By David Love
You know how it is; the wife is dragging you around a shopping centre and you wish you were at the dentist instead, getting a tooth pulled without anaesthetic. Then you see salvation, a cool car on display in one of the intersections of the walkways. You beg, tell the wife you’re just popping over to have a look at it and you’ll only be a minute and before you get a lecture you rush over to it. It really is impressive close up and as you stand there drooling a minder comes over and starts telling you about the wonderful technological features of the car. He then offers to take your contact details to keep you informed of special offers and developments, you feel sorry for him being stuck there all day talking to hundreds of tyre kickers so you give him your details and wait to get pestered on a weekly basis.
Well, that was me last September and surprisingly I’d only had a handful of newsletter type of emails from them since then. That was until a couple of weeks ago when my mobile phone rang with a call from a Manchester number. Now I normally ignore calls from numbers I don’t recognise but for some reason I answered this one. ‘Good morning, this is Thomas from Tesla Motors, is that David? OK, somebody’s winding me up but it doesn’t sound like any of the guys from work. I give a tentative yes and he says “ We’re going to be in Carlisle next Tuesday and wondered if you like to try the Model S. “You have to ask!” I think to myself as I say “Yes” and everything is arranged.
At the appointed hour we arrive at the Crown Hotel in Wetheral, I say we as there’s no way my wife is risking me signing up for payments I can’t make unless we go without luxuries such as food, heating, etc. And of course there was no way Bev was going to miss out on a ride in a Tesla. There sitting in the corner of the car park is a beautiful black P90 Model S, top of the range with 4 wheel drive and the performance motor. We go inside and meet up with Jean-Luc who sounds like he comes from Peterborough rather than Paris; he leads us back to the car and as we get close the previously flush fitting door handles extend out, hope they don’t retract as soon as you grip them. Before we can do anything he has to unplug the car from the electric charging unit that the Crown has installed for electric cars. The Tesla is 100% electric just like a sewing machine but nothing like a sewing machine. I’m only too happy that Jean-Luc suggests that he drives the car out of the car park so I hop in the passenger seat and think ‘Hell, this car’s bigger inside than mine is outside’. You only need have the key in your pocket to activate the door handles and activate the car, no ignition switch or starter button, just sit in the driver’s seat and the beast comes to life all by itself. The first thing that you notice is the 17” central LCD screen, it dominates the centre of the dashboard and as Jean-Luc eases the car out of it’s parking place the proximity sensors (his words, not mine) show in inches how far you are from obstacles. Once we’re on a straight stretch of road out of the village Jean-Luc says, “I’d like to show you the acceleration, is that alright? Yes, go ahead, I say. “You’re sure you don’t mind he says?” as he taps the display and the word LUDICRIOUS appears. Then he stamps on the accelerator and my ears meet as I’m pushed back in my seat, the suddenness and force makes me feel a little nauseous. He lifts off then says “Again” and I’m once again being forced through the seat back. I’ve driven an Aston Martin Vantage, an Audi R8 and the BMW i8 and none of them can match the instantaneous urge of the Tesla. The electric motors produce maximum torque from a standstill and there are no gears to change so the acceleration is seamless. Ludicrous Mode is one step above Insane Mode and enables the P90D to reach 60MPH in less than 3 seconds.
Jean-Luc switches off Ludicrous Mode and I take over driving. Once in the driving seat the car doesn’t seem so big and is quite easy to place on the country roads around Wetheral. We then head to Junction 43 to try some motorway driving, pushing enthusiastically round the roundabout the Tesla grips well and remains flat with no perceptible body roll. Under the floor are the battery packs, which give it a low centre of gravity; they also contribute heavily to 2 tons plus weight of the car. Despite the weight and lack of Ludicrous Mode I’m easily breaking the speed limit as I join the motorway. I throttle back to the legal limit and go to activate the cruise control and Jean-Luc says “Allow me” and flicks the lever twice. DO NOT REMOVE YOUR HANDS FROM THE STEERING WHEEL comes up on the instrument display and Jean-Luc says “Take your hands off the steering wheel”. I do and the car tracks straight, evidently I’m now in Autopilot Mode. The sensors on the car can ’see’ the lane dividing lines and won’t cross them until I indicate, which I do and the car moves into the middle lane and then stays there. I pass a truck and indicate left and the car moves back into the inside lane. I indicate left again and the car stays true in the inside lane, it won’t cross a continuous white line in Autopilot. I ask how reliable it is and Jean-Luc tells me he travelled 190 miles up the motorway from Manchester without touching the steering wheel. You can set the Sat-Nav and Autopilot and the car will drive itself and use GPS to stick to the varying speed limits on your journey. Traffic light junctions still have to be treated with caution but if there is a car in front and it stops for a red light the Tesla will come to a stop behind it. It even gives you a constant readout of how many miles are left in the battery.
As I exited the motorway onto the slip road Jean-Luc said to lift off the throttle and it felt as if the car was breaking for you. This is Regenerative Breaking where the motor generates power for the battery, extends the driving range and slows you down. Don’t ask me to explain it, I don’t understand brakes, in fact I call the brake the coward’s pedal. When it comes to driving range you might be surprised to discover the Tesla can cover 300 miles between charges, as long as you don’t use Ludicrous Mode, and if you programme the Sat-Nav with your destination it will show you all the charging stations along your route. If you use a Tesla charging station it’s free. Surprisingly the nearest one isn’t at Manchester, there’s a 4 bay charging station at Gretna Services, 2 miles from where I work. So if I had one I could pop out at lunchtime, have a leisurely cup of coffee and get 170 miles of charge in less than 30 minutes. The car even has a Summon Function. You know how it is, you’re in a large car park somewhere for the first time and you can’t quite remember exactly where you parked your car so you start pressing your key fob and look for the indicators flashing. Not if you have the Tesla, you take out your mobile, open the Tesla App and press Summon and the car drives itself to you. All too soon we were back at Wetheral and I get out to let Jean-Luc reverse it into the tight parking space by the charging unit and think how eerie it is to watch the car and not hear the sound of an engine.
Would I like one, HELL YES. I’d even consider selling my soul to the Devil for one but knowing my luck my soul would only be worth a milk float.