Tesla Model S P90D Ludicrous Review
Last year I was in the market for a new car. My then current ride, a BMW 120i M Sport was great and really fun to drive, but it only had three doors which was bit of a pain with my young son. We also found the boot space a little limiting for holidays.
Buying an electric car was a bit of a leap into the dark. I’d never driven one before, nor charged one up. So that made putting the money down a risk, especially given I don’t have off-street parking (I live in zone 2, in London) for a home charger.
But put the money down I did, and in mid-August 2016 I took delivery of a Tesla Model S P90D. This is my review after almost a year of driving it over 13,000mi in six countries.
Ordering & Delivery
The order process was ridiculously smooth. You go on the website, configure the car and put down your deposit. You then upload your documents electronically and get a named person to talk to about your order.
There are no dealers and there is no haggling. You order direct for a set price.
I custom ordered my car so delivery took three months. I had waited for the new facelift Model S, like I guess a bunch of other people, so that may have caused a slightly extended delivery time.
Having an electric car means you get some benefits from the government and local authorities…
- Plug-in car grant (£4,500 off the purchase price)
- No London congestion charge (£11.50/day)
- No vehicle excise duty (UK car tax, about £200/yr for my previous car, but can be £2000/yr)
- No charge for Lambeth borough parking permit (previously about £150/yr)
I’ve bought about £400 worth of cables for recharging in UK, Europe & France on different connectors.
In total, over 13,000 miles I’ve paid £12.06 in fuel costs. I reckon the same distance in my old car would have cost nearly £3,000 in petrol.
Whilst I don’t do this, for comparison charging the car to full from empty at home using the average UK electricity price of 14p per kWh would cost a little over £12.
I have speeding points, and park the car on the street near Brixton in London. Insurance is rather expensive.
It moves. Really moves. With the ‘Ludicrous’ mode turned on it’ll hit 60mph from standing in about 2.8 seconds. That’s a crazy low number, but doesn’t prepare you for the shock of doing it for the first time — your vision goes grey at the edges as, I guess, blood is removed from the front of your face. All of this effortlessly, with no engine roar.
I assume because of the all wheel drive, large tyres and stability control it’s really quite balanced whilst doing this incredible acceleration. However, doing it anywhere other than controlled circumstances is pretty irresponsible. That’s not to say I’ve not destroyed more than one rev-baiting Merc at some south London traffic lights or used the instant brutal power to fix being in the wrong lane.
The new P100DL does 0–60 in under 2.4 seconds. That’s even more not-OK. I have ‘Ludicrous’ turned off most of the time, it’s that impractical.
On unrestricted sections of the German autobahn I’ve had it up to over 160mph where it handles fine — unlike the driver who, not being au fait with driving with no speed limit, was scared as hell.
This is not the perfect car for a bash around country lanes. For starters it’s just 4cm shy of 2 metres wide (nearly a foot wider than my old BMW), and weighs 2.1 tonnes unladen (heading for twice the weight of the 1-Series).
It’s probably fair to say this has happened because the people that designed & built these Model S beasts are more likely to be driving down the I-280 in California than the B2050 in Kent.
Interior & Build
The Model S is Tesla’s first stab at building a full car from scratch, and it shows.
The interior is rather plasticy, quite flimsy, and light. Everything seems to collect dirt and detritus whilst not being a convenient place to put your drink, sunglasses, loose change or keys. Two high-powered USB ports are however most welcome for charging up your phone.
The boot is enormous and the frunk is useful.
I find the seats, although comfortable, a little high — presumably because of the battery under the whole car. There is plenty of room in the back seats, and no big bump in the middle of the floor for the transmission.
I’ve chatted to too many Model S owners at supercharging locations (more on that below!) with build problems on their cars to think that the company doesn’t have an issue here. A common theme is doors not lining up with the chassis and big gaps between the panels where there should be small ones. Not great for a ‘luxury’ product.
The wind noise inside the car at motorway speed is more than you’d expect.
The Tesla set ‘typical’ range on the car is about 250mi, but my record is over 320mi, which I got by driving smoothly at around 70mph on a UK motorway.
I always get over 200mi from a ‘tank’, and from the photo there you can see I’ve averaged 234mi per 90kWh capacity over the car’s life. However, this stat does include electricity usage keeping the battery warm whilst it’s plugged in.
Regenerative braking means that for some trips (like down a massive hill in Corsica) we’ve actually generated more electricity than we’ve used.
So far, I’ve only screwed up the charging & range stuff twice — the in-car software and a little planning makes this quite hard to do.
Once I only charged to the ‘daily’ charge limit meaning a 200mi+ day trip around northern France would possibly be a bit too tight on the range for comfort. No problem — I just charged it the whole way that night and we did that trip the next day.
The second time was more fraught. I missed an exit on a motorway in southern France and the next one wasn’t for another 30mi. The round trip meant that I wasn’t going to be able to make it to the hotel I’d booked to stay in without charging again, and there were no superchargers nearby. This was solved with a visit to a different hotel with a destination charger, volunteering €10 to the owners and waiting a little over an hour for the car to gain enough juice to cover up for my rather silly mistake. Interestingly, a supercharger got built in that area (Toulon) a few weeks after this mistake.
The routing software plans out where you need to charge, and for how long — and when the car has enough juice to continue the journey it notifies your phone.
