First Drive: 2016 Tesla Model S P90D Ludicrous

EVERY so often an opportunity presents itself to drive what is genuinely a phenomenal car, and the 2016 Tesla Model S P90D Ludicrous certainly fits that bill.

Just to be different, we threw the keys to someone who wasn’t a journalist with years of experience; someone who was just an average driver. A real road user getting behind the wheel of a super car for the first time to deliver something other than a normal road test – a First Drive. 

What follows is Glyn MacLean’s story of what it’s like to experience the 2016 Tesla Model S P90D Ludicrous for the first time.

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Part One. – The Revelation

It’s 11am.

A respectful fear accompanies me as I arrive at the Tesla showroom in Sydney.

I’m told the Tesla Model S P90D Ludicrous is on the high side of $200,000 ($273,000 as tested to be exact), and the thought of crashing such a valuable car stupefies me.

I’m wondering if it’s worth the effort but this is history baby. It’s worth it.

I’ve taken two days off from my day job to enjoy this experience. I am soon waiting and relaxing, watching the faces of the people turning up at the showroom.

There is something unusual going on. It’s like a scene from the Stepford Wives. Everyone is happy. I’m talking New Year’s Eve happy. The kind of happy you see at a resort beach party, when you know you’re going to get lucky.

I brush it off, thinking it’s just a spike in the program. It isn’t real, it won’t last. No one is that happy. The sales manager is relaxed. Calm like a Yogi.

We’re in the Ludicrous and I’m asked if I have driven a Tesla before. Not wanting to be kicked out of the car, I say yes. But I haven’t. I was a passenger in a P85D and left a number of my internal organs at the beginning of an on ramp – so I know what to expect.

He’s now orientating me with the shenanigans of the central console. It’s like being at NASA and I’m intimidated. I’m immediately reminded this is a company owned by a guy that makes rocket ships.

Being a total geek, I’m seeing Star Trek and Space 1999 re-runs while I get totally bamboozled by all the options and screens.

My reticular activating system is attuned to acceleration and so I am paying particular attention to the driving style screen, which shows all the peaks and troughs of Ludicrous mode – and its ability to go from zero to 100km/h in 2.8 seconds.

The only thing I remember from the orientation is where to find the Ludicrous button, but I’m in driving heaven. Until I have to ask “How do I turn it on?”

Turns out you step on the brake pedal. Bing bada boom. I now have 100 percent torque available at zero but I’m too afraid to touch the accelerator pedal. There is no sound. Is it even running? I use my tiptoes and the car gracefully, silently moves forward, doing only the little movement I ask. So I pause.

The air conditioning effortlessly mitigates the 38 degrees Celsius outside temperature while I am changing the name of the car to Marty McFly. I add my name as Doc for the driver, for a bit of nostalgia. This car even has a kind of flux capacitor, or at least a custom designed fuse system, which pipes the power to the electric engines to give it super car acceleration. It’s all real.

I ease out into the traffic tentatively, like a learner driver. I am scared shitless. I don’t know what to expect. Accelerating to jump into a gap in the traffic.

This wasn’t anything like normal acceleration. It was teleportation. One second I’m in the driveway, the next I’m already around the corner.

It is at this moment of revelation that I take on that same happy Stepford Wives grin, and it never leaves me. My face is still locked in that position now. Everyone wants what I’m having and I’m having Tesla acceleration. It’s orgasmic.

Eventually I reach an on ramp, one of many which I will use to justify the acceleration. I’m parked. There is a Subaru WRX behind me and my evil twin says “Yeah, do it”.

I press the pedal down and in less than three seconds I have to ease off. I’m already at motorway speed and on the motorway. The Subaru is well over 100 metres behind me.

There is not a sedan on the road that comes even close to this. And I am thinking that $273,000 for an experience like this is dirt cheap. Tesla didn’t just raise the bar, they completely removed it.

The Subaru guy doesn’t look happy in my rear view mirror. It’s a shiny new car and he would have been very proud, but life is pretty much over now that he’s experienced the velocity of a Tesla. There is no turning back.

At this point I’ve been driving around Sydney all day, using the maps, enjoying the heads up display and in love with the simple logic of including lane change details, so valuable for driving through spaghetti junctions.

This makes driving relaxed and effortless. The risk of having an accident is also long forgotten. This car handles like a go-kart, literally, and safety is paramount with the active radar system warning you when there is anything at all within your proximity.

It’s at this point that the silence of the vehicle attunes me to feel the road in a way that I have never experienced before. Where a V8 offers a visceral experience, the P90D is an intellectually enlightened encounter.

For the geeks out there, this is like turning 18 and learning you were born on the planet Krypton. You suddenly realise you have super powers.

There isn’t a V8 supercar in the country that can match this car for acceleration. It really does feel like you are flying in silence, completely aware of and in touch with your surroundings. It’s a surreal experience.

But even super heroes need energy.

I use the mapping system to show me where all the Tesla super chargers are. Unfortunately the one in down town Sydney is a construction site. Tesla didn’t warn me. But I’m having so much fun – who cares.

The car tells me my exact range and where to get charged. I’m soon back at the Tesla charging station at their Sydney HQ at St Leonards. It takes one hour to get a full charge.

While I’m waiting a number of Tesla owners turn up for quick charge-ups of 15 to 20 minutes and whisk off like the Jetsons, complete with happy grins. I’m now experiencing the revelation as to why everyone is so happy. I’m feeling it.

I want it to keep going on. I want to sell my Mazda CX-9 and join the happy throng. I want to be part of this electric addiction.

Part Two – The Exodus

The valet at Langham’s 5-star hotel in Sydney already knows how to drive a Tesla. The P90D has a Valet Mode, which he has used a dozen times. One touch and the valet parks the Tesla with light footed ease.

My flat mate is a senior exec for Langham luxury hotels and I’m there because I am keen to get his perspective. His day job is all about luxury and Tesla doesn’t fail him.

He notes the stitched detail of the leather and the seamless contours and beautiful textures. He’s seen it all and he’s sold. It’s worth every penny of its $273,000 purchase price.

We hit the road to Wollongong.

The Tesla is like a happiness virus. Every Tesla passenger catches it. It starts with the acceleration down on-ramps and continues with the sheer overtaking power.

We’re now on the motorway and I’d like to keep my licence. I cruise like a little old lady – that is until we reach the hills down into Wollongong. Here I test the cornering and experience the phenomenon of regenerative breaking.

I should mention, you generally almost never use your brake pedal in a Tesla. Regenerative braking does this for you. Recharging the battery as you slow down. On downhill sections the car actually uses no energy and literally recharges while slowing itself down.

It works like magic and is another one of those amazing, transformative experiences. But I’m also the New Zealand Daytona virtual racing and Real Racing 3 virtual champion from my days on the sofa.
Naturally I want to know if Tesla can corner like a Ferrari without me prematurely going to the toilet while driving.

We’re easily doing 100km/h through 30 km/h corners with grip to spare. I’m no real race car driver, but figure if I can do this, then Ferrari has to be worried. Really worried.

When we return to North Ryde, we plug the Tesla into a normal power outlet with the included portable charger and leave it to do its thing overnight.

This has been a revelation of legendary electric driving for me that I will remember my whole life. And as soon as I possibly can, I will be joining the exodus to electric vehicles.

I figure that what Tesla really represents is the line in the sand at which humankind has genuinely outgrown being Neanderthal.

Humanity 2.0 has arrived.


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