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2015 Tesla Model S P85D First Test

Insane, Defined: 1. Cannot distinguish fantasy from reality; subject to uncontrollable impulsive behavior 2. Mentally deranged 3.Tesla Model S P85D

Kim Reynolds
Nov 3, 2014
Photographers: Michael Shaffer
"In the options selection, you'll be able to choose [between] three settings: Normal. Sport. And Insane." Elon Musk glanced around and grinned.
"Yeah, it will actually say 'In-sane.'"
Musk chortled, along with the 2,000-strong crowd eating out of the palm of his hand. Although Wall Street analysts were soured by his Los Angeles presentation of the Dual Motor Tesla Model S P85D and the mysteriously tweeted "something else" (Musk's personal wealth dropped $500 million by the next morning), all we can say is that the Wall Street suits haven't ridden in the Model S P85D. And best they don't if they want to keep their Brooks Brothers slacks dry, because we've just tested it, and as insane goes, it makes Charlie Manson look like Charlie Rose.
How crazy? Musk: "Our goal was to match one of the fastest cars ever made: the McLaren F1." Somewhere in England, Gordon Murray's porcupine eyebrows have just elevated three inches. Can the F1 designer's fabled carbon-fiber, 627-hp, Ferrari-humbling masterpiece actually be paced to 60 mph by a five-seat sedan with a trunk sized for a Home Depot haul?
Photo 2/37   |   2015 Tesla Model S P85D Front Three Quarter
Ask the man who's owned both. In 2007, as the revelry wore down after Tesla's original (now trademark) half rock concert/half car introduction for the Roadster at the Burbank airport, I was walking back to my car only to find, parked out front, an F1. I stopped. What luck. I happened to be looking for an F1 for a project, and although I never do this sort of thing, I put my card under its windshield wiper. Later I realized it was Musk's. Yeah, he's already familiar with this comparison.
Twenty-two years ago, the McLaren F1's time of 3.2 seconds to 60 mph was the technological redline of what a mad genius Grand Prix designer could conjure from a road car. I tested one back in the day, and although it was at a closed airstrip encircled by acres of table-flat run-off room, it was among the most shattering few seconds of my life. One moment everything was still; the next, the cabin had exploded in a maniacal machine racket. The tach needle swept clockwise, the clutch pedal fought my left foot's stabs, the shifter pinballed through its detents, the V-12 engine charged through its revs again, my right foot feared staying planted but did anyway, everything shook, and I just hung the hell on as the world melted into a smear. Exhale. Launch one of Musk's Falcon 9 rockets horizontally, and you'll get the idea.
"The quickest-accelerating sedan in the world isn't German anymore."
But scrambling to the same 60 mph time in the P85D bears no resemblance to that at all. With one transmission gear and no head-bobbing shifts, it's instead a rail-gun rush down a quarter-mile of asphalt bowling lane. Nothing in the drivetrain reciprocates; every part spins. There's no exhaust smell; the fuel is invisible. The torque impacts your body with the violence of facing the wrong way on the train tracks when the whistle blows. Within the first degree of its first revolution, 100 percent of the motors' combined 687 lb-ft slams the sense out of you. A rising-pitch ghost siren augers into your ears as you're not so much accelerating as pneumatically suctioned into the future. You were there. Now you're here.
Photo 6/37   |   2015 Tesla Model S P85D Rear Three Quarter
The wormhole between the two is courtesy of a second motor on the front axle. At 221 hp, it's smaller than the P85+'s existing 470-hp rear machine (total: 691), and for the non-Performance 60- and 85-kW-hr Dual Motor Model S, it'll be the rear motor, too. Lift the front trunk's lid (the frunk, they call it), and you're struck by how much all of this was anticipated back when the Model S was penned. What was a recessed cavity near the firewall becomes the new forward engine room with enough left to swallow a duffle bag and retain its terrific 5-star frontal crash performance. Equal-length front halfshafts thread through new branched chassis rails and hub uprights—and that's about it.
Replacing the now-discontinued P85+ as the apex Model S, the P85 Dual Motor gains 197 pounds, tipping the car's weight distribution from 47/53 (f/r) to 51/49. Anti-roll bars and shock valving are suitably thicker and firmer, but the Michelin Pilot Sport PS2 tires are the same, as is the car's 0.91 g of lateral grip. However, around our quirk-exposing figure-eight course, the D's handling wasn't Novocained by the added nose heft (as you'd expect), nor was its steering garbled by torque-steer cross-talk (as you'd expect); instead, all four tires now want to be in on the traction action. Feathering the accelerator (or rather, the accelerator pedal's potentiometer) now rotates—and also bends—the car's trajectory via regen brake drag that instantly reallocates between both axles (no longer limited to the rear). Essentially, the two motors' email-instant reflexes mean the stability control system is the drivetrain itself—and vice versa—not a Band-Aided layer of throttle- and brake-mitigating technologies overlaid on a big-inertia crankshaft and flailing pistons accustomed to Pony Express reaction times.
Photo 7/37   |   The P85D’s interior receives revamped front and rear seats that are better-looking, as well as more comfortable and laterally supportive. (Note the bolsters for each of the three rear seats, pictured below.) Also redesigned are the steering column stalks—including the Autopilot control—which are now more conventionally stacked.
Consequently, the easiest way to flatten your retinas at a dragstrip isn't by just stomping on the right pedal. Instead, you draw your foot back and kick the living hell out of it. (I'm serious.) Your foot's flying start at the pedal means the potentiometer opens the battery's electron floodgate that much sooner, and without the teeniest tire chirp, the P85D accelerates at the highest rate the road's mu (its coefficient of friction) allows. It's surreally efficient. And it's so fast off the line that the slower-sampling rate of our two high-frequency GPS data loggers was actually missing some of the action; within the first 1/20th of a sec (not even the "O" in "One Mississippi") the car was already going 0.7 mph. To 30 mph the P85D would be four feet ahead of the fastest-accelerating sedan we've tested, the Audi RS 7, a gap that holds to 60 when the Tesla punches the clock at 3.1 seconds, a tenth quicker than the Audi (as well as the McLaren F1's accepted time -- all of these after subtracting the customary 1-foot rollout). Both cars arrive at the quarter in 11.6 seconds, with the Audi starting to show its higher-speed chops. (The P85D tops out at 155, the RS 7, 174 mph.) Great for the Autobahn, irrelevant in America.
When you're not doing a hole-shot, the dual motor setup can offer slightly better overall range (about 4 percent better for non-Performance versions, 3.5 percent less for the P85D) by mixing and matching the twin motors' slightly different power curves. It also might better distribute the tire wear, as its regen is now biased toward the front instead of the aft rubber, which worked overtime in the rear-drive cars.
Photo 14/37   |   2015 Tesla Model S P85D Side In Motion 03
Meanwhile, the Model S has undergone a quiet mid-cycle refreshing with better standard seats, terrific-looking and highly bolstered front and rear performance seats in the P85D (even in the back!), better whiplash protection, revised (and more conventional) steering column stalks, wider-opening rear doors, a self-closing charge port door, and bigger sunvisors. Everything's better. During a chat with Musk at the P85D's introduction, he mentioned that on average, Tesla implements about 20 modifications to the car per week. Not software, mind you, but actual hard parts. Per week. Adding the Dual Motor to either the 60- or 85-kW-hr cars tabulates to $4,000; it's $11,100 in frosting to a P85 (including the high-power rear motor).
From a quarterly report standpoint, the across-the-range availability of an all-wheel-drive option will assuredly boost Model S' Slippery State sales, and—duh—it was going to be central to the upcoming Model X anyway. But the world's preeminent automotive showman also knows there's no better way to stir imaginations among Tesla fence-sitters—and churn up heartburn in Bavarians—than by conjuring a hulking, pacing alpha male version of the Model S like this. How will the psychological landscape among the One Percenter Mercedes-Benz AMG, Audi RS, and BMW M crowd be recast if, when a Tesla Model S P85D rolls up at a light, it's game over, guys? Brace yourself, Teutonic Status Quo, because the quickest-accelerating sedan in the world isn't German anymore. It's from California. As they say in Palo Alto: Auf Wiedersehen!

