This is how electric cars should be done. I’m not talking (yet) about the Model S’s performance, styling or outside-the-box thinking, but its price.
New technology has historically made its debut in expensive cars in which large profits per unit can pay back development costs. The first cars to be fitted with ABS? The Mercedes-Benz S-class and BMW 7-series in 1978 (or, if you’re being pedantic, the Jensen FF over a decade earlier). It took well over a decade for ABS to migrate to cheap family cars. Electric drive making its debut in a family hatch? The Nissan Leaf never made sense to me.
A big carrot has to be dangled to get me to visit any shopping centre, let alone one as big as London’s Westfield Centre. Glowing reports of the new Tesla and growing curiosity steered me to the firm’s Westfield shop and to the keys to the Model S demonstrator that lives in the car park downstairs.
Out pop the Tesla’s silver door handles as I walk up to the car. It’s a P85+, the one with the most power and range. The pop-out door handles are a bit gimmicky and their finish a bit crude, but you have to remind yourself that this car is from a start-up company, albeit one backed by a zillionaire with a wacky name.
I love the Model S’s simple interior. There’s only one button (apart from a few on the steering wheel) and that’s the legally required hazard light switch. The gigantic touchscreen puts all rivals’ infotainment systems into the last century, although the safety of using it on the move is highly questionable. I’m broad-minded enough to embrace new powertrain technology, but not enough to abandon the principle of always having your eyes on the road when driving.
We head up the M40 to Buckinghamshire with well over 200 miles of range indicated and, as the Model S is due back the same day, no range anxiety. Smooth power delivery is the electric car’s ace card even if there isn’t much power there, like in Volkswagen’s e-Up, but the Tesla has impressive performance and surges forward at a press of the accelerator.
The Model S handles tidily but isn’t as dynamically able as the best sports saloons, but then driving it is such a different sensation that it doesn’t really matter. People won’t be buying one of these for track days or to harry BMW M5s around the Nürburgring. Those who buy Teslas are the sort of people who bought Saabs: thinkers and individuals. A bit like Bristol customers but with less disposable.