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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