2015 Tesla Model S P85D
BASE PRICE $105,670
PRICE AS TESTED $120,170
VEHICLE LAYOUT Front & rear motor, AWD, 5-pass, sedan
MOTORS AC induction, 221-hp/244 lb-ft front; 470-hp/443-ft-lb rear, (691-hp/687-lb-ft comb)
TRANSMISSION 1-speed automatic
CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST) 4830 lb (51/49%)
WHEELBASE 116.5 in
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT 196.0 x 77.3 x 56.5 in
0-60 MPH 3.1 sec
QUARTER MILE 11.6 sec @ 115.2 mph
BRAKING, 60-0 MPH 113 ft
LATERAL ACCELERATION 0.91 g (avg)
MT FIGURE EIGHT 25.0 sec @ 0.77 g (avg)
EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON MT est 85/87/86 mpg
ENERGY CONS., CITY/HWY MT est 40/39 kW-hrs/100 miles
CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB 0.00 lb/mile
Head to the second page of this exclusive First Test for more on the 2015 Tesla Model S P85D, including our analysis of the automaker's Autopilot system and a graphic showing just how quickly the electric car accelerates.
Photo 15/37   |   2015 Tesla Model S P85D Autopilot View

“Something Else”

Elon Musk’s tweet “About time to unveil the D and something else” was probably the cheapest car ad ever created. No Super Bowl ad-buy, just 45 characters followed by a wildfire of speculation and a $2 billion lurch in Tesla’s stock valuation. The "something else" is Autopilot, a complement of sensors that roughly matches the semi-autonomous offerings from Lexus, the German trio, and what's coming from Cadillac. (While it's hardware and safety features will be standard equipment, its convenience features require the $4250 Tech Package). It consists of long-range radar, a single forward-looking video camera, and 12 ultrasonic sensors to create a 16-foot bubble around the car providing lane-keeping, full drogue-chute emergency stopping, and autonomous following in stop-and-go traffic. It has long-range radar, a single forward-looking video camera, and 12 ultrasonic sensors that create a 16-foot bubble around the car to allow for lane-keeping, full drogue-chute emergency stopping, and autonomous following in stop-and-go traffic. While those are par for the (Country Club) course, the vehicle’s ability to automatically change lanes with a tap of the turn signal and alter its speed by text-recognizing speed limit signs aren’t. Although many pundits have sniffed that Tesla’s just catching up, what they’re missing is how fast Tesla has caught its rivals, its Silicon Valley-pace of software development, gutsy attitude (Autopilot doesn’t require occasionally grasping the wheel to stay active), and the Model S’ unique ability to download updates willy-nilly. It’ll be fun watching the big boys try to keep up with a company that’s run by a committee of one insanely bold guy.

Photo 36/37   |   2015 Tesla Model S P85D Side Profile

Dual Motor Mayhem

The P85D accelerates like nothing else we’ve tested. With electric-fast reactions, its traction control matches wheel torque to available road grip to produce the launch of the gods.
Photo 37/37   |   2015 Tesla Model S P85D MPH

Read about our long-term, rear-drive 2013 Tesla Model S P85+:

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