After visiting the Tesla store in Zurich earlier this fall, I wrote quite an enthusiastic review based on first impressions of Tesla’s family sedan, the Model S (found here). Finding time for a test drive took longer than expected, but earlier this week it became reality – and boy what a life-changer it was!
Given I described the first impression of the car quite extensively in my first review I’ll pass on the details but what strikes you every time you step into the Model S is how spacious it is. The absence of an engine in the front has left space for quite a sizeable, second luggage compartment of 150 litres, easily fitting two larger bags, which together with the hatchback solution in the rear means around 900(!) litres of luggage space with five seats (and over 1600 litres if you fold the back seats). This means the Tesla is a true family car option, as long as your children are not oversized (the limited headroom on the back seats means people over 180 cms will hit the roof).
With the Tesla salesman (a converted banker, mind you…) next to me, I took possession of a pearl white Model S with black interior, to me the best colour combination. It had the stronger of the two offered engines (85 KwH, 414 bhp, range around 400 kms) with the so called performance package, meaning a better handling chassis and a torque of 600 Nm, rather than 440 Nm in the standard 85 KwH version. It also featured the panoramic roof that opens larger than the sun roof of any other current production car.
Driving a Tesla in the city is quite undramatic. Obviously there is no engine noise but to be fair, I don’t hear the engine in my MB either, and the Tesla is still exposed to surrounding noise. Fascinating at first, but easy to get used to, is the strong engine breaking sensation developing as you take your foot off the pedal. This is the engine regenerating electrical power and once you learn to manage it (which takes roughly 5 minutes), it means you can actually drive the car without breaking in 9 cases out of 10. It also means that driving down an alpine road for example, when regeneration will be particularly high, your range will develop positively. What also strikes you immediately is obviously the 17 inch info screen that occupies the center of the car and from which basically everything is handled. This system always has an internet connection, over Wifi or 3G, financed by Tesla all through Europe. That’s right, no roaming charges if you take the car on a trip abroad!
With this in mind, the remaining driving experience in the city is completely undramatic. The car handles well, together with the suspension clearly on the sporty side, quite reminiscent of a 5-series BMW. Seats are comfortable (although they could do with some more lateral support) and the cabin, lacking a transmission tunnel, is very roomy.
And then at some point you come onto the motorway, and this is when all you thought you knew of motoring (or indeed electrical cars!) changes – forever. The nature of an electrical car means that torque is constant irrespective of the speed, and power delivery is instant, as there is no transmission, turbo or other to delay it. So when you floor it at 60, 80 or 100 km/h, you immediately have 600 Nm of torque hitting you in the blink of an eye. This means the Tesla does 0-100 km/h in around 4.5 seconds but even more impressive, it does 80-120 km/h in less than three seconds, roughly on par with a Panamera Turbo, but beating an Aston Martin Rapide (that money-wise will both set you back considerably more). The feeling when it does so is quite simply unlike anything you have ever experienced. It is also very, very addictive, and something every motor enthusiast should try out.
On smaller roads the impression of a well-handling, rather sporty car is confirmed. Given the 600 kgs of battery power sit in the floor, the center of gravity is low, and weight repartition at 48/52 is excellent. Sure, it doesn’t behave like a 911, but again this is a large, family sedan. It may feel slightly heavy (after all it weighs 2.1 tonnes…) but there is no roll to talk about, steering is precise and the (air) suspension is well-behaved.
Not a recommended way of driving considering the range…
No negative points? Sure, there are a few. As mentioned the seats could be more supportive, the fact that a high-tech car like the Tesla lacks modern functions such as a lane assist or an intelligent cruise control is disappointing, and some parts of the interior, especially in the boot, lack premium feel. But when you floor that pedal, you will forgot all of the above very quickly…
Since my first visit at Tesla, the company has cut delivery times to 4-5 months, and the Model S has become the most sold car in Norway, a country with high car taxes but strong subsidies on alternative fuel cars. And looking at the financial side even if you live outside of Norway is quite interesting (at least in Switzerland but surely in other countries as well): buying a properly equipped 85 KwH Model S sets you back around 105.000-120.000 CHF, i.e. roughly the same as a large German sedan with similar equipment (but without an engine that in any way can match the experience). But after that, it’s only good news. Comparing costs to my current MB E350, this is what it looks like: no road tax for electrical cars in Zurich (+700 CHF), service included for the first four years (around +1000 CHF on 20.000 kms/year), cheaper insurance (+700 CHF) and “fuel” costs on 20.000 kms of around 600 CHF rather than around 3700 CHF (+3100 CHF) in my case means a net saving of around 5500 CHF – per year. From that perspective, the price is more than fair. There is also a 4 year warranty on the car and 8 years on the batteries, and a resell level that will probably by far exceed conventional cars.
Tesla is also becoming a serious pain in the butt for larger (German) carmakers. How can a company with no car manufacturing tradition and a couple of thousand employees come up with a car that in some aspects is lightyears ahead of competition? How can they sell it at 100.000 CHF, when a small BMW i3 with some basic equipment but less than half the range (not to talk about the power or the size) costs more than 50.000 CHF? How can Tesla offer an infotainment solution that is constantly online over 3G all over Europe? The Germans had better find an answer to these questions sooner rather than later.
Likewise, it is high time for Europe’s politicians to wake up. This is a car that at zero emissions could seriously change Europe’s automotive landscape, especially if Tesla as promised comes out with a cheaper model in the coming years, Still, in most cases, it is Tesla that needs to finance the power charging stations built over Europe out of their own pocket. Where are the initiatives in this direction from the various types of green parties that like to talk the talk, but rarely walk the walk?
While these questions are answered, go and test drive a Tesla. You won’t regret it…