Tesla Model S P85D Dual-Motor Electric Car: Yes, it’s Quick, But There’s More To It Than Speed

Back in October last year, Californian automaker Tesla Motors announced two important new upgrades to its celebrated Model S electric sedan at a special event in Hawthorne, California.

Tesla has taken the Model S and made it even more refined.

Tesla has taken the Model S and made it even more refined.

The first was the addition of a a dual-motor, all-wheel drive variant of the Tesla Model S, designed to be more sure-footed and higher-performance than the single rear-wheel drive variants which the Model S debuted with back in 2012.

The second was the inclusion of a ground-up internal redesign of the Model S’ control systems, added the necessary hardware required to one day give the Tesla Model S semi-autonomous driving capabilities under what Tesla Motors [NASDAQ:TSLA] CEO Elon Musk calls ‘autopilot’ software.

When Tesla contacted us and gave us the chance to spend a very brief hour behind the wheel of a left-hand-drive, EU-spec Model S P85D, we though it would be rude to say no.

While Tesla hasn’t yet given Model S cars in the wild its advanced autopilot capabilities — that will start to happen later this year when Tesla pushes the much-anticipated Tesla operating system 7 via over-the-air updates to customers cars — we’ve seen plenty of viral videos championing the 0-60 time of Tesla’s most powerful flagship car to date: the Tesla Model S P85D.

The Tesla Model S P85D has it all.

The Tesla Model S P85D has it all.

So when Tesla contacted us and gave us the chance to spend a very brief hour behind the wheel of a left-hand-drive, EU-spec Model S P85D right on Transport Evolved’s doorstep, we though it would be rude to say no.

Normally, an hour behind the wheel of a new car isn’t really enough to give us a true measure of what the car can really do. Having spent some significant time with everything from the Tesla Model S 60 through to the Tesla Model S P85 however, our time behind the wheel of this £105,030+ car both surprised and pleased us, as well as giving a really rather solid representation of what the differences are between the Model S P85 of old and all-new Model S P85D.

It also excites us to the possibilities for what the Tesla Model S 70D will be like.

Fully specced

First things first. Our test drive car — a Dutch-registered car — came complete with a healthy option list that included the all-glass panoramic sunroof, 21″ grey turbine wheels, black Alcantara headliner, carbon fibre trim and multi-coat Perl White exterior finish. It was also specced out with the subzero weather package, high-end Bose Tesla-designed sound system, smart suspension, premium lighting and of course, the all-important auto pilot convenience features. As we said earlier on in this article, the latter isn’t able to drive us down the road on its own, but thanks to the latest version 6.2 of the Tesla operating system, our car had blind-spot warning, lane departure warning and active emergency braking activated, as well as adaptive cruise control.

Externally, there’s very little to differentiate it from the single-motor Model S P85 it replaced, although the eagle-eyed will notice the small radar sensor hidden in the front lower-grille, plus of course, the P85D badge.

Lift the hood, and those familiar with the trunk space of the P85D will notice a small reduction in under-trunk volume. That’s to make way for new 165 kilowatt motor driving the front wheels, supplementing the 350 kilowatt electric motor (192 kilowatts in the Tesla Model S 85D) driving the rear wheels.

That extra motor does eat some trunk space, but not much.

That extra motor does eat some trunk space, but not much.

Most importantly however, that reduction simply does away with the ‘hidden’ storage space found in single motor Model S cars that reached nearly all the way to the firewall and was fronted by a small cargo net. Even with some of that space sacrificed for a motor, there’s still room for a couple of decent overnight suitcases.

About that acceleration…and the ‘insane’ button

It’s impossible to talk about the Tesla Model S P85D without discussing its famed 3.1-second 0-60 mph time, and this quick drive review is going to be no exception. With Tesla’s improved comfort and redesigned second-generation seats holding both driver and passengers firmly in place, we can confirm two things: firstly, 0-60 acceleration from standstill really does leave even the most hardened of reviewers speechless. Second, there’s a great deal more refinement in the way in which the Tesla Model S P85 D goes about its insane acceleration.