The first question I’m asked after “How far does it go?” is “How fast does it charge?”. I’ll answer that question in a minute, but first to address a common misunderstanding…
Usually the charge time doesn’t matter because you juice the car when you’re not using it. This is often overnight. So as long as you’re getting more charge out of the socket you’re plugging into overnight than you drive per day it doesn’t matter how fast it happens.
Charging time varies a lot.
- Standard plug — 4–6mph
- Street charger — somewhere between 7 and 22mph, sometimes higher
- Destination charger — between 7mph and 32mph
- Supercharger —up to 320mph
The superchargers are designed to enable long journeys — and that they do. It would be impossible, or at least impractical for me to do out of city and country roadtrips without these.
It’s fair to say that I wouldn’t have bought an electric car if this network didn’t exist, and why Tesla is currently the only electric car I could buy and use practically.
If anything, the superchargers are too fast. By the time you’ve plugged in, gone for a comfort break and bought a bag of Jelly Babies it’s time to move the car to free up the space for the next person. Usually not enough time for a meal.
I’ve also had this problem at some destination chargers, where I’ve had to go and move the car out of the spot because it’s done filling up.
Supercharger availability varies by country. I’ve only had to wait for a charge twice in the UK. Most notably the site on the A303, where there is only two stalls, and the road is often heavy with holiday traffic. This is quite annoying when it happens — you’re at the supercharger because you want to get going quickly. Tesla are countering this by building more supercharger sites, and making each one larger, often with 8–12 stalls, rather than just 2.
In Germany there are lots of superchargers. For every site you charge at you pass one or two others. France is a little more spread out. In Belgium it feels like the sites are near cities — they are large and, in my experience, overloaded.
There are some other interesting charging methods too.
Driving from London to Amsterdam, I was able to charge the car on the overnight Stena Line ferry from Harwich to Hook Of Holland and back.
This is a lot of fun.
You get put in a separate lane for loading to make sure you’re close to the electrical point and are put on the boat either first or last. You then plug in and go and sleep in your cabin, whilst your car charges and you make your way across the sea. Then you drive off the other side with a full ‘tank’. Highly civilised.
Apparently electricity availability on a ferry isn’t as unusual as it seems as lots of these ships have the standardised electrical outlets in the hold for refrigerated containers to plug into.
Another interesting charging method comes from Ubitricity.
All of the lamp posts where I live were changed to use efficient LED bulbs, meaning that there is excess electricity supplied to them. Ubitricity, with Lambeth Council, add a proprietary plug to the bottom of the post then give you a cable to use them with. Really clever.
There are three of these plugs within about 50 metres of my house, but they don’t have demarcated electric car bays by them.
Their electricity costs 15p per kWh (less than the electricity supply to my house) plus 9p when you plug in — so a full charge costs £13.60.
These points charge at about 15mph, which is more than fast enough for my usage.
Here’s a great video about Ubitricity from the excellent Fully Charged programme.
On a motorway, the car can basically drive itself — combination of radar and camera are available to take over. This works incredibly well, and is often improved via software updates.
To have the car change lanes you just use the indicators.
You need to prove to the car that you’re still in control by holding the wheel, and there are apparently sensors in the seat too. Of course, if something goes wrong — it’s your fault as the driver in charge of the car, so you’re incentivised to pay attention.
Using autopilot for the first time is incredibly nerve wracking. I found it very stressful to hand over control of the car to the software — you obviously instinctively feel like you should be doing the driving as you’re doing 70 down the motorway with a steering wheel in front of you.
After about ten minutes with autopilot on it becomes quite natural, and I’ve found myself looking around in the mirrors and being more aware of the other traffic knowing that the car has everything in front covered.
The car is connected via 4G and WiFi and has a massive 17" touchscreen, plus Spotify and TuneIn clients baked in. The DAB radio is good too. The impressive unified search that allows you to find music, artists or programmes across the multiple audio mediums the car supports works great.
The built-in web browser is terrible, but apparently is being fixed soon. The voice recognition works surprisingly well, especially picking up slightly unusual artist names.
The Bluetooth phone connection works fine, and the interface for that in the car is good.
The 4G works on multiple networks, and all over Europe. It’s pretty wild to have your car keep streaming some Spotify playlist or TuneIn podcast as you go through the EuroTunnel.
At 2am one night the car was stolen from outside my house. I’ll spare you the details of how I messed up, but it’s fair to say it was my fault as I’d left one of the keys inside it.
CCTV revealed that a young man had tried every car door handle in the street and got lucky.
When I discovered the car was gone the next morning I tried to track it using Tesla’s mobile app, but the thieves had disabled the mobile access from the car’s UI. No problem though, a quick phone call to Tesla’s superb roadside support and they gave me the address in Battersea where it had been abandoned for police to go and find it.
The car was undamaged apart from where they had ripped the dashcam off.
Fortunately the numpty that had nicked the car couldn’t figure out how to charge it, but had then dumped it with zero charge, meaning that I had to get a tow to a charging station.
Tesla very kindly did this free of charge.
This car is the best thing I’ve ever bought.
I’m looking forward to seeing what happens when German car makers decide the market is right for electric and self-driving cars and give Tesla some competition though.
Here’s my two-year review…