Finalist Tesla Model S

80 wheelsmag.com.au STUNNING ELECTRIC DREAM COMES CLOSE TO COTY GLORY

BYRON MATHIOUDAKIS

WHAT a smashing debut.

COTY 2014 will long be remembered for the emergence of the pure electric car, with the hotly anticipated Tesla Model S charming its way through to the second round with the reassured insouciance of a century-old car-maker, not one that’s been around for barely a decade.

Slinking stealthily between COTY locations, the photogenic five-seater sports liftback certainly has presence, yet there’s also genuine substance underneath that aluminium and boron steel-strengthened outer skin. Of course, chief among these is the advanced tech, employing lithium-ion batteries in either 60kWh or 85kWh configuration in concert with a three-phase AC induction motor driving the rear wheels, to devastating effect.

Only the $127,890 P85+ fitted with the $7990 optional high-performance output motor delivering 301kW and a sizeable 601Nm was available for us to assess due to Tesla’s extremely tight launch timetable, and it soon became clear that this Model S’s electric heart can turn doubters into believers like no EV before it.

How does 100km/h in just 4.4 seconds sound? Such silky sledgehammer pace is usually the provenance of BMW M6 Gran Coupes, not something a Prius owner might aspire to. That the German autobahn stormer is more than twice the Tesla’s price underlines one aspect of its value equation.

Additionally, and unlike any other EV currently available, the Model S can match regular cars for distances between top-ups – 500km if you’re feather-footed.

Remember, the Nissan Leaf struggles to get past 120km. The Tesla doesn’t so much hit the range ball out of the EV park as completely rewrite the rules. It’s just a matter of how long each fill-up takes.

The S’s low centre of gravity, especially combined with the optional air suspension

TESLA MODEL S

BODY Type 5-door liftback, 5 seats L/W/H 4970/1964/1445mm Wheelbase 2960mm Track (f/r) 1662/1700mm Boot capacity 150 litres (f), 745 litres (r) Weight 2108kg DRIVETRAIN Layout Rear motor (east-west), RWD Motor Three-phase, four-pole AC induction with copper rotor Battery 60kWh lithium-ion (225kW/430Nm); 85kWh lithium-ion (270kW/441Nm); 85kWh lithium-ion (310kW/601Nm) Transmission Single speed CHASSIS Brakes ventilated discs (f), solid discs (r) Tyres 245/45R19 – 265/35R21 Spare none Range 502km (NEDC) Greenhouse emissions 0g/km Front airbags Side airbags Curtain airbags Knee airbags Collision mitigation OPT Crash rating 5-star (Euro NCAP) Prices $96,208 – $133,257 3-year retained value n/a Service interval 12 months/20,000km )

R.I.P85

TESLA has already ditched the P85/P85+ and added the option of a front motor in addition to the rear motor, creating the first all-wheel-drive Model S variant.

Suffi xed wit h a ‘D’, it helps the new P85D f lagship cope with slippery surfaces while improving overall efficiency and range. Better still, 0-100km/h is an eye-watering 3.2sec. That’s faster than a McLaren F1!

and 21-inch Michelin Pilot Super Sport tyres, ensures the Tesla steers, handles and holds onto the tarmac with terrific (even terrifying) tenacity, adding yet another dimension to the electric American’s unexpected driver appeal. Mind you, don’t go expecting a cushy low-speed ride.

It’s safe, too. The Model S scored a near-perfect five-star EuroNCAP crash-test rating, despite having only six airbags, not the eight fitted to the US version, plus a suite of sophisticated driver aid tech and a blinding set of brakes that impressed at the proving ground.

However, away from closed test tracks and back to the everyday humdrum of reality, the Model S’s shine started to tarnish, not least due to the callisthenic manoeuvres necessary to squeeze into it through tight apertures while clearing the swoopy roofline.

Once inside, the ‘Performance Leather Seats’ proved too small for larger frames, lacking the cushiony comfort that ought to be a given at this price point. Overly low headrests that don’t provide enough neck support for the high acceleration G-forces, a pitiful lack of storage space (including no cupholders in the rear – what sort of Yank barge is this?), risibly small sunvisors, not enough standard equipment, vibrations through the steering wheel, road and tyre noise intrusion, and insufficient headroom for even those of average height further undermine the Tesla.

It’s interesting to note that the Model S we tested has since undergone a makeover, with many of the above concerns addressed on post-September 2014 cars now arriving in Australia. These changes include wideropening rear doors, a redesigned steering column, better seats, more sound insulation and less stingy specification, including a parcel shelf that’s now standard.

But there’s still much to appreciate in the outgoing model with its unique Silicon Valley nerdy coolness.

For instance, though confusing at first, the massive central touchscreen’s intimidation factor shrinks with experience, with all the important vehicle set-up, climate, audio, phone and personalisation menus easily accessible and second nature to operate. Most of them can also be activated remotely via a couple of buttons on the steering wheel.

Speaking of sensible, the liftback opens wide to reveal a long, flat and practical luggage area that, though a bit shallow thanks to all the electrical gubbins living underneath, extends helpfully with the dropping of the (flimsy) rear seat backs.

A large hidden storage cavity the size of a pirate’s treasure chest also lives below, with another – known as a ‘frunk’ – at the front. Neither contains a spare wheel.

Questions relating to EVs remain about the cost and availability of adding fast-chargers in such a vast and lightly populated land as Australia, though, to be fair to the car-makers, these are issues on which our pollies frustratingly continue to drag their feet interminably.

Ultimately, then, packaging, comfort and specification issues undermine what is still one of the most intriguing overachievers ever tested on COTY. Has there been a sexier, safer or speedier EV? If it weren’t such a competitive year, this American beauty may have sashayed into finals contention. But, flaws and all, Tesla ought to be very pleased with its sophomore super-sedan’s stellar ascension.

“ I’m disappointed we’re driving it nearly three years after its [US] launch” PETER ROBINSON

wheelsmag.com.au 83 “ This is an alternative-energy car that doesn’t look like an egg or a pod, or something designed to put the family and shopping in” BRUCE NEWTON