Insane? We think 'bloody quick'  would be more appropriate.

Insane? We think ‘bloody quick’ would be more appropriate.

We’ll explain. With the Tesla Model S P85 and P85+, any abuse of the accelerator pedal resulted in significant high-powered whining from the rear of the car as it sat down on its hunches and pushed stupidly large amounts of power through its single watermelon-sized motor.  Even with traction control enabled, it was possible to get those single-motor Model S cars to do what we’ve come to call the “Tesla Wiggle:” a small, almost imperceptible shake as the rear wheels and tarmac came to an agreement over what the motor was asking the car to do.

In the Model S P85D, that wiggle was absent, as was the whine. Instead, the Tesla Model S P85D just gets on with the task at hand: accelerating you away from the stop light at the kind of speeds we’re sure trained fighter pilots experience when launching their multi-million dollar jets via a massive bungie cord from the short runway of an aircraft carrier.

Intellectually, that fact alone is enough to make the Tesla Model S P85 ‘insane’ mode button worthy of that name. We’ll grant you too, that the Tesla Model S P85D is the fastest thing we’ve driven with four wheels on a public highway. But we also can’t help but feel a little bit let down by that particular description because the ride was just too refined to be called insane.

To us, the word ‘insane’ portrays a feeling of being out of control. Of being dangerous, or perhaps even reckless. Indeed, looking the definition up online, and you’ll probably find a definition which defines insane as being “in a state of mind which prevents normal perception,” something which is “characterised or caused by madness,” or a description of someone who is extremely annoyed.

In the Tesla Model S P85D, none of the above can be applied. At least, after the third or fourth attempt, Tesla’s flagship car manages to convince you that acceleration this severe is normal.

Technologically adept with a few niggles

Having spent some time with the Tesla Model S P85 on a recent trip from Oslo to London, we were already familiar with the Tesla Model S’ adaptive cruise control. Available on all Model S cars made after October last year and enabled with the 6.x Tesla Model S over-the-air update, it functions pretty much as it does in any other high-end luxury car.

The newly designed seats keep you facing the right way when accelerating.

The newly designed seats keep you facing the right way when accelerating.

After setting a chosen speed — and a desired car length distance between you and the car in front — the Model S confidently takes over speed regulation, dropping speed when slower cars pull in front and accelerating again back to your chosen speed when the road is clear.

Sadly — or perhaps fortuitously given the price of the Model S P85D — we didn’t have a chance to test the autonomous emergency braking of the test car. Nor did we get to test the all-new route-planning and charger-aware features of the latest 6.2 software update.

We did however, test out the lane departure warning and blind spot warning systems, which weren’t entirely to our tastes.

First of all, the lane departure warning system. Designed to vibrate the steering wheel if you cross a dividing line or median in the road without signalling, the lane departure warning system is certainly quick to respond if you drift over into the next lane. Yet the way in which it alerts the driver — small, fairly subtle vibrations of the wheel — felt a little too nuanced for our tastes. Given the way in which the Model S can be customised by its owners, we’d like to see Tesla offer an audible warning for drivers who find themselves drifting, as well as perhaps a visible on-dash warning display to reinforce the point.

We're not fans of the driver assistance features -- or rather the notifications for them.

We’re not fans of the driver assistance features — or rather the notifications for them.

The same is true of the blind spot assistance system. Many cars we’ve driven with this feature to date use a small but bright LED light on the inside of the A pillar to indicate when there’s a car in your blind spot. On the Tesla Model S P85D, the only indication there’s a car in your blind spot is a small grey outer circle to the speedometer, which illuminates the right or left side of the speedometer depending on which side the blind spot warning pertains to.

