Tesla Model S gains Autopilot, all-wheel-drive option

At an event crowded with Tesla fans in Los Angeles, Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk announced advanced driver-assistance systems in the Model S, along with an all-wheel-drive option.

Wayne Cunningham Managing Editor / Roadshow
Wayne Cunningham reviews cars and writes about automotive technology for CNET's Roadshow. Prior to the automotive beat, he covered spyware, Web building technologies, and computer hardware. He began covering technology and the Web in 1994 as an editor of The Net magazine.
Wayne Cunningham
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Watch this: Tesla beefs up Model S with autopilot, all-wheel-drive

LOS ANGELES -- Tesla's electric Model S has proven a very technically advanced car, except in regard to driver-assistance systems. All that changes now, as Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk announced at an event in Los Angeles that every car manufactured over the last two weeks comes with new sensor hardware to enable what he calls Autopilot capabilities.

The event on Thursday night also included an announcement about the D option, an all-wheel-drive Model S with motors at the front and rear wheels.

The Autopilot hardware includes forward-looking radar and camera, combined with all-around long-range ultrasonic sensors. A software update being sent out to cars as an over-the-air update will enable driver-assistance features such as adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist and automated parking.

Tesla event shows off Autopilot, all-wheel-drive 'D' option (pictures)

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In addition, Musk said owners will be able to summon their cars, or set a calendar so the cars will meet them at a prearranged spot. However, this capability will only be enabled on private property to avoid liability issues.

During a short test drive at the event, Tesla demonstrated how the Model S' front camera could recognize speed limit signs, and set its speed accordingly. In addition, the car self-steered, following curving lane lines, then braked for stopped traffic ahead. These capabilities show very advanced forms of adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping assist.

With the D all-wheel-drive option, Musk said the car can accelerate from zero to 60 mph in 3.2 seconds, putting it in supercar territory. Software for the all-wheel-drive system will intelligently shift torque between front and rear wheels to maximize grip and efficiency.

Watch this: Tesla's new AWD Model D features dual motors

Tesla will offer the D option for its 60, 85 and P85 Model S versions. Both the 60D and 85D get 188-horsepower motors front and rear, making up a total of 376 horsepower for the cars, slightly down from the 380 horsepower of the rear-wheel-drive version. However, acceleration and range are both up.

The P85D gets the biggest performance increase. For this model, Tesla retains the 470-horsepower motor at the rear wheels and adds a 221-horsepower motor at the front, for a combined 691 horsepower. In this version, acceleration to 60 mph is a blistering 3.2 seconds and range goes up by 10 miles. Top speed is also increased to 155 mph, but that is merely a change in the car's governed speed.

Tesla demonstrated the acceleration at the event, and the car proved itself a neck-snapper. It felt decidedly faster than the standard P85 version. During Musk's presentation, he said he wanted driver-selectable modes in the car that would go from "normal, to sport, to insane."

Musk noted that further over-the-air software updates would improve the all-wheel-drive capabilities.

Tesla created a launch strip for test drives during its event. Wayne Cunningham/CNET