Tesla Model S P85 tested on the road

Few cars have arrived with the hype of the Tesla Model S. The American company – founded by PayPal co-founder Elon Musk – brings Apple-style "wow factor" to the car industry with its ground-breaking fully electric sedan.

It's the first all-new car the company has built following its initial Lotus-based Roadster and has caused a stir not just with consumers but also established car makers. Audi, BMW and even Porsche are believed to be preparing electric rivals to go up against the Model S in the coming years.

But does it live up to such hype?

What do you get?

The Model S range starts at $102,347 (plus on-road costs) for the P60, which is equipped with a 60kW/h battery, but we're testing the P85, a 85kW/h equipped model which is priced from $119,348 (plus on-road costs). Customers can also order the new range-topping P85D which adds a second electric motor on the front axle to up performance and starts at $160,557 (plus on-road costs) but those cars won't start arriving until September.

All cars are covered by an eight-year, unlimited kilometre warranty for the battery and drivetrain.

The P85 comes enabled for Tesla's new Supercharger network, a series of rapid charging stations that will be placed at strategic locations on the east coast of Australia by the end of 2016.

While the Superchargers are thin on the ground now they allow Tesla owners to get free recharging, and as an added benefit free parking in the CBD of Sydney and Melbourne.

The Superchargers are able to recharge more than 50 per cent of the battery in approximately 20 minutes.

Buyers also get a wall-mounted recharging unit for their house included in the price of the car.

Advertisement

All Model S' also get a 17-inch touchscreen in the centre of the dash that controls all the car's major functions, including airconditioning, entertainment, navigation and car controls.

Other standard items include 19-inch five-spoke alloy wheels, Bluetooth, lane departure warning, speed limit display and LED daytime running lights.

Tesla has also announced it will buy any Model S back from customers between 36 and 37 months of ownership for 50 per cent of the base price of the 60kW/h models plus 43 per cent of all options including the upgrade to the 85kW/h battery.

Tesla also "pushes" regular software updates to the car to offer improved functionality, similar to modern smartphones.

What's inside?

The interior is dominated by the huge touchscreen, both from a design and functional point-of-view.

It marks the Models S as a radical departure from traditional car design but isn't just a gimmick. It is actually a very easy-to-use system with simple, smartphone-style navigation and plenty of customisation.

The rest of the car is more conventional and the indicator, wiper and cruise control stalks behind the wheel are borrowed from Mercedes-Benz, as are the power window switches.

The leather seats are supportive but sit too high, lack bolstering, and can feel firm after a long trip.

Small item storage is limited too, with just a small glovebox and two cupholders. There is a large, open area on the floor between the driver and passenger seats with non-slip material but there's not much protection to prevent large items from sliding out under heavy cornering.

Overall space for occupants is good though with good head and legroom front and rear.

Luggage space is excellent with 924-litres split between a 744-litre rear boot and 150-litres under the "bonnet" in the front.

Under the bonnet

This is where the Model S is unlike its rivals from Europe and Japan. A 285kW electric motor is mounted behind the rear seats and sends power to the rear wheels.

The batteries are spread across the floor of the car to keep the weight low and not interfere with interior space.

Tesla claims the Model S P85 has a range of 502km, but in the real world expect a usable range closer to 400km, which is still significantly ahead of any other full electric vehicle.

But the Model S isn't just about skipping the service station, it also offers up serious performance – 441Nm of torque available from 0rpm.

As soon as you put your foot down the Model S launches with serious intent. The company claims the 0-100km/h sprint comes in just 5.6 seconds and it will manage a top speed of 225km/h.

On the road

The Model S feels like a modern luxury car on the road with a quiet ride and a mostly comfortable experience.

The floor-mounted batteries means it handles the bends well given it weighs more than 2000kg.

But there are some signs this is the first car the company has built. Even on the $2900 optional Smart Air Suspension (you can raise or lower the ride height via the touchscreen) the ride can be firm at times.

The steering also lacks the same fluid response its more experienced automotive rivals offer. But for the most part it is nicely weighted for urban driving.

The regenerative braking can be tailored depending on your preference but if you can get used to the standard setting you'll find yourself using the brake pedal a lot less than in a conventional car.

Verdict

The Model S manages to live up to the hype with its blend of cutting-edge electric vehicle technology, slick design inside and out and competitive pricing compared to its European rivals.

There are still some areas for improvement but for a first-up effort the Model S has raised the bar for what you expect not just from an electric car but also a modern luxury car.

Tesla Model S P85 specifications

Price: $119,348 plus on-road costs

Country of origin: USA

Engine: Electric motor

Power: 285kW at 0rpm

Torque: 441Nm at 0rpm

CO2 emissions: 0g/km

Transmission: Single-speed auto, rear-wheel drive

Weight: 2108kg

Safety: 8 airbags, stability control

Pros: Powerful drivetrain, free Supercharger access, modern design and technology.

Cons: Ride can be firm at times, steering lacks fluidity, expensive options.