That warning only becomes more severe if you try to move into that lane, in which case the blind spot warning system and lane departure waning system work in concert to sound an audible alert and flash a red warning in the lower portion of the speedometer.

Similar to lane departure, we’d like to see more choice as to how those warnings are made to the driver.

Our only other critique of the Model S P85D — and it’s a small one — came from the car’s automatic speed sign recognition system. On more than one occasion, our test car identified that we were in a 20 mph speed limit zone when the signs it had passed said it was a 30 mph limit. That’s only a niggle right now, but we hope Tesla can improve the accuracy of the sign-reading software before adding autopilot capabilities, or we may find higher numbers of Model S cars driving well below the speed limit having incorrectly identified the maximum allowable speed.

Refined beyond belief

These little niggles however do not diminish our overall impression of the Tesla Model S P85D. Yes, we only spent some 40 minutes driving the car — and about 1 hour in its presence, but we’re already willing to pass judgment.

Last year, we took a spin in the Tesla Model S 60, and declared it our favourite Model S variant to date because of the ease in which it could be driven like a normal, everyday car. Lighter and a little less brutal in its accelerator response, we felt the Tesla Model S 60 was in fact, the forgotten hero of the Tesla family.

Despite having more power than any Model S to date, the P85D follows in the tyre tracks of the Model S 60, giving a ride that is refined beyond belief. With all-wheel drive keeping the car facing the right way at all times and much more even weight distribution, the Model S P85D was sure footed in town and on the freeway, giving us ultimate faith in its capabilities.

Around town, we note there was no need to stroke the accelerator to keep the mighty Model S under control. In fact, exiting the mall carpark after picking up the test car, there was a surreal feeling that evaded the cabin. Despite having the capability to out-race most cars on the road today, the Tesla Model S P85D was as easy to drive as any other plug-in we’ve had the pleasure of driving.

All that power isn’t just for the stop-light derby: it’s to make everything effortless.

Those feelings continued on the freeway too, with everything from a standard on-ramp merge to an overtaking manoeuvre easy and effortless for the full-size luxury sedan. And while we’ll admit the acceleration from 0-62 mph is indeed neck-snapping, acceleration from 40-70 mph was quick, effortless and without fuss. There was no extra noises from either inside or outside the car, and the vehicle simply pulled away.

And at this point, we started to realise something. The Tesla Model S P85D isn’t a car whose all-wheel drive powertrain is purely about winning the stop-light derby. It’s a car whose powertrain is more than capable to cope with literally anything you can throw at it while driving in accordance with the law.

All that power isn’t just for the stop-light derby: it’s to make everything effortless, and safe.

Even after an hour, we're convinced this is the best car Tesla has made.

Even after an hour, we’re convinced this is the best car Tesla has made.

Because of its sheer power and awesome torque — and we use awesome here to convey the feelings the car engendered in us — the Model S P85D is a whole new level of refined. It is quiet, it is powerful, and it doesn’t ever seem to get itself in a mess.

The last car we rode in which was this refined was a 1930s Rolls-Royce Phantom and sadly in that instance, we weren’t behind the wheel.

This time however, we’re glad to have experienced the Tesla Model S P85D in all its glory. Sure, there are some improvements that could be made to Tesla’s in-car infotainment and warning systems, but when it comes to the physical engineering underneath the Model S P85D?

We just can’t flaw it. This is a car that is simply the most refined electric car we’ve ever driven.


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  • dogphlap dogphlap

    You seem to like it, a lot. Sadly too rich for my pocket book but bodes well for the Model 3.

  • Kurt Jenney

    Excuse me, but tesla doesn’t offer a Bose audio system. They designed the stereo in house… Please correct your article.

  • bubblesmoney

    I wonder when people will do a proper review for this car mentioning the plus and minus points. Every review by electric car enthusiasts fails to mention obvious minus points. It’s a great car but please review it properly.

