Ride, Handling & Performance
Interior Comfort & Practicality
Technology & Safety
Value & Ownership
If there was ever a car brand of the moment it's Tesla. The American carmaker has done some extraordinary things and forever changed the automotive industry. Tesla has spearheaded a new wave of automotive engineering that focuses on electric power, battery technology and sustainability that will drive motoring into the future.
When it comes to electric cars and perhaps, more importantly, the perception of electric cars, Tesla has broken the mould. Gone are the days when electric cars were dinky, slow and bizarre looking. Thanks to Tesla, sustainable motoring through electric cars is now something to be desired.
On test here is the flagship Model S P100D sedan, it’s not just another new car, it's an advertisement for what’s possible. This is the Tesla that will change the way many people think. It’s the vehicle that will make car enthusiasts rethink what driving in the 21st-century is all about.
Now Tesla started out with noble ideas to design, build and deliver an emissions-free electric car that could move the masses. The Model S, in P100D guise, is a long way removed from that ambition. The Model S P100D is priced from $196,200 plus on-road costs. The Model S isn’t really a car of the people, it’s a premium offering competing at the top end of the market.
The good news is, unlike other premium brands, buyers don’t need to study a lengthy options list. The only things to genuinely consider are Enhanced Autopilot and Full Self-Driving Capability that will future-proof the purchase. Our test car was equipped with this technology.
This is a very difficult car to not only review but to categorise. Is it a premium car, performance car, or both? What models are its competitors? The Model S can’t be directly cross-shopped against anything. We can only compare apples to oranges in this instance.
In terms of the spend required, the obvious rivals are high-end BMW 5 Series models like the M5 or mid-level 7 Series variants. Mercedes-Benz will throw up E and S-Class models and Audi the A8. Out of left field are entry versions of the Maserati Quattroporte and Jaguar's XJ.
If we talk performance, the Model S can go toe to toe with any supercar. Performance heroes such as the Ferrari 812 Superfast won’t beat the P110D to 100km/h. In most measurable ways, the Models S P100D is without peer. It can take the form of a comfortable family sedan, enjoyable executive express or supercar killer.
So where to start? Let’s try the exterior. Tesla has developed a modern design language that’s purposeful but not overdone. It’s an electric car that looks like a car. It must be a tedious balancing act making the car of the future appeal to motorists of the day. The Model S does look at home parked amongst other premium marques.
After careful analysis of the exterior, the claims that Tesla’s build quality is suspect are over exaggerated. In fact, the build quality of this latest Model S is impressive. Some of the panel gaps are a whisker wider than what some would expect from a car in this price range, but in no way is this a deal-breaker and the majority of buyers wouldn't even notice.
Where Tesla’s design and styling really set itself apart from other premium brands is inside the cabin. The interior layout is clinical, functional and minimalist. All the information needed is housed in two screens. One is stationed in the location of the traditional instrument cluster and one of them is a massive 17-inch showstopper that’s angled slightly towards the driver. A screen of this size brings newfound flexibility to the car’s infotainment options. The brilliant satellite navigation (powered by Google maps) and sound options can be displayed at the same time.
Almost every aspect of the Model S is customisable via the main screen. Everything from climate functions to lighting to steering and suspension settings can be altered, the level of customisation available is truly remarkable.
For the unfamiliar, it is only natural to think a 17-inch screen would serve as a prominent distraction to the driver. This isn’t the case, the Model S is equipped with an excellent voice command system that can control the screen’s functions. The operation of all the cabin’s features and infotainment functions is very smartphone-esque.
The infotainment system in the Model S is comprehensive, the car has its own 3G connection and a Spotify account that removes the need for smartphone mirroring software.
The interior build quality is much better than we were expecting, for the most part, all the materials have a premium feel. The artificial leather on the seats (Tesla calls this a vegan interior) is lovely, while the suede fabric that covers the roof and the carbon fibre trim contributes greatly to the premium atmosphere.
