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Tesla Model S: Believe the hype? Yessir.

Tesla Model S Sydney 2015Which one looks more expensive?

The Tesla Model S is without a doubt one of the most impressive success stories of the past 24 months. It ranked #1 in Norway not once, but 3 times: in September 2013, December 2013 and March 2014, totalling 22.000 worldwide sales in 2013, up to 33.000 in 2014 and on track for 40.000 this year. Tesla’s market valuation has been the subject of much talk, being more akin to a high tech company than a car manufacturer: at $26 billion, it is higher than that of Fiat Chrysler ($20 billion) and just under half that of Ford or General Motors, whereas Tesla produces in one year what GM or Ford produce in one day. All this while posting a $US154 million loss in the first quarter of 2015, a three-fold increase over the same period in 2014 and not expecting to make a profit until 2017…

Tesla Sydney dealershipThe Tesla Sydney dealership, one of only 3 in Australia – the two others are in Melbourne.

Should we all believe the hype? There’s only one way to find out. As the Model S rolled out in Australia in early 2015, it’s time for me to test drive this baby and make up my mind once and for all. Despite repeated requests, Tesla won’t communicate official sales figures for Australia (you may have noticed the carmaker does not appear in the local sales charts), citing global quarterly reports instead. Reading between the lines while speaking with the Tesla Sydney team, I learnt that Tesla sales in Australia are not as limited as I expected, with over a hundred shipped in only a couple of months instead of the few dozen I had anticipated. A figure in line with the 178 Infiniti and 177 Maserati sold in the country over the first 4 months of 2015.

Telsa Model S Blue. Picture courtesy exists in blue…

I drove the Tesla Model S P85+ fitted with the $7990 optional high-performance, which lifts its price to AUD$ 135.880 (US$ 105.330). Seems like a lot, but it’s not, because in terms of refinement and performance, it’s roughly equivalent to a BMW M6 Gran Coupe worth $300k here. I wanted to test the Tesla Australia experience as a whole so signed up for a rather anonymous test drive enquiry to test their website’s claim that “We’ll do our best to reach you within one day.” Promises, promises. Fact is, a Tesla rep was on the phone with me only a few hours after my enquiry. Once they realised I was media, my enquiry was fast-tracked and I picked up my burgundy Tesla for the day less than a week after that. So far so good Tesla. I did slap myself on the wrist though when Tesla politely refused to lend me the car for two days. Right. It’s not like I can refuel in the middle of nowhere Australia and come back the next day.

Tesla Charging stationsTesla charging stations: still way too few of them in Australia.

Australian charging stations are still far and few between. In fact, apart from the Sydney store there is only one additional Tesla charging location in town, near the city centre so no use to me on the day. Let’s get the range anxiety out of the way first: no I did not fall flat and embarrassed in the middle of nowhere, but it was a close call. I opted for a 130km return trip to Royal National Park south of Sydney, which should have been well within the bounds of my ride’s claimed 500km range. However with a couple of hours of city driving, a few hardcore accelerations and a peak of 160km/h on the highway, the battery indicator had turned to a very uninviting dark brown by day end: the car’s own way to let you know that you are in deep sh.. I mean trouble. To its credit, it kept me constantly updated km after km and for each trip you input it gives you the return trip consumption. Very handy and making it almost impossible to run out of power. The claimed 500km range is indicated by a nice red line on the central console, but unless you spend the entire day braking (and therefore recharging the batteries) it is almost impossible to stick to that level, supposedly reached at a constant 105 km/h. It didn’t work quite that way for me, even on the highway.

Tesla Model S. Picture courtesy it just me or the Tesla’s rear could be mistaken for a Jaguar?

Stepping inside the Tesla, you instantly forget this is a 4-door sedan as it does feel like a sports car all through and through. The seating position, the instruments and most of all, the acceleration. The range topping P85D, in Australia next month, is said to be the fastest-accelerating production sedan ever, hitting 100 km/h in only 3.4 sec. The P85+ I drove does this in 4.4 sec. And I can confirm that this mind-blowing figure that shatters all pre-conceived ideas I had about electric cars, is legit. My eye sockets still bear the imprints of my astonished eyeballs retracting inside as I reached the next block in less time than it took to write these last 3 words.

Happy Tesla driverImpressed Tesla driver.

Why so surprised? I hear you ask. The one single reason, apart from the fact that you don’t expect that kind of behaviour from a two tonne sedan, is the total absence of noise. Hitting 0 to 100 km/h in just over 4 sec without hearing a hint of exalted roaring from an engine finally unleashing the torque it’s been gagging for is somewhat of an alien experience. In fact I have never experienced such a thing before. It catches you almost every time because absolutely nothing from the car tells you it’s working hard. Effortless yet earth-shatteringly fast. It’s a different sensation altogether, and I now understand why a lot of punters are saying Tesla is manufacturing the car of the future, today. I was worried silence would kill the excitement of driving a fast car, but you have to drive it to realise this is as it should be, and as it should always have been.

Tesla Model S interior. Picture courtesy’s giant central LCD console is as impressive in real life as it is here.

The dashboard’s oversized touchscreen was perhaps the main feature I wanted to see to believe, and if it feels a little distracting for the first ten minutes, it is surprisingly user-friendly and becomes a second nature after half an hour on the road. It controls pretty much everything you want to control in the car, from the suspension mode to the rooftop opening, navigation, voice recognition, music… You name it, it does it. It’ll be hard to get back to anything less. Exterior design has never been Tesla’s forte in my opinion, but that’s just my opinion because as soon as I launched the car, people started pointing and showing their friends. I was the attraction in town, even during a quick drive to one of the wealthiest suburbs in Sydney, Mosman. Although I think it just kinda looks like a Jaguar, a surprisingly high amount of people are clearly trained to it and notice it very quickly. If you want to show off in a car, in 2015 Australia you’d be better off buying a Tesla than a Porsche, so common these days.

No engineNo engine under the bonnet…

It’s always fun to open the bonnet and find storage space, in addition to an already cavernous boot. There are no spare tyres: “One call and a Tesla rep will come and change the tyre for you”. But what if I’m miraculously in Alice Springs all of a sudden? Like the constant broadband wifi connection that goes with the car for the first two years, it’s also little things that show Tesla is taking a different route to reach luxury nirvana and I have to say I’m liking almost everything I’m seeing. Almost, because of the near absence of storage inside the cockpit (yes it’s a sports car but I need somewhere to put my latte so it doesn’t spill pretty please), and the handles supposedly coming out of the doors when sensing your approach having a few hiccups, which actually prevents you from opening the door: until they retract, there are no handles to handle. But fear not: like a computer, the Tesla Model S gets software updates around the clock so it’s easy to fix teething issues. I told you, the future. Can I keep it?

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