    Why does Tesla not mention the fact that UK and EU models have 2 less airbags than the USA model. There are no knee airbags in non USA models.

    UK and EU models also don’t have ISOFIX child seat restraint safety system but the USA model has it. Even though UK and EU models cost more.

    Does the UK and EU Tesla website even sell accessories like rear seat centre console? Or any other accessory for that matter like the USA website? No they don’t because the rear seat console needs the ISOFIX mounting which UK and EU models don’t have. So they can’t have this accessory. Penny pinching in UK and EU models even though they cost more.

    If Tesla is skimping on basic safety features like knee airbags and ISOFIX child seat restraint systems in the UK and EU models compared to the USA model then what else are they skimping on in the UK and EU?

    There is no rear cup holders or any kind of seat pocket or door pocket. So the lack of rear seat console is even more irritating as it is available in USA but not UK and EU.

    The front USB ports give a rubbish 400 to 750 milliamp output which even the cheapest eBay USB charger give more than the stock option. There is no back seat or boot power options and neither is there any facility for hooks for Lugguage straps in the boot.

    Android app for Tesla has less features than iOS app.

    Bluetooth version is old and sound quality transfer is poorer than stock version in older cars of other manufacturers. The DSP is great though for tuning sound to each case seat of preference but Bluetooth version being old leads to poorer sound quality overall compared to playing same song in even old Toyota cars stock stereo. Try asking about these on Tesla forum and moderator will delete thread ASAP. Try getting answers to these from Tesla by email or Rep or their forum and you will hit a blank wall!

    • Espen Hugaas Andersen

      Some errors:

      – The EU Model S has ISOFIX points on all three back seats. (It’s called LATCH in the US)
      – The only reason the knee airbags were dropped in the EU is that they aren’t needed. However, if they drop them in the US, now that the crash testing has been performed, they would need to redo the testing. The Model S received 5 stars in Euro NCAP, and this is what they said of the knee protection: “Dummy readings indicated good protection of the knees and femurs of the driver and passenger. Tesla showed that a similar level of protection would be provided to occupants of different sizes and to those sat in different seating positions.” http://www.euroncap.com/en/results/tesla/model-s/7897

      The lack of roof handles, sun glasses holders, seat pockets, etc is a design choice, and can be good and bad. Depends on your needs.

      I agree the lack of mounting points for luggage straps is unfortunate. Tesla is a new car maker, and some places it is apparent they have simply not had enough experience making cars to think of everything. I assume this will be included on the Model X and all other models going forward.

      And lastly, I don’t know what Tesla forum you are referring to, but at least on the Tesla Motors Club forum, you are more than welcome to join and discuss these things. There are discussion threads on all the topics you mention that span dozens of pages.

      • bubblesmoney

        Thanks for the reply.

        I meant the official forum available on the official Tesla website. It is there but they hide it well in the UK and only accessible via some links on the UK website but not via home page.

        The official EURONCAP testing report states that ISOFIX isn’t there. See report on EURONCAP website. Please click links on that report for more detailed diagrams and information which will show that Knee and shin area isn’t well protected among others. Please note that model treated was not dual motor version that had less frunk space and less crumple zone near knee.

        There has not been any crash testing officially in the EURONCAP or NHTSA testing of the third row seats. There are no air bags for third row seats. Tesla own website consumer stories one of them show a story of accident at 30 miles per hour or under from side accident causing bumps and bruises for kids in third row. The flap in third row accessible by child has on the left of the boot has high voltage items accessible from third row child seat. Obviously the parent while driving can’t keep eye on what child in this row is pulling at especially concerning that it is labeled as high voltage circuit on photos available on some websites.

        NHTSA testing won’t give 5* without of airbags but EURONCAP doesn’t count it for 5* hence Tesla gaming the testing by not giving same safety features in the UK and EU models.