Buyers coming to the Model S from other premium cars will notice the lack of emotional design elements found in upmarket European offerings. There are no dials, switches or buttons so the tactile experience is vastly different. The Tesla’s interior may lack the intricate details found elsewhere, however, the clean layout really suits the car’s personality.
What is annoying in a car of this price is the lack of an electric shade cover for the dual sunroof. Covers can be purchased separately, but a retractable shade should be considered a must for our climate.
Practicality is taken care of with ample room for five adults and their belongings. A combination of a flat floor, clever packaging and luggage capacity of 894 litres make the Model S suitable for the majority of family applications.
Family buyers will also find reassurance in Tesla’s commitment to safety. The Model S is crammed full of the latest active safety technologies, including collision avoidance and autonomous emergency braking.
It’s always a little different starting an electric car, with no engine rumble or exhaust note to provide any audible signals of life, double checking the instrument cluster becomes second nature.
Take off is so quiet, it’s hard to comprehend the car is actually moving. Driving through town in busy traffic, the Model S redefines what we consider refinement. The only noticeable noise comes from the air conditioner fan in the absence of the radio blaring.
There isn’t as much need to use the brake pedal in a Tesla, which can be difficult to grasp at first. As soon as your foot is removed from the accelerator, power delivery is cut and the car immediately slows to a standstill. Tesla has included a setting that allows the car to crawl in traffic so it feels more like a petrol or diesel car.
When attempting a reversing manoeuvre, the giant screen shows the best rear view camera image we have seen. It’s crystal clear thanks to a high-definition camera and screen.
Getting out on the highway where the Model S can stretch its legs, there is some wind noise and tyre roar, however, it’s still more refined than anything else we have encountered.
Purists will lament the lack of engine and exhaust noise. The feelings of loss subside quickly when the pedal is pushed.
In terms of performance, Tesla has stated many times they don’t make slow cars. The Model S P100D is fast, the acceleration is exhilarating from a standing start. The force pushes you back in the beautifully contoured seats as the Model S hits three figures in 2.7 seconds. In a sprint to 100km/h, the Model S will dust many a supercar.
When you give a high powered car a boot full, it will generally start to shake and scream as the tachometer needle approaches the redline. It often gets to the point where it feels like the doors are going to fall off. The Model S suffers from none of these afflictions, it’s unbelievable how stable it is as the speed climbs, it feels bulletproof.
The Model S isn’t just a one-trick pony that can impress in a straight line. The car is well-balanced and delivers an excellent handling package to enjoy all the twists and bends found on a country backroad. There is a high level of dynamic competence that isn’t often associated with American cars.
In P100D form the Model S is all-wheel drive, but like all things from Tesla, it’s not a traditional all-wheel drive set up. The P100D has two electric motors, one in the front and one in the rear. Employing a dual-motor arrangement means the car’s computer independently controls torque to the front and rear wheels. The benefit of this innovative system is an enormous amount of grip, it just refuses to let go.
One aspect of the driving experience that didn’t exceed expectations was the Enhanced Autopilot. We couldn’t get it to consistently engage. When activated it would work for a minute or two before disengaging. No doubt this will improve over time, however, at this stage we would be very reluctant to spend the $6,900 required to purchase the technology.
It’s easy to get carried away in the Model S, it’s just so much fun to drive. We were expecting this amount of lively driving to have severe consequences on the car’s range. Pleasingly, it didn’t really make much difference.
When talk turns to electric cars, the range is always the biggest point of debate. Range anxiety has long been associated with electric cars, this is no longer a problem in a Tesla, even the base Model S has a driving range of up to 490km. In the Model S P100D Tesla quotes a driving range of up to 613km. Sensible trip planning is all that is required to avoid a flat battery, the great thing is the car has the ability to plan trips for you to remove any doubt about the range.
On a full charge, we expect a city driving range of around 400km. For highway cruising, a full charge will allow you to cover approximately 500km. For daily driving, Tesla recommends charging the car to 80 per cent capacity to ensure a long battery life. Following this recommendation gives the P100D a range of 483km. In our family circumstance, this would mean charging once every four or five days.
