car is claimed to weigh 2100kg and it feels every gramme of it, while on broken B-roads the ride is unsettled at best, deteriorating to choppy at times. The rear seat package is also awkward, placing your feet too high thanks to the underfloor battery packs. And that beautiful centre screen is not as effective as it is attractive: many important functions are buried beneath too many menus, so at times you find yourself just wishing for a simple switch. The navigation might look enticing, but it won’t work – at all – if there’s no extensive 3G coverage on your route.
Even so I admired the Model S even more than I liked it, and I liked it a lot. It has its flaws but so has every genuinely revolutionary new car. When its time has passed it is the advances it has made that will be remembered, not the stumbles along the way.
Engine: Three-phase AC induction motor, 85kWh lithium-ion battery pack
Power: 416bhp @ n/a rpm
Torque: 443lb ft
Transmission: single-speed, rear-wheel drive
Top speed: 130mph