        It had been discussed on my thread on official Tesla forum (deleted by mods) by others that rear seat console needs ISOFIX hence unavailable in UK and EU models as it doesn’t have ISOFIX as can be confirmed from official EURONCAP testing result that can be seen on the website.

        See more on https://plus.google.com/+veryannoyingname/posts/3j5BFoQfdXi

        • Espen Hugaas Andersen


          You can clearly see under “safety equipment” that the Model S comes standard with ISOFIX for the rear seats. And as I quoted, Euro NCAP says the knee and femur protection is good, even without knee airbags.

          Regarding the third row, the lack of official testing isn’t unique to Tesla. You can’t fault Tesla for the shortcomings of NHTSA / Euro NCAP / IIHS. I don’t know what flap you’re talking about, but if it’s on the left side (UK passenger side/Europe drivers side) and labled high voltage it must be related to the charge port, which is only electrified when charging. And it will definitly take som effort to get through the insulation of high voltage cabling – you probably won’t be able to do it without tools.

          If NHTSA requires knee airbags, that is their issue. What matters is results, and Tesla has proven they don’t need knee airbags in the Euro NCAP testing.

          • bubblesmoney

            Yes have seen TMC once. Will look at it again.

            I checked EURONCAP Tesla model s result again and it clearly states no ISOFIX which was confirmed by other owners on the Tesla official forum but that was deleted by mod. See link http://www.euroncap.com/en/results/tesla/model-s/7897 and in that click on child occupant tab at the top. If you see what pops up it clearly states that ISOFIX isn’t present. Or wasn’t present in the model tested by EURONCAP. I also have given feedback to Tesla when they emailed me to give feedback. I raised all the same points mentioned above and they haven’t bothered to contact and correct me if I am wrong on the above points. I raised some of these issues on the test drive as well and enquired about Bluetooth Specs via phone and email and test drive but no one at Tesla is willing to comment on the Bluetooth specs.

            If you see my previous tweets to Teslamotors about the decrease in airbags and ISOFIX etc they haven’t corrected any errors I might have made in my comments.

            With regard to the adult safety on the EURONCAP report if you click on adult icon then it will show yellow for driver leg instead of green for leg which means adequate instead of good. The side pole test had red for driver which means poor rating. Several other cars have got much higher EURONCAP rating. On the g+ linked earlier it shows other EURONCAP tested cars that for 10 points more in safety than Tesla. Infact the didn’t come first in any of the last few years of testing even though on the Tesla forums it is frequently bandied about as the “safest car” white it is far from that as per EURONCAP testing over several years where it is not among the highest rated cars which is linked in the g+ post I mentioned in previous reply.

            Will check out TMC forum again and guess I won’t bother with the official forum again as it just seems to be a fanboy forum instead of being used as feedback from interested potential customers. Mods seem to go to lengths to delete critical feedback. Most reviews including whatcar and which magazine don’t actually comment that UK and EU models have less airbags than USA models. Surely a customer review website should mention such obvious differences in safety features compared to USA model.

            It’s a very nice car but Tesla is removing features for non USA models. Hence the lack of rear centre console in the UK and EU etc as it needs ISOFIX mounting. Even TESLA UK rep wasn’t aware of rear centre console accessory existing in the USA but not in the UK or EU.

            Will check out TMC again.

          • Espen Hugaas Andersen

            I’ll agree it is odd that the ISOFIX isn’t checked off on the child occupant tab. But I assume this is either because the Model S uses the LATCH system, which is slightly different, but compatible with ISOFIX, or because when they check off i-Size, that automatically means that the car is ISOFIX compatible. Again, if you click “download report” and go to page three, they list all the ISOFIX child seats they mounted in the Model S as part of the testing. Further down in they report they also say “All of the restraints for which the
            car is designed could be properly installed and accommodated with the exception of the Group I universal restraint in the rear outboard seats. While the seat could be installed, the seat cushioning made engagement of the ISOFIX probes difficult.” You can also ask any Norwegian Model S owner with small children, and they will tell you they use ISOFIX child seats.