Tesla says the most desirable scenario is to charge where you park. Installing the Tesla charger at home or work would be the ideal solution. Australian buyers get the charger included with the car (professional installation required). This option will charge the battery in four to six hours.
During our testing, we made use of the Tesla Supercharger at Euroa. Supercharging will get the battery back to 80 per cent capacity in under 30 minutes. Another innovative idea is the Tesla smartphone app that allows owners to monitor the rate of charge without being in the car. The app also enables the climate control to be turned on remotely so the cabin is at an ideal temperature when the drive continues, a very handy feature during a hot Australian summer.
In ideal circumstances, supercharging should be kept for long distance journeys. Telsa is supporting its owners by expanding the Supercharger network to provide greater flexibility for those who like to get out and about. At present, it’s possible to drive from Adelaide to Brisbane via Melbourne.  
Unfortunately for new owners, free supercharging for life is no longer offered. Under the new arrangement, owners receive 400kWh of free Supercharger credit each year, Tesla says this is enough to drive about 1600km.
As for the overall running costs when compared to a petrol or diesel car, a lot depends on what you're paying for electricity. So it’s not a one size fits all situation. Some electricity retailers offer special arrangements for EV owners, so it’s worth shopping around if you make the switch.
Despite not needing oil changed, the Model S still requires regular maintenance. Service intervals are set at 12 month/20,000km. Tesla provides transparent service costs for each trip to the hoist, or alternatively, buyers can opt for a 3 or 4-year Maintenance Plan. For an all-wheel drive Model S the 3-year plan is priced at $2,100 while the 4-year plan costs $3,175. In isolation, the Model S isn’t cheap to maintain, but the costs are proportionate for a vehicle at this price point.
Tesla supports the Model S with a 4 year/80,000km warranty. For added peace of mind, the battery and drive unit is covered for 8 years with no cap on the number of kilometres.
There is also the benefit of over the air software updates. This technology means Tesla owners can access new and improved features without needing to visit a service centre.
What Tesla has achieved in such a short time is nothing short of extraordinary. The success of Tesla has caught many established carmakers unaware and now they are playing catch up. The simple fact is, there is a huge section of the market wanting an emissions-free car.
The majority of concerns about electric car ownership have been overcome. Performance and range are no longer issues. The only elephant in the room is the price. To register the Model S P100D in Victoria can cost a whopping $275,000 including on-roads. Value is in the eye of the beholder, the top-spec Model S is either an expensive family sedan or bargain performance car that can make even the hottest of exotics blush.
At this point in time, early adopters are paying a premium to set the trends. We will ask Tesla for the opportunity to drive the more affordable 75D model later in the year as a point of comparison.
Tesla has started a revolution that should've started decades ago. No one can deny Tesla has secured its place in automotive history. For such a young company, Tesla has achieved things established manufacturers haven’t been able to do with a century head start.
What Tesla has shown is that when it comes to electric cars there is no need to compromise, buyers can have it all – efficiency, performance, comfort, reliability and desirability. Yes, electric cars are now desirable.
The Model S reassures motoring enthusiasts and performance car fans that there is another way of doing things, there is more than one way to count to 10. Most importantly, the Model S P110D conclusively proves that when the oil runs out there is nothing to fear for there is still much fun to be had.
2018 Tesla Model S P100D Specifications
Price from $196,200 plus on-road costs Powertrain Dual Motor All-Wheel Drive 100kWh battery Power 568kW Torque 1000Nm Transmission single speed unit Range up to 613km Length 4979mm Width 2187mm Height 1445mm Wheelbase 2960mm Performance 0-100km 2.7 seconds Turning Circle 11m Kerb Weight 2100kg Service Intervals 12 months/20,000km Warranty 4 year/80,000 km – 8 year/unlimited kilometre warranty on battery and drive unit