I'm a petrolhead, born and raised. Our family car used to be a Ford Mustang Mach 1 – housing a 5.8L V8 and a Hurst stick shift. My father bought it new in 1970 and still owns it to this day. We race at track days; we watch Formula 1; and go for Sunday drives where the destination is the same as the point of departure. And in my eyes, electric vehicles (EVs) are for milkmen and funfairs, not the real world.
How can you possibly compete with the sound of a throaty V8 thundering through twin exhausts? What could be better than working your way through the gears, feeling the thud of acceleration hit the small of your back with each upshift?
But earlier this year, something happened that was too big to ignore. Tesla’s market capitalisation became larger than Ford’s, and then exceeded that of General Motors – both formerly the biggest automobile manufacturers in the world. For the first time in history, America’s most valuable car company was no longer based in Detroit, but in Silicon Valley. It was time to see what all the fuss is about.
With an OTR price of £136,735, the Tesla P100D is knocking on the door of a Bentley Continental GT. How can Tesla command that kind of price tag for a car that doesn’t even have a radiator grille?
Put your foot to the floor and the world around you blurs: your senses overload, your adrenaline soars, and your stomach will be left somewhere a few hundred feet behind you
Well, I have one word for you: Ludicrous. Where normal car companies might choose ‘Sport’ or, at a push, ‘Track’, to name their drive modes, Tesla are a little more creative. Prior to the P100D, its fastest setting was aptly named ‘Insane’. However, for this latest model, they didn’t feel this was quite emphatic enough. They were right.
Ludicrous mode allows you to tap into all of the P100D’s 100kW of power. This equates to 603hp in real money. Not too shabby by any marque’s standards. But when you combine this Tesla’s all-wheel drive technology, then the result is prodigious acceleration.
With two motors – one in the front and one in the rear – the car digitally and independently controls torque to the front and rear wheels ensuring unparalleled traction control. It isn’t just fast, it is mind-altering, perspective-distorting, pant-wetting fast. They may as well have called it ‘Warp Drive’ and be done with it. Put your foot to the floor and the world around you blurs: your senses overload, your adrenaline soars, and your stomach will be left somewhere a few hundred feet on the tarmac behind you.
I’ve driven Koenigseggs and Paganis, Ferraris and Lamborghinis, and nothing – I mean nothing – can match this for acceleration.
And I’m not getting carried away here. According to Tesla’s spec sheet, the P100D can hit 60mph in 2.5 seconds – making it the fastest four-door sedan in history. That’s faster than a Ferrari LaFerrari or a McLaren P1. It’s the same as the Bugatti Chiron, for God’s sake. But it’s not true. It’s even quicker than that.
It’s been independently tested this Spring, and was capable of hitting the magic 60mph marker in just 2.28 seconds, making it the fastest-accelerating production car of all time.
So, apart from ripping your eyelids from your face, what else is the Tesla good for? Well, quite a lot, as it goes.
Unlike a supercar, there’s room – and lots of it. The rear boot is bigger than my Audi A4 estate’s – and then there’s another boot in the front, which has room for a large weekender.
It is, of course, incredible economical, too. The EPA rates the efficiency of the Model S as equivalent to 90 mpg. And the range is just as respectable: up to 381 miles – though, you do have to go easy on the Ludicrous mode to get anywhere this.
And then there’s the ride. It is as smooth and refined as a Mercedes S Class. As there are no gears to change, acceleration is seamless and progressive. Grip is seemingly endless, which makes it great for nipping around town in and out of traffic. The battery’s location on the floor gives Model S an extremely low centre of gravity, which helps both handling and grip, as well as reducing the risk of rollover. Of course, knowing you can take a Porsche Turbo S at the traffic lights is pretty reassuring, too.
The experience is somewhat surreal – and requires a leap of faith – but it is an evocative look into the future
Inside, the Tesla is serene. The distinct absence of any engine noise, the butter-soft leather seats, and the tinted glass roof all make for an exceptionally pleasant travel experience. It’s like being in a spa – especially if you opt for the white leather trim.
The interior design is both stylish and minimalistic. There are only two buttons on the whole dash – one for the glove compartment and the other for the hazard lights.
Beyond that, there is simply a 17-inch central touchscreen, which houses media, navigation, communications (including a web browser), cabin control and vehicle data all in one intuitive interface. It’s here you’ll find Ludicrous mode – just a click away from the homescreen. Many of these functions are mirrored on the instrument panel and can be voice-activated, too.
And if this isn’t enough technical wizardry for you, then how about what Tesla playfully calls its Bio-Weapon Defense Mode. This is a Medical-grade HEPA air filtration system, which removes at least 99.97% of particulate exhaust pollution and effectively all allergens, bacteria and other contaminants from air in the cabin. It creates positive pressure inside the cabin to protect the occupants. So if you’re paranoid about pollution or just suffer from bad hayfever, the Tesla has got your back. And your sinuses.
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AN UPDATE WITH DESTINY
You might imagine all this tech would need updating now and again. And you’re right. But there’s no need to go for a service: using over-the-air software, the Tesla is updated just like your iPhone. Start up the car in the morning, and the car will let you know what new tricks it has up its sleeve.
For example, recently it had an upgrade that allows the car to park itself in your garage. Using the Tesla app on your phone, you can also command it to come and pick you back up from your doorway, too. This is next-level.
The updates also help to refine and enhance the Autopilot system. On the motorway, the car is capable of staying within the lines, accelerating and braking, and even changing lanes with the flick of the indicator stick. Legally, you still have to keep your hands rested on the wheel, but the car is doing everything for you. It can even predict the traffic ahead as it bounces radar beams beneath the car in front. The experience is somewhat surreal – and requires a leap of faith – but it is an evocative look into the future.
Indeed, Tesla’s outlook is very strong. Although some investors think that the company is currently overvalued, they’re forgetting the potential of the autonomous taxi market. Catherine Wood, the CEO of ARK Invest, is very bullish on Tesla’s future: "If we are correct and Tesla gets its fair share of the US autonomous taxi market, not to mention China's […] then Tesla will be multiples of today's $51bn market cap in 2020," she told CNBC in May this year. Morgan Stanley is also positive, betting that electric cars will corner 70% of the European vehicle market. Having experienced the Tesla P100D, I wouldn’t bet against them.
But is it better than a V8? If you’d asked me this time last year, I’d have said you were insane. But now I’m not sure the idea is so ludicrous.
To find out more: tesla.com