Feb 06

TONY QUIROGA - 2015 Tesla Model S P85D

Not having to wait is a luxury. Saving time is the justification the privileged give for indulging in fractional jet ownership and hiring personal assistants to attend funerals and bar mitzvahs on their behalf. Ideally, the less time you spend doing something unpleasant, the more time you have to do something worthwhile. But it never quite works out that way, or Minute Rice would have ushered in a new age of enlightenment.

Tesla’s Model S P85D acts like a car built on the mantra “Waiting is for suckers.” This 691-hp battery-electric vehicle is for the impatient, the toe tappers, and the watch checkers. Tesla claims that the P85D is capable of reaching 60 mph in 3.2 seconds, shaving 1.4 seconds from the rear-drive P85 it replaces. To get down to that number, Tesla added a 221-hp electric motor to drive the front wheels. This secondary unit works in conjunction with the P85D’s 470-hp rear motor to provide four-wheel drive. A similar two-motor setup will be available on all Model S versions starting this spring, and the upcoming Model X SUV also will share the system. But for now, the most snow-friendly Tesla is the top-shelf P85D.

 

From a stop, the one-speed P85D has all of its 686 pound-feet of thrust at the ready. Power delivery is immediate, as in all EVs, but here it’s like driving a sports car in the lowest possible gear with the engine revving right at the torque peak, all the time. It’s shockingly quick. Kick the accelerator and the car jumps ahead on a surge of power. Eye a gap in traffic and you’re there. This is power at the speed of thought—there’s no waiting, no downshifting, and, really, no effort. A clot of Corollas can be dispatched with one quiet leap forward, putting those Toyotas in the only place they look good: the rearview mirror.

 

The neck-straining pull lessens as speeds increase. Also, our preproduction test car had a known issue that reduced power by about 10 percent at speeds above 60 mph. Instead of reporting lame test results, we’ll wait for a fully baked P85D to verify Tesla’s acceleration claims.

At first, the electric silence seems odd but then it soothes, serving to enhance the driving experience. The cabin calm at 70 mph would make a Lexus engineer envious. Fully goosed, it’s only slightly louder. The big battery pack in the floor acts like a giant lithium-ion mattress and muffles out road noise. Suspension crash barely registers, and even big whacks to the 21-inch wheels are nonviolent confrontations.

The electron-filled California king in the floor is seriously heavy. But mounting it low hooks the Model S to the earth. Tesla says a two-motor P85D weighs 4936 pounds, or 291 pounds more than a rear-drive P85, but it doesn’t act any heavier. Or, indeed, very heavy at all. The P85D changes direction quickly and without fuss. Even at the limit of grip, the Tesla remains eerily flat and unperturbed by cornering pressure. Keep pushing and the Tesla’s mass begins scrubbing away the edge of the outside front tire. An accurate and responsive electric power-assisted steering system offers three weights, from light to heavy. No matter the mode, the steering effort constantly changes and reacts to the road. Subtle vibrations paint a vivid picture in asphalt.

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