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DRIVEN: The Tesla Model S P100D – The future of motoring?

Image Credit: Tesla

A few months ago (yeah… I’ve been busy, sorry about that), I finally found myself in the driver’s seat of  a Tesla Model S P100D. Like many, I’ve read the stories of the car’s mythical “Ludicrous Mode” and imagined it as the super-sports saloon of the future… except in the present.

It isn’t that the car is some extravagant concept which will never make production that makes it seem like the car of the future. Not only is it in full production, but you have likely seen many of them on the roads by now. Rather, it seems to be a clear indication of the direction cars in general are heading. The problem is, it isn’t a concept. It is here, now.  So is it any good? Does it drive and satasfy like we expect (and hope) the next great evolutionary step of cars will?

Setting aside the fact that it is fully electric, the Model S has some really cool features that make it stand out from the crowd in the luxury sedan category. It has the option to be fully autonomous (which is disabled in the US until autonomous driving is legalized). It has a trunk in the front, and a rear hatch. It has a million odd easter eggs which are remotely enabled by Tesla. There’s only one feature that has really left an impression on the car enthusiast community, however: Tesla calls it “Ludicrous Mode.”

Ludicrous Mode summons the full power of the motors for maximum torque and horsepower, bring the car from zero to sixty in an absolutely incredible TWO POINT FIVE SECONDS. (What?) Like many, I assumed that the Model S would have a sports car feel – like other fast sedans in the price range.

Well, here’s the bad news: if you think it is going to feel like a sports car because it is fast, you’re wrong. Instead, it’s a bit like coating yourself in an inch-thick butter suit and diving down a Slip-and-Slide covered in baby oil. Smooth is the only real word that applies. The steering is smooth, the gas pedal is smooth, and the ride quality is excellent. In the bends however, I quickly realized it is no “super-sports sedan.” In fact, it isn’t even a sports sedan. It’s a very heavy luxury sedan… which also happens to be really, really fast. The regenerative braking does help to slow the car without braking, but while hard braking is okay, it is no better than I would expect from any normal sedan.

However smooth and luxurious the ride may feel, the way the P100D accelerates is absolutely intoxicating. If you don’t smile, it’s because you are a passenger in sheer terror. I simply came to a full stop, set the car into Ludicrous Mode, and mashed the right pedal flat to the floor. From that point I only had time to give a quick chuckle before realizing I was doing a speed that I’d rather not advertise. while cruising around any forward movement of your right foot is an instant – but smooth – response in acceleration. No waiting for a downshift or boost, just GO.

Simply put, that acceleration is a big plus for the P100D. There are some problems, however. As great as it is, the rush of going from zero to sixty in TWO AND A HALF SECONDS does eventually lose its charm. And when it does, what are you left with? A comfortable, luxurious all-electric car that looks good and goes great right? Right – except just one problem: the Model S still has some growing to do.

While the car is comfortable and serves essentially every need you could ask for in a luxury sedan, it has some problems with build quality. You will notice some body panels may not line up right, and some features which are… not so great. For example, to control the menu there are two vertical thumb scroll wheels in the on the steering wheel. To move the menu selection up, scroll up; to move down, scroll down; to select, push the wheel in. Seems simple right? The problem is, you want to go one click, you go three. You want to select, and it scrolls down as you select the option under the one you wanted. Try doing all this while not taking focus off the road, and you are likely to end up rather frustrated. Yet another example of a less-than-fully-thought-out feature is how you open the sunroof: using that very same scroll wheel… several times. The Model S isn’t cheap either, with P100D prices starting around $120,000. That price, definitely makes what some might call “quirks” seem more like real problems.

All in all, the Tesla Model is a great luxury EV. If that’s why you buy it, you will learn to work with its quirks and you will be more than satisfied. It is smooth, fast, well equipped and extremely practical. If you expect it to be the replacement for your C63AMG – simply put – you’re going to get bored. As for me, I’ll wait for the next model  before giving it a place in my dream garage – hopefully with a few less quirks and misaligned panels.

Last but definitely not least, I’d like to give a big thanks to David at Buerkle Acura in Minneapolis, MN for making this test drive possible. Buerkle Acura has offered some excellent test drive events, and has been great to work with thus far, so please check them out (not a paid ad). They get some really great new and used cars, such as the Model S in question and a few of the new NSX.

David Marschinke of Buerkle Acura