            I also investigated the premium rear console situation. This is the response from Tesla if you try to order from the US site: http://elbilforum.no/forum/index.php/topic,11107.msg327086.html#msg327086 It’s been a pain to get permium center consoles to Europe as well, with people sitting on waitlists for 15+ months. It’s pretty clear that from Tesla’s side the premium consoles aren’t a priority. I couldn’t find anyone in Norway who has received their rear console yet, but I’m sure it’s only a matter of time.

            I’m sure there are cars that are safer than the Model S in some respects, but that doesn’t detract from the fact that the Model S is an extremely safe car. AFAIK the only person to have died in a Model S while using the seat belt was someone who drove off a cliff in the US. (A possible suicide.) The Model S got five stars in the Euro NCAP, and that’s even before they activated the AEB system.

            Yes, I think you should check out the TMC forum. Here’s one thread to get you started: http://www.teslamotorsclub.com/showthread.php/38689-Why-are-there-only-6-airbags-in-europe-used-to-be-8

            (On the TMC forum it’s good to use old threads, they like to keep similar discussions on the same threads. And if you start a bunch of new threads they tend to be merged with older threads.)

          • bubblesmoney

            The TMC thread you linked is the one I had already posted on when I first came across the forum. Been more than a month or two since I raised queries with Tesla and havent got answers about bluetooth or airbags or rear centre console etc. Guess looking at the other forum you linked any accessories becoming available outside the USA is remote or will take years to materialise.

            Hope the situation is better with model x but I guess not looking at how long norwegians have been waiting for the centre console. 15 months or more is ridiculous waiting for accessory when it is available in the USA. So the level of service isnt the same outside the USA.

            Hope the stock model X is better equipped with front and back cup holders and storage areas etc so that one doesnt have to depend on Tesla nickle and dime customers for essential accessories and have 15 month wait list for centre console accessory etc. Amazing that Tesla thinks its ok to charge extra for centre console to get storage area when free in all other cars and then even after ordering the accessory one gets the pleasure of being on a 15 month waitlist when Tesla takes more orders for the same accessory from others!

            Guess will see what comes stock with model x before deciding on my order as I cant expect Tesla to treat customers in the UK and EU any better seeing their present track record in the UK and EU regarding the issues discussed compared to the USA.

          • Espen Hugaas Andersen

            The console hasn’t been available in the US for those 15 months. More like 3 months. But yeah, still not great.

            The CHAdeMO adapter is another example – I think it was announced over two years before it became available.

            I think accessories just aren’t a priority. Tesla’s focus is on the Model X, Model 3, Gigafactory, Powerwall, Powerpack, Supercharger network, etc. I can’t say I entirely fault their priorities, but they could certainly be better at communication their plans.

            Tesla has potential for improvement and will likely continue to have potential for improvement. But hopefully they will get better and better.

          • bubblesmoney

            Yes I agree regarding the chaedmo adapter being absolutely essential in the Uk where superchargers are few and far between outside London but there are many more chaedmo chargers. They dont advertise it on their website but after one of my email queries they replied to contact service centre for availability of uk / EU version of chaedmo adapter and can be ordered via service centre. Apparently some were selling it on ebay for much cheaper than tesla price but when i looked it was no longer available on ebay. Please note that the USA and EU / UK versions of chaedmo adapter for the tesla is different, so dont buy the wrong one. Wish they have a type 3 adapter as well in the future as superchargers arent everywhere and being able to use other chargers will be crucial for those outside London like me.

    • Maxwell Erickson

      Try the review from Ars Technica. It’s long, but more balanced than any other I’ve seen.

      • bubblesmoney

        Thanks for that. Yes it was a more balanced review, although none of the reviews till date have covered the bluetooth version and modules and USB power output or differences in USA and UK / EU versions in terms of safety and other specs.

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