The 2015 Tesla Model S P85D proves that two motors are better than one in an electric car, the additive output rated at 691 horsepower and enabling what Tesla calls Insane acceleration mode. Putting it to the test, I braced myself for wild torque steer, wondering which direction the car might slew as this awesome amount of power ripped rubber from road.
One, two, three....power, power, power; there was no struggle with the wheel, no danger of sliding into a field off the side of the road. The 3.2 seconds to 60 mph came on calm and inexorable as a freight train. With a curb weight of 4,647 pounds, about a ton more than the typical super car, the Model S P85D evinced no drama as it let slip its dual dogs of performance.
Tesla launched this new version of the Model S electric car last year, adding a motor to drive the front wheels as well as the rears, giving buyers the option of an all-wheel-drive car. The standard Model S 85D, dual motors with an 85 kilowatt-hour battery pack, goes for $86,070 before tax incentives, and boasts 376 horsepower total with 270 miles of range.
The Model S P85D, the performance variant, comes with the aforementioned 691 horsepower and can make 253 miles from a full charge, according to EPA figures. It goes for a base price of $105,670 in the US, £79,080 in the UK and AU$140,900 in Australia, feeling like a bit of an electric muscle car bargain on any continent.
The Model S P85D retains the same body style as the standard Model S, with one compromise: the front storage compartment under the hood offers about a third less space due to the front motor. Cabin and rear storage space, under the hatchback, remain unchanged.
Other than the dual motors, the Model S P85D showed off a few new tricks gained by the entire Model S line, some due to Tesla's continuing over-the-air software updates and some achieved through new hardware installed on every Model S produced from October of 2014.
Up front on the dashboard, the LCD instrument panel showed a gauge graphic with speed, range and power usage. Left of that virtual gauge, a map appeared when I activated route guidance in the navigation system. The right side of the instrument panel could show audio information from the stereo or other items from a driver-selectable menu.
I saw unrealized potential on this panel, especially when both sides were blank. Tesla could make the left side driver-programmable, maybe offering a screen detailing power usage or current calendar appointments. And this may be a racer's suggestion, but how about a little red tinge of fury on the center gauge when I'm letting the dogs out.
The massive 17-inch touchscreen in the center of the dashboard shows dual or single windows, at the driver's whim, operating with satisfying response due to the underlying Nvidia processor. A static menu line across the top gives immediate access to stereo, navigation, phone, Web browser, energy usage screen and a calendar synced from the driver's phone. A persistent button on the lower left brings up drive settings, such as ride height with the air suspension, steering wheel program including Sport and Comfort, and Insane mode for acceleration.
Along with two USB ports for audio input and Bluetooth audio streaming, I also had built-in Slacker and TuneIn apps using the car's 3G data connection. A Tesla spokesperson could not give me a timeline when the company would offer 4G data, and I would like to see more third-party apps built in, audio and otherwise. Tesla hasn't advanced this app strategy since the car's introduction.
Voice command with the Model S P85D proved frustrating, until realization dawned that I had to hold down the voice button while issuing commands. When requesting music by artist name with voice command, the system switched from my plugged-in USB drive to the Slacker app, effective but not exactly what I wanted.
Voice command works nicely for requesting destinations, an open search similar to how a smartphone's map app responds. Tesla implements Google maps and search in the Model S P85D, so the screen shows multiple destination options based on a search and calculates routes to avoid traffic jams, a feature added last September. I could choose to show satellite imagery from Google Earth on the map, similar to Audi navigation systems. Unlike Audi, there are no stored maps or addresses in navigation, so when out of a cellular data area, navigation is kaput.
These useful information panels and systems lit up not when I put a key in an ignition lock (a quaint 20th century convention) but before that, when I got into the car while toting the car-shaped RFID fob. Similarly, if I had the Tesla app on my smartphone, synced with the car, I could unlock it and start it up with that. Merely putting my foot on the brake pedal made the car step from standby to let's-go mode.
Despite the massive horsepower from this Model S P85D's dual motors, keeping it under control while maneuvering through a parking garage, even with Insane model enabled, is no challenge. As with prior Model S cars I've driven, the accelerator was easy to modulate, letting me creep along at 5 mph, hold at 45 mph, or accelerate past 60 mph. With its direct electric power to the motors, the Model S P85D is dead easy to drive. I preferred to leave Creep mode off, keeping the car at a stop if I didn't push the accelerator, but putting it in Creep would make it behave more like a typical automatic transmission car.
Then there's the wonder of regenerative braking, which can be set between standard and low. In standard mode it comes on strong, meaning the car slowed rapidly when I lifted off the accelerator, in turn converting more kinetic energy to electricity and storing it in the battery pack for later use. Set to Standard mode, I could almost drive the Model S P85D with one foot, letting it coast down to a stop at traffic lights.